Skip to main content

Candidate Prep: My 50 Cents Worth

By August 14, 2014No Comments

Jon’s absence has once again left the squeaky pen in my slightly sweaty, and this week, stressed hand for today’s Whiteboard.

Reading the mainstream press, and even the various blogs which now infect my LinkedIn feed like a content pandemic, articles on the recruitment industry seem to fall into one of two camps. Either us as recruitment agencies are stealing money from immigrants/not paying staff/being made scapegoats.


It’s Friday and it’s been a slow week. Let’s have some mostly vacuous, slightly wacky, human interest/advice story.

Falling firmly into the latter, my attention this week was drawn to a study from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology regarding the effects of music on candidate performance during interview. For those who have misplaced their favourite Psychology journal, the study highlights how listening to bass-heavy music such as the ballads of Messrs 50 Cent and Co. can improve interview performance. Conversely, listening to the likes of Biggie’s Big Poppa are less likely to motivate. Now I don’t know who this Biggie chap is, but I’m sure he’d be disappointed to hear that his “Poppa” isn’t landing people jobs. Regardless of its size.

Predictably, this led to some vapid, by-the-numbers comment from our industry (don’t worry guys, we do it to) regarding interview preparation. Apparently candidates should have kept “a high standard of personal hygiene, researched the organisation and the role, and anticipated likely questions.”

This got me thinking. As recruiters, how much advice and preparation should we be providing to our candidates? Our paymasters engage with us to attract, select, and engage with the best talent in the market, weeding out the fakers and wannabes through our incisive questioning, off-the-record references and background checks. And they pay us handsomely to do so. Correcting grammar in a CV, telling a candidate what will be asked, and even reminding them that toothpaste isn’t optional may not be showing our clients the warts’n’all reality of who or what they’re hiring.

In my first internal recruitment role, I was incentivised by a wooden dollar billing target. Essentially I made commission on every placement I made. A great motivator for sure, but when you have a comparatively small number of hiring managers, you soon realise that most managers have a standard five questions which they ask every candidate. They also had five preferred answers that would result in a job offer. Now I could claim I was young and foolish, without the unfaltering moral compass that now guides me through life, or I could just be honest, but sure as hell, every one of my candidates was provided with both the questions and answers to secure an offer.

Nowadays, I have a different view. Free replacements are anything but, so polishing a turd for interview is a false economy. I’ll tell a candidate that their CV could be improved and if there are errors, but I don’t view it as productive for me, my client, or even the candidate to re-write it for them. Likewise, is asking the B candidate who interviewed first what was asked of them, only to prep the A candidate interviewing second actually fair on those who have paid us to select the best?

Several months ago, after sending a CV to a client, I was criticised by the hiring manager for the candidate’s Yoda-like writing style. After discussing why I hadn’t altered it myself, we came to the conclusion that as the role required a fair amount of written communication, she was thankful that this concern was highlighted up front.

Recently, many disenchanted recruiters have remarketed themselves as “Career Coaches”. I’ve never been coached in this regard so can’t comment on their effectiveness, however, most will offer CV and cover letter consulting and writing services. Aren’t these documents supposed to be reflective of our own ability? Or is it fair that a candidate receives a little extra help to bring out the best in their resume? Just how much help is too much?

And as for my Yoda candidate, it wasn’t just his CV that let him down…

Perhaps he was a Biggie fan.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.