How Recruiters Choose Which Candidates They Submit

Oct 25 2011 in Featured, reCareered Blog, Recruiters by Phil Rosenberg

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Recruiters get hundreds or even thousands of applicants for each position they hire.

Sure, you know that if you apply through a recruiters ad (employers also) your resume is matched for keywords using the recruiter’s Google-like tools in their applicant tracking system.

If you think that this is the whole process … it’s not.

Recruiters have a much more complicated system of selecting candidates than you might think, with many steps prior to considering those who reply to the ad the recruiter has placed.

The process increases in complexity when there are job shortages, and many qualified candidates – the situation most recruiters find themselves in today. Back in 1998 – 1999, recruiters would present just about any candidate who could spell J-A-V-A for developer positions, and in 2004 just about any accountant who had the word Sarbanes (or the abbreviation SOX) on his/her resume would get chosen for presentation. That’s what a candidate shortage looks like … but that’s not how recruiters and employers act during job shortages.

Today, unless you’re an experienced nurse, you’re not in that kind of situation.

It’s crucial to candidates who use recruiters to understand the process of how recruiters choose candidates, and the order in which they are submitted.

In most searches, a recruiter finds many candidates who meet the minimum criteria, often more candidates then they are able to submit to the hiring manager. If a recruiter submits more than about 12 – 18 candidates for each position to a hiring manager, it risks shows the hiring manager that the recruiter doesn’t understand the minimum criteria, hasn’t done a good job pre-screening and are willing to submit anyone (wasting the employer’s time) – recruiters might argue that the hiring manager has impossible criteria to meet 100%.

In addition, candidates are not often submitted to a hiring manager all at the same time. A good recruiter will forward a batch of 3-6 resumes first, to see if they are on the right track, and how flexible the hiring manager might be with criteria. The candidates who are selected first have the best chances of getting interviews, getting early interviews, setting hiring manager expectations, and therefore getting the job offer. You want to be in that first batch.

Add to all of this complexity, that recruiters are seldom sole-source, and seldom have exclusives on job openings. Most recruiters are in competition with others to get the best candidates to the hiring manager fastest (and also to get their best candidate placed before another recruiter finds them a job). Even retained recruiters, who do have exclusive (and usually pre-paid) agreements with hiring companies, are in competition to get the best candidates placed … before their competitors do.

So how do recruiters choose which candidates they submit?

  1. Top of mind: Universally, recruiters first select candidates they know well, who are being thought about at the moment. These are the best, or most placeable candidates in a recruiter’s list. These are the A-players that a recruiter views as “money in the bank”.
  2. Since a recruiter typically reviews hundreds of resumes per day, this isn’t easily attained and that spot in a recruiter’s mind is easily lost to the next shiny object. However, there are a variety of ways a candidate can get and can stay front of mind with a recruiter (see: http://www.recareered.com/blog/2010/03/13/the-inside-track-on-recruiters-top-10-tips-best-of-recareered/ ).

  3. Top candidate board: Most recruiters use a white board to remind themselves and their team of their best, most placeable candidates. If you’re on this board, you’re getting submitted for jobs that meet your skills/background more often. Some of the best ways to get on this white board are listed in the above link.
  4. Search recruiter database: Why search ad responses when a recruiter has a database full of candidates, who the recruiter (or teammates) have already talked to, complete with notes? Most of these candidates have already been pre-screened, with basic questions asked and answered – so matches from the recruiter database can be presented to the hiring manager more quickly.
  5. You can’t come up in a recruiter database search, if you’re not in the recruiter’s database – see http://www.recareered.com/blog/2011/09/14/how-to-win-the-job-search-war-by-carpetbombing-recruiters/ to learn how to get in the right recruiters databases.

  6. Search Google/Linkedin: Recruiters are paid to find candidates that the hiring manager can’t find themselves. Many recruiters work under contracts that state that the recruiter won’t be paid if the hiring company has already found the candidate, or even if the candidate’s resume is posted on a job board. Google and Linkedin are better answers – they are free, they list currently-employed candidates (few passive candidates post resumes on job boards). In addition, since it takes a bit more technical knowledge to be findable on Linkedin or Google, these sources help employers find more technically savvy candidates.
  7. Often recruiters are combining these searches with other social media searches including Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

  8. Advertise: Reaching out to ad responses has many disadvantages to recruiters, so they tend to consider candidates responding to ads much later in their search … if they haven’t already found enough good candidates from steps 1 – 3 above. Disadvantages include time reviewing resumes, time reaching and screening candidates by phone, and the knowledge that if they are replying to jobs on job boards, they are likely to be considering many jobs (giving an impression of desperation). Often, recruiters wait a week or two before considering applicants for job ads, until they have exhausted their other resources.
  9. Job board resume databases: As a last resort, when recruiters haven’t found enough candidates to present to employers that meet minimum criteria, recruiters look to resume databases of the major job boards.
  10. Recruiters treat this as a last resort because:

    • Job boards typically return poor search results – Job board search technology is typically structured to make search easy … at the expense of being returning the right candidates
    • Job boards have the reputation of containing poor candidates – This could be because it takes so little effort to get your resume listed on job boards, so it’s easy for many poor resumes and candidates to show up on searches
    • “Needle in a haystack” – If a recruiters have a poor opinion of the quality of candidates found on job board resume databases, then finding for the right candidate with the right background on a job board looks like a needle in a haystack
    • Job board database access is expensive – it costs up to $18K annually for each recruiter to access a single job board resume database
    • Some employers refuse to pay recruiters for candidates who have been sourced through job boards, considering those candidates “publicly available” – these employers feel that they have already invested $18K/HR rep/job board plus HR rep salaries to find those candidates

This article should show you that just applying to a job through job boards is often a poor way to find the right recruiters for you, and makes you one of the last candidates considered for submission in a recruiter’s process.

Candidates – What can you do to get higher in the recruiter’s pecking order?

Recruiters – Can you add anything to this discussion about your own process for choosing candidates?

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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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