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Ask the Headhunter: How to test whether a job interview offer is legit

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: Several companies and recruiters have reached out to me on LinkedIn regarding job opportunities. They request phone interviews, tell me how great my experience is, they love my ideas. Then: radio silence.

I believe some HR reps and recruiters are using LinkedIn as part of their due diligence process. They already have a final candidate in mind, but they want to be able to tell their employer or client that they have chosen the person from a selection of prospects — and I’m one of the throwaways.

It’s impossible to tell which of these are for real until I either get the interview or get dissed. How to handle such contacts?

Nick Corcodilos: Recruiters and HR reps don’t just do this as cover, to pretend they’ve got more candidates so they can fib to their bosses or clients. LinkedIn also makes it instantly easy for recruiters and HR to check off Equal Opportunity boxes disingenuously: “Look, we recruited three women and three people of color!”

The technology is abused in more ways than we know. But I think your real question is, how can you instantly separate the tire-kickers from someone who might really have a job for you?

If an employer gushes and expresses the sentiment that you’re so great, why not test them on the spot?

How to say it
“If you’re serious, then schedule a face to face meeting and I’ll come in to talk.”

If they decline, then really test them. Take a more aggressive approach, since the odds now are that they’re tire-kickers.

How to say it
“Thanks, I’m flattered, but please don’t waste my time if you’re not ready to act to fill the job.”

This sort of approach terrifies most people. What if the recruiter is offended and this costs you an opportunity? Well, what of it? If a recruiter or HR rep isn’t taking action, they’re being offensive. Leading someone on is not a skill. It’s a revelation of ineptitude. (See “Job Spam: 6 tip-offs save you hundreds of hours!”)

If they press you for a phone screen, test them some more. Just say you don’t do phone screens.

How to say it
“No offense, but if an employer doesn’t see a clear match, I don’t have time for screens. I would be glad, however, to invest as much time as a hiring manager needs to talk face to face about how I can do the job profitably.”

Any recruiter who won’t do that is not serious, and your experience (that’s why you wrote to me) already confirms you know that. Telling you how great you are and how much they love your ideas without taking the next step is frankly puerile. They should be fired for wasting valuable time passing the time of day blowing smoke. Their job is to schedule interviews so jobs can get filled. (Even if you advance from an HR phone screen to a phone screen with an actual hiring manager, you’ve at least moved the ball down the field. Use these tips to decide “How and when to reject a job interview.”)

Pretending that a tire-kicker is going to give you a ride is not a reasonable way to spend your time. The best thing you can do is test the recruiter so you can move on quickly — or get an interview if they’re legit.

Here’s a tip from my book “How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.” When a recruiter or HR rep reaches out to you:

“Your challenge is to learn all you can before you commit hours and hours of time to delivering a résumé, attending interviews, filling out forms, calling for updates and agonizing over whether you’ll be chosen.

“Don’t be afraid: A legitimate headhunter [or recruiter or HR rep] will not hang up on you because you behave like a prudent business person. A good headhunter wants to know that you are enthusiastic, but also smart and careful. If a headhunter [or HR rep] gets testy, end the call, because his objective is to control you, not to recruit you.

“The serious headhunter will have already qualified you — or he wouldn’t be calling. Please remember that. You should detect that the headhunter already recognizes you when you begin your conversation. [That is, the recruiter has done a level of homework to vet you in advance, otherwise, why are they contacting you?]”

I think there’s nothing to lose in this approach but aggravation! And at least it puts you in control, which will make you a more potent (and serious) job seeker.

Dear Readers: Do you use a recruiter’s first contact to test them? How do you judge whether an “opportunity” is real? How do you say it?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2018 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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