Written by
Giovanni Everduin

Published
07 Dec 2015

Talent Wars - Episode Three: Revenge of the Candidate

07 Dec 2015 • by Giovanni Everduin

Candidates are those that, actively or passively, seek employment opportunities. They come from all different walks in life, from uneducated to advanced degrees, fresh on the market to tried and tested, entry level to board level. There is one thing all of them have in common: they all pass through a recruitment process.

I’ve been a candidate myself at various occasions, sometimes actively, sometimes passively and sometimes against my wishes with a very persistent recruiter. I’ve had wonderful experiences even when I didn’t get a role (you’d be surprised how a fun and carefully crafted rejection email can still make you feel good) and I’ve had less stellar experiences for roles that I actually did end up getting offered (you’d be surprised how an inconsiderate and poorly crafted offer email can still make you reconsider). I’ve probably blown a few interviews myself, mostly due to a lack of real interest and/or preparation and I’ve positively changed the minds of an interview panel’s first impression. “This is the droid you’re looking for.”

So what are candidates doing right and doing wrong? Based on real examples from my own experiences as a candidate and as an interviewer, I will provide my insights into how candidates can help fight the evil empire of bad recruitment practices. 

Bringing a shotgun to a light saber fight

In Episode II, I discussed how LinkedIn has become the preferred channel to source quality hires and at the same time, it has become a saturated hunting ground. Large numbers of candidates are actively and often desperately searching for a (new) job. While for top talent the opportunities will always come knocking, the majority of job seekers are entry to mid-level professionals that don’t find it as easy to get access to recruiters. 

Because of this, candidates often feel the need to take a ‘fish in a barrel’ approach, where a CV email blast, without proper context of the specific job desired or the target company, is sent to a large mailing list of HR professionals across various companies often without the courtesy of using the BCC email function. These emails typically do not ask but instruct the reader to “schedule an interview at the earliest” and usually indicate a sweeping desire to work in “any suitable opening across HR, finance, marketing, strategy or operations.”

I understand, you are not particularly fussy about the type of work you do or what company you do it in, but how do you think that reflects on prospective employers? The email blast is the first impression we get of a candidate so it is important to make it a well-structured communication that is specific to a particular role or at least domain, with a reflection on your understanding of the target organisation and its culture. 

In the previous post I also covered how agencies need to stop the practice of inviting likes and comments in exchange for a “review of your profile”, but candidates have a role to play here as well. Here is some simple advice: “DON’T RESPOND”. Would you seriously expect a recruiter to consider you as a candidate because you commented “please review my profile” or the equally poor “interested”? 

I remember seeing a satirical post on LinkedIn that ended with explicit advice to people not to fall for these practices. Ironically the comment section was full of the aforementioned comments from hundreds of people that didn’t even bother to read the entire post but rather went straight to zombie comment mode after seeing the first line.

Your focus determines your reality

LinkedIn has made it so much easier to be a passive candidate these days and at times candidates can become somewhat complacent and careless in their presentation. During my candidate days, the importance of a concise, well-structured CV without spelling or grammatical errors was a must. 

These days the same should hold true, however; some of the CVs (or LinkedIn profiles) that cross my desk seem to have been written with a significantly different standard in mind.  Nothing is more off-putting than a poorly formatted, typo-riddled document. You’re standing out from the pack – but for the wrong reasons! 

Often, a candidate’s rejection is purely based on the quality of their CV. Does this mean I could potentially be missing out on a great hire? Maybe, but if you can’t have the level of focus and detail orientation on something as personally important as your CV I will assume you won’t bring those skills to the actual job either. 

While inconsistent use of verb tenses or spacing could slip through a first edit, the standard spelling and grammar check that is part of any word editor software should really prevent most mistakes. I would recommend having a friend or family member do a thorough review to pick up anything you might have missed. Then, when you are sure there are no errors left, you go back and check the whole thing again from the start. Better safe than sorry!

If you decide to use a photo (some parts of the world expect a photo with the CV) please, please, do not use that fun photo of last year’s party where you dressed up as Darth Vader. What works for Facebook or Instagram but it does not work for your CV or LinkedIn. The same applies to the infamous downwards angled selfie. Trust me, that is not the first impression you want to put out. Use a professional corporate photo or, if that is not an option, have someone shoot you with their smartphone against a basic white background while wearing business attire. Consider this: if it’s not appropriate to wear to the office it’s not appropriate for your CV photo. 

Lastly, there is the length of the CV. Different countries, industries and functional areas require different standards but as a rule of thumb you should not have eight pages when you are applying for an entry level job. I’m impressed you managed to fill out eight pages with two years of experience but to be honest with you I won’t even bother reading it – any of it. 

A short CV with relevant information is worth way more than a long CV filled with noise. Unless you’re an academic highlighting your research papers and co-authorships, you would typically be safe staying within maximum three to four pages, including one visually well-organised front page that should read as an elevator pitch for the specific role.

Prepare you must, succeed you will

If you’ve made it to the front door, it means your CV set you apart from the countless other applicants and the organisation is giving you a chance to make an even better impression in person. Hopefully a better impression, not a worse one. It’s surprising to see how many candidates come utterly ill-prepared to an interview, even for senior level roles. I personally don’t like to go line-by-line in an interview. I would have already read your CV – which is what got you to the interview in the first place – and since you should know your own CV, I see no point in wasting both our time. 

This means I don’t need you to give me a detailed biography from the moment you took your first paper route in high school, or your summer experience at your uncle’s grocery store (unless of course you can relate it to the role you applied for).

Furthermore, unless this is a walk-in interview or the organisation is inexcusably ill-prepared, you would not need to bring a hardcopy of your CV. If I hadn’t had the common decency to read your CV before you came in chances are I wasn’t going to hire you anyway. And even if I did – would you really want to work for an organisation that takes their talent acquisition so callously? 

What I really appreciate is a short introduction in terms of relevant skills and experience for the role you are seeking. This would require you to have done two things before coming in to meet me:

  1. Conducted some research on the organisation and potentially me as the interviewer
  2. Understood the job description and what the role would require

If you did both of these well the interview will likely turn into an organic conversation rather than a scripted dialogue or worse, monologue. During the interview the absolute worst thing you can do is confuse my company with another company. Yes our names start with the same word but we are in fundamentally different industries and make fundamentally different products. The second worst thing you can do is to wait for the interview to be over and then ask for a description of the role and the organisation – then what have we been talking about for the past half hour? 

Who is the right candidate?

The right candidate for me is one where the questions I have in my head get answered without me ever raising them. The right candidate for me is one that asks questions as much as giving answers, who knows what they want and are actively looking to validate me and my organisation as much as I am looking to validate them. I often find myself forgetting about time or scripted questions with these kinds of candidates and leaving the interview feeling energised and engaged myself. 

I find that across different cultures there are expected norms that sometimes make it difficult for an organic conversation to take place. Some cultures are more hierarchical than others, where candidates – junior and senior alike – would not dare to ask too many questions and typically are reactive rather than pro-active. This can seriously skew their effectiveness if the person who is interviewing comes from a different culture and has different norms and expectations. It’s important to understand who the interviewer is and where he or she comes from to ensure you can present yourself in the best way possible. If you understand the company’s culture you will know what type of personality they would look for in interviews.

With regards to being prepared, there is nothing wrong with writing out some potential answers to organise your thoughts. At no point however should it sound like you’re reading from a cue card, without any real inflection or emotion. I will inevitably find this lack of faith disturbing. Something that may sound like a no-brainer but unfortunately does get forgotten is that what you write in your CV and what you say in the interview should be aligned. There really is no excuse for downplaying “I personally led the Empire’s armies” on your CV to being “I really was part of a storm trooper team that was part of a larger division reporting into the Emperor.” 

I do believe there is a small tolerance for slight artistic freedom in attributing the exact scope of accomplishments but it’s not that hard to validate whether someone has actually done something themselves or just seen it done by somebody else. You won’t become a good lead actor just because you’ve been on countless sets as an extra! Plus you are bound to be found out if the organisation does proper reference checks or has a strong practice of competency based interviewing – remember your Jedi Mind Tricks only work on the weak minded! Keep it simple and stay with the truth – who knows, that might just be impressive enough.

Epilogue

I fundamentally believe that recruitment, when done right, is a powerful driver for sustained business performance and that boards and CXO need to invest more thinking, effort and cost into building highly-effective recruitment teams. The time for this is now, as the wars for talent rage on in the here and now, not in a galaxy far far away. 

Organisations and agencies that can find and attract the right talent at the right cost at the right time will be able to outperform their competitors and dominate their markets. Organisations and agencies that don’t will be left behind and ultimately struggle to maintain relevance in a fast moving world. 

Candidates that understand and successfully build their personal brand will have access to multiple career opportunities and become an in-demand commodity. Candidates that don’t- will be left behind to take roles they don’t really want to take, in organisations they don’t really want to work in. Don’t get left behind, invest in your future and make sure you control your own faith, before your faith controls you.

May the Force be with you.