The Career Hacking PodcastIn today's episode, we'll answer a question from Claire in Ottawa who asks “Hey Ross, I am interested to hear about the best candidate you ever interviewed and what made them so great? What can I learn from their success?”

Hey, Claire thanks for the question. I particularly like your question because we should all aspire to be the candidate that recruiters fondly reflect on and use as their benchmark for candidates to come.

An insight from the recruiter’s perspective is that the majority of candidates that I'll speak with any given day fit into one of two categories.

  • The first of which are folks that don't feel very prepared to speak with me or any other recruiter for that standpoint. All the information they give me could have gleaned off their resume.They don't have talking points or specific things they want to share about themselves that are applicable to the company or the role that I'm hiring for. They're strictly just spilling out all of the random facts that they can think about themselves to try to share what they can bring to the table and it's just disorganized. It feels like they're talking under their breath and as a recruiter, I'm not impressed.
  • The second group is more prepared, more energetic, and they have more to share about their experiences, but those folks generally don't know about the company or even about the role that I'm there to hire for either. As a result, much of the time that we're speaking with one another at the career fair is spent with me describing the programs and maybe the company culture and things that really the candidate could have researched ahead of time and so they're not making the most out of the conversation.They are leaving less time for them to be able to sell me on why they are somebody that I should bring back in a couple days for an interview.

So while these folks represent maybe 90% of people that I'll talk to at career fairs, there is a small percentage of folks that don't have any of these drawbacks and generally surprise me in unexpected ways as well.

For me, the best candidate that comes to mind impressed me immediately. I initially met them while doing campus recruiting at a university career fair a few years ago. The candidate approached me with a firm handshake, a confident smile and immediately started the conversation with a clear agenda. There were items that they wanted to share specifically about their experience and related it to the job specifically that I was hiring for. But also it felt more like a conversation with one another as opposed to them spewing a rehearsed outline of their experience, or me having to drive the conversation by reading the information on their resume. Really they drove a lot of the conversation that we had and it flowed a lot more smoothly and naturally, as a result rather than me asking the same generic questions I asked of any candidate who doesn't come prepared with items they want to talk about.

Specifically, the candidate that I'm most impressed with wowed me right away. When he introduced himself and said, “hello I'm such and so, I'm interested in your company in this specific role that you're hiring for.” So they had already known before talking to the recruiter what they were there to hire for. As a recruiter that's impressive because generally, you spend the entire day talking with people who are interested in getting a job. They’re not necessarily interested in your company, unless if you hired them. There aren't necessarily interested in the roles that you're looking for, unless if you have an opportunity for them. They are there to say “hello I am such-and-such, here's a generic overview of myself and my experience and what I can bring to the table” and leaving it open to you the recruiter to figure out whether or not they're a good fit for the role. Whereas this candidate alternatively knew ahead of time what I was there to hire for and whom I was hiring for, so that they could say here are the reasons you should hire me for the job that you're specifically here to hire for. As a recruiter who's talked to hundreds of people over the years of recruiting, that's a great breath of fresh air when you spend all day just talking through the same conversation over and over again.

Additionally, this candidate addressed one of their potential shortcomings in their GPA. I was required to hire a 3.0 or better and while this candidate was in the 3.3 range, they certainly were eligible but they were probably lower than other candidates that I was evaluating. So, the way they told their story was up-playing some of the leadership opportunities and other on-campus extracurricular that they were involved with, that they were balancing their time between some the coursework and the things that they were involved with. By leveraging some of the leadership experience and some of the other activities, they were making a case for themselves of why I should be considering them. If I was just looking at a piece of paper and I saw several different candidates with lists of credentials including a GPA and other things that they are involved with, this candidate wouldn't have necessarily stood out from the pack because of their low GPA.

I found it impressive that they recognized it, accepted it and attacked it head-on to say, “Hey there are other things that I'm doing beyond the classroom. So the GPA alone shouldn't measure me.” While most candidates have questions prepared for the interview, this candidate also had questions prepared for the recruiting fair. I thought that was impressive because they were not only putting themselves out there to be evaluated by me for the company. But they were also looking before the interview started to evaluate if this was the right spot for them. If they were excited by the types of things that I was saying and trying to sell the candidate on; to get them interested in the role as well. While I don't remember exactly what questions they asked specifically, the fact that they had thought about it ahead of time that they were doing some pre-screening before they wasted their time or mine in an interview, that they were doing their homework ahead of time.

Beyond what this candidate had done [to prepare for the career fair], I was also impressed with how confident and comfortable they were talking to me as a potentially intimidating recruiter. Some people say that President Obama was elected for similar reasons:

  • They could relate to him and picture themselves enjoying a backyard barbecue with him
  • They felt he was relatable and somebody they could trust
  •     They were interested in having him lead the country.

Some of those qualities are reflective of the best candidate I’ve interviewed as well.

  • It didn't feel too rehearsed and robotic
  • It didn't feel like they were nervous
  • [It didn’t feel like] they were just there to get a job with just anybody

They were interested in the company and they were interested in a specific role and they went out and attacked it and went and got it. That's something that you should aspire to as well.

After interviewing the candidate a few days after the career fair, I admitted that I was impressed with the fact that he knew what jobs I was hiring for before we even started the conversation. I quizzed him: how did you know those things ahead of time? He shared his secret, which maybe is something that you could do as well on your own. He went to the table and spoke with a different recruiter from the same company as me beforehand and picked up some of the fliers and information packets that we had so that he could do research for the hour or two ahead of actually coming to speak with me for the real deal. He already knew which roles we were hiring for and could share his experience appropriately.

To this day I'm still impressed with the amount of preparation, thinking ahead and planning this candidate had done and I think ultimately that's what can help you find success as well. I would be hard-pressed not to recommend everyone to do the exact same thing.

I mean you're right, in a perfect world, you have time for those sorts of things and you can put that extra effort in. From my standpoint as the recruiter, it really showed and it really mattered to me. Before the interview even started, I was really excited about this candidate to get an offer.

To summarize and reiterate, this candidate immediately showed up with energy, charisma, a firm handshake, and a smile. They started sending positive vibes from the get-go. They then took this a step further and showed how organized they were. They were impressive with the tailored content that they had for the job specifically that I was hiring for and weren't just saying, “I'm a person interested in any job you can offer me.” I'm interested and here are specific reasons why you should hire me. Here are reasons why my experience relates to the job that you're trying to hire for. That makes it easier for me the recruiter. When I'm spending all day talking to candidates and trying to make quick decisions on whether or not each candidate is somebody that could be a potential for an interview in a few days. The candidate was engaging in relatable. If I think about people that I want on my team, I want somebody who takes initiative, who does things without being asked to, and somebody who goes above and beyond. This candidate did just that before they ever spoke to me. They left me feeling like I wanted them working on my team and that is something you should be shooting for as well at a hiring fair or when you go to an interview.

Thanks again for taking the time to listen to this episode. Feel free to leave your comments and feedback on the podcast page on our website. As always if you have questions that you would like to submit to the career hacking podcast, feel free to send us a tweet @Wehner_Ed or send us a note through our contact page on our website,

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