24 Ways to Work with an Executive Recruiter

Two well-respected top executive recruitment leaders – Russ Riendeau and Tim Tolan – discuss how to work with an executive recruiter – and what not to say when dealing with one. Let’s take a look at their insightful tips and then listen to a special podcast.

October 2, 2018 – Have you ever made a comment to someone and immediately wished you could take it back? Or given someone a reason that was an easy or logical explanation, only to realize it was a fabrication that you were too embarrassed to admit? We’ve all done it. But if you’re trying to pass over the real reasons for a job change to a headhunter, this is a different story.

Two well-respected top executive recruitment leaders – Russ Riendeau and Tim Tolan – have definite opinions on the topic. And if you want to make it to a second round interview, take heed to their advice.

As you read the classic catchall phrases they have listed below, you might find that you have fallen into a few over the years. And if you have, this could be one reason why a headhunter failed to call you back or why you didn’t make it past the first interview. The same goes for a hiring manager that listened to what you said and then vanished.

Headhunters that have been in the business a while are really good at listening to what is not being spoken. “They can see the patterns, hear the excuses and hear your intelligent approach to business at light speed,” said Mr. Tolan. “If your answer is too convenient, you’re in for a bumpy ride. Like any professional, headhunters know who pays them — the hiring company. Even if your experience is dead on, if you have uttered even one of these sentences listed, you could have just revealed a weakness in your game,” he said. “You’ve shown a naïve side, a lazy side, clues to why you got fired or laid off because you were expendable; perhaps you offered a convenient reason or you’re rationalizing your bad employment experience.”

If you are not accepting the truth regarding your skills, competencies or your lack of keeping your professional development updated, a headhunter can feel it, smell and taste it.  “And they will move on quickly,” said Mr. Riendeau. “The stories, candidate questions and statements we’ve both heard over decades of running successful search firms is endless. When we both entered the business, we learned quickly that our product is human capital or in other words: people.”

You Can’t Manipulate the Hiring Game 

In this brand new episode of ‘Talent Talks,’ we discuss the necessary steps a candidate must take in order to stand out from the rest of the pack without manipulating the hiring game. Our host Andrew Mitchell is joined alongside Dr. Russ Riendeau, senior partner & chief behavioral scientist at New Frontier Search Company. According to Dr. Riendeau, “As a candidate, if you try to manipulate or work your way around a weakness, eventually it’s going to come out and you’re not going to get the job. When you go into an interview, it is important to have good facts and documentation around what you have achieved in your role. Qualify what information they need.” Listen now!

“You may find yourself defending your decisions, as we question your use of a sentence,” Mr. Tolan said. “It’s our intention to help you see the flaws in the phrases you may use or have used and why headhunters can smell a risky candidate in a few seconds. We offer alternatives to how to explain your situation without fabrication of the truth,” he said. And if a hiring manager is reading this story, you can be assured we are all in search of the same goal: the truth and accuracy. Here’s the list and enjoy the show.”

24 Ways to Work with Recruiters

1. “To be honest with you…” So does this mean you were not telling the truth before? Why do you feel the need to remind me you are being honest? “This phrase can imply or infer that there really is more to the story, but you’re going to give the listener one sample that is easiest to show,” said Mr. Riendeau. “Stop leading with this weak opening salvo and just speak.”

2. “I’m too loyal as an employee.” Translation/Perception: You’re too lazy to look hard for a new job. You could be naïve, believing promises and card tricks that never happen. It’s an excuse for not being proactive, not keeping up with skills/industry knowledge or professional development. Loyalty and longevity are not the same thing. “Being loyal to remain working for a manager that is verbally abusive, incompetent, lying, or ineffective, for example, is irresponsible,” said Mr. Tolan. “If you have skills and the freedom to seek out a better job for you and a better life for your family, then why are you still here? Have the courage to face the reality of the job and situation and be loyal to your values and truth. It’s not righteous, it’s being a mature adult.”

3. “I would first need to talk to my spouse before accepting an offer…” You can’t try to convince me you are a successful professional that gets things done, and then admit that you need to get the OK from your spouse to accept a job, said Mr. Riendeau. “You and I know we share our goals and ideas with our spouses, as well as discussing your potential or real job offer. Just don’t tell me you ‘need to speak with your spouse first.’ Just don’t say anything about this!” How about: “If the offer and job is in line, I will accept!” Done.

4. “I was the last person hired, so I was the first laid off…” Unless you are in the plumbers or steelworkers union, last person hired doesn’t get fired first—unless that person is not better than the other person. “This is a convenient excuse that is pitiful sounding,” said Mr. Tolan. “The perception of the headhunter or hiring manager you’re speaking to will believe you were expendable if it was a layoff. If it was duplicity or redundancy due to a merger, then this could be acceptable. If no merger, you will need a better reason for why you were the one let go,” he said. “Have a reasonable explanation — even if it means throwing yourself under the bus by admitting you were not doing the job you could have done because you were unhappy and wanted to leave is a better statement.”

5. “I quit because I didn’t like the direction the company was going.” This response suggests you know more than the executives running the company or that you have some crystal ball predicting the future. Give a clear reason, not an opinion.

Russ Riendeau works with key decision-makers to identify and deliver talent acquisition solutions that align with leadership expectations. Earlier this year, Mr. Riendeau left Jobplex, a DHR International company, to start New Frontier Search Co. in Lake Barrington, IL. He previously operated his own firm, East Wing Group, for 14 years before Jobplex acquired it four years ago.

6. “I don’t like to interview on company time.” Our entire constitution is built around people interviewing for new jobs while remaining in their current one. “It’s healthy, logical and accepted policy in business today,” said Mr. Riendeau.

7. “My situation is unique.” No, it is not unique. It happens — whatever happened to you — happened to the person next to you sitting in traffic. There are no new situations in business hirings and firings. Just different versions. Speak the truth and the truth will set you on a final interview!

8. “I don’t know if I signed a non-compete.” Please don’t admit that you are not responsible enough or have a good enough memory to recall whether you signed a document that could alter your livelihood for the next 20 years. Please don’t suggest you don’t know if there is a copy in your employment file, or how to obtain it. If you don’t know, you should not call the headhunter yet.

Related: 18 Lean Recruiting Tips and Tricks

9. “I didn’t feel right interviewing for a new job when working, so I quit.” Recruiters will not believe you and neither will their client. Misplaced loyalty is not a good look.

10. “My industry is historically lower paying.” So why have you continued to work in this industry? Who sold you on this plan? What have you done to find a new industry that pays better? Why does your industry pay low? “This excuse is as lame as it gets if you’re attempting to convince a headhunter or hiring manager why you deserve an offer,” said Mr. Tolan. “Don’t even hint that you know you’ve been underpaid for years and have not done much to change industries. You look and sound like a victim. Maybe you’re not, but it sounds this way.”

11. “I’m always open to listening.” You sound too easy to tempt into a new job. Mr. Riendeau said. “Why are you so willing to share with me — a stranger — that you may be unhappy and open to change? Don’t show you’re so anxious and receptive to a new job. Show responsibility, patience, caution and maturity.”

Tim Tolan is CEO and managing partner of the Tolan Group. He has been in the healthcare field for over 25 years holding executive-level positions for companies both public and private. His healthcare experience allows him to focus on recruiting for non-profits, behavioral health, substance abuse and PE/VC firms, human/family services, health plans/payers, healthcare delivery networks, software and services companies and outsourcing organizations.

12. “Every one of my last six jobs in the last 10 years was a step up.” No search professional will take a chance introducing you to a client with a recent history of job changes occurring quickly over a five to eight-year period. “There is typically some other issue going on in a person’s life when we see rapid job changes,” said Mr. Tolan. “Trying to convince the headhunter that you have a perfectly logical reason why all the job changes will not fly. Best bet is to tell me what lessons you learned from the mistakes made.”

Related: 7 Characteristics of a Great Recruiter

13. “I don’t know what I earned last year.” You don’t know what your W2 was last year — even within a few thousand dollars? Why don’t you know the amount? “This is not a look you want to show to a hiring manager or a headhunter that is representing you,” Mr. Riendeau said. “How can I trust your memory or attention to detail if I am the hiring manager? Or that you really don’t follow what money you earn, so what are you other motivators? Know exactly what you earned last year or the offer will be very low.”

14. “I really don’t know the details of my compensation plan.” If you are in sales or any job that has a monetary incentive, you need to know exactly what the plan is. “If you can’t state the details, it suggests you don’t care, are not motivated to excel, don’t qualify, or are too distracted to understand it,” Mr. Tolan said. “In all four scenarios, it’s not worth the risk for the headhunter to work with you.”

15. “My boss won’t give a reference.” If you are not working at the company currently and can’t secure a reference from your old boss, most hiring managers and recruiters will be skeptical, and suspicious. What is the real reason you are no longer at the company? If you are working, a reference from outside the boss is acceptable.

16. “The boss was a…” The second you mention something negative about your boss, you will appear to be blaming someone else for your situation, loss of job, low-earnings, frustration, etc. “A hiring manager will always defend a fellow manager’s decision, so placing blame or even hinting to problems with your boss, will end the interview very fast,” the recruiters say.

17. “I can’t prove I did what I said I accomplished in my last job.” Mr. Riendeau said that if “you can’t show documents, examples, samples, income statement, lists, etc. of exactly what you did and how well you did your job, I have to assume that it is all suspect. Proof is your money card to securing the best offer and a final interview. While the headhunter may like you, the client will demand proof and the proof will set you free.”

18. “We never had a quota in my old sales job and I’ve never been managed by performance.” Is that a convenience statement or were you working for a non-profit? “No company worth its weight hires sales people without some measurement of how well or poorly they are doing,” said Mr. Tolan. “No one will believe this excuse. Maybe you don’t want to share your numbers because you were a poor performer. Don’t hide under failure by creating false statements.”

Related: How Recruiters ‘Close the Deal’ With Job Candidates

19. “I’m old”… The recruiters say to change it up and say, ‘I have a lot of experience in this market…’ and then explain what you’ve done and the outcome that was accomplished. That’s what matters. Companies want people who can move the needle. Besides, the market shifts in demographics with so many Baby Boomers retiring makes ‘experienced’ candidates very attractive to companies.

20. “I actually did not get fired.” Really? “Why start with that? Defensive statements out of the gate stick out like a sore thumb,” said Mr. Tolan. “With LinkedIn there are very few degrees of separation in most vertical markets so finding out the why you left your previous company is not hard to do.”

Related: Common Pitfalls That Will Hinder Any Career Search

21. “I would like to understand the health insurance benefits before we get started.” Wrong question at the wrong time, the authors say. “If you are a finalist for a role, the HR lead or hiring manager will cover your benefits at the end of the process. Bad signal. You will get voted off the island quickly,” say the recruiters.

22. “I’ve always wanted to retire near a beach.” This is another “sad but true opening statement by multiple candidates over the years when we are recruiting for companies that reside on or near a coastline,” said Mr. Riendeau. “This can never be your No.1 reason for considering a job solely because you love to go deep sea fishing or if you are a sun worshiper. Listen to the details about the company and the culture first and foremost. Living near the beach should be icing on the cake.”

23. “I have a hard stop today at 2 pm.” Placing a time limit to the people considering hiring you is just plain stupid, the recruiters said. “It demonstrates poor time management skills, not to mention being rude. Always plan for interviews in detail well in advance of starting the interview.”

24. “I need to know the overall compensation for this role.” That should not be where you start your dialogue with the recruiter. “Being disingenuous by asking this question in a futile attempt to compare notes with the person conducting the interview is always on my top five list of ‘don’t do’s,’” Mr. Tolan said. “If you are the candidate selected you’ll have plenty of time to receive and discuss an offer. But not during an interview. And especially if you are the one broaching the subject.”

Related: This Recruiter’s Top Five Secrets for Landing Candidates

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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