A Recruiter Tells What Won't Impress

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By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 26, 2006

Brad Karsh has thrown away stacks of résumés with barely a glance.

He has judged people in an instant, based on what they were wearing and the strength of their handshake.

And he still expected them to send him a thank-you note when he was done.

World-class jerk? Nah, just a former recruiting director. And if you're looking for your first job, you might want to listen to what he has to say.

His book, "Confessions of a Recruiting Director: The Insider's Guide to Landing Your First Job" (Prentice Hall Press, April 2006), walks recent grads through the basic steps of how to get that first job, including writing a good résumé, the truth about cover letters, networking, interviews and what comes after.

As a former recruiter, Karsh has read more than 10,000 résumés, interviewed more than 1,000 people and hired hundreds of workers. Seeing people make the same mistakes over and over is a huge part of what inspired him to write the book. "Young workers in particular get so much advice -- from their parents, their teachers, their dentist -- but so much of it is off the mark," he said in a recent interview. For him, the book was a chance to share the insider's view, the perspective of the people who actually make the hiring decisions.

Besides the book, he has also created a career consulting company, JobBound.com, staffed by former recruiting directors.

Here are a few of his "confessions":

· Most résumés are never read. By anyone. This, of course, is the opposite of students' experience in applying to colleges, he writes, where most admissions departments consider applications individually. If you had a vision in your mind of a group of recruiters poring over ever single piece of paper, think again. Recruiters don't have time to do this. "In fact, recruiters typically spend less than 10 percent of their time reading résumés," he writes. And if yours happens to be read? You'll get 15 seconds, tops, to catch the recruiter's eye.

· Most cover letters are never read, either. But you still have to write them, for two reasons. One, companies want to see if you will put in the extra effort. "Some companies will use it as a screen against people who apply to every job opening they ever see," Karsh writes. Second, it is a chance to show something extra that isn't on your résumé. Assuming, of course, that they read that, too.

· Most people welcome "networking" calls. "People love to talk about themselves and give advice," he writes. So don't be shy; pick up the phone.

· You must send the thank-you note promptly. As in, within 24 hours. Interviewers make their minds up pretty quickly about candidates, and a candidate who sends a note makes a better impression, he writes. "There is absolutely no benefit to delaying on this." E-mail is fine.

· There's a fine line between persistent and stalker. You want to follow up, but try not to scare anybody. Calling every few days is a good idea; calling every few minutes is not, even if you don't leave a message. "There's this crazy little invention you may have heard of called caller ID," Karsh writes. Speaking of technology, it's fine to send e-mails to coordinate with your phone efforts. But when do you stop trying? Karsh says six e-mails or phone calls, spread out over a few weeks, is plenty, no matter how badly you want the job. "In the back of your mind, though, the following question should be going through your brain: 'Do I really want to work for a company that doesn't have the common decency to get back to me? What's it going to be like to work there full time?' "

· You have no leverage. Entry-level pay and benefits are usually set pretty firmly. For this first job at least, the offer is take it or leave it. "Star accounting student vows to sit out tax season unless salary demand of $50,000 is met" is just not a headline you're going to see in the local paper, he writes. Well, maybe in the Onion.

· Recruiting directors want you to succeed. They are not "vengeful, spiteful, evil human beings placed on the earth for the sole purpose of deceiving, terrorizing, and tricking college students into ruining their one and only chance to get a job," he writes. A recruiter's job, after all, is to hire people. "The truth is, I would sit down before every single interview and think, 'I hope I really like this candidate.' "

Join Mary Ellen Slayter and guest Brad Karsh for Career Track Live, an online discussion of issues affecting young workers, at 2 p.m. April 10 athttp://www.washingtonpost.com.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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