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.


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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.



Interview, Job search

Managing Your Emotional Baggage So Your Job Search Takes Flight!

Up there on the list of communication blunders, just under the Merlot-fueled email, is the interview overshare.  You chastise yourself in the car on the way home, dumbfounded as to why you did it, and what prompted it.  It’s like the Recruiter borrowed Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso of Truth and all this stuff just started pouring out.

Travel-sized containers

Do you ever wonder why TSA doesn’t allow liquids over 3.4 ounces?  It seems so small, but it’s not about any individual liquid.  The problem is when certain liquids are mixed in larger quantities, you can make something pretty explosive.  The same is true for interviews.  Many of your jobs have a vial that you don’t want to open.  How do you manage all these liquids and not cause a problem?

Plan before you pack

Here is a helpful exercise to prepare for interview success.  Find a piece of paper or create a table on your computer.  Make the following set of headers, then complete from your most recent job to your least recent.  Spend some time on this.  If you have been working for a while, focus mostly on the last 10 years.

  • Company name
  • Company size (approximate, think small, medium, large, global)
  • Industry
  • Title (if you had multiple jobs at the same company, make each of them a line item)
  • Total tenure
  • 1-2 sentences about the scope of your work
  • Reason you left (5 words or less)
  • How you felt about your job (anything that has to do with your emotional response to your work)

Packing organizers

You’ve seen those new packing cubes or organizers.  You can take 6 weeks of clothes and fit them into a carry-on bag.  At this step you take the years of experience you summarized following the list above, and you look for trends.  This sorts your history in to handy packing cubes.  For example, have you primarily been in 1-2 industries or have you moved around more?  What size companies are best for you?  Have your tenures all been fairly long?  Have your roles been increasing in scope and/or responsibility?  This will help you create a great response to “tell me about yourself,” or “walk me through your resume.”

Bag is packed

Generally speaking, Recruiters want to know if there is anything that will reflect badly on their screening if they do not find and address it, so if you left for any other reason than for an advancement opportunity, you should be prepared to bring it up first, and briefly dispense with why this does not need to be a concern.  Once a Recruiter unearths this without you offering it in full disclosure, they will have already lost trust in you, and you will likely not be able to regain their confidence.

Leave at home

As you formulate your career overview, please plan to leave out the last column, how you felt.  Trust me, we have all had a boss who was not compatible with our work style.  Many people have been bullied or harassed.  We all have that one coworker who was impossible.  Our emotions about these situations are valid and are often left unresolved.  Speaking with a counselor or mentor about these is helpful, but discussing them in an interview is not.

You may believe that you need to do this to be honest and/or to be understood.  Let’s consider that.

Honest:  There is a great deal one could be honest about—perhaps your shoes are too tight, perhaps dinner didn’t agree with you, perhaps the signed baseball on the Recruiter’s desk is a team you hate—you would not share all that with the Recruiter.  (At least I hope not.)  The recruiter has all these same feelings about their own career experience, but they do not feel obligated to tell you that.  Why?  Because you are a stranger.  The reverse is also true.  The recruiter needs to assess your skills, motivation and cultural fit, but beyond that you are a stranger, and all your former colleagues are strangers.  You may be completely justified in your feelings about past relationships, but since they don’t know any of the players, they may conclude that the only common link in all the dysfunctional stories is you.

Being understood:  Ask yourself why being understood is important.  It’s probably because you want to be accepted and appreciated, and perhaps you didn’t feel that way in some of your prior roles.  Unfortunately though, we do not get a choice on our coworkers.  We cannot predict chemistry.  By all means network with anyone you can to try to learn more about the team, but realize two things.  One, it will be from the perspective of the person you ask, and they see things differently than you do.  Second, the makeup of any team is in constant flux, so this is just a snapshot of one period in time.   After all your research, remember that while you are keeping to yourself the fact that your colleague was a bully or your manager took you for granted, the recruiter knows which member of the team is a jerk.  They cannot change that, and they cannot tell you for a host of compelling reasons.

Security checkpoint

We have covered what material should not be shared and why, so now we need to know how to avoid sharing it.  This will help us have an easy trip through the security checkpoints in the interview process.

First comes awareness.  You know what you wrote, and what you are trying to avoid.  Next comes the awareness of the “extreme” examples.  Often you will be asked for the “best” example, or the “worst” example of something.  It’s these questions that lead the mind to the more emotionally-charged examples.  Be aware of this and mentally shave off the “best” or “worst,” and seek an example that is not so emotionally-charged.  If you are concerned that your mind may go blank, consider your most challenging jobs (emotionally), then list some examples of your best work product in those roles.  Focus on that content rather than the dysfunctional players.

Bear in mind that some of your strong emotional responses may be positive, which is a different kind of oversharing.  Enthusiasm is high, but you may err on the side of giving too many details that are hard to follow, and you may speak too fast.  As you consider the work you are most proud of, take a moment to organize your thoughts into a high-level project overview, making sure to highlight the final result.

Don’t leave your bag

Periodically in every airport is the automated reminder not to leave your bag unattended.  You are responsible for making sure it continues to remain safe after leaving security.  In the same way, you have to monitor your discussion for clues that you are heading toward emotional topics.

Like in the move When Harry Met Sally, “It’s already out there!”  How do you know when you are already going down that path, and change direction?  What is your warning flag?  The use of “he or she said…”is a clue.  When you go down the road of dialogue, it’s to prove a point where someone disagreed with you, or was supporting you, but either way it can lead to the emotional examples.  It’s also way too far into the weeds.  My eyes get glassy thinking about it, and trust me, I have made this mistake myself.

A second clue is you wonder if you are making any sense, or if you are forgetting things.  If you aren’t sure if you are clear, you probably aren’t.  It may be good to stop and say, “Give me just a moment.  This was a complex project that I’m excited to tell you about, and I just want to think about the best way to explain this.”

In Conclusion

Pack an organized bag with the results of the career overview you developed.  Unpack your heavier liquids, and leave them at home.  Once the conversation takes off, keep your flight up above the turbulence.  If your best efforts still find you experiencing a bumpy flight, demonstrate self-awareness, and be prepared to discuss what you learned about yourself, and how you improved.

Buckle up, and enjoy your flight!


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This article is based off a seminar I have provided for Career Prospectors several times over the years.  If you are in the Richmond, Virginia area and are in a job search, I highly recommend this group.