Why Is the Recruiter an Idiot?

Last Updated Apr 4, 2011 6:18 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I am curious as to why companies have people who have no idea what a position does conduct 1st round telephone interviews? Makes the job hunting process even more frustrating.
There are two answers to this question: One nice and one not so nice. Let's start with the answer that gives recruiters and companies the benefit of the doubt.
  • It's not necessary. Companies have decided that because final decisions will be made by the hiring manager, it's not necessary for the recruiter to have an in depth knowledge of the company.
  • They aren't screening for hard skills. If the manager writes the job description with the proper description and the recruiter has matched candidates that fit that description, then everyone that receives a phone call has the necessary hard skills.
  • They are screening for soft skills. These are the things like "will this person fit in the company culture" that aren't easily quantifiable. Sure, she can look at your resume and see that you can speak French and do statistical analysis, but so can everyone else she's screening. What the recruiter is trying to find out is can you handle the micromanaging boss, or are you okay with a relaxed company with a matrix structure?
  • Their responsibility is only to weed out the "wrong" candidates, not find the right one. Those are two very different things, by the way. Recruiters (especially in a market with high unemployment) focus on finding what's wrong with you. The hiring managers focus on figuring out which of the remaining candidates is the best one.
All of the reasons above can be, and are in many situations, possible. The recruiter doesn't have to know anything about biochemistry to know that someone with bad grammar won't be a good fit for a position that requires communication with others.

But, there are bad reasons why companies do this as well.

  • Companies are cheap. Somebody decided, long ago, that recruiting should be an entry level job. So, the people who recruit are necessarily inexperienced, because an experienced person will move on to higher level jobs.
  • Recruiters are too busy. If you're recruiting for 15 different positions that cover everything from janitorial staff to a marketing manager to a biochemist you can't possibly know the details about every one of those jobs.
  • Nobody knows how to hire. This isn't to say that they don't think they know how to hire, but thinking you know something and actually knowing it are two very different things. A recruiter is generally being an entry level HR person who chose that profession because she (and it's usually a she) loves people and relationships and talking and solving problems. Nothing wrong with that. Except that not all jobs need those same skills. Honestly, it's true. A person may have limited ability to chit chat, but can be an expert computer programmer. The recruiter eliminates that person because of lack of soft skills, when in reality, those skills aren't necessary for the job.
  • Because we've always done it that way. Recruiters gather the resumes, screen the candidates, and then present a slate to the hiring manager. That's just how it's done. Does it have to be done that way? Absolutely not. Why not have the manager do this work? Sure, it is work, but isn't it worth the manager's time to get the best person for the job on board? And who would know better? The manager or the recruiter.
So, if you have the pleasure of being interviewed by someone who doesn't have a clue, play along. Answer the questions and put your best foot forward. You won't win any points by remarking on how little the recruiter knows.

And not all companies do this. Some companies use specialized head hunters for complex jobs. Some companies have recruiters with either a lot of experience in the particular area for which they are recruiting, or work very closely with the hiring managers to learn about the job.

But it is, in the end, one more hoop to jump through.

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Photo by Me and the Sysop, Flickr cc 2.0