How would you do in a talent search? – Continued

Abstract:  This is the second in a series of articles about how to improve your probability of advancing in a high-stakes talent search.


The next barrier you have to overcome is the telephone interview.  The telephone interview occurs after the recruiter has done a ‘survey visit,’ a visit to the client organization where they spend a day or so focusing on the characteristics of an excellent candidate for the permanent position.  The work product is a position specification that is frequently circulated as part of initial sourcing for a job.  Telephone interviews are typically conducted by the recruiter’s understudy.  The interview focuses on understanding the fit of candidates whose resumes made the first cut with the requirements or desired credentials and experience outlined in the specification.   Younger, less experienced people in recruitment firms usually conduct preliminary interviews.  If you make it past this interview, you will probably get a phone interview with the primary recruiter.    How you do during these interviews will determine whether or not your pony advances to the next round of the show, which will be an in-person, Skype, or phone interview with either the primary recruiter or the opportunity decision-maker.  While phone interviewing technique is beyond the scope of this article, I will provide a few pointers.  If at all possible, schedule the phone interview.  Make sure when the interview occurs, you are in a private, quiet area where there will be no background noise and no distractions to either you or the recruiter during the call.   BEFORE the interview, familiarize yourself with the situation to the best of your ability.  Recruiters typically provide candidates that have made it this far in a search with background material on the opportunity unless it is confidential.  If you know the identity of the client organization, do as much research as you can to learn as much as you can about the organization, the location, and the opportunity.  Research methodology (remember college) is beyond the scope of this article.  I will state from experience that an unprepared candidate stands out during interviews like a beacon along the coast.  Your interview is over the minute the recruiter concludes you are clueless or not sufficiently interested to have undertaken any effort whatsoever to learn anything about the opportunity.  During your research, note as many questions as you can think of.  I can’t remember the number of times I have asked a candidate if they had any questions only to be told no.  Are you kidding me?  You are seeking employment, and you don’t have a single question about the organization, the opportunity, the location, or the recruitment process and timeline?  You might as well tell the recruiter to stand back while you shoot yourself in the foot or insert your foot into your mouth.  When I get the question as to whether or not I have a question, my response is always, “How much time do you have?”  Not only does asking questions give you more information if the time comes to decide on an offer, but it graphically demonstrates that you are very interested, interested enough to have undertaken effort to learn as much as possible about the situation.


Problem one is gaining awareness of an opportunity that might be of interest to you in a sufficiently timely fashion to get your pony into a show.  Networking in this context is not about interpersonal, professional networking that is a necessary skill for career and personal development.  As it relates to career development, networking is focused on the development of relationships with people and firms that are in a position to know about opportunities on a timely basis.  A lot of people have the mistaken idea that headhunters are looking out for them.  Headhunters are retained by and have a duty to seek the best outcome for the client that is the organization paying their fee, and that is not you.  The best you can hope for from a recruiter is that they will put your CV into their database.  When they secure a search, one of the first things they do is search their database for likely candidates.  Depending upon the search terms they use and the content of your CV, there is no guarantee that your CV is going to be selected for review even if you happen to be highly qualified for a particular opportunity.  The better course of action is to have built a network that will inform you of opportunities of interest and who the recruiter is so that you can contact the recruiter proactively regarding the opportunity.  In this situation, instead of being dependent upon chance, there is a near 100% chance that the recruiter will consider your CV for a more extensive telephone interview.  Just making this first hurdle is much more challenging than a lot of candidates appreciate.  Of course, it is beneficial if you happen to have contacts in your network with connections to the organization and the search firm.  For example, like a lot of folks, I have developed strong personal relationships with several industry-leading executive recruiters.  When I am asked about a potential candidate that I happen to know, that discussion with the recruiter carries infinitely higher weight into their decision  as to whether the investment of time and energy in that candidate is worthwhile or not.  I do not think many candidates have any idea how heavily recruiters rely on their own network and networking skills to cull a potential candidate pool.

Follow up

Following up may be one of the most effective and least practiced elements of a job search.  I do not understand the trend that looks to me like a growing lack of appreciation and decorum among candidates for very important jobs.  Your mother should have taught you to ALWAYS send a personalized, handwritten note of thanks.  The note should express appreciation for being given the opportunity of being considered for a position.  This should occur at each step of the process, including interactions with the recruiter.  On rare occasions, I will receive such a note or sometimes a formal letter.  While the formal letter looks better, there is something about a hand-written personalized note that demonstrates that the candidate was appreciative enough to take the time to let me know they were honored by the opportunity to be considered for a position.   My thank you notes are personally embossed and have personalized wax seals.  More than once, I have been complemented by a decision-maker on the taste demonstrated by this simple gesture.  Do you think they remembered my note?  Do you think it stood out from the others? (If there were any.)  I have received email acknowledgments that were generated from mailing lists where my name was not even spelled correctly.  What kind of impression does a hapless candidate think a cheap act like this is going to make?

You should send out a thank-you note within 48 hours of crucial stages of the process, i.e., phone interview with the recruiter, in-person interview with the recruiter, contacts with the client, etc.  If information was requested during the interview that you were unable to provide, you need to get that to the organization immediately, if not sooner.  Sometimes interviewers will request such information to see how long candidates take and what their work product looks like.   During the interview, you should ask about the timeline for the next steps.  If that timeline is exceeded, it is reasonable to follow-up to make sure that you have not missed anything.  Just do not become a pest in this process.  I made the mistake of referring a friend that is in desperate need of a gig to another friend that might be able to provide the opportunity.  My friend told the candidate that he would call him if an opportunity presented itself.  The guy who wanted work then proceeded to call my friend once a week or more for months at a time and, in the process, became a colossal PITA virtually ensuring that he will not get hired regardless of the need.  If you don’t have a project, you don’t need staffing – duh.  Following up shows diligence and commitment to the process and can differentiate you from your peers in a competitive search.  Avoid the temptation of getting carried away with your enthusiasm to pursue the decision-makers and, in the process, expose yourself as overly anxious.


The point of these articles is to sensitize readers to the subtle aspects of professional recruitment that I see frequently overlooked or ignored by candidates.  Most of them have no idea how efficient they are at weeding themselves out of a talent search.

Contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these articles, leadership, transitions, or interim services.  I might have an idea or two that might be valuable to you.  An observation from my experience is that we need better leadership at every level in organizations.  Some of my feedback is coming from people who are demonstrating an interest in advancing their careers.  My goal here is to produce content to address those requests.

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  1. This is a great article,.it has the same tone as the conversation we had when you were the interim CFO at the company I work for. Your advice gave me the confidence to show what I am capable of and because of that I have been able to advance in my career. Thank you!


    1. Thanks Jamin. I am humbled by your feedback. It was an honor to have the opportunity to mentor and work with you. You know I like one liners. Two come to mind. If you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything. And, what you tolerate, you accept. You are very good at what you do and I am not surprised to learn that your career is progressing.


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