Mar 02, 2017

The tech-recruiting deal-breakers

- from an outsider’s perspective

Author: Alexandra Stanculescu

I work in creative marketing – my job involves making shiny infographics and presentations, interacting online to help clients, prospects, and employees understand our brand and relate to our values. I knew next-to-nothing about the recruiting process, save for what I had learned empirically by being in the interviewee’s chair myself, throughout the years. To me, my colleagues from HR were those nice, hyperactive, somewhat loud people – I enjoyed making banners and campaigns for their needs, without really understanding what their job involved, save for, well, interviewing candidates. How those candidates got selected, and why those and not others became full hires, was a total mystery to me.

This all changed suddenly about 2 weeks ago, when I and my huge screen, disorganized bits of paper and perpetual coffee mug were temporarily moved into the HR enclave among small-screen laptops, telephones, and minute schedules. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, they were stuck with me for about 3 weeks. During this time, I’ve had the unique opportunity of watching them work – screening resumes, discussing candidates’ profiles, striving to fill open positions in an under-supplied industry. I developed an increased empathy for their day-to-day struggles, and gained some fascinating insight into what deters recruiters from a candidate or resume faster than you can say HR. I’m here to share that insight with you, and try to explain why you should care about it.

It’s a fact: there is significantly more demand for developers, than there are developers. If you’re lucky enough to be `one of them`, you can write literally anything in your resume, and you’ll still get about a dozen interview requests a day. Just committing the `negligence` of going on your LinkedIn during lunch will take-up about 2 hours of your time, if you’re going to respond to and either accept or decline every job offer you’ve received in the past week.

So why would you care about what `deters` recruiters – when some days it feels like nothing deters them? Well, because you may otherwise be stuck with the `leftovers`, while filtering out the really good offers and cool projects.

Recruiters might seem `desperate` at times to the random onlooker, but that’s a level of excitement they reserve strictly for the really good candidates, those hard-to-come-by, hard-to-grab-and-retain top skills. If you spend some time in their world, you realize that they’re actually really picky about their professional affections. Screening is merciless, because the IT field rarely tolerates compromise; standards are sky-high. So if you’re thinking it might be time for a change in your career, it’s worth considering these points before setting on your quest.

Reliability level

I’ve noticed something right from the start: wow, are developers a lot like us creatives when it comes to their attention span. Most of you are easily distracted, when it comes to anything other than your development work. I know exactly what that’s like, first-hand. It’s worth knowing that a candidate’s inability to be on time for a fist contact or send in information as agreed makes recruiters wonder if you can later be trusted to stick to your deadlines or be online for the client updates call on time. Let me just quickly go through this:

  • Don’t say you’ll call back in 5 minutes and then disappear, it makes for questionable reliability – ask them to call you back instead (they won’t forget), or just say you’re not interested in a job change at the time (they’ll understand) – that way you leave the door open for future interaction, and avoid having to actually remember to call back yourself.
  • If you’ve agreed on a date and time for an interview, try to be there then or call in advance to say you can’t make it – don’t be `that guy` who keeps people waiting – while it’s part of the HR job hazards to have candidates bail out, you’ll be left with an awkward starting point for a negotiation.
  • Try to be nice and considerate, even if you’re not looking into a career change. I know this might be the eleventh unwanted email/LinkedIn message you get from a recruiter today, but you might be interested in a talk in the future; they keep strict records, do you really want to be on their black list when you are looking into a change? It just takes basic courtesy to not end-up there.

Your picture

In our culture, a good CV photo is a nice personal touch, adding a feeling of openness and warmth to your resume. However, I’ve seen first-hand how a bad photo can drive people away without them even having time to realize what it was that triggered the avoidance in the first place. It’s better to just skip it and not include one at all, than to go with a bad one.

What’s a bad photo? Well, anything from your cousin’s wedding is a big no. I know you were wearing a suit and that literally only happens on such occasions, but using a party photo looks unprofessional nevertheless. That one photo you really-really like, taken 15 years ago? Nope. Go for a recent photo, even if it’s not `That One`. Your smartphone and 10 minutes of your time are all you need. I’ve notice that it’s quite a common miss with a lot of CVs, so you might consider these points:

  • Go for a plain, pattern-and-clutter-free background, like an empty wall, for a crisper feel.
  • Bad lighting can completely ruin your shot, making it look lifeless and unprofessional. Soft natural light is your best friend (think overcast days). If that’s not possible, a second-best is a cool-toned light-source located directly above you. Light coming from your side will cast heavy shadows and make you look tired.
  • White fabric captures too much light and distracts from your face; a pastel color, preferably with no pattern, is the most flattering option.
  • Smile! But don’t grin like your idol is Jack Nicholson in `The Shinning` – go for a soft, warm-and-friendly smile.

Relevant Experience

You know what gives recruiters mixed feelings? It’s those resumes that look like some randomly-generated listicle, instead of a career journey that makes sense. 3 months here; 7 months there; 1 year odd gap – it just makes them raise an eyebrow.

Try to put some cohesion into it. Maybe you took one year off to focus on getting your degree; maybe you wanted to experiment with a new skill but it didn’t turn out to be something you like – tailor your resume to show that. Don’t give recruiters room to doubt what’s been going on: tell them what your story is. Otherwise, you risk them wondering if you were laid off and why, or thinking you can’t commit and speculating whether you’d be leaving suddenly, mid-project, for no apparent reason.

You don’t have to explain everything in a lot of words or with any fancy design, you can simply add a sentence or two detailing each entry in your experience section, to help recruiters understand the flow.

  • Pay a minute of attention to the formatting: your text shouldn’t be a huge, compact block – give it room to breathe instead, making liberal use of paragraphs.
  • Make sure your resume is no more than 2 pages long – they’ll ask you for a more detailed skill matrix as they need it – but at the same time …
  • … don’t leave them hanging, a CV is not season 2 of House of Cards; specify the main technologies you work with to make yourself look super-good at a glance. `Company Name – Developer` hasn’t got much wow-factor, but `Company Name – Senior Java Infrastructure Engineer` gives instant useful insight.
  • A short sentence can give recruiters a feel of each entry in your career timeline.

A touch of attention to detail

It goes a really long way, building instant trust into your day-to-day thoughtfulness. Is your email address johnny.streetboy29@gmail.com? Creating a new one takes 5 minutes. I know your name.surname@ is probably taken, but I’m sure you can find a professional-sounding alternative. It can even be a bit playful, so long as it’s related to your work-life (like john.thatjavadev@).

Of course, I shouldn’t have to mention, you should always pay special attention to your grammar, trying to make sure no type-o slips through. A resume with lots of negligent spelling makes recruiters wonder about how much attention you’ll be paying to everyday tasks you find less appealing.


What do you think about the recruitment process in IT? Is there something you wish was different about the interaction with recruiters during interviews? Do you find that paying attention to your CV makes a difference in the job offers you get? Do you think the prevalence of choices is responsible for the lack of reliability that’s haunting the IT&C recruitment process? I’d like to know what it’s like from your point of view.

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