From the Other Side of the Desk

I am a recruiter whose hires mostly entry level employees. I have been recruiting and hiring entry level candidates at several different organizations over the course of my career. Based on my experience, I usually know within the first 60 seconds if we’re going to hire a candidate or not. You see, I look for three things in entry-level candidates: likeability, preparation and a strong work ethic.

I can assess likeability very quickly. A candidate who makes eye contact, has a nice handshake and is confident makes a great first impression. The small talk we exchange before the interview starts also makes an impact. High potential candidates will talk about the weather or a local sporting event as opposed to traffic jams or political topics.

Preparation means that the candidate wants the job and has put the time and thought into learning about the job to prove it to me. Preparation starts with a resume. It has plenty of white space so it’s easy to read. It’s written with a clear objective and a summary of qualifications. Each accomplishment is action-oriented and quantified. It also demonstrates how the candidate is unique. I love candidates who can show specific work experience (for entry level candidates this is typically part time and summer work) as well as experiences that demonstrate the willingness to give back too the community like the Boy Scouts or the Big Brothers Association.

The ideal resume will be sent to me as a referral from either an employee of the company or from someone I know personally. I prefer to receive referral resumes than to post job openings on job boards. (I hate to post jobs. I get too many resumes and I usually don’t have the time to screen all of them.)

Once a candidate passes the resume test, it’s important to me that they are on time for an interview. “On time” means 5 minutes early, not 10 or 15 minutes early and it definitely does not mean arriving for an interview late. I have hired people who arrived late but they showed genuine remorse and had to work harder during the interview to overcome that negative first impression.

High potential candidates have done their research: they know the company, the job requirements and what they can bring to the company and they can articulate it. They have prepared good questions to ask about the position, the company and any future plans. They also follow up promptly with a thank you note. Appropriate dress is required; it shows respect, professionalism and maturity.

Although I can assess likeability and preparation quickly, a strong work ethic becomes apparent during the interview. I want to know if the candidate is flexible and if they will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Can I rely on them to do what needs to get done? To find this out, I usually make a list of questions I want to ask to see how they would react in certain situations.

The first question I usually ask is “Tell me about yourself”. I want to know who they are and what they can bring to the company, what makes them the most qualified for this position.

Other questions I will ask include:

  • Tell me about a difficult project or assignment you had in school. How did you handle it?
  • What personal accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • Tell me about a time when something didn’t go as planned. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to work with people you had no authority over.
  • Why are you interested in this position?

The questions I prefer to be asked of me include:

  • What would the ideal person accomplish in this position in the first 3 (or 6) months? (demonstrates interest)
  • What are the 2 or 3 key ingredients for success at this company? (demonstrates willingness to fit in)
  • Can you tell me what the next steps are in the hiring process? (opens the door for appropriate follow up)
  • I am really interested in this position. Is there anything in my background I can explain further? (provides an opportunity to clarify any potential misunderstandings.)

The one question that can rule out even the best candidates is any question pertaining to promotion or advancement. While it can show ambition, I want to know what a candidate will do for me not what they want the company to do for them. Promotions and/or additional responsibilities often follow outstanding performance.

Finally, if I have two really strong contenders for one position, the thank you note and appropriate follow up will make the decision for me. I really like thank you notes that are concise and reference the conversation we had, as opposed to a generic note. And I like to get them quickly. Email works perfectly for me although some of my co-workers prefer a hard copy hand written note.

Appropriate follow up means the candidate periodically checks in to reiterate their interest in the position. They respect the fact that I am busy and don’t always have an answer when they call. They trust that I will give them a decision as soon as I have one.


Guest Expert:

Susan Kennedy has over 20 years experience across industries hiring, coaching, and managing young professionals. Her business and human resources background, most recently at Fidelity Investments, provides comprehensive experience and practical knowledge. Susan has a degree in psychology and economics and frequently speaks at local area colleges on the job search process. Susan is the co-author of The Job Coach for Young Professionals and is a contributing writer on Monster.com as well as CollegeRercruiter.com

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