How to Stand Out to Recruiters 


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For many job seekers, recruiters are a strange breed lacking most or all of the traits job seekers associate with their own peers in the workplace. Recruiters seem to have a very different set of priorities and often to act in ways that simply don’t make sense to those who operate in line units. The first step in understanding what recruiters want from job seekers, therefore, is to gain an accurate picture of how recruiters work and why. Once you have that perspective, you can appreciate what it takes to be a stand out candidate for recruiters. There are many ways to do so, but I believe there are five key steps you should take. I call them the Five Phenom Factors – the five steps that will set you apart for all the right reasons.

Phenom Factor #1

As I explained in the first column of this series, recruiters are very pressed for time. They are typically juggling 15-20 openings at any one point, and the only way they can possibly get all of their work done is to have very efficient procedures. It does no good to install such procedures, however, unless every single candidate adheres to them. So, the way to stand out with a recruiter is to prove that you can follow direction:

For example, if a recruiter specifies that they want candidates to embed their resume in an email message when applying for a job, don’t attach it. If they specify that you should attach your resume, don’t embed it. Follow directions.

Similarly, if a recruiter schedules an interview for 9:00AM, don’t show up at 9:15 or 9:30. If they ask you to send in additional information right away, don’t send it in two days later. Follow directions.

Phenom Factor #2

The second thing recruiters want from job seekers is a sense that they are really interested in the opening for which they are applying. The want to know that the candidate has read and carefully considered the recruitment ad to which they are replying. They don’t have the time to waste on throw-away candidates – those who apply for virtually any job that sounds interesting to them whether or not they are qualified or even interested in the work. So, the next way to stand out with recruiters is to prove that you care.

When applying for a job, don’t describe your qualifications with a generic resume that could be sent in for just about any opening. Prove that you care about the opportunity by investing the time and effort to tailor your resume so it describes how your specific credentials match the specific requirements the recruiter has stated for the opening.

What recruiters don’t want, however, is a candidate who cares too much and pesters them with daily emails about the status of their application. Granted, not every recruiter shows job seekers the simple courtesy of keeping them informed about what’s going on, but one of the fastest ways to irritate recruiters is to stand out by being a pest.

Phenom Factor #3

The third thing recruiters want from candidates is the truth. They hate being misled by inaccurate or false claims, whether they’re made on a resume or in an interview. They know that, unfortunately, a fairly large percentage of people exaggerate or misstate their credentials so the third way to stand out with recruiters is to reassure them they are getting straight information from you.

Recruiters are going to be double-checking everything you submit and say so learn how to provide persuasive responses. There are, of course, boundaries to what recruiters can ask you – they cannot question you about your religion or marital status or sexual orientation, for example – but as long as they are within those boundaries, you should always be honest and straightforward when answering a recruiter’s questions.

If a particular matter or incident doesn’t put you in the best light, it’s not only appropriate, it’s essential that you provide a full explanation of your side of the situation. There are, however, three rules that you should follow when doing so:

  • One, admit mistakes if you’ve made them. Recruiters often like to see that candidates have the self-awareness to appreciate when they’ve slipped up and learned from the experience.
  • Two, rehearse what you’re going to say about a less than flattering situation so that you don’t sound defensive or cocky or, worst of all, indifferent. Recruiters like candidates who have the self-confidence to speak calmly and rationally about difficult issues.
  • And three, never badmouth a former employer or boss, even if you feel you’ve been unfairly treated. Recruiters want to know that you won’t be speaking ill of their organization should you be hired and then subsequently leave for another position.

Phenom Factor #4

The fourth thing recruiters want from job seekers is preparation. Candidates who apply on a lark are seldom able to participate in the recruiting process efficiently or effectively. As a result, they slow the process down and, worse, increase the odds that it will be derailed for some unexpected reason. So, the fourth way to stand out with recruiters is to enter their process ready to be evaluated and raring to go if selected.

How can you demonstrate that you’re prepared?

  • First, recruiters want you to think through and rehearse how you can best describe your skills and experience for the opening. They don’t want to have to wait while you struggle to figure out how to articulate what you’ve done or how that background is relevant to their opening. You don’t have to be a public speaker, but you do have to show you can clearly describe why you think you should be hired for the position.
  • Second, recruiters want you to have done your homework on their organization and thus be able to ask good questions about it. What are good questions? They are those that provide you with the information you need to (a) understand the mission, values and culture of the organization and (b) make an informed judgment about whether you would like to work there. What you should ask about, therefore, is not the obvious stuff you can find on your own, like how much revenue the organization reported last year, but rather information only an employee can provide, like how does the work get accomplished inside the organization.

Phenom Factor #5

The fifth thing recruiters want from job seekers is good manners. The “finalists” they select will be presented to hiring managers to interview and consider for their openings. Given that those hiring managers are their customers and that the managers’ satisfaction is a big part of their own performance evaluation, recruiters cannot afford to be embarrassed by a candidate who acts unprofessionally or worse boorishly during those interactions. The fifth way to stand out with recruiters, therefore, is to give them the confidence that you will represent them well to their peers.

How can you convince them you will?

  • First, dress the part. As part of the homework I mentioned in Phenom Factor 4, make sure you find out what kind of dress is the norm for the organization. If it’s business formal, don’t arrive in slacks and a polo shirt. If it’s business casual, don’t walk in dressed in a suit. Follow the lead of the organization.
  • Second, be polite. Or to put it another way, remember what you learned in preschool. Treat others as you would like to be treated. So, begin each request with a please and end each response and every kindness with a thank you. That includes after the interview, should you have one. Always thank both the recruiter and the hiring manager for their time and interest in you and, if you want your message to stand out, send it by old fashioned postal mail rather than by email. Email is acceptable, however, but text messages aren’t.

So, let’s summarize: Recruiters may often seem to take illogical steps or engage in inefficient behavior during the recruiting process, but there are good reasons for the way they work. The key to success, therefore, is not to fight or get frustrated by their practices and procedures, but rather to accommodate and, if possible, leverage them to your own benefit. In short, you want to know and take advantage of the Five Phenom Factors. They’ll ensure that you stand out with recruiters for all the right reasons.

Thanks for reading,


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Peter Weddle is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including WEDDLE’s 2011/12 Guide to Employment Sites on the Internet, The Career Activist Republic, Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System and Recognizing Richard Rabbit. Get them at and today.

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