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Words Matter: What Recruiters and Hiring Managers Should Not Say To Job Seekers


As a job-seeking recruitment professional, the past six-plus months have been interesting, to say the least. I will not claim to be the best at interviewing. In fact, I have grown quite a bit since the past summer with my interviewing skills and being a candidate/job-seeker. I am so grateful for the many ways I have grown since the start of 2020, during this journey. There are too many lessons to mention in one blog post. I'm kicking off my first blog post of 2021 by highlighting what should not be said to job seekers in an interview by using my own experiences.


Below I share direct quotes from hiring managers and/or recruiters during my job-seeking journey of 2020-2021.


Why do words matter when you are speaking to a job seeker/candidate? Let's explore a few instances in my candidate experience over the past six-plus months.


“You didn’t have to put on all that makeup and curl your hair for this zoom interview. If you work here, you won't fit in looking like that.” - This was a Zoom with the recruiter and hiring manager both present. They never turned on their cameras, but they sure had some things to say about what I looked like.

“What kind of recruiter will you be when DEI is a fad you can't follow? It will lose its momentum and then what?” - I paused before answering. Instead of assuming the worst, I started asking the recruiter questions related to their questions. Sadly, I found that this recruiter did not see the importance of DEI. If you are curious, I did let this person know what I thought about their “opinion” and that I resented the fact I even had to label myself as a "diversity" recruiter. I told them it was because of recruiters like them, I had to name myself as such. All recruiters should be doing what I am doing. It should not be a specialty. It should be a practice and how everyone recruits.

“Oh, wow. Really? You are asking for 30k more than we are offering. I realize it posted DOE. But we are a non-profit. Are you sure you will not consider talking more with us? What if you do not get a job offer from anywhere else? It is COVID-19 everywhere. You need to think smart for yourself and family.” - Shaming a job seeker who asks for what they deserve is wrong. Recruiters and hiring managers need to stop this. And I will just say it; if job ads had salary ranges, these conversations would never happen to job seekers with inexperienced recruiters or hiring managers. Recruiters and hiring managers need to learn to walk away without bullying and shaming job seekers for knowing their own worth.

“Would you be willing to remove your nose ring, change your glasses (frames), and dress more conservatively for this role?” - Again, with the outdated policies having nothing to do with safety. I will add that after the seventh interview I was told that I did not get the role because it was perceived that I would not be subordinate or conservative enough for their culture. (see photo above for what they did not like)

“I can understand why you’ve done so well leading teams in Inside Sales and Talent Acquisition where your phone voice gives you an advantage. You give good voice (insert inappropriate innuendo tone) if you know what I mean.” - Sexual harassment is unacceptable.

“The aptitude test has nothing to do with whether you can perform the job. It is put in place by our new leader because they think anyone in the HR department, no matter the role, should be able to pass it. Luckily, for me, I started before the new leader and never had to take it. I doubt I’d pass it myself.” - WTF.

“If I am being honest with you, I don’t know how I would be able to manage you. You have 5 more years' experience than I do. I wish it were different, but I will be more comfortable managing someone who is not as experienced.” - It has always been my goal to train up my staff to be better than me. If you are a leader and that is not your goal, you need to reevaluate your leadership role.

“I’d like to provide you feedback, but you know how it is, you can't trust a candidate to take it the right way.” - In all honesty, I used to be afraid of giving feedback to candidates, especially having my inexperienced recruiters give feedback. However, I have learned over time that I needed to push through that fear. Not all job seekers will accept feedback, but if they are asking for it, give it to them with as much grace and respect as possible. You could help them land their next role.


"I will let you know either way by (insert the many dates and times over the past six-plus months where no one has gotten back to me nor was a rejection email sent)."

“You may have to take a large cut in pay right now, just to be working. With so many on the job market employers do not have to pay pre-COVID salaries to land top talent.” - Again, the bad advice given predominantly to female job seekers from employed males is appalling. Stop this. Women deserve to earn a fair salary.

“I would like to believe you’re interested in non-leadership roles, but your resume does not show that. You have been in leadership roles for over 10 years. You would be perfect for the job, but I just cannot take a chance on someone like you who is potentially just desperate for a job. I need someone who will stay and not need opportunities for advancement or ask for more money in a year.” - My advice to recruiters and hiring managers, in this case, is to ask the job seeker about each role before deciding whether they have been a leader or want to be a leader going forward. In my case, I have been open to both individual contributor and leadership roles. There are job seekers on the market who can be and are truly open to both types of roles. Ask more questions, investigate, interview.

Recruiters, Hiring Managers, and anyone in a position perceived as hiring authority, STOP IT! THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. WORDS MATTER.

☛ “Mean girl” tactics have no room in HR from anyone. Find a new career if you cannot help yourself. Do not let your insecurities affect your hiring decisions or how you interview.


☛ Do not comment on the appearance of a job seeker’s face, hair, or makeup. Period. If you have outdated policies about hair color or lipstick shades, it is time to ask yourselves whether you are looking to hire top tier talent vs. someone who will fit into your outdated policies (and I am guessing, “mediocre culture”) created in 1983. (If we are talking for health and safety reasons, that is entirely different. For the quotes mentioned above about my appearance - specifically hair and makeup - safety and health would not be a concern.)


☛ Sexual innuendos are sexual harassment. End of story.


☛ If you are assessing job seekers to see if they have the skills needed to do the job you are hiring for, make sure the test is reflecting the skills needed to do the job. (And remember to ask if they need any type of accommodation for assessments and evaluations.)


☛ If you cannot pay a job seeker what they are looking for, move on. Stop shaming job seekers that know what they want and deserve because you do not see the importance of paying for their skillset.


☛ It is time to start putting the range of salary or at least the minimum of the range on job advertisements. If you are worried about pay equity issues internally, that should be your priority, not hiring someone else at an underpaid wage.


☛ You are not the only person this job seeker is interviewing with. Lose the chip on your shoulder. You're being interviewed, too.


☛ Stop ghosting candidates. If you say you are following up on Friday – follow up on Friday. Even if you have no update. Show the job seeker you respect them by sending a note that says something like, “It’s taking longer than anticipated but you didn’t forget them", or something along those lines. (I always pad the timing by 2-5 days. For example, if I think I will know by Friday, I let the job seeker know that I will follow-up with them within the next week or by Wednesday, etc. When I follow up sooner, it is a pleasant surprise and when I do not have info on Friday, it gives me more time to get it.)


Remember that your words matter. While you may be interviewing dozens or more candidates each week, job-seekers are hanging on your every word. For many job-seekers, your words are replaying in each of their heads until they hear back from you. Make sure they are hearing back from you.


I am not an eloquent writer or blogger. I am a recruiter who happens to give a damn about candidate experience and people. If you are a hiring manager, recruiter, or leader of those that are part of the hiring process – please check in on them. You may have a problem on your team you are unaware of. It is the right time to address this now and either retrain or hire people who care about your company’s brand reputation, employee experience, and candidate experience. The future success of your entire organization depends on this.

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