Recruiting a recruiter: Back in the candidate saddle again

I sunk slowly into the rocking chair next to my youngest son’s crib. Tired. Exhausted, even. Tears swelling up in my eyes. Angry. Confused. Needing a break.

Just a few weeks earlier and right around Halloween, I got the invitation nobody wants to see in their inbox: a thirty-minute “meeting” later that morning to go over some “important information” with a senior director who I had never reported to at a company I devoted many years of my life to. Because that invitation followed just fifteen minutes after our Executive Vice President of Human Resources sent out an email describing imminent “evolution of our org,” I knew what was going to happen: I was getting laid off.

Fast forward back to sulking in that rocking chair. It wasn’t that the “weight of the world” was on my shoulders. It was the reality of the situation had finally settled in. After so many emails, Facebook posts, phone calls with colleagues and friends, and a plethora of gut-busting happy hours, the exhilaration of being a candidate once again turned into exhaustion. How do people go through this, again and again, and stay sane?

As a recruiter (or a Staffing Consultant or Talent Acquisition Specialist or whatever fancy name we call ourselves this week), there are few professional pleasures more satisfying than finding a great candidate and landing him or her that ideal job they’re seemingly tailor-made for. Getting someone a job – it’s a great feeling. Now it was my turn to become a candidate for the first time in years.

Being a candidate, 101, includes:

The application process! Before applying, you go through a virtual gymnastics of processes and procedures before actually applying to anything. There’s the series of emails you send to bypass the application process from known contacts. The nonstop phone calls, text messages, Tweets, Facebook posts – whatever it takes to find a hiring manager or make that special connection that might land you a tryout for what might be the Next Big Thing. Then there are the initial phone screens with recruiters like you, where you say the same points repeatedly. And then a screen with another more senior person. And then you talk to someone else. And then you speak to that person’s grandmother’s uncle’s brother’s second cousin’s roommate’s sister, and so forth.

Finally, there are The Interviews. In this industry, I’m not talking about getting dressed up with a coat and tie, sitting in a nice high-rise office with a window overlooking the metropolis,┬ásipping on spritzer water and trading golf tips with a head honcho who goes by the nickname Bruiser, with a Mad Men-style arcade of booze selections behind him. This is a full-day commitment requiring intense studying, preparation, and cramming yourself into The Company’s ideal model of what they want you to be, even if it isn’t true. Knowing the company “Values” and all of that. If you’re lucky, you might get a question or two that’s actually relevant to the job: sadly, The Candidate – you – is not always at the center of the experience.

Having gone through the experience of being a candidate again, here are some basic observations and learnings I’ve taken to heart:

1) Whether you meet with one person or seven, you will be asked almost the same questions again and again. Your typical req load. A time you did this. A time you did that. A difficult client. A difficult candidate. When you messed up. When you were awesome. When you rescued a bus full of starving children dangling off of a bridge in Brooklyn WITHOUT resorting to your Spidey sense.

2) Without fail, almost nobody has read your resume. Seeing people read – and visually react – to your resume in person is kind of stunning. Forget about any layoff or other type of situation you might be in; I found that the larger the company and the more in-depth the process was, the less people really knew about me. And that was no fun.

3) Recruiters come in two varieties: Those who get it, those who don’t. With one large company, I had three missed phone screens that they set up but failed to attend. Emails sent not just past working hours, but past SLEEPING hours. Such attributes then spiral into a messy scheduling process, full of delays and needless complications. Watch out for that. While it’s great to be contacted, I spoke with some recruiters who literally were reading lists of basic qualifications to me on the phone. Recruiters that stand out come in prepared, take the time to get to know you apart from your career accomplishments, talk to you like you’re a three-dimensional human being, and narrow in on opportunities that will expand your goals and skills. They are honest, direct and give you the feedback you need to succeed.

4) Companies that claim to be agile and fast are often the exact opposite: process-driven machines fueled by pure chaos and not the slightest concern for your deadlines, competing offers, or career interests. The term “being agile” is all the rage – if a company can’t practice what they preach, stay away.

5) Every company in the world — RIGHT NOW — claims to be reinventing how they are doing recruiting. The first time I heard this, I naively got excited. Then I heard it again and again. Be smart about this: Don’t expect to turn over magic rocks; stay focused on job content and, most importantly, the quality of people you’ll partner with.

6) For many of the roles I spoke about, I spent very little time talking about actual recruiting. This is not universally true, but all too common. Focusing on core values, principles, competencies — these are all understandable things to discuss. Companies put them in place for a reason. In the end, though, I selected an opportunity that placed recruiting chops at the center of my candidate experience, pushed my comfort boundaries, and got me hungry all over again to go on “the hunt.”

What was it like, overall, to be on the hunt once again? So valuable, so educational, and yes, a mix of big highs and big lows. The best learning experience I’ve had in years, one that will inform me to be a better recruiter, better employee and probably a better person, too.

This is an exciting time to be a recruiter and to be in the high-tech world. I’ve taken my own candidate experiences to heart and promise to learn greatly from them. As 2015 promises to be a banner, breakthrough year in the world of technology and talent acquisition, being a recruiter being recruited was just the tonic this demoralized spirit needed to get excited – and hungry – all over again.