In Part 1 of this series I recommended college seniors use their career centers. In Part 2, I reminded them to play the role of employee/coworker, rather than young job-seeker. In this post, we’ll discuss one particular aspect of your preparation that is often overlooked. Hopefully you’re doing your homework beforehand, visiting websites, checking LinkedIn, and calling on friends for help. And by now you know that every time you interface with the target company, you’re interviewing. Thank you notes, phone calls, and even introducing yourself to the receptionist are all mini-interviews, and you’re being judged. Sometimes it’s easy to know who you’re talking to, but not all the time.
Mistake 3: Not Knowing Who You’re Interviewing With.
You’ll know their name, but you don’t always know their position. Sometimes companies will swap out interviewers at the last minute, sometimes they’ll bring in someone new. People in different positions look for vastly different things in an interview, and the ideal candidate is prepped for this.
The two most likely people you’ll interview with are corporate recruiters and hiring managers. You need to understand where they both come from to determine what they want.
Corporate recruiters are a sub-group of human resources and typically found in mid to large sized companies. Their job is to recruit new employees, and they see hundreds–if not thousands– of resumes a year. They go to career fairs, speak at panels for graduating seniors, and hold information sessions on campus and elsewhere.
The larger the corporation, the more standardized the hiring practices. Since corporate recruiters are more likely to be found in large corporations, they’re often tied to these practices (standardized questions, personality tests, grading scales, etc). Why? Because there are maybe dozens of corporate recruiters meeting thousands of people every year, and the company wants everyone to be graded similarly. It ensures consistency while preventing a rogue recruiter from hiring someone based on a hunch. Oftentimes corporate recruiters are tasked with just finding good people who would fit in many areas of the company, rather than seeking out the missing piece with the perfect skills for a specific team.
Hiring managers, however, are looking for that specific person. They lead a team, or teams, and need one or two people to round out their staff. They know exactly what you’d be doing and who you’d be working with, which is often in contrast to the corporate recruiters. Hiring managers are not trained as recruiters or bound to the same set of questions and tests. They spend more time talking about the exact job and delving into your past experience. Whereas with corporate recruiters the process is a little more black and white, with hiring managers it’s grey. You need to focus more on establishing a rapport, because the top-of-mind question with a hiring manager is always “Do I want this person on my team for the next few years or more?”
How can you tell the difference between corporate recruiters and hiring managers? Just ask. Maybe not directly, but there are lots of questions that get the job done. For example:
- “Can you tell me about the specific role you’re recruiting for?” If the person answers that they’re looking at filling many roles in different parts of the company, they’re a corporate recruiter.
- “Do you work in the department I’d be joining?” They’ll either respond with “No — I’m a recruiter,” or “Yes, in fact I’m the manager.”
- “How long have you recruited for this company?” If they’re a recruiter, they’ll answer directly. If they’re a hiring manager, they may say something like “Oh — I’m not a recruiter. I’m a Director in such-and-such a division.”
Age is often another giveaway. Anyone under the age of 25 is not likely to be running teams and hiring people directly to them. Anyone over the age of 35 is not likely to be a corporate recruiter because the prevailing mentality is that college students are more likely to approach and talk to other young people. So the younger a person is, the more likely they are to be a corporate recruiter.
Now that we know the difference between corporate recruiters and hiring managers, and how to tell them apart, what do we do? Tailor your answers accordingly. For example, don’t say “The only thing that gets me out of bed before 10AM is a tee time” to a corporate recruiter. They’ll think you lack ambition. But if you learn that a hiring manager loves golfing and isn’t a morning person, it’s a perfectly acceptable comment that may establish a connection. Corporate recruiters care about your GPA, the number of student groups you were in, and the answers to their 20 different behavioral questions. Their job is often to weed people out based on pre-determined criteria, and then pass you to the next level (often a hiring manager).
Hiring managers are looking for fit. They compare your style with theirs to see if there’s a match. Again, they’re looking to see if they want to work with you for the next few years. Though they’re all looking for different skills, hiring managers do have some commonalities. They want to see that you’re interested in the job, so ask questions specific to the industry or, if you can, the job itself. Listen closely to what they say about their team and their tasks, and ask thoughtful follow-up questions. Don’t ask boilerplate questions that apply to any company. Ask about the people you’d be working with, or the roles you get to play. Ask about their training and development, or what some of the common challenges the current team faces. And, as always, demonstrate that you belong on the team.
To re-cap: Corporate recruiters will ask you behavioral questions and put you through a cookie-cutter interview process designed to weed out below-average candidates. You may have to take a test or two, interview with a few different people, or even attend a group interview. Hiring managers are looking for the perfect fit, so they’ll focus less on the black and whites like GPA, and more on your familiarity with and excitement for the job. They’ll also be looking to see if the two of you establish a rapport. The one question they care most about is “Will this person successfully fit on my team for the next two or three years?”
If you know who’s interviewing you, and can tailor your interview accordingly, you’re in good shape.