Inside the Recruiter's Mind - How to Get Your Foot in the Door (and Some Really Bad Ideas)

Job hunting is a pain in the butt. There's a lot of applying to jobs, networking, and other shenanigans. You may be applying to multiple jobs, but you are trying to find one job with a company to call home.

The Corporate Recruiter on the other end of the internet is trying to fill as many as twenty, thirty, fifty (or more) open positions at a time.

How do your priorities align with the recruiter's priorities?

These align if - and only if - you are the right candidate with the right skills and the right career objectives at the right compensation level and the right personality at the right moment to fill the job.

Meaning... if you aren't the right candidate; or you have the wrong skills; or your career objectives don't align to the role; or your compensation expectations are out of range; or interpersonal skills could piss off Bobby McFerrin on a good day... then you're not going to get the job, much less a call or an email.

Okay, let's look at why this is the case.


Looking at why

Corporate Recruiters today receive job seeker (hereafter referred to as "candidate" or "applicant") resumes much like your own from a variety of sources.  The most common are:

  • Candidate applications to positions posted on job boards (Monster, LinkedIn, Indeed, etc.)
  • Candidate applications to positions posted on the company website
  • Referrals from employees within the company who are kind enough to pass the resume along
  • Searches in LinkedIn and other job boards
  • Candidate applications to positions posted through their college
  • Outside recruitment firms hired to help with the search
  • Other places I can't even fathom to remember or think about - my brain hurts

If you think you're dealing with a lot of data in your job, try this on for size.  The average recruiter can receive anywhere from a few dozen to SEVERAL HUNDRED applications from the interwebs for an open position. Maybe even thousands of applications.  I kid you not.

Candidates have commented to me that they felt that their resumes went into a "black hole"after clicking "apply". They have asked me how many applicant resumes a recruiter typically looks at, and if they have a chance.

Corporate Recruiters are a hardworking bunch as a rule. They work diligently to review as many resumes for a position as they can.  They want to make sure they're not missing that one spectacular candidate who might be the perfect fit.

That said, while the recruiter will do their best to look at all the applicants for a role, that's just not realistic.  They need to spend their time effectively, and that means selecting applicants who most apparently meet the needs of the position while minimizing busywork.

Make the recruiter your advocate by making their life easier. They can (and will) make or break you.

So, I present to thee:


The Good Ideas:

  • Submit a well-structured resume with the following considerations:
    • A clear objective just below your name and contact information. The objective validates for the Recruiter that you have the interest in the role and have at least done the preparation to send the right resume for the right job. I once had a CEO who had a clever saying about strategy - "If you don't know where you want to go, any bus will take you there."  A lack of objective on the resume, or one that doesn't apply to the role, will knock you out almost immediately.
    • No typos, errors, or poor formatting.  Seriously. Use spell-check, have a friend proofread for mistakes, understand the difference in uses between "its", "it's", and "its".  Don't look like a lazy dumb ass.
    • Be succinct and clear in explaining your current and prior employment.  Dates, title, company, and location, followed responsibilities in 1-2 line bullet points.  Explain what you did and what you accomplished. Use metrics related to your job responsibilities.  Put jobs in order of most recent first.
    • Detail your education by telling where you went to school, your major, when you graduated.
    • Don't lie. At all. You will get caught - maybe not immediately, but it will come up in the background check and references, or perhaps even after you are employed. The dates of employment matter. Your job title matters. Your degree completion matters. Your criminal background matters. If you lie with the intent of trying to make the company fall in love with you so that they will overlook these lies at decision time, think again. Being caught in a lie will blackball you with the company, probably forever. I've had candidates lie about things that didn't even matter (i.e., claiming a degree when one wasn't necessary for the role), then finding themselves on the outside looking in. For what it's worth, if you get caught in one lie, the Recruiter will start actively looking for other inconsistencies.  Your candidacy will all unravel like a cheap sweater.
    • For those of you who took journalism classes, there is the concept of the inverted pyramid (good article on this here). In essence, when a journalist writes a news story, the most important concepts go up front, the least important parts of the story toward the end.  The idea being that an editor can just chop off  the parts of the story that don't fit the space allocated.  To put this in resume terms, the computer systems most companies use to track resumes offer an option for the Recruiter to glance at the top of the resume (usually the first half of the front page) to see if it's generally worth reviewing further.  Follow this same concept.  Most important stuff up front.
    • Leave the photo off your resume unless you are applying to a job outside the United States. It is against the law for companies to discriminate based upon appearance, and including a photo can sometimes make things dicey. Outside the U.S., a photo is common practice, so do it there. I'm sure this goes without saying but if you must include a photo, make it tasteful - you, in a suit, chest upward only. Be well groomed.  No drooling.
    • One to two pages, maximum.  Anything more is too much detail.  Unless you're a professor in academia - that's a different situation entirely.

The bus you could be taking...

  • Respect the company protocols. If the company has a portal for you to apply, do it. Most companies do have such a portal. If you look up somebody on LinkedIn, and you think they might be the right person to contact (such as the hiring manager) send them one (and only one) message with your resume, thank them profusely for their time, and ask them if there is anybody else you should contact.  Then drop it.
  • Be respectful of the Recruiter's time. They are not your friend, nor are they your personal job-placement agent. And they are frickin' busy as hell. If you try to get them on the phone or via email, proceed with caution. If you must do this (Must you? Really?), be brief and respectful, confirm that they got the resume and thank them for their time. Then do something else. Be judicious in the number of contacts you make.
  • If you have a person inside the company to refer your resume, give them the resume then leave them alone. The hiring process may be outside their control. And perhaps you may or may not have the right skill set, and they're just being nice.
  • Respect the Recruiter as the point of contact. Shopping around to individuals in other departments through contacts you found on LinkedIn can only step on the process, and make some folks angry.

The Bad Ideas: Do these if you really, really want to sabotage your chances with the company

  • Show up at the lobby without an appointment and ask to meet with the Recruiter, or anybody for that matter. Even better yet, demand to meet somebody, then be utterly unprepared (no resume, poorly attired, chip on your shoulder).
  • Keep in constant contact. Leave messages for the Recruiter asking for an update. Send repeated emails or written messages to everybody in the company and their mother. Go over everybody's head and send a note straight to the CEO after you've already spoken with somebody in the company. I've had candidates drop off food and goodies with their resume - it doesn't come across as ambitious, it looks desperate.
  • Apply to every job posted. Twice. In the off chance that you may get noticed and contacted.  Let's be serious - if the job is for a marketing manager, and you've got no marketing and management experience, you have no reason to apply.  You're only creating more work for the Recruiter.
  • Have your mother, father, Cousin Louie, or anybody else in your family who is not an employee of the company send in your resume on your behalf.  If you can't send in your own resume, well, figure out the rest.
  • Over-leverage your "relationship" with an important mover and shaker within the company in your communication.  If you drop the VP of Marketing's name and talk about what close buddies you are, you can bet somebody will check exactly what kind of friendship you have.  Not to mention, if you are as close as you say, the VP would have walked your resume over to HR him- or herself.

Happy hunting!  I'd be interested in hearing your employment and recruitment stories, from both sides of the fence.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. He is a Human Resources professional and staffing expert with almost two decades of in-house corporate HR and staffing firm experience, and is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Professional Career Coach (CPCC).

Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at, or via the website,