What Recruiters Do When They Want You to Go Away

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This is a candidate-heavy market. Hiring in many sectors is down. Candidates are more hesitant than they used to be about coming onto the market, but there’s still a large surplus of available candidates over available jobs. That means recruiters sometimes have to reject potential candidates.

If you're a job candidate, there are ways to read a recruiter's euphemisms to understand that they really don’t have anything for you. That way, you shouldn't take their rejections personally.

Recruiters are upfront, truthful people 

All the recruiters we spoke to stressed that they tell candidates the truth. There’s no beating around the bush – they will be upfront when they can’t help; they will be upfront when they can.

“In reality, you can almost always help someone in some way, even if it’s just some useful advice,” says Logan Naidu, a partner at search firm Cornell Partnership. “There’s a tendency for recruiters to see candidates in too much of a binary way – they look at whether they can fit them into jobs they’re working on now and don’t consider the longer term.”

However, there are situations and circumstances in which recruiters will seek to repel candidates. If you’re a candidate, it may not always be clear that this is their intention. The key signs are:

1. Saying nothing.

“I try to give everyone decent advice, but if someone gets my back up, I just won’t return their calls and e-mails,” says one recruiter.

2. Saying: “Why don’t you try this alternative recruiter?”

If a recruiter can’t help, he or she may attempt to palm you off on someone else. This may be a genuine attempt at assistance. Or it may be an attempt to be rid of someone. “I’ll sometimes suggest someone meets X, Y, Z at Michael Page,” says a recruiter at another firm.

3. Saying: “I’m afraid that I don’t have time to meet you, but I'll keep your resume on file.”

Most recruiters want to stay on candidates’ good sides, and if they genuinely think there’s a possibility they can place a candidate in the future, they will suggest a "courtesy meeting" for a quick coffee just to get to know who they’re dealing with. If you’re a candidate, and a recruiter takes your resume and says it will go onto the system without suggesting a courtesy meeting, this could be an indication that you’re not a good long-term bet.

4. Saying: “I’ll run this past the client.”

Ultimately, recruiters don’t make hiring decisions – their clients do. Referring to the client as the final arbiter is a way of getting rid of aggressive candidates, says one recruiter. “I’ll tell the candidate that I’ll run the resume past the client and that I’ll ask the client to let me know whether they’re suitable,” she says.

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