Recruiters can be finicky because their reputations are on the line with every candidate search. Here’s how to avoid five common missteps that disqualify job seekers.

Is your resume boring or super-hero style? Find out how to create a resume and cover letter that will get you called in for that coveted interview.

If you want to find a good job these days, you might have to work with a recruiter. Deal with it. That’s because today, many companies have dispensed with traditional human resources departments in favor of outside recruiters. It saves the companies beaucoup bucks—but it also means that you have a new set of barriers to deal with.

Recruiters can be finicky (kind of like cats that turn up their noses at Fancy Feast) because their reputations are on the line with each candidate search.

Recruiters scour social media and place advertisements looking for potential hires, and they also do much of the screening processes that HR employees used to do.  Depending on the company, recruiters might also reach out to job seekers they’re interested in. They also check online profiles like LinkedIn—which means you could be rejected before you even knew you were being considered.

Recruiters all look for different qualities in candidates, but while each recruiter has his own preferences, there are often similarities in what they don’t like. By avoiding these missteps, you can easily make yourself a much more attractive candidate.

Here are five reasons a recruiter might pass you over for a different candidate:

1. Not following instructions

Ever play the smartphone app “The Moron Test,” where you have to pay close attention to what the directions say to stay in the game? Well, keep that in mind for your job search, or you will end up looking like the moron.

This means that if the job listing asks for a cover letter and you don’t include one, or if you don’t bother following other the instructions in the advertisement, you will look like an employee who can’t follow directions. Pay attention to detail, and recruiters will pay attention to you.

2. Doing a subpar job at a company where the recruiter previously placed you

Many recruiters do multiple placements for candidates, especially given the increasing number of temporary and temp-to-perm positions these days. This means you could conceivably hold more than one position that the same recruiter helped you land.

So if you make a bad impression at a company where the recruiter previously placed you—by, say, calling in sick on Mondays and ditching early on Fridays—you can forget about ever getting another assignment from that recruiter.

3. Lack of enthusiasm

If you’re contacted about a position and you sound about as thrilled as you would be if you learned about an upcoming marathon of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, you’ll hurt your chances of getting the job. Being too laid-back can be confused for being uninterested.

That means if you are interested in the job, act like it. Show some enthusiasm. You don’t have to react like a contestant on The Price is Right, but at least show a pulse. Recruiters want to hire people who are excited about their work so that their client company will be excited about the candidate.

4. Not being straightforward

On the other hand, if you’re not acting excited about the job because you’re not interested, tell the recruiter what you’re thinking (after hearing what he has to say). Don’t feign enthusiasm only to turn down the position when you’re offered it—keep the recruiter in the loop. If you waste the recruiter’s time, he might decide not to waste his time on you when the next opportunity comes up.

5. Not treating the recruiter with respect

Some job seekers don’t treat recruiters with the same respect they would give a potential employer. They show up for interviews looking like a cast member from Jersey Shore and don’t take things seriously. Obviously, that’s a big mistake—after all, who wants to work with Snooki or The Situation? If you don’t treat the recruiter with the same consideration and respect you would a hiring manager, you might get passed over for the position.

Remember: if you work with a good recruiter who likes you and is on your side, you have a better chance of getting the job you seek.

Lisa Swan writes on a variety of topics for the career, life and executive coaching site


  1. Alison Elissa Coaching

    This article makes a lot of sense, and the pop culture references were Ah-mazing.

    I’d add that when you work with a recruiter remember that they are generally paid by a company once you are placed. Therefore the recruiter is going to be more focused on pleasing the company and less focused on your requirements (salary, type of work, environment, etc.).

    • Christopher Cutrano

      As a recruiter, the last thing I’d want is an unhappy employee working for one of my clients.

    • Tom Graber

      Alison, I will echo what Christopher says. Focusing strictly on the company or the hiring manager is a short lived success. Focusing on the needs of the company as well as the candidate takes patience, tact, experience and ultimately the only long term strategy. Reputation, referrals everyone being happy is a valid way to gauge success and effectiveness.

    • Alison Elissa Coaching

      Happy to read both of your comments Christopher and Tom. Sounds as though you are both princes among recruiters.

  2. More Than A Resume

    I have found all the above true. Alison makes another great point. My add to the discussion: As you would in business, develop relationships with recruiters. When they call with question about your industry or looking for a candidate help them out. It’s a great way to stay top of mind with them and they will remember the favor.

  3. Heather Huhman

    Job seekers who lack communication skills, and professionalism at that, can be a turn-off for recruiters. Job seekers need to understand that recruiters are serving two clients: the job seeker and the employer. But their primary allegiance (certainly the monetary connection) is to the employer. Job seekers should take your advice when eager to land a position.

  4. Jeanine Tanner O'Donnell

    Great points. Recruiters are your client, you need to treat them with TLC. I’m amazed at how many people don’t think about their branding from a recruiters point of view either. Thanks for sharing!

    • Peter Smith Jr.

      You are correct. Branding is everything. People assume that a resume should do all the work. The resume is just the acknowledgement or a sneak peak. The actual challenging task is setting yourself from the rest. A brand is the way to go. Treat yourself as a brand marketing campaign. I’m in IT/Marketing. Having a personal website that addresses your strengths is a great way to start. Of course this is not your Facebook page or LinkedIn. Those are supporting social media sites. Your business website should showcases skilled talents. Great suggestion Jeanine!

  5. Sylvia Mergui

    Some recruiters don’t have a clue about the job you are applying for yet they decide on which candidate to hire….

  6. Deb McClanahan

    Understand that I called you for a reason – the candidate needs to have enough courtesy to listen to that reason.

    • Jay Walker

      You mean I should be courteous to a recruiter who wastes my time by calling me for a banking position when I’m obviously a software engineer and database developer? Or when my resume clearly says NO RELOCATION and they call me for a job in San Diego CA when I live in Alexandria VA??? Recruiters need to pay attention to detail just as much as job seekers do, and they get no penalties for not doing it because they have all the power…

    • Marie Parker

      You are so right. Some recruiters and ?? employers think theyt have all the power. Wish I had the guts of a friend who asked the potential employer ‘.. well why should I work for XYZ’ . She got the job and is still there 6 years later.

  7. Karla Anderson

    “or if you don’t bother following other the instructions in the advertisement” Talk about attention to detail…

  8. Kimber Gillus

    A lot of this stuff is just a no-brainer. No offense, but I was expecting more when I clicked. What about deeper issues–How to properly negotiate with recruiters as a go-between, how to network on a temp assignment, etc. These are things that aren’t obvious, aren’t natural.

  9. Moe Rajkot

    I thaink this article is great.

  10. Matt Channing

    I’m a recruiter and I wish everyone would read those last two lines. If I call someone it is because I want to help them, not harass them.

    • Jay Walker

      That might be you, Matt, but here’s the thing: Recruiters don’t really read resumes, and they don’t look at online profiles. Mine clearly states no relocation, and I get calls ALL THE TIME for jobs elsewhere. Mine clearly states what I do have experience in…and I get calls for jobs that have nothing to do with my line of work. This article pretty much tells me that the recruiter can do a sloppy job and I’m just supposed to bend over and take it. Not cool.

  11. Careerleaf

    Ultimately, recruiters want to place the right candidate with the right position. For a job seeker, professionalism is key. Mistreating a recruiter or lacking enthusiasm might not just burn your bridge with that particular recruiter, but also with others. Attempt to go around recruiters with whom you disagree (read: ignoring the recruiter’s decision that you’re not a fit for the company and going directly to the company) can also burn bridges. In sum, job seekers should maintain a professional attitude at all times, and both recruiters and job seekers will have a much better chance at getting what they want.

  12. Joe Cassandra

    I’m sure a recruiter has a ton to juggle, I guess my problem comes when a recruiter constantly gives me positions that I wouldn’t enjoy at all, and I have to keep saying No even though I give them feedback like “no I don’t want to be in that industry”, then the next job they show is in the same industry..

  13. Terry Charles

    hey check me out and they both have an article backing this.

  14. Teeny Tot Kids

    Very informative for recruiter as well the employee!

  15. O melhor da cidade de Niterói

    I think that sometimes we don’t trust our selves and this is the problem. All items you said I think its important but the 3rd we really need to pay attention.

  16. David Nikolic

    Thanks for this great post! I am sure many recruiters and job seekers will get useful information. It is important to give recruiter respect, not to show the over confidence, and to present yourself which will impress the recruiter at one shot.

  17. Anonymous

    Thank you for posting this article.Recruiters don’t have a clue about the job you are applying for yet they decide on which candidate to hire.

  18. Anthony Proctor

    For anyone actively looking for a job, I suggest reading all of the above 2x. The author was ‘on point’.

  19. Mathieu Louis

    soon companies will start selling jobs to the highest bidder like 3rd world countries.

  20. Ddc Asociados

    Job search or change jobs is for the personal growth of each individual, I think that having trouble finding a job or switch to another better can reduce their negative attitude, and seen people get good jobs without knowing anything, but have a positive attitude and are enthusiastic.


  21. Peter Smith Jr.

    There is a lot more technical issues that could have been added.

    What happens when a recruiter is not familiar with your job type? What was not shared in this report is selecting the appropriate Recruiting Firm when looking for employment. Most Recruiting agencies are experts in various fields, occupations and technologies. So a Marketing/Sales firm may not be the best place for an IT person. Or an Agency that deals with Medical staffing will not be the best place for a Graphic Artist/Multimedia designer. Most of this is common sense, but it happens to people ending up at the wrong type of recruiting agency just to get turned away. It helps to do research on the Recruiting agencies as well. The last thing you want to do is put in time with an agency that has less than perfect track record for placement.

    Also, follow up with the agency from time to time. When you don’t get a call back in two weeks about a job, don’t get discouraged. It may take a while (1-3 months). Also, the Agency is learning who you are too. Put on your best face when communicating to them. So, if you huff and puff and piss them off, you will likely not find what you want. You may just get sour grapes when you do call. Just be mindful that consistency is key. Be humble as well. You may not be able to get that $105,000 contract you once had before and may have to settle for $80,000.

    For myself, I found that removing some attributes from my resume was substantial. Remember to much of anything is bad. When employers see to much education and too much of anything it can be a turn off. So, removing skills that may not be substantial to that particular job is not a crime.

    Human nature
    The human side of this is that you may not be a good fit for the Agency. We are all human. In some cases Recruiters will market those who they are most comfortable with. A recruiters connection to the interviewer is just as important. You need be well with them to get any advancement or offers for placement. If you have the means, shop around. One agency may not be your calling. Try another. And just Continue to call, but don’t put all you eggs in one Recruiting Agency. AND DON’T TAKE IT PERSONAL. MOVE ON!

    Hope this helps!

  22. Emmy Barraco

    If the recruiter is unprofessional or disrespectful toward you how would you handle it? I would like to work with the company just not that individual – suggestions?

  23. Anonymouse

    Matt, Im sure your’re a nice guy but you’re just the middleman – jobseekers dont need job salesmen. And one day companies are going to cotton onto this fact.

  24. Shaun C.

    Lack of enthusiasm was HILARIOUS but oh so true. I see it on a daily basis. Most busy Recruiters that work in high volume environments like myself, will not waste time on people that show no interest in the conversation.

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