Recruiter's Advice, Part II: How to Interview with an Executive Search Firm

Mon, April 03, 2006

CIOBy Jane Howze

When I make speeches about career strategy, one of the first questions I get is how to ensure that your interview with the executive search firm will result in an interview with the hiring company.

First of all, it helps to understand that an executive search firm is paid in advance by the client to recruit for a particular position. The client has very specific requirements, and it is the recruiter’s function to seek out individuals who match the company’s hiring leadership and culture requirements. That said, there are many people who, on paper, are a good fit for a company but do not get past the executive recruiter. Many times, candidates are never given the reason why they do not make it to the next step, other than a vague answer such as, “We did not see you as a fit for the company’s culture.” What happened? The following are some recruiter pet peeves that could eliminate you as a candidate.

1. Basic Manners. One would be surprised to know how many individuals do the following during an interview:

  1. Arrive late without calling or apologizing.
  2. Answer cell phone calls during the course of the interview.
  3. Repeatedly sneak peeks at their BlackBerry during the interview.
  4. Arrive smelling like cigarette smoke.
Obviously there are exceptions for the above etiquette breaches, which can be ameliorated by alerting the recruiter in advance that you may be late, have to take an important phone call or respond to an important e-mail.

2. The Spanish Omelet Rule. If you are meeting a recruiter for a meal, follow the recruiter’s lead in ordering. Do not order a Spanish omelet with a side of pancakes if the recruiter is having only coffee. This is a business meeting, not a dining experience. You want to be able to present your qualifications without worrying about spilling food on your clothing or having the recruiter ask you a question when your mouth is full.

3. Alcohol. Many recruiters automatically disqualify an individual who orders alcohol at an interview, even if the interview is after working hours. While I personally do not feel as strongly about this, it is always better to follow the recruiter’s lead, so if he or she does not order alcohol, you should not order alcohol.

4. Religion/Politics. Keep your religious and political views to yourself. It is important that you focus on the position. Anything that takes the recruiter’s attention off your professional experience is a risk (and this includes listing religious and political organizations on your resume), unless you are absolutely sure that your views or interests dovetail with those of the recruiter. If you talk about your religious or political leanings, you run the risk that the recruiter and/or the client may have a different perspective.

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