Dear Claudia,

I'm a corporate college recruiter, and find myself spending a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of time coaching candidates so they present well to hiring managers. I'm not talking about technical skills, which are fine; I'm talking about basic things like using good manners, writing communications that aren't filled with text message cryptics or emoticons, or setting expectations that are marginally realistic. It happens daily, and I am really starting to resent that I have to teach the most basic of collaboration skills to get these newbies past first base with a hiring manager. What can I do to keep my cool?

Not Your Mom

Dear NYM,

Your question made me laugh because it reminded me of earlier Calgon, take me away! moments while raising my own teenagers. I might be inclined to jump off the nearest bridge if I found myself back there again, only this time without the authority to take away the car keys or a cell phone.

Seriously though, here are your options. You can close off every candidate who acts this way, and the result is that you'll also increase your source-to-present ratio and potentially lengthen time to hire. Alternately, you can set clear expectations sooner with candidates, and make the grooming less hands-on. Both of these options can bring you back to Zen.

But before you start, take a quick reality check by asking yourself a couple of questions:

1. Whose filter is it, anyway?

If your blood pressure is going to go up, wouldn't it be nice to be crystal clear about who really cares about the offending behavior? If your Hiring Managers don't care, it's time for you to let this one go and spend your energy in another direction (a la "Who Moved My Cheese?").

A critical recruiting skill is the ability to reflect the business culture accurately to others, even when it isn't your preference. This is the most difficult kind of recruiting, by the way, because it requires that you make candidate choices without passing judgement on the parties. You're paid to make matches, not clone yourself.

2. Do I want to be right, or do I want to be rich?

If your filter is aligned with that of the business, this question isn't for you. But if you're the only one irritated here and you're not planning to leave any time soon, think about it for a moment. Either option is fine, just be honest and willing to accept the consequences of your actions; refusing to change ultimately leads to pain and separation. Make sure that the value you cling to is worth the price.

I think that you've stumbled on an opportunity to add even greater value to your business by helping generations transition and work better together. Why not create a short roadmap to your company culture for candidates, with tips on what works there and what doesn't? Reference articles like this for added impact. If provided early in the process the smart ones will self-select pretty quickly (both into and out of your company culture), and eventually you'll spend more time recruiting and less time wiping noses.


In my day job, I’m the Head of Products for Improved Experience, where we help employers use feedback to measure and manage engagement for competitive advantage in hiring and retention. Learn more about us here.

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Great advice Claudia. You have wonderful perspective on these things.

Being an Independent recruiter I have ongoing experience with helping prepare all shapes and varieties of candidates for interviews. I've learned a few things about people.

This is where I'm going to say something a bit different from the general concensus. We can NOT change who a person is and how they will act once they are more than a few minutes into the interview! I've learned my lesson more than a dozen times - so frankly I have stopped spending countless hours explaining to interviewees how to:

Look the interviewer in the eye.
Get a hair cut 3 days before your interview.
Have a sharp suit or at a minimum some pressed pants ready.
Don't ramble on and on about what you don't like about your current manager.
Please take your nose ring out (if you have one)
Try to stay on topic
Ask questions where the interviewer needs to visualize YOU in the role while giving the answer (a fantastic approach if you can do it by the way....)

I've mentioned my ratios several times here and there. Want to know something? They do not change. Whether I go from one extreme to the other - from a 3 hour Mini-seminar on how to nail the perfect interview to "good luck bro - call me if you're interested"........

I will screen candidates to a degree of professionalism of course. And I'll certainly do my best to help them with anything they are nervous about. Certainly my candidates know all about the job, the company, etc. before their interview.

But I've given up telling them how to dress, how to "ask for the job" and in general how to conduct themselves for the interview.

People are who they are. A 30 minute chat with you about how to behave goes in one ear and out the other.

OK - I'm ready for the heat!
This is an area where career professionals can be of real value-- interview skills is just one of the many things career coaches can help improve. We are very interested in partnering with recruiters to help candidates be successful.

Liz Sumner
Director, Career Management Alliance
I think culture roadmaps are interesting, too - and there's variety of interesting formats to explore (wikis, etc.) . If there are any corporate recruiters reading, I'd be curious to hear what you're doing on this front to manage candidate expectations?

And re: ABBA, well that's just my little gift to you for today, Maren!

Maren Hogan said:
I will now have ABBA stuck in my head for the day.
Jerry Albright said:
OK - I'm ready for the heat!

Jerry, you make excellent points as usual my friend. My experience has also been that results don't vary a lot whether or not you coach candidates (it simply takes longer), and again I think you're a hero for tracking metrics to this level. It is really important information, as it helps you decide with intelligence what is (and is not) worth your time to do.

I suspect, however, that the age range of college candidates may reflect a level of emotional development that coincides with leaving childhood (and being the center of the known universe) behind (I don't have data for this, btw, it's just a general observation - and I realize as I say it that generalizations can get one in a lot of hot water).

In this context the interesting questions to me are (a) what skills are needed by the business, and (b) where are these younger candidates learning them? If the answer to either question is unclear, then a gap exists, and gaps are where other companies can beat you in the competition for the best talent. Leaving candidates to sort it out for themselves may not be the best answer for companies that seed their internal talent pools years in advance. And since the hire is driven by business need, often it is the corporate recruiter who has to fill in the gap. Not very efficient, but there you have it.

Any corporate recruiters or leaders out there willing to step in to this discussion as well? Love to hear your thoughts.
Liz Sumner said:
This is an area where career professionals can be of real value-- interview skills is just one of the many things career coaches can help improve.

Liz, this is an interesting sidebar to the discussion. Are there many in your field that are spending resources to coach young candidates? Is your firm working in this area? What are some of the insights that come to mind for you?
Rayanne said:
All the skills in the world don't matter if the candidate won't fit in with company culture. It's imperative...

Rayanne, once again your brilliance shines. Couldn't say it better myself!

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