How Honest Should You Be With Your Recruiter?

8 mins read
Employer agency recruitment clients communication contracting honesty relationships

Coming in to my tenth year in recruitment, I’d say my gut instinct (a.k.a. BS detector) is one of my most valuable assets. Without it I’m sure I would’ve made some candidate/client matches that would’ve been as successful as dropping a running hair dryer into a bubble bath. That being said, as much fun as it is playing detective and getting to the bottom of a mystery, when my BS radar pings, it’d just be quicker if everyone was straight up from the get go.

The best thing about working in recruitment is meeting job seekers and employers, getting to know them really well and then playing matchmaker. It’s kind of like the ‘professionals’ on Married at First Sight, minus the blatant ignoring of a contestant’s deal-breakers like ‘no kids’ that’s followed by matching them with a partner who wants five mini-mes. Unlike reality TV though, when people don’t disclose key information during a recruitment process, it’s not just light entertainment. This situation is inevitably frustrating, and often a waste of everyone’s time.

In my experience there are recurring topics that job-seekers and employers just don’t know how to broach with their recruiter. I’m going to cover these topics here, along with some things people do raise, which they really shouldn’t.

Job Seekers

1. Employment reference woes: You’re not using your direct manager from your most recent role as your referee because a) you can’t stand each other b) you don’t think you’re going to get a good reference from them, c) they’ve been in the role three months and you feel your previous manager knows you and your work much better, or d) the list of reasons goes on.

Just tell your recruiter. Don’t get your best friend to pretend to be your referee – for obvious reasons. Don’t just provide your colleague who ‘works really closely with you and knows what you do better than your manager’ – this will immediately get the spidey-senses going. And don’t provide that old manager’s details and not the most recent one’s, in the hope your recruiter won’t know the new manager exists. It’s our job to know who’s who, and where they work, and it’s super awkward if you’re trying to convince us Bob is your manager when we really know it’s Jill.

Most of us recruiters are an understanding bunch, and have had so many of these conversations that we’ll appreciate your honesty and help you figure out a solution.

2. You’re interviewing for another position/s.

No kidding! You’re a great candidate and we think we can help you find your next role, so of course other employers and recruiters think so too! Soooo many candidates decide not to tell us they’re interviewing for another role, and then bam! all of a sudden, they’re accepting another offer, after charming our client in an interview. Imagine the disappointment for our client when they’re all excited about bringing you on to their team, coming up with an attractive offer for you, only to find out you’ve found something else. The heartbreak! Be open with your recruiter from the outset, let us keep our client informed that they’ve got some competition. If they want you, maybe they’ll speed things up so they don’t lose you. And if they don’t, at least you’ve given them the opportunity and you know where you stand. Either way, don’t be that person remembered as the candidate who ‘blindsided us at offer stage’. You never know where your paths may cross again.

A good recruiter isn’t going to try and bulldoze you into only considering the role they are representing you for. They’re going to be a sounding board, so you can work through the pros and cons of each role, what your decision is going to mean for your career, and ultimately help you figure out which job is going to make you happiest.

3. You’ve got some deal-breakers. For example you’re NOT a morning person, you find your commute to work a challenge even with your current start time of 9am and the thought of being at your desk at 8am makes you feel sick.

Totally get it! Everyone’s got their lists of things ranging from the seemingly minor (as above) to the more serious (you have certain salary expectations because you have a mortgage to pay). Your recruiter should absolutely be covering all the key things off with you, but everyone has their own quirks right? If it doesn’t come up in conversation, don’t be shy about saying “look, I know most people think dogs are super cute, but I’m actually terrified of them so I couldn’t work in an office that has an open dog policy.” Best to know up front, than for you to have your deal-breaker slap you in the face when you turn up for your interview.

Now, there is an exception to this, and it’s one I’ve unfortunately heard numerous times over the years. If your deal-breaker is “I only want to work for a male manager”— keep that one to yourself and good luck with your job search. It’s 2019.


1. My candidates aren’t the only ones you’re considering.

Like anyone, I’d love to be in an exclusive relationship with you and cheating hurts my feelings. If we’ve agreed to exclusivity, but Margaret in marketing drops her son’s CV on your desk and he looks great for the role, let’s have a chat about it. When we talked about exclusivity at the start of the recruitment process, we would’ve laid some boundaries. We talked about what we’d do if this sort of situation were to happen, and therefore this conversation shouldn’t be too hard. My main goal is to be abreast of all the goings on with this recruit. Then I am able to manage my candidate’s expectations, and provide them, and you, with an excellent service. If another candidate joins the party at the last minute, and it’s unlikely we’ll have that answer for my candidate by the date we said we would, that’s OK—so long as I know, and can keep them in the loop.

2. You’ve interviewed my candidates, they weren’t right but you’re not sure how honest you should be with the feedback.

It’s not often I’m way off the mark with my shortlists (I wouldn’t have stated that so confidently back in 2010!) so when a candidate of mine interviews with a client and it’s a no-go, without straight-up, honest feedback I’m going to go bonkers trying to figure out why. The interviewee may have used the word ‘like’ as many times as they blinked during the interview. It might be your biggest bugbear when someone turns up half an hour early, and everyone in your office stops to check if they’re okay on their way through reception. Maybe they didn’t smell the freshest, or they called you Dave when you’re definitely a David. Whatever it was, I want to know. “They weren’t a good fit” just doesn’t really cut the mustard when the candidate has gone to the effort of interviewing with you, particularly if your honest feedback may help prevent them from making the same mistake in their next interview.

3. You’ve got some deal-breakers. For example, you’re working towards being able to offer flexible working arrangements, but it’s not a happening thing right now.

The pressure to get on the bandwagon and be part of the ‘cool workplace’ zeitgeist is immense. It’s easy to say yes to things that you think might help to secure your ‘dream’ candidate. As a manager though, you’re bound to have some deal-breakers that deep down, you know you can’t budge on, as much as you might like to. Don’t be worried about telling your recruiter that you can’t remember the last time someone left the office before 5pm, or that you can’t accommodate working from home setups right now. It may narrow the candidate field somewhat, but we’re going to be better placed to find a long-term fit, when we’re recruiting with all the information.

A simple solution

In summary, to answer my own question as to how honest you should you be with your recruiter —the correct response is completely.  My main message to everyone is: COMMUNICATE. If you don’t feel like you can communicate openly and honestly with your recruiter, maybe it’s time you found a new one. The best ones are those who listen, respect what you’re sharing with them and then work their butts off to match you with the employee/employer that best lines up with that valuable information you’ve given them.

I recruit Human Resources, Recruitment and Business Support positions in Canterbury and welcome a chat from anyone who’s looking for a new role, or a new employee in those areas. Give me a bell on 03 366 6226!

Lorrin McNeill
Manager Christchurch

A bit about me I joined Madison in December 2015 and found myself doing what I love from day one – recruiting at speed and working with wonderful candidates and clients, many of…

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