How to persuade recruiters to take a leap of faith...and hire you

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

I'll never forget the time I was sitting in a taxi stuck in gridlocked traffic on a highway in Taipei. I was on the way to a job interview at a major multinational advertising agency. 

This was 25 years ago. I was working at my first job out of college at a small real estate investment firm at the time, and going nowhere fast. This interview I had landed—at one of America's oldest and most preeminent ad agencies—felt like it was my “get out of jail card” and my entry ticket to the next big phase of my career. 

I finally arrived at their office, well over half an hour late, and convinced I had blown my chances of ever getting a job at the firm. The managing director, with a politeness and patience that masked his obvious displeasure with me, asked me why I was so late.  

Somehow, miraculously, I ended up landing the job. I stayed for just under three years before heading back to the U.S. for my MBA.

Looking back at that fateful moment in my career, especially with the perspective I've gained from hiring many people over the years, I'm astonished they even offered me the job. They must have seen something on my resume, or learned something in their conversations with me that made them take a leap of faith and decide to hire me. 

I think all recruiters looking to hire fresh graduates with a couple of internships here, and maybe one or two short-term stints there, are taking a chance in hiring them. As someone who has interviewed and hired several people over my career, we know students fresh out of college don't have all of the skills that they'll need for the job. But we hire them anyway because we believe—based on what we've seen on their resume, and more importantly, through our conversations with them—that they have the potential to learn and grow into the role we're hiring them for. 

We are, essentially, taking a leap of faith, just like the ad agency that took a leap of faith in me when they decided to hire a young graduate with almost no meaningful work experience, and who had the gall to show up half an hour late—and then blame it on the traffic!

If you’ve recently graduated, or will in the future, here are some things you can do to make a recruiter want to take a leap of faith and hire you:

Write down your story -- and rehearse it before going into an interview. 

Many graduates aren't sure exactly what they want to do. Peer pressure can be intense: Friends talk about why they are going into this hot industry or pursuing that lucrative career track. But for many new graduates, the working world that lies just beyond the comfy confines of a university campus remains a big, scary unknown.

And this is completely understandable! But when you're meeting with a recruiter, you want to confidently tell your story: The story of how you got where you are today, and why joining their firm, and taking on the role you’re applying for, fits into your narrative. 

Having a story prepared in advance will send a powerful message that you’ve taken the time to think through your strengths, that you’ve done your due diligence and understand the company and the role that you’re applying for, and that you can articulate how it all fits together.

Demonstrate a passion for learning.

In addition to saying you love to learn new things and you're a fast learner, show that you took courses in coding in your spare time, or earned a certification in content marketing during those months where you found yourself in-between jobs. Except for one summer during my college years that I mostly wasted by parking fancy cars at a restaurant, I spent the other two summers taking two full years worth of Chinese and Japanese language courses.

Treat every interaction as a mini-test. 

I've seen many candidates kill their chances right out of the gate by writing a poor cover letter. Or maybe they get too casual, too quickly, in their email exchanges. While it’s tempting to let your guard down, don’t: Treat every “touch point” with a recruiter as if it were another mini-test of your communication skills, your judgment, and your ability to stay organized and focused.

Don't exaggerate your skill-set. 

Be confident about what you know best, but don't overdo it just to impress. Recruiters can quickly see through inflated skills and exaggerated statements about experience. That’s why they often give written skill assessments.

The last thing you want is to land a position based on skills you said you had, but actually don’t. It’s a tenuous—and very stressful—position to put yourself in. You’ll be found out one way or another. 

Don't over-negotiate your package.

I've seen young candidates with barely one or two years of work experience try to negotiate positions and packages that are well beyond the company's pay scale for the role, and, frankly, well beyond what they deserve. And dangling counter offers with allegedly better packages as a negotiation ploy is very risky, and could backfire. 

Keep personal details out of the negotiation. 

I've had candidates explain why they needed higher starting pay so they could move out of their grandparents' apartment. Or candidates that explained why they preferred to work in Hong Kong rather than Shanghai so they could be closer to their partner. We understand these situations, and may even personally empathize with you, but these are not the basis for negotiating a job offer or compensation.

Polish your LinkedIn profile.

I know many writers on LinkedIn have made this point, and I have too in some of my earlier posts. But I think it bears repeating: Make your LinkedIn profile as complete and up-to-date as possible. And please, please use a professional photo that shows your entire face. Don’t use selfies you took of yourself sitting in a car, or grainy, low-resolution shots that were obviously cropped from a group photo. 

Be punctual.

And, of course, show up on time for your interviews! You might get lucky like I did 25 years ago, and find a company that is willing to overlook such an egregious offense as showing up 30 minutes late—and hire you anyway. 

But why take the chance?

Written by Glenn Leibowitz