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We’ve spoken to headhunters, hiring managers and recruitment agencies to elicit tales of unreasonable behaviour by candidates. Based on these conversations, we’ve identified five types of “crazed candidates” and offer tips on how to deal with them.
While most candidates remain perfectly reasonable, in desperate times, occasionally the boundaries of professionalism can be breached and previously rational job applicants can go to extreme lengths to try to stand out from the competition.
One unfortunate candidate (a former equity analyst) was out of work for 18 months, during which time he contacted, exactly, 1,054 recruitment consultants or agencies/headhunters to help with his job search. He was so convinced of his own abilities and that it was the failings of recruiters, rather than his skill sets, hampering his job search that he started assessing individuals and companies and noting his findings in a (presumably massive) spreadsheet. Recruiters were assessed on their friendliness, industry knowledge, industry contacts, feedback, performance (number of job interviews or offers) and general competence. Finally, he found a position – much to the relief of over 1,000 people – and the most qualitative assessment of the financial services recruitment industry was concluded.
The sad fact is that, although it’s an extreme example, this sort of person is unlikely to be a one-off. Those in finance are quantitative people, often with no small degree of arrogance around their own abilities, which means a structured approach to job-hunting is often taken. The best advice recruiters offered to us was simply to remain professional and stick to your in-house processes. At the very least any assessment will then be limited to the company, rather than the individual.
A couple of recruiters we spoke to cited examples of candidates collaring them as they left the office for lunch or at the end of the working day. Far more common, however, are instances of candidates making an unscheduled visit to the office. Candidates think that they’re showing initiative or being tenacious, but the fact is that the lack of contact usually isn’t an oversight by the recruiter and the candidate has been overlooked for a reason. This is more difficult in Dubai, where P.O. box addresses are the norm, but bloodhound candidates are often successful nonetheless.
They might have thought it was a good idea as they donned their interview suit in the morning, but when the reality dawns on them that they’re an unwanted visitor, candidates will usually be more sheepish in person. Don’t duck out of a meeting; take some time to patiently explain (perhaps more) reasons for their rejection and how you might be able to help in the future. In the majority of cases, candidates simply want some closure. If not, start to worry.
“To start with, one senior banker looking to switch jobs invited me to everything – sailing, drinks, golf, dinner – I was suddenly his best friend,” says one banking headhunter. “After a couple of months, when it was becoming clear I couldn’t help him, he started getting angry and frustrated.” Networking is key to job hunting, particularly in the current climate where connections are likely to open more doors than simply applying for vacancies. However, when a candidate starts turning up at every event you attend, makes a beeline for you and demands market intelligence or help with his job search, this is cause for concern.
Help them out by introducing them to some new contacts during networking events; at the very least this will take the pressure off you. Stay polite at any events you where meet them, but if their aggressive stance becomes worrying, taking a blunt approach, spelling out why you’ve not been able to assist in their job search, is best.
Receiving overly frequent phone calls is one thing; it’s an annoyance, but at least you can speak rationally and offer feedback about their application, as well as assess from their tone of voice what state of mind they’re in. E-mails, particularly when they become abusive or personal, are more disconcerting, and text messages are downright inappropriate. “To start with, the texts I received were usually just requests for a coffee meeting, but after a few weeks they became more personal and in one instance, he said, ‘I know where you live’, which was the final straw,” says one headhunter.
If you receive abusive e-mails or texts questioning your ability or integrity, that’s one thing. Defend yourself to a point, but if they continue, the best practice is simply to ignore them. If they persist, or escalate to personal insults, it’s time to consult your manager or, if absolutely necessary, the police.
It’s common for candidates to tweak their CV for roles in the vicinity of their skills and experience, but when applying for roles in the Middle East from outside of the region, for example, some try to convince recruiters that they’re suited for every role going. “One candidate would apply for everything – from investment banking to engineering jobs – without realising that they all went to the same e-mail address,” says one harassed recruiter. “This was bad enough, but they’d then follow up with a phone call and then try to convince us they had the right skills for every position.” To make matters worse, often these candidates are based outside of the Middle East and are not eligible to work in the region. Other recruiters complained of people refusing to acknowledge the importance of regional experience: “We had a head of sales for the MENA region job for an investment bank, and one candidate – who had worked in the U.S. for 20 years – refused to accept he wasn’t well-suited and phoned every day for a week to convince us of his credentials.”
Best practice is simply to ignore ill-matched candidates, of course, but if someone is persistently pursuing their application, then it’s best to explain the reasons for their rejection. In the current climate, an easy get-out is that financial services firms are only willing to consider candidates who fit their requirements perfectly.
Generally, it’s worth considering that it’s a difficult period to be searching for a new job, and desperation can sometimes make people do peculiar things. While most people continue to behave perfectly normally, perhaps it’s best not to judge those who stray off the path of conventional behaviour too harshly.
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