Hiring Can Be Tough Without an Airtight Job Description



Between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost.”

― Kahlil Gibran

Communication isn’t easy, and misunderstandings often impede the work of even something as seemingly-elementary as a job description.  Job descriptions are a company’s first opportunity to say, “this is who we are and what we are looking for; here’s why we think you should want to work for us.” If only it were that simple.  If only employers could communicate a position perfectly, and only potential-employees perfectly matching the description and desiring the advertised compensation would respond. Hiring would be far easier.

But companies regularly struggle to provide job descriptions that are both complete and concise, often leaving out important information or going into too much detail. Both errors result in undesirable candidate pools.  

You may not have weighed the value of a recruitment consultant in writing or contributing to your company’s job descriptions, but it is a service worth considering.

Recruiters, as middlemen of sorts, have the unique opportunity of observing and participating in the communication dance between employer and employee.  Hundreds of times over, they work with businesses to be sure they themselves understand the heart of a company’s job description; they notice when qualified candidates are drawn to or put off by elements of the job posting, and they work to clarify intentions and resolve communication issues between both parties.  Businesses would be wise to seek out the insight of these communication experts.

Issues with job descriptions can be difficult to diagnose. Usually companies realize their job descriptions are problematic when they receive little interest in a job posting, when many of the applicants who respond to a posting do not meet a company’s required qualifications, or when response is far too numerous and varied to handle well.

Sometimes the advice is easy.  A generic job description will usually yield a larger, much more varied pool of applicants.  A too-specific or too-obscure job description may yield no applicants at all.

But sometimes, the problem is trickier to diagnose. Maybe a company has had good success with a job description in the past, only to find that now it is ineffective. What changed?

It could be the language. Job titles evolve over time, and your job description is possibly being passed over by candidates searching by newer terminology. Or maybe you are advertising for a position that used to be a single job, and has now grown into several, more specialized positions. Many tech positions fit into this category, with the all-encompassing “IT guy” job description a thing of the past.

Additionally, your job description could be lacking language that did not used to matter.  This may include descriptions of benefits, amenities, or cultural components you had not previously needed to add. Candidates today want to know not only what a job requires, but what it will be like to work for you. Also, the millennial workforce finds value in a different set of benefits. Your job description may have boasted a strong benefits package at one time, but now there are candidates who want gym memberships and work-from-home options more than they want health insurance.  

Job descriptions could also have more nuanced issues, like tone and style. What you thought was clear, straightforward communication is possibly being translated as arrogant, stuffy, or demanding. Or maybe the description you believed communicated a more laid-back work atmosphere has been understood to be unprofessional or from a business lacking a quality work product.
Sometimes, you need a professional communicator, someone who excels at bridging the gap between employers and candidates. Consider enlisting the help of an experienced recruiter, and leave behind job descriptions that are keeping you from finding quality candidates.

Why You Should Be Hiring for Company Culture in 2017


“It’s just a good fit.”

You’ve heard people say it when they are trying to explain why they have stayed at a job so long or why they are excited about a new job. And we know what they mean. Work is still work for everyone at times, but when a person finds a job with the right balance of encouragements for all the discouragements, he or she is far more likely to stick with it for the sake of the good.

What makes a good fit is highly personal and hard to clearly delineate. The business world has known about the power of fit for a long time, with formal psychological studies on the topic dating back the past hundred years. In that time, we’ve been able to nail down a whole range of fascinating observations (the varying importance of finding like-mindedness with a company, feeling satisfied/accomplished in the work itself, relationships with supervisors, etc.) but no formulaic, constant set of objective components that allow for a consistently good match between employees and employers.

“Fit” is trending again, with employees and employers starting to ask for “cultural fit” in new jobs and new hires, respectively. What exactly do they mean by that, and why is it such a priority?

Cultural fit is notoriously elusive, but you can catch a glimpse of it in companies’ increased advertising on mobile platforms. With varying degrees of success, companies are trying to communicate their unique culture to would-be employees, appealing to a particular kind of candidate, and thereby dissuading those who find a company’s promoted culture less attractive. The tone of the Twitter feed, style portrayed in Instagram photos, and stance of articles written and shared on Facebook, all work together to communicate “culture”.  

Employees report again and again basing their decision to stay at or leave a job on the culture of a company.  Companies have responded by increasing their efforts to clearly communicate their culture early on in the hiring process with the goal finding and keeping quality, “good fit” employees. And while studies cannot provide a formula for creating cultural fit, they agree again and again that a strong match of candidate and culture brings both satisfaction (for employer and employee) and longevity.

So how does a company begin the process of hiring with culture in mind?  We see two big misunderstandings that can immediately impede any business’s efforts in this area – misunderstanding your company’s unique culture, and misunderstanding “similarity” and “fit”.  Avoid these, and you’ll be one step closer to a more successful hiring process.

First of all, avoid misunderstanding your own company’s culture. What abilities and characteristics are truly necessary for an employee to find success in your company? What behaviors do you most value? You will not be able to discern how well a candidate fits into the culture of your company simply by looking at his or her resumé-listed skills. You may think, for example, that the culture of your company is matched simply by a candidate with certain academic achievements or experience with specific software or training. But cultural fit goes deeper than skillset – it requires an assessment of a company’s core values.

Fortune featured an interview with Sanjay Beri, founder and CEO of Netskope, in which he explains the power of hiring for cultural fit. “Any day of the week, I would choose a person who is a 10 on the culture scale with regards to collaboration, transparency, resourcefulness, and lack of an ego—even if he or she were only an 8 on domain knowledge. Leaders are often blinded by resumes and overlook red flags that indicate a candidate’s vision may not be aligned with the company’s future. As a CEO, I want high-energy, independent, driven employees, and I’ve made sure my hires reflect those values. Make sure you filter for those traits that are important to you, and your company culture will come together.”

Understanding your company’s culture will take time, and it will take even more time to figure out how to communicate it most effectively. Hiring for cultural fit will involve spending enough time with a candidate to know the values behind the achievements.

Secondly, be sure you have a good understanding of the difference between hiring for company culture and hiring for similarity.

For example, perhaps a business places high value on having a laid-back workplace. There are a wide variety of people who would thrive in a more casual work environment.  Don’t allow your hiring to grow too narrow, hiring only a single personality, or only people who share similar interests or certain minor values. Your business will suffer in the stagnation of employees who all think similarly. Your company needs diversity.

Lisa Calhoun expounded on this her article for Inc., explaining how to discern if you are looking for genuine cultural fit (what she calls “core values”) or sameness in your hiring process. She breaks down hiring efforts into two categories: efforts to discern if “you believe like we believe” or those asking if “you act like we act”, saying the key to non-stereotypical, non-superficial “fit” in a company is figuring out which candidates “believe like we believe” (even if they don’t “act like we act”).  

Explains Calhoun, “Companies that love ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘the Red Sox,’ prefer ‘wine down Wednesdays,’ or ‘in by eight,’ are all working with culture fit stereotypes, rather than with the clarity of defined core values.” This is a misunderstanding of what it means to hire for company culture.

Effectively hiring for cultural fit doesn’t happen overnight, and it will look different for every business. As you refine your understanding of your company’s core culture, you will be able to provide advertising that is more in line with that culture. This will influence the candidates who make up your hiring process’s applicant pool, and the people you hire will have their own influence over your company and its culture. The cycle is dynamic and will require regular evaluation, but the benefit is worth it, as more and more employees will find themselves saying about your company, “It’s a good fit for me.”
If you find you are struggling to discern or communicate your company culture, consider bringing in some professional help. Experienced recruitment consultants are full-time “good fit” seekers, and working with both candidates and businesses for years allows them to have greater insight into what makes a candidate-company match successful.

Does Your Recruiter Need a Recruiter


Image of two young business partners discussing plans or ideas a

We don’t want you to shudder when you think of professional recruitment agencies, but we also understand that a bad experience can leave a company feeling distrustful of the whole operation.

We posted an article several weeks ago (“Not Everyone is a Recruiter – Skills and Experience are a Must”) that dealt briefly with the issue of problematic, inexperienced recruiters. We’d like to give you a few key warning signs to watch for so you can know if your recruiter is a pro, or if they could use a professional recruiter themselves to help bring them up to par.

Let’s start with the first and most potentially-dangerous sign of a too-inexperienced recruiter, desperation.


Many new recruiters work only on contingency, and this can lead to a bad case of desperation.  Or maybe you’ve seen recruiters stuck in the frantic search for a huge client and immediate payout, again resulting in desperation. The desperation doesn’t bode well for company, candidate, or recruiter. Desperation causes recruiters to act unwisely, cutting corners both ethically and professionally.

If you see this in your recruiter, it’s probably time to look for a consultant with more experience. Chances are, the desperate recruiter is either going to run into trouble by acting unethically, burn out from the frenzied pace they’ve set for themselves, have trouble sourcing and developing candidates because of their demanding or pushy demeanor, or cause a company to tire of their regular pressure to accept candidates who don’t meet the job requirements or who aren’t in the company’s budget.


We aren’t slinging mud here; ignorance is what preceded understanding for every now-experienced recruiter. New recruiters in this category could become great recruiters if they find someone who can help them learn the practices of effective recruiting. That being said, with the future of your company on the line, you may not want to be the guinea pig.

Here are some telltale signs of a recruiter lacking knowledge.

You may notice that the recruiter is struggling to locate qualified candidates, or if they are finding candidates, they are the same candidates who are readily accessible in a basic online search. This recruiter may be lost, not knowing where to go for more sourcing options, and unsure of how to begin networking.

Or maybe the candidate list you receive is lacking. The candidates aren’t qualified, and the recruiter is either missing important information you’ve given them regarding qualifications or is unknowledgeable about the specific industry or position you are hiring. They may not be able to tell from resumés and phone calls who could be a fit for the position, because they don’t really understand the position itself.

You could also be confused by a recruiter’s lack of understanding about the style and pace of professional recruiting. Maybe your recruiter is hard to get in touch with, is slow to update you on progress made, or misunderstands his or her role in your hiring process.

If you find yourself training your recruiter, regularly educating him or her on the particulars of your industry or his or her position as a recruiter, it likely means that he or she needs some extra training and experience before he or she is able to be useful to you.

While these warning signs could point to a recruiter lacking experience, they could also point to a recruiter who has plenty of experience, but is just not a good fit for the job. A great recruiter or agency will be a huge help to your company, so if you find you are working with a desperate or unknowledgeable recruiter, consider looking for someone else.

Myth: It Costs Too Much to Use a Recruitment Consultant or Agency


Let’s set the record straight. Recruiters do not have magical, superhero powers. We sometimes hear of HR heads and hiring managers getting frustrated with recruiters – believing that paying an outside consultant or agency a fee means they are granted access to a list of candidates with unrealistically incredible skill sets who are all eager to work for their company.

People. That’s just not how it works. And expectations set in the realm of the quixotic will only slow down efforts to hire top talent.

Experienced recruiters are professional sourcers, network builders, and engagement specialists.  This allows them to find and engage top talent for your company’s needs. But the candidates they produce often have the same qualifications – those outlined in your company’s job description – as candidates you could potentially have uncovered if you decided to keep hiring efforts in-house.

So why are professional recruiters worth upfront cost? Why pay a recruiter to find candidates you could find on your own?

Because a recruiting consultant or agency can find the qualified candidates when companies often cannot.

Sure, a company could put the time and effort into sourcing and engaging candidates, but even if companies have in-house recruiters who won’t throw off a company’s daily groove by focusing on hiring, these employees are still pulled in various directions with multiple positions to fill and the regular distractions of meetings and other in-office duties.

A recruitment consultant or agency can put 100% of their time and effort into filling your job opening, and that brings in results that, to a company who needs quality candidates now, can feel a little bit magical. The “magic” is not a list of unicorn candidates from blackmarket-level-secret sources. It’s the magic of years of experience and well-honed networking and engagement skills yielding excellent results in a timely fashion. And that is what saves you money in the end.

We’ve cited Center for American Progress’s 2012 study previously, and the summation given in the closing remarks speaks to the extreme value of timely, quality hiring. “…The cost of employee turnover for businesses is high, regardless of the level of wages being paid to the departing or incoming employees. Companies typically pay about one-fifth of an employee’s salary to replace that employee. While it costs businesses more to replace their very-highest-paid employees, the costs for most employers remains significant and does become less significant for those with low earnings.”

Employee turnover costs swell when positions are not filled quickly. Training is laborious and expensive, and unfilled positions hurt the company as a whole when existing employees have to deviate from their own tasks to help fill in the gaps. The last thing a company needs is a poor hire to add to the cycle of lost earning potential.
Professional recruitment consultants and agencies can find the candidates a company does not have the time to find. If a company is willing to let a recruiter do the work they are trained to do, if they are clear about what they are looking for in a new hire, and if their expectations for the candidates a recruiter produces are feasible, professional recruiters can prove to be invaluable resources to the companies with whom they partner.

Using Technology to Help with Recruiting

It would be difficult to overestimate the role technology has played in recruiting practices in recent years. A hiring process void of online components is now nearly unheard of, while trends and techniques considered “best practice” for hiring from job boards and ATSs are growing and changing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up.

The aggressive mining of big data has produced new formulas and software for every aspect of the recruiting process. From sourcing to closing, it’s now easier than ever to take care of business via a PC or mobile device.

The rapid development of technology makes it difficult to pause and analyze all of its implications, but one piece of recruiting advice does seem to resound again and again among top business leaders – technology cannot replace people.

The key is not finding programs to automate the hiring process from one end to the other, but instead, discerning how to make the best use of time-saving technology in order to invest the most personal time and effort into hiring’s key stages. Precise applications of this will vary from industry to industry and business to business, but there are several overarching principles we believe will prove helpful to all companies seeking to use the latest technology to help with their recruiting process.

Get on Board

Maybe you’re a technology holdout, still fighting off indigestion when paper resumes are passed over for online applications; maybe you have tried to learn a new system, only to have it displaced by the “new-and-improved” version months later; maybe you’ve finally put technology to use in a way that is comfortable to you, and you’re cringing at the thought of having to change everything again. We get it.

If technology’s innovations are more obnoxious than exciting to you, if you aren’t eagerly scanning tech blogs every morning, anxious to see what new gizmo Google or Apple put out now, consider getting some help in the IT arena. It’s far easier to adjust to regular, small-level changes than to try to learn a completely new system every few years.

Find a tech blog that speaks your language, seek out a conference that is accessible to the non-tech-guru, hire an IT person or team who can help with the unceasing onslaught of changes, and then embrace the good technology has to offer.

Make it work for you. Again, technology updates shouldn’t be ends in themselves, they should render profits; they should make your hiring process more efficient, making your life easier. So get on board and stay on board.

Mobility (And all that entails…)

Getting more specific, recent developments in technology are moving consistently toward a mobile-friendly design. This is much more than creating smartphone-accessible websites. It’s about ensuring that you have a hiring process that is easily accessible to potential candidates and the ability to include as many formats of communication – video, chat, social media links, etc. – as are helpful to you in your sourcing and hiring practices.

Depending on your business and your focus, you may or may not use every social media site or popular app that comes along to contribute to your hiring process, but you should be willing to consider the potential value of any new technology. If a candidate’s resume includes the option of a link to a social media profile or video interview, these additions to the traditional resume format can provide more information on the candidate, giving recruiters and businesses a fuller picture of who that candidate really is.

Ask yourself if your hiring process is candidate-friendly. It’s difficult enough to find a good match in a new hire, don’t let superficial issues – like non-user-friendly interfaces and confusing formatting – keep the right candidates from applying for your open position.

Social media, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, can be powerful advertising and hiring tools. LinkedIn is the obvious social media option for business-related contact building and advertising, but Facebook is hard to ignore, with a reported 1.79 billion active monthly users in December 2016.  30% of all Google searches are employment related (about 300 million per month), so if you aren’t putting regular effort into establishing and keeping up with your business’s online presence, you’re missing out.

Keep it Personal

We’ve already advised against letting algorithms take the place of people. Data, formulas, apps, and systems should help people, not replace them. No computer can make a personal connection with new, potential, or existing employees the way a person can. And connection is what keeps an employee at a job. So while it’s amazing that a single online ad can generate interest from applicants all around the world, it’s also not enough to ensure long-term hiring success.

Technology needs constant babysitting – regular updates, troubleshooting, evaluating and reevaluating.  This requires a wise and personal touch. Resources are widely available for businesses seeking industry-specific advice for effectively utilizing current technology, but they, again, require the careful consideration and implementation of a knowledgeable person or team of people.

Alongside the trend towards mobility is an emphasis on making the hiring process as personal as possible.  Businesses who are embracing apps like Snapchat as a method of connecting with candidates are, at least in part, seeking to provide candidates a more realistic portrayal of the culture of their company.  This is, reportedly, a huge priority among millennials. And, as Jeff Fromm explains in Forbes, millennials are “the generation that will represent nearly 75 percent of the workforce by 2030.”

Quality, time-tested business practices are as important as ever. Efforts to improve a company’s technology should work hand-in-hand with more traditional keys to business success.  Technology should reflect and not distract from the heart of the company it represents.  Keeping your technology personal betters your chances of hiring employees that are a good match for your company’s distinct culture. Better matches mean less turnover, and less turnover saves you money.

Interview Questions Hiring Managers Should be Asking

We briefly mentioned Top-grading interview techniques in our post titled, “Ten Tips to Improve Your Company’s Recruiting and Hiring.”  We’d like to take the time here to explore the topic of interview questions and techniques in greater detail.

Interviews are not a static operation. Multiple people are involved, making the interview process difficult to effectively reduce to a list of perfect questions that will be successful in all situations.  The goal of an interview is to understand a person; you are trying to discern if an individual is the best fit for your company. The more you understand what truly motivates a person, the more accurately you are able to predict how well a candidate’s goals line up with those of your company.

Topgrading technique and our years of experience recommend, then, that your interview questions seek out the details of a candidate’s work history in order to understand what most motivates him or her.

Simply asking, “What motivates you to complete a task well?” is ambiguous enough to generate confused, canned, or generalized answers that offer you no real insight into the interviewee. However, taking the time to go over a candidate’s work history and asking specific questions about successes and failures at different jobs, for example,  will allow the interviewer to piece together a fuller, more accurate picture of the candidate’s character and motivations.

Imagine, if you will, a typical interview scenario. An applicant sits across the desk from a small panel of interviewers. One of them asks the common interview question, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” This isn’t a bad question; it’s actually precisely what most employers want to know about a candidate. However, asking this question to an interviewee without any given context will rarely give you the kind of honest, reflective answer you are seeking. You may even get a humorously cliché answer like, “My greatest weakness and my greatest strength are the same; I simply care too much.” Whether this answer makes you grimace or chuckle, it doesn’t help you understand the inner workings of your candidate.

Instead, imagine that the same group of interviewers and interviewee were seated as before, and one of the panelists asks, “On your job history it shows that you worked at Company A for five years and then took a job across town at Company B. Can you tell us why you decided to make this move?” Follow-up questions could include, “What did you like most about your time with Company A? What did you like least? What is one thing you learned at Company B that has made you a better employee? What things do you think you could have done better to make your time with Company B more successful? What would your supervisor at Company A most likely say is something you need to work on?” The questions are endless and cannot be strictly scripted, as a mindful interviewer will listen to a candidate’s answers and follow up with the most relevant questions. Though it takes more time and thought to ask these sorts of questions, at the end of this second interview, you’ve started to develop a more accurate view of the candidate’s actual strengths and weaknesses.

Top-grading experts include, as further assurance of the effectiveness of the process, checking in with the bosses and direct supervisors at each of the candidate’s past jobs. Knowing that you will follow up in this way encourages the candidate to give honest, thoughtful answers, as opposed to the overly self-glorifying answer you may receive if a candidate believes you are only speaking with the friends and coworkers he or she has listed as recommended references.  Even very honest applicants can give better answers when they know that their responses will be weighed against another’s perspective.

An effective interviewer understands the that he or she is dealing with the person behind the paper resumé. People are complex and cannot often be summed up in a few easy, rehearsed sentences. The resumé is the snapshot, the interview should be the travel journal. You should leave an interview with a better understanding of not only what an applicant has accomplished, but how and why an applicant accomplished those things.

Top 3 Tips for Choosing the Best Candidate for the Job

You hold in your hands a list of qualified candidates, all applying for an open position in your company. You’ve done the research (check out our past article, “10 Tips to Improve Your Company’s Recruiting and Hiring”), you’ve put in the work, and all that remains is to make a formal offer.

How do you choose the final candidate? How do you know which candidate will be the best hire when all the finalists have made it through experience screening and interviews?

There isn’t an equation for this decision. We are talking about human resources here – people, who come with a unique set of complexities no test has ever really been able to pin down. What you want to know is the future… which person will fit in best at this company, most help us succeed, most share our vision, be most invested. And while we cannot help you see into the future, we can help you make the best choice possible with the knowledge you have.

These tips have been practiced and acclaimed by some of the country’s top CEOs, and we believe they can help you too.

#1 Know the Person Behind the Candidate

At this point in the hiring process, you likely could have given some sort of numerical score to each candidate. Categories such as education, relevant experience, basic interview skills, quality references, and professional appearance can all be given a grade.

But do you know which of your candidates can resolve interpersonal conflicts with coworkers? Do you know who would be honest in a situation where honesty could cost them?  Do you know which of them would pass up an opportunity for self-promotion to benefit the company as a whole?

Essentially, what do your candidates value most and how do those values line up with those of your company?

No single set of characteristics will satisfy every employer, so identifying your company’s value system and narrowing down what you’d most like to see in your employees will take careful consideration. Some businesses want a team of driven, competitive, willing-to-do-anything employees to ensure their business can thrive in ultra-competitive markets. Other businesses place extreme value on excellent customer service and creating a friendly environment for customers and employees.

Non-numerical data, though hard to uncover and even harder to clearly define, can make all the difference between a happy or unhappy hire. Methods for uncovering this type of candidate data are varied. Some employers swear by a particular personality test, some believe that with a frank and comfortable interview atmosphere, applicants will offer this information freely, and some dig deeply into references and social media sites. Others fondly refer to the “beer test,” in which employers either hypothetically or actually take the final candidates out socially to get a better feel for who they really are.

Ethan Rouen, writing for Fortune, states that you cannot overestimate the power of cultural fit. He cites a study conducted by Dokko, Wilk, and Rothbard, published in 2009 by Organization Science. Rouen writes, “They expected that poor fit would be detrimental in the success of new employees, but in fact, the results were a surprise to researchers: poor cultural fit completely eliminated all the good that came from experience.”

Rouen responds by recommending a variety of techniques to companies looking to emphasize cultural fit, ranging from collaborative interviewing, to job descriptions including explanations of a company’s culture, to in-company referrals. We’ve also heard of companies going undercover, asking drivers and waiters who have recently interacted with candidates how they were treated.

So while we can agree across industries that cultural fit is significant, we must leave room for each specific company to figure out its own unique methodology.

#2 Simulate a Real Work Experience

Some training is necessary for anyone endeavoring to fill a new position, but testing to see what your final candidates would do with a real-life situation if handed it today is a great way to decipher aptitude. Done correctly, this can also give potential employees an idea of what it would be like to work for your company. It’s a win-win.

Again, techniques for carrying out this kind of test are varied.


The New York Times published a series of articles in 2013 by Bryan Burkhart, in which he discusses the hiring process utilized at H.Bloom. High employee turnover led H.Bloom’s management to make substantial changes to their process; while the process is not set in stone and continues to adjust to the changing needs of the company, the work they have put in thus far is already reaping rewards.

The final two steps of H.Bloom’s hiring process are a case study and an on-the-job assessment day.


Case studies test a candidate’s practical knowledge and problem solving abilities. Explains Burkhart, “Candidates who make our short-list are given case studies that approximate the actual job. We provide an assignment, with all of the necessary background information, and then set up a time for the candidate to come back into the office and present the case to a handful of us who will make the hiring decision. This in-depth evaluation allows us to separate the great candidates from the merely good.”


This, paired with a day in the office meeting and working alongside current employees, gives the hiring team at H.Bloom a chance to envision each candidate actually working for their company.

Other companies, seeking the same assurance of quality employees, add into their contracts a mandatory period of probation for new workers. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all plan; implementation strategies must be tailored to suit individual companies.  

#3 Go with Your Gut (or Bring in the Professionals)

A well-thought-out hiring process is meant to cut out unqualified candidates, so if you get to the end of the hiring process and have multiple candidates remaining, there is some assurance accompanying whomever you choose. Get your team together, and make the best decision you can with the group of people you’ve trained to make these calls.

If you are still unsatisfied with your hiring process, consider calling in a professional recruiter. Years of experience seeing this process from start to finish in countless companies prepares them to wisely advise you on how to make decisions that will most benefit your company.

Résumé Killers – A Recruiter’s Perspective


Whatever your desired career field, these are a few of the surest ways we have seen to propel your résumé no further than the company trash can.

Typos, Spelling and Grammar Errors

Obvious typos,spelling and grammar errors scream lack of effort, if not lack of intelligence. That sounds harsh, and even the best writers make occasional errors when they write, but your résumé needs to be free of them.

Employers don’t know you yet – all they have is the brief, typed page sitting it front of them; there isn’t opportunity to explain errors or ask for errors to be overlooked in the interest of your other notable strengths.

Rob Walker, “The Workologist” column writer for New York Times, tackled the topic of “sloppy résumés” in his response to a question about whether or not a candidate with an error-filled résumé should still be hired. His expounds, “Multiple résumé typos definitely seem like a deal breaker: It’s such an easy problem to fix that it suggests a deeper carelessness or lack of attention to detail.”

Take the time to proofread. Print out your document and have others proofread for you. The extra effort is worth it.

Inappropriate Appearance

We’re putting everything from distractingly-flamboyant design to poor formatting in this category.

When an employer has stacks of résumés of get through, applicants who cannot come up with formatting that facilitates an easy reading of their résumé will likely be passed over.

Richard H. Beatty, writing for the Wall Street Journal, explains, “You don’t want to make the staffing professional’s work even more difficult by presenting a poorly prepared résumé that’s sloppy, difficult to read, or otherwise complicates the matter. If you do, it probably will be immediately rejected. The recruiter is likely to move quickly to the next résumé without even a second’s thought. Having a well-designed, easy-to-read résumé is critical to making the cut. Anything short of this is sure to land your résumé in the ‘no interest’ pile in less than a New York minute.”

Some formatting errors are obvious, such as illegible or distracting fonts. Others can be harder to pinpoint, like failing to keep your text (including headings and bullet points) uniform, taking no notice of large amounts of whitespace (or no whitespace at all), or allowing key information (like name and contact information) to be camouflaged.

If these formatting errors aren’t obvious to you, make sure to print out your résumé and ask someone who does have an eye for basic design for input.


This advice shouldn’t be secluded to the realm of résumé writing, but we are definitely including it here. Don’t lie on your résumé. Depending on the lie, it may or may not take a bit longer for this to get your résumé trashed, but the trashing is inevitable.

We’re not the only ones who think so. Tamara Star, a professional consultant and recruiter writing for The Huffington Post, warns, “Let me remind you: in today’s digital world, it’s impossible to hide ANYTHING. The truth always comes to light, so it’s far better to include a job gap, lack of degree, or short tenure than to attempt hiding it. The minute you’re caught hiding something, your credibility goes right out the window – regardless of explanation…”
The mistakes we’ve mentioned here are résumé killers; even the best candidate would have a difficult time finding a job if his or her résumé was not free from these bungles. Make sure your résumé isn’t being trashed before you’ve had a chance to show a company your value as a candidate.

What Recruiters Look for in Your Résumé

Résumé advice is confusing.

One “top ten tips” list will tell you that the key to hiring success via résumé is making your résumé stand out – so use fancier fonts and brighter paper; the list one site over will prescribe that you use nothing but Times New Roman font, standard margins, and plain white computer paper.

The confusion doesn’t end there. No party line seems to exist in the areas of formatting (“Chronological only!”, “Always use functional!”, “A combination is your best option!”), length (“One page MAX!”, “As many pages as you need to prove you’re the right candidate!”), or wording (“Include as many keywords as possible!”, “Avoid all buzzwords!”).

The problem is that no industry, no employer, is exactly the same. Across-the-board advice is difficult because “the board” is so diverse. Without looking at a specific résumé for a specific position, it’s difficult to make rules that will serve every applicant well.

That being said, we’ve seen a lot of résumés, and there are certain qualities that we, as recruiters, look for in every résumé that comes our way, regardless of industry. We look for relevance, readability, and potency.


Quite simply, do not submit a generic résumé – tailor your résumé to the specific job for which you are applying. Your résumé needs to be relevant. This applies to both content and appearance.

First, let’s tackle content.

Nancy Collamer, writing for Forbes, states, “Your current career goals should always determine which parts of your story to highlight and which to minimize.”

Maybe you are changing fields, and your focus needs to be on transferable skills. Make sure these skills are easily accessible on your résumé, not hidden in the fine print. Achievements from your current position should be shown to be relatable to the skills you’ll need for the new position. Don’t use acronyms and jargon from your past work that are too specific and will mean little to new employers. Make your résumé relevant.

Or maybe you are moving up in a field in which you’ve worked for years, and the focus needs to be on specific successes you’ve had throughout your time in that industry. Instead of spending time and space going over detailed accounts of your earliest jobs years ago, use your limited real estate to illustrate the most important accomplishments from your time in your current field.

Appearance, though seemingly less important than content, can determine whether or not your résumé gets read at all. Instead of making sweeping statements about what fonts are or are not suitable, we advise that you think again about which stylistic qualities would be most suitable to the specific job for which you are applying.

Continues Collamer, “Make sure your design matches industry norms for your field — a graphic designer can comfortably display more creativity than an accountant.”

In certain fields, an added page or more of charts, graphs, or studies may be appropriate. Other fields want no more than a single, well-ordered page, which leads into our next point.


résumés are their own genre. Though their brevity can be frustrating, it will do you no good to fight against the limitations of the résumé by trying to turn them into essays. Depending on the size of the stack of résumés sitting in the employer’s desk or inbox, your résumé may or may not get much more than a skim.  Clear, concise remarks have the best chance of sticking with whomever is doing the hiring.

Readability is about more than merely helping your résumé survive the skimming process, it is an opportunity to put your communication abilities on display. Since little space necessitates fewer words, your résumé writing demands both thoughtful wording and organizational skills.


Finally, we arrive at the meat and potatoes of the résumé. When it comes time to state your academic and career-related accomplishments, make sure they come across as powerfully as possible.  To do this, you need to state them actively and accurately.

Résumés can feel like lies. It’s difficult to give a full and accurate portrayal of your experience with such limited space, leading you to feel like you are telling half-truths. Added to this is the résumé-typical lingo that seems either braggadocious or meaningless in its perpetual overuse. So when we tell you to be genuine, we know that you are fighting an uphill battle.

The simplest way to follow this advice is to be sure that your résumé is accurate, containing no errors of which you are aware or statements that are intended to deceive. Attempts to strengthen your résumé that include misleading or fraudulent claims are really doing just the opposite. Seasoned recruiters and employers are good at spotting these deceptions, and those that are passed over in a cursory résumé read-through will assuredly be brought to light in the subsequent background checking and reference calling.

Being genuine extends beyond merely leaving out deception. Your résumé will be most powerful when it gives the best, most fitting, genuine description of your work and educational accomplishments. Underselling is common and often inadvertent.

It is common, for example, to list achievements passively, describing your presence or participation rather than your active role. When possible, use the listing of achievements to highlight more of your strengths or show the depth of your engagement. If you worked hard to organize an event or training for your company, it would be weak and ingenuous to say that you “attended,” “were involved with,” or “helped with” the event. These statements suggest that you were merely along for the ride. If you were more than that, if you were key to the success of the event and the vision that brought it about, let your language reflect that.

Specifics can also strengthen a résumé. Rather than stating that you have “leadership skills” or “good communication,” include specific awards or projects that demonstrate the genuineness of these points. Again, your résumé is limited. Make the most of the space you have.

A relevant, readable, potent résumé will give you your best chance of success in a résumé-driven hiring process.

Best Interview Tips for Candidates

#1 Be On Time

“Punctuality is the politeness of kings.” Louis XVII of France

If it’s good enough for royalty, it’s good enough for your job interview. Being on time feels like advice so obvious, no one should have to give it anymore. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Punctuality shows respect for a company’s time and resources; you can tell a company all about your character, but being on time is a way to demonstrate it.

Interviewing on the phone? Be expecting the call; don’t be surprised by it. Be friendly, respectful, and as transparent as possible. Recruiters, whether for a company or an agency, have conducted enough interviews to know when you’re not being upfront with them.

#2 Do Your Homework

“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.” – Henry Ford

We’ve called some clueless candidates, and it’s a huge red flag. If you haven’t had enough interest in a company to find out who they are and the basics of how they operate, it’s difficult to prove that you are truly interested in the job they are offering.

Have the job description from the ad in front of you as you talk with the interviewer. Know what position it is for which you are being interviewed, and be ready to offer an informed response to the question, “Do you know anything about our company?” Something more than, “Yes, I’ve done my research,” and never, “No, I don’t know anything about your company.”

Know your audience when you are applying in person; you should look the part. Dress professionally, and if the dress code seems to vary between business and business casual, always opt for the more formal attire. Once again, you are communicating respect. Jeans and a t-shirt tells a company that you didn’t place any special value on this interview, but professional attire says you’re ready to get to work immediately.

#3 Be Prepared

“To be prepared is half the victory.” – Miguel de Cervantes

Depending on how familiar you are with current interview procedures and questions, you may or may not need to brush up with some practice questions. These can easily be found online, and while they may not be the questions you end up being asked, they will help you gain confidence in speaking clearly with interviewers.

Be ready to give results from your past roles. This should include specific examples and avoid vague, overreaching explanations. This portion of the interview is where you, the candidate, are selling yourself to the recruiter or company. Your resume got you in the door, and now is your chance to bring it home. Do this succinctly and sincerely, explaining why you want the opportunity and why you are the best choice for the company.

If you are applying for a position that is different from roles you’ve filled in the past, plan on explaining how your experience is transferrable to the new position. As professional recruiters, we have selected candidates who have a strong resume – perhaps including excellent leadership skills or management experience – to fill a role in an industry that is different from other positions they’ve held. These candidates have been able to explain and later demonstrate how their experience transfers to the new job.

If you have gaps in your resume, be ready to explain them. Even if you don’t have gaps, be ready to share why you moved from one company to another. Again, dishonesty can sink you. Most companies are now including background checks in their hiring process, so be ready to answer honestly.

Finally, be prepared to give professional references. “Professional” includes personnel from previous jobs who have held a position above you in the company and who had the opportunity to evaluate your work performance. Other co-workers or friends should not be your primary references.

#4 Ask Questions in the Interview

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” -Voltaire

Questions demonstrate that you are engaged in the conversation and truly interested in the position. The “I just need a job” attitude does nothing to differentiate you from other candidates. You get one chance to turn the tables and interview the company; let them know what is important to you personally or professionally that makes you want to know specifics about the opportunity or the company. Questions give the company insight into who you are and what you value.