May 20, 2011

Prescreening: an open letter to recruiters part 2

In part one of my open letter from a job seeker's perspective, I described my thoughts on how any job search if often a two-way street and how best to not wind up kicked to the curb. Today I wanted to discuss another of my recruiter pet peeves, the infamous prescreen. For those of you new to this, a prescreen interview is when a recruiter insists on conducting a face to face meeting with you prior to sending your information to their client (or in some cases before even sharing the job description itself with you). Before I get into my thoughts and risk coming across as a spoiled 12 year old, let me just say I perfectly understand why some companies do this. Not all job seekers are created equal and a recruiter doesn't make any money or help their reputation at all by sending some unqualified clod in for an interview. It is in everyone's best interests to make sure that the people who do get sent actually have a chance in hell of succeeding.

Having gotten that out of the way, please don't be insulted if I balk at the prospect of coming in for one. It has nothing to do with having anything to hide. While there are a bunch of minor things that bug me, the major reasons I have are the following:

  • To date I have never ever had a pre-screen do anything other then take up my time. Every single job I have ever had can be traced to either a referral by a colleague, a recruiter who I never met face to face (or maybe met after the fact), or a direct contact by a company itself. Obviously that's a little like saying 'I haven't won the lottery yet, so it'll never happen' but still over the past 16 years I have come to be skeptical of the benefits of doing so.
  • If you aren't local to me, than I'm not only giving up my time but you're costing me $$ that I would prefer not to spend on a non-interview. If you're in NYC this could potentially amount to half a day and over $20 in tolls / train tickets etc. These are acceptable costs for an interview. They're not for something that may or may not lead to an interview.
  • I am often not comfortable giving out certain bits of my information that are requested of me during the pre-screen. For starters, you aren't getting my SSN. Don't even bother asking. You don't need it. Secondly, I do not like my references being called unless there is a potential job offer on the table. I have professional relationships with these people and thus I don't give out their names lightly. As I said, I have nothing to hide. I will gladly share this information when the time is right. However, I find it inconsiderate for them to be contacted just because it's your policy, especially since I know from experience that you will most likely pitch your services to them at the end of the call.
Is the above unreasonable? I don't think so. However, if they are then I offer this; I am more than willing to work with you to find a compromise. For example, getting dressed in a suit is a bit of a pain outside of weddings, funerals, and interviews (unless it's part of the job), not to mention that suits don't dry clean themselves. I'm not saying you should let me come in straight from the beach, but since business casual works just fine for most day to day office jobs, why not for a pre-screen? That way you'll be able to get an idea of what I'd be like on the job. Also, if I'm a bit more comfortable, you've just increased the distance I'm willing to travel for our face to face chat because once we're done I can probably get other stuff done as opposed to having to race home to de-suit.

Speaking of face to face, if that's the whole point of this than why not just offer to meet with me digitally. I'd be more than happy to FaceTime, Qik, or Skype video chat with you. In fact my schedule would probably be open to doing so whenever is convenience for you. Want to FaceTime at 8 am, no problem? 9 pm? Sure. Sunday afternoon? If you're game, then I am.

in short, I'm not trying to deny you the ability to make sure I'm not too incompetent, psychotic, or just too darn ugly to send to your clients. I just want you to be aware of my side of things. If I'm searching for a job, I need to concentrate my time and finances towards that face to face with the company itself. However, if you're willing to work with me a bit, I'll definitely work with you...and that's a good start to turning me from a one-off call to someone you can network with for years down the line.

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