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How to Drive a Headhunter Crazy


There are several things that a prospective job candidate can do to avoid unduly aggravating an executive recruiter. Two examples immediately come to mind. One: do not wait till after the second interview to tell your spouse that the new job will entail relocating. Two: do not offer as a reason for declining a job offer that -- even though the job is everything you're looking for, the money is more than you asked for, the position entails just what you wanted to do, and the company is ideal -- you read in a magazine that “one should never take the first offer that comes along.” 

Once a director-level recruit explained to me that although the job I offered was ideal, he had read in “Places Rated Almanac” that this particular community rated 93rd in the US in education while he currently lived in the community rated 78th. Thus he must respectfully decline in order to avoid shortchanging his kids' future. Never mind the fact that his kids were almost out of high school. Talk about a smoke screen.

Deal honestly

If you don't want the job, just have the guts to say “I'm sorry, but for various reasons this isn't going to fly.” A big gripe of mine is when a candidate spends a company's hard-earned money on a plane ticket when he or she has absolutely zero intention of accepting the position. I often ask, "Would you relocate?" They will respond, “I’d consider it.” I’d press, "Would you DO it though?" “Well, no actually, but I would like to see what's out there though.” Right… 

Although it's protocol for the company to pay the interviewee's expenses upfront in order to make it simpler for a candidate they hope to entice, of late I have recommended in certain situations that companies require the prospective employee to pre-pay the flight on his or her credit card just to prove a little commitment on their part. No matter what ensues the interviewee would be reimbursed immediately, but there is just too much abuse of free two-day trysts going on nowadays.

Other don'ts:

  • Candidates who pad their salary so the offer will be incrementally higher, then upon learning they are at the top of the salary range, backpedal and state that they were including benefits, etc. in that figure. Or candidates who when asked what their current salary is respond that they don’t know and will have to consult with their spouse.
  • Candidates who expect unreasonable salary increases.
  • Candidates who have a new position every two years and insist they are not contractors. Asked why they left so many companies so quickly they tend to offer excuses such as, “I saw the writing on the wall,” or “It was a political thing.” Sure, but 14 times since 1986?

Advice for employers

On the other side of the fence, a company that interviews a candidate and then waits more than two weeks to make a decision is essentially telling the candidate no thanks -- whether they intended to send that message or not. In this job market companies must act quickly and assertively, usually within 48 hours of the interview. If they wait a couple weeks the candidate will no doubt have already sought new and possibly more enticing opportunities. 

In addition, a long wait may dampen the candidate's initial excitement. Realistically, however, it is often difficult for a company to interview all the candidates within a brief window of time. Another thing I have seen client companies do -- which is generally the kiss of death -- is to justify why they can’t come close to meeting a candidate's salary demands by coming up with a laundry list of his shortcomings. Bad idea. Nor is it good practice to attempt to justify a lower salary by citing the costs of acquiring the candidate (i.e. training costs, training curve, relocation costs, headhunter fees, etc.), even though those costs may be valid.

Another bad idea is intentionally low-balling on the first offer knowing darn well it will not be acceptable. All this accomplishes is creating a confrontational negotiation from the get-go.

In 19 years of owning my own agency, I’ve found that most of my candidates (mainly mechanical engineers), have the basic common sense to know the do's and don’ts of interviewing. Be yourself, be humble, be honest about what you do and don’t know, don’t belch, ask questions about school systems and local athletic associations (which indicates you want to put down roots), and of course, maintain good eye contact. Don’t look at your shoes during the interview. Of course, if maintaining good eye contact is a really arduous task, at least stare at the interviewers shoes!

How not to get hired

Then again, in 19 years I have experienced first hand or heard of some more interesting approaches by candidates. 

“She wore a Walkman and said she could listen to me and the music at the same time.”

“Stretched out on the floor to fill out the job application.”

“A balding candidate abruptly excused himself and returned to the office a few minutes later, wearing a hairpiece.”

“Asked to see the interviewer’s resume to see if the engineering executive was qualified to judge the candidate.”

“Told the interviewing executive he was out of his league.”

“Announced she hadn’t had lunch and proceeded to eat a hamburger and French fries and wiping the ketchup on her sleeve.”

“Stated that, if he were hired, he would demonstrate his loyalty by having the corporate logo tattooed on his forearm.”

“Interrupted to phone his wife for advice on answering specific interview questions.”

“When asked about his hobbies, he stood up and started tap dancing.”

“Pulled out a Polaroid and snapped a picture of me. Said he collected photos of everybody that interviewed

“Demanded more money and that if he got the increase it was a done deal and then after getting the bump, declined because he felt as though the higher salary would create too high of expectations in his performance.”

“During an interview, his wrist watch alarm went off and he shut it off, apologized, and said he had to leave for another interview.”

“A telephone call came in from his wife on his cell phone. His side of the conversation went like this: 'Which company? When do I start? What’s the salary?' I said, 'I assume you’re not interested in conducting this interview any further.' He promptly responded, 'I am as long as you’ll pay me more.'"

“His attaché case opened when he picked it up and the contents spilled, revealing ladies’ undergarments and assorted makeup and perfume.”

“Candidate said he really didn’t want to get a job, but the unemployment office needed proof that he was looking for one.”

“Asked who the lovely babe was, pointing to the picture on my desk. When I said it was my wife he asked if she was home now and wanted my phone number. I called security.”

“Candidate dropped his coffee cup under table and was under table for at least 15 seconds looking for it.”

“Candidate cleaned his ears with his car keys during the interview.”

“When asked what he aspired to do X years down the road, he responded: 'Certainly not what you do -- this seems tedious.'"

“Two engineering managers interviewed another engineer, who made good eye contact with them but kept making eye contact with another person to our right that wasn’t there.”

“A candidate who implied he wanted to work there, but needed a certain week off in the following August to go to a Star Trek convention, because he had a 'killer Borg outfit.'”

“A fellow responded to a question by putting on a Boston accent and replied loudly, 'Ask not what your company can do for you but what you can do for your company.' About ten seconds of silence ensued.

“A candidate that flossed in the parking lot in the presence of the hiring managers after a lunch meeting.”

“A district sales manager that showed up for an interview with a sports jacket over a “Van Halen World Tour” T-shirt.”

“A designer that literally had such bad body odor the first three interviewers abbreviated their interview and canceled the rest of the day’s schedule. One of the interviewers had to open the door to the office to create a cross breeze.”

“During the course of an interview, I asked a candidate to explain an unaccounted gap in the dates on his resume and he replied, “ Yeah, I was kind of bumming around at that point, but I’ve done a 360 degree turn since then.”

It takes all kinds, but as I stated earlier, just be yourself. God only knows the stories candidates could tell about the interviews they’ve been through. I’m sure that could make for some interesting reading.

About the Author

CAD/CAM Recruiters was founded in l981 by Bill Wright, who holds a B.S. degree from Webber College in Babson Park, FL. CAD/CAM is a small independent firm whose handful of recruiters specialize only in CAD/CAM/CNC/CAE and PDM.

Contact Information:

CAD/CAM RECRUITERS, INC, 10701 McMullen Creek Pkwy, Suite b, Charlotte NC 28210

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