Interview, Job search

Recruiter: Friend or Friendly?

Too many times over the years, I have heard people express confusion because they were turned down for a job when they felt they had really “clicked” with the recruiter.  They had a great rapport, and felt they could tell them anything.  These situations make us question our judgement, and our ability to read other people.  This can be more painful than being turned down for the job.

It’s true, recruiters are usually friendly.  Companies like to hire friendly, outgoing people so that candidates will feel good about their experiences in the hiring process. It’s not to be duplicitous or disingenuous.

Friendly people make others feel comfortable and they inspire trust, but they are missing one important ingredient to meet the standard of “friend.”

The missing ingredient

After consulting with the Oxford English Dictionary, I captured these two definitions, and took the liberty of combining some of the elements to illustrate my point.

Friendly:  Kind and pleasant.  On good terms, not in conflict.

Friend: A person who is not an enemy or opponent; an ally.
A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.

The word that sticks out the most to me in these definitions is “ally.” Because the recruiter is kind and pleasant, and the conversation is on good terms, candidates often believe that they can tell the recruiter anything.  Like an ally, the recruiter will graciously sort through everything, including what the candidate overshared.  The recruiter will pick out only what the hiring manager should hear, and will discard the rest.  A friend would do that, right?

A Recruiter’s first responsibility

Recruiters are friendly, and most I have met are also kind people who care about the feelings of others.  However, they are also the first line of defense for risk in human capital decisions.  As they say in my martial arts class, “The #1 rule of self-defense is to avoid the situation where you have to use it.”  Or more simply stated, “Avoid the problem.”  The best way to avoid risk is to avoid hiring people who have made risky decisions or questionable choices, and have not learned from the mistake and changed their approach.  This includes oversharing in their interview.

How was that risky?

Even an excellent decision can sound questionable when it’s mired in too-fresh emotion and layers of complexity that are hard to follow.  Until you can gain the perspective that only distance can provide, picking the wrong examples can give the appearance that you made less-than-optimal decisions in your prior roles.  Beyond what happened in the past, your decision to share this information on the presumption of “mutual affection” for the stranger in this interview, is additional cause for concern.  It implies that your bar for trust may be too low, that you trust the recruiter to act in your favor having just met them.

Learning from mistakes

There isn’t a single person in the workforce who hasn’t had a difficult situation to manage, or a difficult colleague or boss, or made a mistake…or all of the above.  Recruiters actually appreciate hearing about mistakes, because it’s our mistakes and what we learn from them that help us become better.

Unfortunately, the wisdom that comes from mistakes is like the beautiful piece of artwork made by a blacksmith.  If you try to admire it before it cools, it will burn you.  Take time to reflect on your work experiences that have been painful.  Speak with a trusted friend, a counselor or a mentor, and gain the perspective you need to keep these examples at a high level.  They need to be cool to the touch with no sharp edges, and light enough to hold in one hand.  That’s a thing of beauty.

It wasn’t my mistake

“Now hold on,” you say, “I was treated badly.  It wasn’t my mistake.”  That may be true.  I know I have had situations where I felt mistreated, but in all of them I asked myself the following questions to gain perspective.

  • What behaviors was the person exhibiting?
  • Why might they behave that way?
  • How did I respond?
  • Were there other ways I might have responded that could have diffused the situation?
  • How long did I allow myself to be mistreated?
  • Did I let it go on too long? If so, what will I do in the future to ensure I protect myself?

Even in situations where all the blame belongs elsewhere, you always have room for reflection.  Please note, this applies to typical business interactions.  This does not apply if you have been a victim of a criminal act such as assault.

Friendly is good too

Friendship is built over time and through shared experiences.  Appreciate the warmth of a friendly call or meeting as your platform to have a successful discussion, but remember that your recruiter cannot be your ally.  Recruiters cannot become attached to candidates.  They must remain impartial to find the best fit for the job and culture, and to avoid risk.  They can like you, and enjoy talking with you, but they cannot become an ally to one specific candidate.  It can cloud their judgement.

Next steps

Take ownership of your career narrative and invest time in building perspective.  Specifically, how are you better today because you got through these experiences?  Now that’s a story worth hearing, and likely the inspiring story that the recruiter will remember for a long time.


Pose 3

Melissa Jones is a Talent and Leadership Consultant in Richmond, Virginia.  Using her 25 years of experience in Talent Acquisition, she provides personal coaching for job seekers.  Sessions are designed help discuss emotionally-charged topics in the interview process.  

For more information, use this form to contact her directly.



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