7 Reasons Recruiters Screen You Out

I know from all of the comments I receive, the tweets on Twitter, and the comments on blogs and articles about recruiters, that one of the biggest frustrations with candidates is about recruiters. On a daily basis I read, how mean recruiters are, how people claim to be qualified for a job don’t get past the recruiter, how people with years of experience  get weeded out by recruiters, and of course, the black hole resumes go in when candidates send them to recruiters.

First, let me clarify that I’m not trying to justify bad behavior by some and maybe even many recruiters. Every profession has them, some more than others. There are even bad doctors, engineers, pastors and so on. The purpose of this article is to clarify for candidates what recruiters do and why, to help reduce the frustration. I hope by understanding, although maybe not accepting, it will make it easier on candidates.

Recruiters don’t really care if you are qualified, have years of experience, or have all the right skills, knowledge, and certifications. Obviously these are required. You must recognize that many candidates have these for every job. Recruiters don’t get paid  for finding candidates with these traits. I can tell you as a recruiter for 30 years, and one that still makes a living as a recruiter, how much I wish this was the case. If  it were the case, I would be writing this article sitting on my yacht, instead of my patio.  We get paid only for finding hireable candidates.

I learned this in my first year as a recruiter. I would ask the client if they liked the candidate and many times they would say they did. I would ask if they thought the candidate was qualified and they would reply, “Yes.” I would even ask if they thought the candidate could do the job and they would reply, “YES.”  These were all good questions that lead me to believe the candidate was going to get hired, only to find out someone else got the job other than my candidate. Why? How could this be? I was just as mad, frustrated, and upset as the candidate.

The answer was simple. One day I was venting my frustration to a much more experienced recruiter who informed me that I wasn’t asking the right question. He said those are all nice things to know, but those aren’t what I care about. The question I should have asked was, “Is the candidate hireable?” Now that question has a completely different meaning. It is what I and the candidate really wanted to know.

So what is hireable? Well, as one justice on the Supreme Court once said, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”  So much of what is “hireable” is subjective by both the recruiter and the hiring team and is hard to define. The following is my best shot at trying to define it. This is by no means an all-inclusive list. Again, it is designed to simply help candidates better understand, with the idea that understanding helps reduce frustration.

  1. The candidate has all of the requirements to do the job. This is a given.
  2. The candidate is neither under qualified or over qualified. My experience is that candidates accept the under qualified, but rarely accept the concept of over qualified. Either one makes a candidate not hireable.
  3. Presentation. I have written extensively about this. Recruiters care a great deal about how you present yourself. I don’t just mean physical presentation. I mean the complete package of presentation skills. Your presentation skills start the minute you answer the phone for the first time.
  4. Communication skills must be appropriate for the position. This just happened to me recently. I was doing a search for a communications person in a PR firm. One candidate had all of the right qualifications on paper, a good background, good schools, but constantly used the word “like” in just about every sentence. One would expect a person in PR communications to know better. Sorry, but not hireable from my point of view. My client would question my judgment if I recommended them for a communications position and they couldn’t communicate properly.
  5. Style is important. Granted this is very subjective, but this is why companies are willing to pay recruiters thousands of dollars. They trust our judgment on this issue. If the style of the candidate doesn’t match that of the hiring manager then the candidate may not be hireable. It doesn’t mean that  the person isn’t a good person, it just means that they aren’t the right person.
  6. Fit is another highly subjective characteristic that determines hireability. If your personality isn’t going to meld with that of the hiring manager or the company’s culture, then you aren’t hireable for this position. Not everyone is the right fit. I interview candidates all the time that tell me they left the company because it just wasn’t a good fit. I know recruiters do their best to make sure this is aligned. Nobody benefits if the candidate doesn’t work out because they can’t adjust to the company.
  7. Listening and answering the questions. This is part of communication, but needs special attention. Every recruiter is assessing how you listen and answer their questions. Recruiters know this is an indication of how you will perform in front of the client. This is the point at which most candidates eliminate themselves. They don’t answer the question asked, their answers are so vague it is impossible to know what THEY did, or they ramble on in hopes of covering everything. As a result, I would not only be embarrassed to present you to my client, but worse, my client would be upset with me for doing so.

From my position as an executive recruiter, these are just the top seven things a candidate must excel at to be hireable.

Is your resume not getting noticed by recruiters? Try using this sample cover letter. Candidates tell us this cover letter has tripled their response rate from recruiters. CLICK HERE to download this sample cover letter.

For a lot more on this topic, and other job search related topics, join our LinkedIn Job Search Networking Group. It is a great resource for career experts and discussion. It is free. CLICK HERE to join.

Is your job search going as well as  you thought it would? Is it moving slower  than you expected? If it is, then download our FREE 8-Point Job Search Assessment Scorecard. It will help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your job search. CLICK HERE to download.

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I welcome your thoughts and comments.



About the Author

Brad Remillard is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Brad is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  • By Jeff Beard, October 4, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    Hi Brad

    I read your article on getting screened out. One question I have for you relates to movement. I have had a lot of movement over the years. Some say it’s an issue; others don’t. When you review my resume, it’s clearly not a big issue since I am employable. I have made bad choices and have been a victim of re-structuring. I am currently nearing the completion of a year and a half contract. This can be answered for obvious reasons, but how would you handle history? I have worked for family run businesses (where family is management)and when explained, hiring managers, answer “oh yes, family” which indicates to me they know why. I have worked for a non-profit drug and alcohol rehab center, and left for obvious reasons.

    Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.


  • By Searching for a Job, October 4, 2010 @ 2:31 pm

    Many times it seems that jobs/recruiters apply some sort of idiosyncratic heuristic to determine if somebody is “hireable.” The criteria though may have nothing to do with any reality about whether you can perform the job or not, whether you get along with people, etc. but people think that since they applied some criteria that it makes them “professional” and “discerning.” The vast majority of the time they are just fooling themselves, shooting themselves in the foot by not hiring somebody they’ve turned down for some ridiculous reason.

    For the last ten years I’ve seen one nearby company advertising for a job that is for just what I do but they ignore every communication I have sent them, but for some reason keep posting that they need somebody to fill that job. This has happened with other companies too. They probably fool themselves thinking, “We have such a wonderful, wise process in place that only gets us the best employees,” but if they keep posting the same position then clearly THEY are doing something wrong, not the applicants. But they will never realize and accept that they and their arrogance are the ones at fault. Sorry, but there’s no other way to put it.

  • By Alan Hill, October 4, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

    I agree with your statements, but I have a serious question.
    Would your sales increase significantly if you coached your prospects on what you just shared before they go to an interview?
    I get that your job is paid by the client not the candidate – but recruiters only get paid when they make a sale. If you coached candiates regarding specific positions wouldn’t you make sales faster?
    The question is not retorical. It’s a serious investigation on how to change the process through economic self interest.
    (BTW: I get that most of your prospets are not open to coaching intially, but they can be with the right positioning.. “Do you really want this job? If so, then are you willing to change yourself if it meant success?”

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, October 5, 2010 @ 6:46 am

    You are correct about the coaching. We do prep candidates for the position, however, there is a fine line between preparing and coaching. For example, I could have coached the person about using the word “like” so during the interview she was aware of it. I don’t think that would be appropriate as my client would not have seen the real person. Once she started the job and her poor communications skills showed up I would get a call or it wouldn’t work out.

    There are some areas a recruiter can help. My goal is to make sure a client doesn’t lose a good person for the wrong reasons. Mainly, they aren’t comfortable interviewing or don’t have experience interviewing. That is different than getting them to change who they are or how they act.

    Secondly, you might be surprised, I know I was, how few candidates accept coaching or advice. I work mainly at the executive level and many think they know it all. If a candidate asks for my recommendations, what they can do to improve, or what needs to be changed, I’m always open to helping. It they don’t ask, I rarely suggest.

    If a person just doesn’t present well and I believe it is lack of understanding I will recommend changes before presenting to my client or I will let the client know what the issue is.

    After 30 years and 10, 000 interviews I have learned what most already know, you can’t change who someone is or how they act for any length of time. My roll is to make there are few surprises when the candidate comes on board and interviews the way they will be on the job. We offer a one year guarantee so the candidate has to be real in the hiring process or they will never last a year. That means I have to do the search twice. Hence a loss of money for me.

    Finally, it isn’t only about the dollars and quick placement. It is about the right placement. So it is better for me, the candidate, and the company to not take a short cut by trying to make a short term change for the interviewing process, but rather do my job and find them the best person that will fit long term.
    Hope I answered your question.

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, October 5, 2010 @ 6:51 am

    I do care about high turnover. You mentions some from “bad choices.” How many bad choices and what does that say to me or my client about your ability to learn from bad choices, if the candidate keeps making bad choices. One bad choice is acceptable. A series or pattern is not.
    I would suggest in your cover letter or on the resume you explain what happened in one sentence so the recruiter or reader understands why the turnover. I would suggest addressing it head on in the interview and not leave it undiscussed.

  • By Anne-Kirsten Upsaker, October 6, 2010 @ 12:31 am

    Hi, I totally agree with you. In our business we really need to be aware of the hireable aspect. The customer will be happy and the candidate will be happy if we make the best choice of candidates for presentation.

  • By Debbie, October 6, 2010 @ 8:15 am

    I really appreciated a candid outline of how recruiters view the interview process. I have heard before that in this economy, it is not wise to apply for jobs that you do not have all the qualifications for. Would you agree with this?

  • By Jared, October 6, 2010 @ 11:45 am

    A very relevant and insightful article. Of course, it doesn’t offer candidates a “magic bullet” to cut through the question of “what was it about me?”. This really is a matter of the fact that recruiters don’t provide any feedback to the candidate. The best recruiters I’ve worked with were the ones who were upfront regarding the areas in which they felt the fit would not be right, and/or provided feedback from the client.

    -Jared Peterson
    Resume Writer/Social Media Consultant

  • By Jared, October 6, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

    Mr. Hill makes an excellent point: Recruiters are in the business of selling candidates. To Brad’s point, a snake-oil saleman may push a lot of product, but the product doesn’t necessarily work in the long run. A recruiter who builds relationship based on trust and quality doesn’t want to “coach” someone on how to get in the door if they aren’t viable in the long run.

    But there is SOMETHING that recruiters can do that strikes the right balance between making the sale and maintaining credibility: The candidate’s resume.

    Exclusive retained searches are rare these days, so you’re usually competing against candidate resumes from other firms for any given role (whether you know it or not). But some of the best candidates in their field are terrible at writing resumes or selling themselves.

    I’m actively working to find recruiters who want to improve their conversion rate by maximizing the presentation of their candidate resumes, when they know they’ve got a hireable one on their hands. Brad/Allen…I’d love to discuss the concept further if either of you are interested in learning more about my approach to helping recruiters close more deals.

    Jared Peterson

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, October 6, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

    Yes Debbie I would agree

  • By Steve Willinger, October 14, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    your free offer to download this sample cover letter was too tricky for me and I chose to not look any further or click any more buttons. You were kind enough to ask for my thoughts and comments…What you might want to try is give “the cover letter that has tripled their response rate” and ask that the person agree to give you feedback, make a comment or just rate it.

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, October 14, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

    Steve; Sorry but I really don’t understand your comment. Since over 2500 have downloaded the cover letter I don’t know what you mean by “tricky.” It is free and that is all you have to do.You don’t have to even comment back if you don’t want to.
    So I’m confused what your point is/

  • By Gurdip Singh Sraw, October 14, 2010 @ 8:19 pm

    Hi Brad!
    It was good to get an insiders’ view. Thanks.
    It does lessen the frustration.

  • By Hisham Alaaedin, November 7, 2010 @ 11:21 am

    Excellent article brad, andi belive you covered all of the critical points any candidate should consider throughout the whole application process,

    i have one question for you as a recruiter if you left your previous company due to actual and valid problems within the the organization and the management, therefore you couldn’t fit in, how do you deal with this in any interview after that?

    Thanks again for the excellent article

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, November 11, 2010 @ 8:44 pm

    I believe you have to open and honest, but not negative or resentful. Simply state the issue as you just did.Question, “Why did you leave your last company?” Answer, “The company was experiencing some organizational and managerial issues. My situation was such that I didn’t match these changes. So I decided to leave and look for an organization where I can make a better impact on the company.”

  • By Brian Holst, October 25, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing the excellent article but it goes both ways. Your comparison of “hireable” to “pornography” could easily be translated to the jobseeker and his/her description of their ideal job. “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Employers have a difficult time defining their “ideal candidate” and seekers have a difficult time defining their “ideal position”.

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