Why are recruiters so obsessed with finding flaws?

JobVite just released some kind of “social recruiting survey” deal, which is in turn summarized over here on TalentCulture. I kinda get nervous whenever some “This is the current state of recruiting” thing comes out, because usually it’s just a marketing asset for some company. That’s probably the case here too. Still, one interesting thing stood out.

In the section of the report supposedly “relevant to job-seekers,” here’s what we got:

  • Use social wisely: 72% of recruiters dislike typos on social, and 42% don’t approve of alcohol in photos!
  • Appearance and attitude matter: 46% of recruiters say dress majorly impacts the first interview, with 80% of recruiters in financial services saying it can be the deal-breaker.
  • Tell the truth: 75% of recruiters see lies on a candidate’s resume, including beefing up their old jobs, lying about salary, time at a previous job, the dreaded “gaps,” and citizenship.

OK. So, none of this is exactly rocket science. Hopefully if you’re in an active job search, you know not to post kegstand pics, you know to dress well, and you know to avoid lying. Most decent human beings should know these things, especially in a job search process.

But there’s a bigger issue here, too.

Doesn’t this feel like an over-focus on negativity?

We supposedly live in this era of mission, values, and purpose. Admittedly a lot of that is bullshit that executives say as they count money with their other hand, but still — it’s what is force-fed to us, right? We’re supposed to believe in that.

In such a theoretical world, shouldn’t the focus of recruiting be more positive? Finding the best in people? Looking at their potential and ability? Diamonds in the rough?

All the time on surveys like this, you’ve got recruiters screeching shit like:

  • “Best not have typos, boy!”
  • “Want to see those shoes shine and that suit sparkle!”
  • “Lie about your salary and you’re out on your ass.”

It often feels like the focus is on finding the flaws — even assuming the flaws must be there, hiding — instead of looking for the good and building people up.

It’s kinda logical how we got to this moment, though

Think of something like supply chain or operations or whatever. Those are very scientific departments, with processes and elements to track. It’s been that way for years.

People — i.e. personnel, hiring — are a company’s biggest expense, right? But for decades, we’ve had no science behind how people come into companies. That’s only (slightly) changed in the last 5-10 years. Mostly we’ve had generic interview questions and someone “liking the cut of his jib.” The old boys’ network is alive and very well.

Because there’s no science to interviews/hiring, and because HR owns it, people with actual decision-making authority stopped caring. That’s kinda how people became an afterthought. That and “stakeholder management.”

Over time, interviews became a giant lie on both sides.

Recruiter: “Well, we don’t have a salary for this role.” (Massive lie.)

Candidate: “Well yes, I once managed a team of 10.” (It was at summer camp for two days.)

It’s amazing how the process designed to bring “the best of the best” into companies is essentially a two-way lie. Way to really put trust as a core value, eh?

Over time, the war for talent became the war on talent.

In that world, because we all have a strong negativity bias, it’s easier to pick out flaws than look for the good.

Sad, though.

How could recruiting be more positive?

A few ways:

Job descriptions: They should actually matter, not just be recycled. They should speak to where a role can go in 3-5 years.

Job role: This should also matter. It unbelievably often doesn’t, and managers just want warm bodies.

Technology: Often an impediment these days, on both sides. It alienates the smartest people, who you theoretically want. Use it better.

Look for the good in people: Recruiting is too much about “Oh he job hops!” or “OMG he had a gap in employment!” Who gives a shit? Is he/she a good person? Capable? Enthused? Seemingly dedicated? You’re probably not using an apprenticeship model, so take a gamble and see if it works. All the paper cuts we levy at resumes — “He’s lying about his salary, Janice!” — are ultimately minor. Yes, you don’t want a liar. I’ll give you that. But if lying on a resume is normative these days and everyone is in the same arms race, well, maybe we could seek to find the good instead of cherry-picking out the bad. Yaaaas?

Better questions: Here, I’ll even give you an example.

It’s hard to look at the current state of recruiting and not think “Large exercise in box-checking, low-context discussions, and negativity.” If we’re still hiring people and not just AI bots, maybe we could try to do this better?

Ted Bauer


  1. Great stuff, man.

    As far as why people might lie on their resume: I get the impression there isn’t much appreciation for subtlety in general these days. I wonder if some of the dreaded resume liars are ginning up their credentials simply to evade the possibility that they might be screened out for “not having enough experience”; it’s reminiscent to me of how a lot of online journalism outlets got a huge boner for clickbait headlines and hysterical rhetoric over the last however many years simply to attract whatever readers they could out of desperation.

    I remember interviewing for an editorial assistant job at a local lifestyle magazine in RI when I was fresh out of college. Keep in mind, this was an entry-level, part-time gig for like, $10 an hour for a magazine that probably has a fairly small circulation. In other words—my impression was, even tho the economy was in the tank at that point and the journo industry is supposedly super competitive—they’d have to take what they could get, as I doubt anyone in that role was going on to write for, say, the Boston Globe, let alone the Providence Journal. I’d minored in Writing in college and freelanced with another local mag my junior year. I got turned down for the job, and asked for some feedback: “uh, you just submitted a few articles, didn’t you?” Not sure how academic credentials from a respected local uni in the discipline and experience pitching/writing for a local rag weren’t enough experience for an part-time assistant gig at an unknown publication; I was left with the impression the hiring manager was trying to rationalize hiring a former intern or someone whose personality they preferred.

    Anyway, I digress on that story—tl;dr, a lady nitpicked my experience to death (what I’d qualify as negative bias), meanwhile I went on to get hired for jobs I had absolutely no experience in thanks to hiring mangers taking a more positive tack and looking at my potential.

    I think risk aversion in recruiters is understandable insofar as it’s perceived as being one way to show themselves as accountable to hiring managers should something go wrong with a hire. As an example, whilst researching how nonprofit executive search firms are paid recently, I read that some executive recruiters guarantee nonprofits that the candidate they source will last for a minimum of two years and attach that to a dollar figure. So, I GET it. Turnover costs money and time and yada yada yada. Flawed way of thinking, but I can offer a small degree of sympathy.

    With that said, I think the main point of contention you and I have with the way some recruiters approach hiring is that they look at metrics that produce very little useful data about an individual’s ability to be competent in a given job. If hiring managers are indeed judging people who apply for jobs based on their clothing choices, personal adventures, and their conviction that individuals are lying to them, they are ignoring many other factors that portend success in a given role. Any schmuck can wear a sharp suit, lie effectively, and drink themselves into a stupor while maintaining a semblance of competence (just ask Jimmy Fallon). Seems to me they’re just lazy heuristics for rationalizing dislike or discomfiture with another person’s attributes. I know we haven’t progressed a whole lot culturally since the 1950s in many ways, but we HAVE, I think, made net progress socially in the aggregate; this buffoonery is to me simply an outmoded way of thinking that needs to die. We can, have, and will do better.

    Cheers bud


  2. The most annoying aspect is spending hour’s or even days crafting your resume/cover letter for a specific position that hiring manager glances for 10 seconds before saying next. I’m sorry but unless you have super reading abilities, there is no way to determine the abilities of a candidate on paper in the same time it takes to yawn.

    • Agree Kari. The idea that “recruiters/hiring managers only spend xxx seconds looking at your resume” is extremely troubling to me. It seems little more than a rationalized excuse for laziness, and it’s awful that so many people have simply accepted that as a part of the hiring process.

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