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September 2010 Recruiter Panel Notes

The following is a transcription of notes taken at a Recruiter Panel sponsored by HAPPEN, held on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at the Mississauga Living Arts Centre Centre.  Most of the questions discussed were solicited in advance via e­mail – during the second half of the workshop a few questions were also offered by those in attendance.

What follows here are notes based on the panel's responses to each question. They reflect the essence of each answer ­ no specific person is mentioned, nor are there any direct quotes. Due to space limitations,only the first two pages of this article will be displayed on the Information Table. The entire text will be available for printing at a HAPPEN meeting upon request, or can be accessed via the HAPPEN Web site.

Notes from the session:

We began at 9:20, with Jim Geraghty, HAPPEN’s President, introducing Rick Altman

(the location manager for HAPPEN’s Markham meetings), who served as the moderator

of the panel discussion.

Following Jim’s introduction, Rick in turn introduced the panelists, who each took a moment to introduce themselves using the HAPPEN 30 second infomercial as a model.

Today’s panelists were:

Mike Salveta (Pivotal HR Solutions)

Anthony McCormack (Hays International)

Faye Wells (Boomers Match To Business)

Lisa Price (Permanent Search Group)

Michael Gravelle (McQuaig Institute)

Susannah Kelly  (Boyden Executive Search)

Using a similar format to past Panels, today’s session was divided into two halves. Rick began the first half by asking some of questions from a list submitted in advance.

The questions were dealt with as follows:

What are the most common mistakes that individuals make when using recruiters?

Many job seekers don’t understand exactly what a recruiter does and what role they have in the hiring process.Recruiters have expert knowledge in a number of areas that are critical to the job search, including how to market and present yourself to potential employers. People need to do their homework and research not only a recruiter that they may wish to work with, but also the staffing company they work for.

Job seekers also need to know themselves and have a clear understanding of what they are now looking for in their career. This is similar to the “what are you looking for/how can we help you” aspect of the HAPPEN 30 second infomercial. Recruiters, just as with fellow HAPPEN members, can only help you if you can clearly define what you are looking for and where you want to go next in your career.

People also make mistakes with respect to how often recruiters will contact them. Job seekers need to understand that a recruiter will only contact you when they have a job posting they think you will be interested in. If you apply for a job posting and/or send a resume to a recruiter, don’t be upset if you don’t hear from them for some time. They won’t call you just to chat and to see how things are going. Recruiters work with many candidates – depending on how many resumes and other information are on file it could be at least 100 people. If they spent all their time checking in with you and other jobseekers they would never get their “real” work done. If you want to stay in touch with a recruiter, and contact them from time to time to get a feel for things – work all that out as part of building your relationship with them. They may tell you it’s OK to contact them once every couple of weeks or similar time frame, but the key factor is “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.

Recruiters don’t “place” you. This is a common misunderstanding, especially for new Canadians who may have immigrated from countries where this practice is common. So don’t contact a recruiter with your resume and say something like: “I’m a chemical engineer, so I want to be sent to a company that specializes in this area, and which will be the best fit for me. Since I live in Scarborough, I don’t want to work for anyone located west of Yonge Street. My salary expectation is $75K per annum and because I have a spouse and children, I really need to start within the next month”.  That’s not how job hunting works in Canada, and you’ll soon learn how it really work A variant of the “placement” theory noted above is the misunderstanding that recruiters do all the work for you. Some job seekers may think that all you have to do is hook up with a couple of recruiters, send them your resume and you’ll get a phone call next week telling you where you will be working, your start date and so on. But the reality is that recruiters are only one part of your job search. They help you leverage things and are part of your overall strategy. In addition to using recruiters you also need to network, use online tools such as LinkedIn, check job boards and do other things as part of a comprehensive search strategy with many elements in order to be successful. As one panelist noted, finding work is in fact a full time job in itself, and you need to use every tool available. If you just sit and wait for the recruiter you will be waiting for a long time. The same is true in any case if you only use one type of job search strategy.

How soon after an interview can I expect a call back and how often can I

productively call to follow up with a recruiter? Once a week?

You should expect an answer within a couple of days, although this is obviously subject to when the recruiter hears back from the HR manager or other person at the client company who interviewed you. They can’t get back to you or tell you how you did unless they know themselves, so you need to be patient. But they will let you know as soon as possible. As noted earlier, determining how often you follow up with a recruiter in any event is part of establishing a relationship. Don’t be a pest, or call them just to say hello. They don’t have time for that. Instead, be respectful of the recruiters time and as part of your initial meetings determine what sort of follow­up and how often works best for everyone.

Should I be prepared to lower my expectations, re: salary and benefits?

There is no definitive answer to this question. It can depend on the industry, market conditions and other factors. Be open, resourceful and creative in your expectations.

Make sure that people know about all this in your resume and other material. As part of being flexible, remember that the days of the 30 or 40 year job are over. Just as we have noted at past Panels, in today’s economy you may be lucky to get 30 months in one job, never mind 30 years.

And you may need to re­invent yourself and change your career several times. Many studies show that in today’s climate, you may wind up changing careers 3 or 4 times over the years. Your job hunt time is a chance to do that. Use this time as an opportunity to decide what you want from life. Where do you want to go next? Are you happy with your career to date or is it time to try something new, especially if that area appears to be going nowhere. When dealing with recruiters, they will take your expectations into account. Be realistic, but don’t sell yourself short.

I have only worked for one company in my career and as a result I don’t have a broad skill set. What obstacles do I now face and how can I overcome them?

Many skills are transferable, make sure you target them to the position you are looking for. The ability to position yourself is a highly desirable trait in today’s economy. Get yourself to the right opportunity. How good your job search strategy is can also play a role. And as noted earlier, be sure to display your flexibility and willingness to learn new things. Remember that every company does things differently. Be open to new ways of doing things and strive to improve yourself at all times.

Which document is more important – the resume or the cover letter?

The panelists all felt that the resume is the key document, with the reverse chronological one as the preferred format. If you really must use a cover letter to support your job application, keep it short and to the point. Like everyone else, recruiters, HR managers and others in hiring positions are often stressed out and very busy. They don’t have time for long cover letters and probably won’t have a favourable impression of you if that’s what you send them. There is sometimes a tendency to duplicate what’s in the resume in your cover letter. Avoid that temptation, instead the panel suggested that you base a cover letter on the HAPPEN 30 second infomercial or elevator speech format. If done right, the cover letter can be a powerful tool in your job search, and can serve to augment, rather than duplicate, the information found in your resume.

A key issue for many job seekers is controlling their resume and ensuring that it doesn’t go places without their permission. But with Web sites like Workopolis and Monster, as well as other resume posting services online that are open to the world, how realistic is this?

The panel agreed with this question, in that places like Workopolis and Monster can make it tough to control where your resume goes. Make sure you read the Privacy statements on these and other Web sites – which will address this issue and ensure that

you can still control who gets to see your resume and who doesn’t.

As for recruiters, they are very careful about this and will always check with you first before sending out your resume anywhere. This is the industry’s standard practice, although like many other aspects, there may be some “poor” recruiters who don’t adhere

to this. This is another aspect of developing your relationship with a recruiter. During your initial discussions make sure the “resume” issue is clearly addressed and that the recruiter knows your express wishes concerning this matter.

We sometimes hear reports about recruiters and HR people who post “fake” jobs. They’re not real, they are simply trolling for resumes and want to expand their database. How do we know that the job posting you share with us is the real thing?

The panelists were all very assertive about answering this question, and assured the audience that every job they work on is the real thing. As a couple of the panelists noted, trolling for resumes is counter­productive and a waste of time on the recruiter or HR manager’s part. Recruiters are only paid for their successes and fake jobs contribute nothing to this.

Just as with the previous question about controlling your resume, this one also led to a brief discussion of the recruiting industry. The panel acknowledged that while the overwhelming majority of recruiters are excellent, highly professional and take their work serious, the sad reality is that a few are not. Unfortunately, the bad ones tend to spoil the reputation of the entire staffing industry.

It’s easy to spot both the good and bad recruiters. The good ones take the time to build a strong relationship with all parties – both the job seekers and the HR managers. They have a solid track record of excellence that can be easily traced using their Web sites and other sources. They are open, honest and deal with everyone in a classy and professional manner.

I have chosen to return to a previous career after being away for a few years? How do I sell myself to prospective employers and what obstacles do I face? Also, how do I address gaps in my resume, and with all the changes in today’s economy are gaps as important as they once were?

The “gaps” question has come up at practically every HAPPEN recruiter panel, so it’s not surprising that Rick asked the panel to address this issue today. And it’s also not surprising that the panel offered answers very much like those from past sessions.

The 2 key elements in addressing the “gaps” question is to give reasons why these gaps existed, as well as what you did with your time during those gaps. If you had personal or family issues, say so. Or if you took time to improve your professional credentials (an example would be your education, or specific industry certificates – such as the PMP designation for project managers, or P. Eng for engineers), make sure the recruiter or HR manager is aware of these things. Bringing the appropriate documentation (transcripts, degrees...) can really help reinforce all this. As for returning to a career, make sure that you’re still up to date in that previous field. Be creative and flexible in your expectations. In both cases (gaps and career return) much of this can also depend on how you market yourself and present yourself to others. In every case, make sure you show everyone that you can do the job, and that you have the necessary skills/expertise.

This is especially true in terms of your career and returning to an area of expertise after being away for many years. Every job and industry/profession is constantly evolving – just as people do. Your challenge is to stay current with your profession and to demonstrate that to everyone who needs to know this. Also do your homework and make sure you know what the company wants from the desired position and adjust your presentation accordingly.

We hear a lot about USP’s (Unique Selling Proposition) or similar statements, such

as a PVS (Personal Value Statement). How important are they and what are some of the best ones the panel has heard?

This was a tricky one – in fact a couple of the panelists had never heard of a USP and wanted to know what it meant. Which in itself says a lot about how they would answer the question. In other words, they didn’t think it was very important and they had not heard too many USP’s, if any at all. Other panelists noted that when a company hires you, they tend to do so for 2 reasons: to make a profit or to make them work more efficiently. If you do choose to use a USP or similar statement, customize it and make sure it meets their business needs. The 2 key questions that recruiters and/or HR managers will ask is: why should they hire you (as opposed to everyone else who also applied for the same job) and what makes you better than your competitors? Your USP must reflect both of these questions in order to be successful.

What is the number one attribute that companies are looking for in a candidate?

The panel cited many attributes – such as relevant skills and talent. Past performance is a good indicator of your future work (which is why so many recruiters and HR managers look at your track record at past employers). Other attributes cited included:

Passion/enthusiasm; leadership skills; how well prepared you are; how you present yourself; how you can fit into their corporate culture; chemistry/fit; teamwork; how coachable you are; how open you are to new ideas; willingness to learn.

Your behaviour/people skills are just as important as your technical skills – maybe. As a by­product of this statement, one panelist noted that the recruiter wants you to relax and open up during an interview. You already have the technical skills, otherwise you wouldn’t be interviewed. But the recruiter or HR manager also wants to measure your people skills too. It’s all a part of finding the right candidate and the right fit for the job.

Does a recruiter prefer to work with someone who is already working, or someone who is unemployed/in career transition?

Although recruiters are open to both, a growing number of companies like to hire people who are currently working. One panelist noted that this is disappointing because you might miss out on a lot of highly skilled and talented people who are unemployed, who can start right away, and are eager to make a strong contribution to their new employer.

What is the typical process for referring a candidate for a prospective role?

The recruiter usually starts by meeting with someone from their client company (most likely the HR manager or other person who will be doing the hiring). Then they examine their candidate database and meet with those who they feel would most closely match what the company is looking for. In addition to those in their client database, referrals can be an important source for locating candidates. This is where networking can play an important role. A recruiter should help you be as prepared as possible for your interview with the client company. As noted earlier, theyshould also give you feedback as soon as possible after the interview has been completed.

Can I assume that a recruiter will not send my resume to a potential employer without my express permission?

This is similar to the question we examined earlier about controlling where your resume is sent. Just as we noted earlier, a recruiter will always ask you first and would never send out a resume without your prior knowledge and consent.

But in spite of that, make absolutely sure of all this during your initial discussions. Bevery clear with them and understand what their process is.

If someone has worked for many different companies, and has many transferrable skills, how do you communicate this to a recruiter or others in hiring positions?

You have to know who you are and what you can offer. Pull out those transferrable skills; position/market yourself to your best advantage.

Are there certain disciplines/professions or industry sectors that have pretty much disappeared in Canada, or may still be here but will probably never return to their past levels?

The panel cited manufacturing as the best example of this trend – noting that much of it has been outsourced, especially to places like China and India where labour and other costs are much lower than in North America. One panelist in particular was rather vocal about this, noting that profit/greed has been the prime motivator behind all this. We are now paying the price for all this outsourcing. Although some have noted that as part of this current economic recovery, the manufacturing sector is slowly rebounding, the panel felt that manufacturing will never be as strong as it once was.

In addition to outsourcing, the panel cited the rapidly chaning social and economic landscape as another reason why some industries have disappeared. Look at how social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook have changed our society. Or Google. There’s also a greater emphasis on the environment and “going greeen”. From an economic perspective, this has lead to a whole new industry which emphasizes “green jobs”. The service industry has also grown – shift to knowledge­based professions. As our society ages, we have seen and will continue to see strong growth in healthcare and medical professions.

Marketing is another industry that is disappearing and/or rapidly changing, due in large part to globalization. A key part of this trend is for large multinational companies to buy each other. You need to develop your expertise to compete on a global level.

Recent reports show that something like 60% of all new jobs are in the public sector. If this is the case, what steps should governments be taking to encourage more job creation in the private sector?

Governments should offer greater incentives in the area of pensions and benefits – both of which are a major concern to job seekers. Create other incentives that will encourage growth (e.g. tax breaks). As noted above, there is greater interest/awareness in the environment and the corresponding “green economy”. Companies should be given incentives to make investments in that area. In essence, governments should create a more business­friendly environment.

The panel also felt that the Canadian banking industry was also to blame. Even though in many ways we are the envy of the world, it was noted that bankers tend to be very conservative in nature and are afraid of taking risks. They need to loosen up and invest not only in Canadian companies, but also in our workforce. All this could help make the Canadian economy more competitive with others worldwide and could encourage more companies to keep their jobs here at home instead of outsourcing.

What salary ranges are typically in play for the Toronto market, as well as in the surrounding regions such as Hamilton, Niagara, Kitchener­Waterloo or Oshawa? How much of a salary range should a job seeker work with? When company specifies a salary for a role, how much more (if any) will the company consider for a top candidate?

Geography can often play a role in salaries. In this case, while the panel did not mention actual numbers, they noted that as a general ruleToronto salaries are higher than the surrrounding regions, which makes sense if only from a cost of living perspective. This also ties in with the theory that the further away you go from Toronto, the less expensive things are. The same is true with salaries. In other words, if you work in Kitchener, Oshawa, Hamilton or Barrie – chances are you won’t be paid as much as you would for the same job in downtown Toronto. As for the other elements of the question, the panel offered a number of suggestions.

When it’s time to negotiate salary and related elements, do your homework and be well prepared. Check market conditions. Look up salary surveys. Also remember that just like the economy itself, this is constantly changing and evolving. The salary you may get now is likely not what you could have expected even six months ago. A key baseline is to examine realistic measures of value. What is the net worth/value of the position?Your salary at past employers can also be a determining factor. The panel also mentioned that base salaries are not as important today as they used to be. There is a growing emphasis on commissions, bonuses or similar incentives – and for many peopl especially at the executive and management levels, that’s where the real money is.

Economic factors also play a critical role. During 2008 and 2009, most companies decided to freeze salaries and did not offer increases, either to their current staff or to new hires. The panel felt this is now changing, and they are seeing a gradual increase. They estimated that this will be around 3% during 2011. But even then, many companies are still in what one panelist called a “cautious normal” mode because not everyone is sure that the recession really is over.

This question completed the first half of today’s meeting. Rick called for a short break, and after everyone returned to their seats the second half consisted of an open Forum where the audience was able to ask questions to the panel. What follows are highlights from this Forum.

Do recruiters help people fine­tune their USP (Unique Selling Proposition)?

This was a follow­up from one of our earlier questions, so it’s not surprising that the panel emphasized many of the same points covered back then. To directly answer the question, the panel felt that recruiters will help a job seeker with this. But they also cautioned not to overplay what a USP or similar statement can bring to the job search. They felt that emphasizing a USP decreases the importance of the resume and the cover letter, which is where they felt a job seeker should really concentrate their time and efforts.

In spite of the above comment, however, the USP does have its place and if done properly and used effectively it can be helpful. Everyone’s USP is unique and just as you would with a resume or cover letter, you should customize it to every job posting you

apply for. Also remember that networking with others can help you design a great USP. Everyone you meet and/or network with is a source of information. Use that to your advantage.

The panel cited 2 key principles in designing a USP:

First, make sure that it clearly tells the recruiter, HR manager or other prospective employer that you really are the best one for the position in question. Recruiters and others are always looking for the perfect fit – aka the “needle in the haystack. Make sure

your USP conveys the message that you are that needle, that perfect fit.

Second, stay away from acronymns or industry “jargon” or inside talk. This is similar to what we tell HAPPEN members when doing a 30 second infomercial. When designing your USP consider your target audience. If you speak “engineer” to a group of engineers, they know the inside talk associated with that industry. But everyone else will have no idea what you are talking about.

The panel felt that when designing your USP, it’s best to stick to general terms that everyone will understand, and only use the “jargon” when talking exclusively to people in your industry.

If you don’t have the necessary academic or industry qualifications  (e.g. university degree, or professional designation), but you believe that your other skills are first rate, is this a problem? If so, how would you overcome it?

The panel noted that as a general rule, people like to hire people who are very much like themselves. Not unlike life in general, where we often tend to gravitate to people with similar backgrounds to ourselves. So if someone has an MBA or similar designation, they may be more likely to hire another MBA graduate. If the job posting in question specifically asks for certain qualifications (such as a university degree, professional certification, past experience...) those are key concerns and it’s only natural that the recruiter and/or HR person will favour those candidates who meet those qualifications.

But the panel also felt that you need to look at the whole person and not just their academics or other credentials. There are many examples out there of people who never attended university, or never earned professional certifications in their chosen industry but did very well in the business world. Instead of attending a college or university, they were students in the “university of life” and were able to hone their skills through

experience and other factors. These folks can make just as important a contribution as those with university degrees or professional certifications.

Video biographies and related tools are a growing trend in today’s job search. One

of HAPPEN’s newest service providers also offers the service and some members have done this. How does the panel feel about them?

The panel felt that video bios don’t work. In essence they are basically a waste of time and one panelist even commented that they look silly. In short, they recommended that people stay away from them.

Many people in today’s economy are entrepreneurs or are self­employed. How receptive are recruiters and other HR folks to hiring these people?

An interesting question. As the panel noted, this is not always the first choice of entrepreneurs or self­employed people, but due to business or personal reasons, sometimes it just happens. The skills you have as an entrepreneur can be very beneficial

to any company. It’s important to be resourceful, build relationships with others and use those entrepreneurial skills to your company’s advantage. You also need to be careful if you choose this relationship. Remember that you need to

“let go”. Since entrepreneurs and self­employed are in business for themselves, they are used to being in charge and running everything. But when you become an employee just like everyone else, you’re not the boss now – you are taking direction from others who will have authority over you and are now in fact your boss. If you’re not used to being told what to do, or if you’re a “dominant” personality who always wants to be in control, there could be difficulties. Only you know how to address this issue.

What are the challenges facing older workers? Is age discrimination still an issue in today’s economy?

It’s not surprising than an audience member wanted to discuss this. It’s been a “hot button” issue for many years at HAPPEN and this question has come up in some form at every Panel we have hosted.

A major challenge for older workers is that some companies don’t value the experience and related skills that older workers bring. This attitude is reflected in that they won’t pay

an appropriate salary and/or offer benefits that the older worker feels they are worth. There is a growing shift to older workers in today’s economy. Especially as the

“boomers” are retiring and companies don’t want to lose the knowledge/experience they have. But there is still discrimination out there. Don’t let that bother you or let it influence your career choices.

In some cases, older workers can bring problems on themselves and as a result could be a reason why they are not hired or why society may still discriminate against them. A key problem can be attitudes/perception. As in other aspects of life, it may be easier for the older worker to live in the past. It’s their comfort zone and they may be reluctant to change. But the business world isn’t interested in this. Don’t dwell on what the economy was like or how you did your job in 1979 or 1999. You’re working in today’s economy, which will be very different from the past. Live in the present, and also stay up to date with economic trends especially in your industry. Family and friends, as well as your business peers, can help you with all this.

In summation, older workers do have a proven track record and can bring many years of experience and success to any potential employer.

If you’re overqualified – is this a problem?

Another question that often appears at these Panels. You can use this to paint a “win­win” scenario where everyone benefits from your qualifications. Or as one panelist noted, who wouldn’t want more skills for free? But there are some pitfalls that only you can answer. How happy will you be in a job that’s “below” you? Is there enough of a challenge? Will you get easily bored? Will others feel you might be after their job? These and similar questions are issues you will need to sort out.

This was the final question of today’s Panel. Before calling for adjournment, Rick asked the panel to offer some final comments and observations for everyone to take away.

Some of them are listed as follows:

Have a “pay it forward” attitude. If you’re helpful and giving to others it will come back to you. Network with the idea that you want to help others and share yourself with them. Take advantage of volunteer opportunities regardless of where they are (in your

community, in groups like HAPPEN, as part of your professional affiliations). Don’t expect anything in return, but you will find that over time people will want to help you, if only as a way they can thank you. If you want to learn more about the “pay it forward” concept and how you can make it work not only to your job search, but in every part of your life, have a look at:



Do your homework and always be prepared. This may seem like a no­brainer, but many job seekers don’t do this and it costs them. Do all the research you can and make use of every available opportunity to get as much info as you can. Even if you don’t get the job, recruiters, HR managers and others in hiring positions will respect you much more if you come across as someone who has taken the time to prepare and research.

Be an effective networker. Many people out there don’t know how to network, or don’t understand how powerful tool it can be. Make the most of every opportunity to do this.

Get involved with groups like HAPPEN. Look for opportunities to network through your professional associations. If you’re an IT person or work in finance, look for groups in your area that cater to your peers. Also use online networks such as LinkedIn.

You can never do enough networking – work hard at it and it will ultimately pay off in spades for you.

Recruiters are only part of your job search. Use them wisely and cultivate good relationships, but that’s not all. A well thought effective job search strategy using many tools is ultimately what will bring you the most success.

Learn how to sell yourself as part of your job search. This can be a difficult concept for many people, especially if you don’t come from a sales background. But when you are looking for work, your own profession is secondary because you are now in sales and marketing.

The panel strongly recommended that you use every means possible to sell and market yourself to prospective employers. As part of this, it’s important that you know exactly what you want. Know yourself and where you want to go next in your job search and in your career. Know what you are selling and how to sell to interested parties.

If you’re not sure where to go next in your career, there are many excellent career management tools out there – some of which are available from HAPPEN. Same thing if you want to learn how to sell yourself.

This was the final comments for today’s session. Rick adjourned the meeting by first thanking the panel members for coming today, and then also thanking the audience for attending. Everyone was then encouraged to stay behind for some informal networking opportunities, as well as a chance for the panel members to meet with the audience.

Respectfully submitted,

Greg Brown

Opportunities Administrator – HAPPEN