Standing Out: What Recruiters Look For in Job Candidates

May 1, 2017

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Have you ever wondered what recruiters think about you and your LinkedIn profile? Or why one of your friends always gets calls from recruiters, but you never do?

The answers may lie with your online presence — the impressions that you make with your LinkedIn profile, tweets and Facebook posts. This is the view of leading executive-search consultants and corporate recruiters throughout the United States.

Recruiters take online journeys to build pools of potential candidates. Then, they select from those pools to present candidates to their clients (your potential employers). So you may be part of those journeys as recruiters learn about you through a reference from someone in their network or a keyword search on LinkedIn.

Transforming your LinkedIn profile

How do you transform a glance at your LinkedIn profile into a call that may lead to your dream job?

“The average executive recruiter spends no more than six seconds looking at a potential candidate’s LinkedIn profile,” says Gail Palubiak, owner of Business Intelligence Recruiting Group in Denver, Colo. “That’s why you need your LinkedIn profile to stand out the moment a recruiter lays their eyes on it. What do we want to see? Results, numbers, outcomes and how you’re having an impact.”

While the job market is healthy for a number of different industries and roles, employers are still looking for people who stand out as problem solvers.
With more than 20 years’ experience, Jeff Jochum, who recruits passive candidates for Randstand Sourceright, says that he and most recruiters are attracted to high-energy, self-directed people.

“In recruiting for technology companies, hiring managers are seeking people who have an entrepreneur mindset,” says Jochum. “Because corporations are running leaner, they seek people who are self-directed. Another change that we’ve seen over the past several years is the demand for candidates who have client-facing experience in the consulting field. We’re looking for problem solvers.”

“Our clients want people who are excited about an opportunity, willing to work hard, and can collaborate with others,” says Jennifer Bastian, a senior recruiter with the Moxie Talent Group, based in Minneapolis. “Candidates with a can-do attitude, who are curious about the opportunity and have done their homework, tend to stick out. It’s easy to spot someone who is just looking for a job but doesn’t want to put in the effort.”

Building an online presence is critical for another reason as well, notes Pam Witzig, owner and executive recruiter for the Witzig Group, an executive-search firm based in Sarasota, Fla. “Your presence online is a reflection of your ability to keep up with current technology. It’s easy to fall behind technology and cultural shifts as you move up the ranks and become less hands-on. If I were to give one piece of advice for the next five, 10 or 15 years, it’s this: Make a point to use new technology as it comes along, and be aware of emerging trends at a level that you can relate, if not apply directly, to your current position.”

Knowing your online footprint

TR Straub, senior vice president with New York-based Heyman Associates, offers another perspective on the importance of your online presence: Before recommending a job candidate to a client, the firm conducts a deep dive into the person’s online postings. “Whenever we present a new candidate,” he says, “we assume the hiring manager will immediately Google the person.

“More important, if you have a leadership position with a company, our clients are looking to see how you’ve handled yourself in the public spotlight,” Straub says. “They want to see that you exercise good judgment under pressure. As part of our process in analyzing your fit for an organization, we’re looking online to see how others, such as journalists, former employees and so on, have responded to you as a business leader. Has your performance been praised online, or are there comments about you being evasive or less than trustworthy?”

This leads to a bigger point: Recruiters today seek candidates who are not only problem solvers and leaders with technological savvy, but strategic thinkers, too.

“We’re looking for people who think about why they’re doing what they do, and the bigger impact of their actions on a business,” says Straub. Such job candidates are “tying their decisions to business outcomes. They’re flexible. They’re able to adapt to change, and they demonstrate an ability to keep learning and growing.”

Liz Drake, talent-acquisition director for Thomson Reuters, says “We want to see people who are intensely curious about their work and their career. They know why they do what they do. And regardless of their age, they’re passionate about continuous learning as part of a commitment to their craft. They don’t run away from challenges; instead, they embrace change.”

Learning the steps to success

Here are six tips for attracting the attention of an executive-search consultant or a corporate talent-acquisition manager:

1. Rewrite your LinkedIn introduction paragraph. Instead of the typical “I have 15 years’ experience in this industry or that,” tell a story of how you’ve consistently generated results from one position to the next. “I want to see the numbers,” Palubiak says.

“Your story needs to also reflect why you made the career decisions you made,” says Drake. “Why did you join a certain company? Why did you choose certain challenges? Don’t forget to share how you made a difference in the lives of others.”

And “don’t talk about yourself in the third person,” Witzig says.

2. Own your scorecard. What results can you point to that would convince someone to hire you? Look closely at your current work and the work you’ve done for previous employers. What are your bullet points? How much did you increase sales, or awareness? Or drive traffic to a website? Build a short list of the outcomes you’re most proud of. And be prepared to back up your claims. “If you say that you’re a master at generating website traffic, make sure you have the proof,” Palubiak says.

3. Clean up your online footprint. Elizabeth Laukka, a Minneapolis-based recruiter who specializes in the marketing and communications industries, recommends making the effort to delete old social media posts if you’re really serious about a new position. “It’s important to have a healthy digital footprint,” she says. “I’ve seen a couple of candidates lose opportunities because of inappropriate postings, including politically charged postings. I once had an employer not hire a candidate when they found questionable information about the person going back a couple of years.”

4. Have a career plan. Recruiters want to know that you have a strong sense of who you are and what you’re passionate about — and that you’re looking for the right organization to bring out the best in you. However elaborate you choose to make it, have a career plan in place. “Ask yourself, ‘What do I want to do in the future?’” says Straub. “Employers want to see candidates who are excited about their next challenge.”

5. Follow-through is key. In today’s fast-paced digital age, it’s not uncommon to receive a cancellation email or text 20 minutes before a meeting. But if you want to be considered for a position, canceling meetings or interviews at the last minute is a red flag in Laukka’s book. Conversely, “People who follow through and make sure each connection and communication is meaningful are impressive,” she says.

6. Get out from behind your desk. Whether you’re a middle manager or still in the classroom, make sure to engage with real people and go beyond what’s expected of you. If you’re a student, join or take a leadership role in your academic program’s student organization. Become a peer tutor, get an internship, volunteer or look for research opportunities.

“If you’re set in your career, make time to actively participate in professional associations and networks to ensure that your perspective, knowledge and skills remain current and relevant,” Drake says. Think like an entrepreneur: What innovations can you conceive to increase productivity, lower costs or disrupt the competition for your organization?

To stand out and attract recruiters, focus on writing your story. What’s your headline? Make it magnetic, both online and in person. Lead with your past strengths and accomplishments, and share how you’re continuously driven to find new ways to achieve better results. Stay curious. When your curiosity drives your passion, and you remain true to your values while also developing your critical-thinking skills, you become the type of candidate recruiters want to recruit and employers want to employ. 

Stephen Dupont, APR

Stephen Dupont, APR, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a brand-marketing firm based in Minneapolis. He blogs at www.stephendupont.co. Contact him at stephen.dupont@pockethercules.com.


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