5 things recruiters should NEVER say to candidates

When it comes to recruitment articles, there’s a great deal of emphasis on what the candidate should avoid saying. Not much content at all, however, can be found on phrases that recruiters should avoid uttering.

Since anyone who works in recruitment knows (alas!) that we’re only human and therefore just as capable of saying something silly as candidates, we’ve compiled a list of sayings that recruiters should steer clear of at all costs. Here’s the top 5 things recruitment professionals should NEVER say to candidates:


1. “If you were a vegetable, what type of vegetable would you be?”

Other variants of this question include: “Who do you think would win in a fight, a bear or a shark?” or “Which celebrity would play you in a movie of your life?” To all recruiters who use interview questions like this: STOP. Please, we beg you, just stop.

We’re all for having fun and showing originality, but this kind of obscure question is nothing short of toe-curling. Not only is it off-putting for the candidate, it does very little in ascertaining anything valid about their personality or ability to think fast within a business context. With all the smart, fine-tuned interview techniques we have at our disposal, there are better ways to find out about a candidate’s cultural fit than asking them to compare themselves to a vegetable.  

2. “We’re looking for a rock star.”

You’re looking for a rock star? Then how unfortunate that you’re recruiting for entry level retail jobs, not for touring heavy metal bands. In fact, when we come to think of it, we’ve never seen Mick Jagger applying for jobs in finance or found a recruiter looking to headhunt Ozzy Osbourne for one of their commercial head office vacancies.

It’s time to collectively agree to abandon this phrase, along with its variants of “ninja”, “guru” and “pundit”. Injecting a little personality into the recruitment process is all good and well, but not to the extent that it becomes cringe-inducing. Using this phrase is great if you want candidates to feel second-hand embarrassment…not so great if you want to actually attract them to your role.

3. “I wanted to reach out to you.”

“Reach out” has fast become the recruitment phrase de jour, and is a frankly discomfiting synonym for “contact”. Keep your hands to yourself!

The problem with this expression is not only that it tends to make skin crawl, but also that it implies that the candidate is in some kind of destitute position from which they need to be rescued with a recruiter's outspread arms. Let’s be honest, nobody's hand is going to come shooting through the candidate’s monitor and the recruiter's arms are probably loosely at their sides when this is said. Abandon it – recruitment has enough jargon without this phrase too!

4. “My client means business so there’s no time to waste.”

Pushy, pushy, pushy. What precisely is appealing about trying to rush the candidate? Creating a sense of urgency can be a clever marketing tactic in many campaigns, but in this instance recruiters are more likely to discourage the candidate than persuade them to apply that very second.

Successful recruiters know how to treat candidates like stars: they don’t pile the pressure on and urge them to take immediate action on life-changing decisions. If you want to recruit the market’s top talent, this is not the way to go about winning job applications.

5. “Do you have experience with C hashtag?”

Always know about the skillset you’re recruiting for if you want the candidate to feel that you ‘get’ them. For developer jobs, this means knowing the difference between ASP and ASP.NET and for digital marketing jobs this means knowing your canonicalisation from your XML sitemaps.

You don’t have to become an industry expert, but you do need enough knowledge to have an intelligent discussion in which you don’t drop any clangers like the one above. Not knowing your terminology will not only make you look uninformed, it will also alienate the candidate and make them lose faith in your professionalism. To have an effective conversation, speak the candidate’s language.


Would you add any other disastrous recruitment phrases to the list? Let us know!



Views: 11637

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on April 10, 2015 at 11:53pm

By the way... and maybe this was the point of your comment, but I'm not entirely sure; "C hashtag" is actually called "C sharp", designated by "C#".  Maybe you expected people to know this, but it was a little unclear.  Personally, I have asked many people this question, because there is a big difference between different flavors of C programming language, including C++, C#, Object-oriented C, etc.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_C-based_programming_languages

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on April 11, 2015 at 4:09am

I see through the games we play...  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brJ4f3F9sbU

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on April 11, 2015 at 5:14am

And on that note... Is there a better recruiting song than "For Those About to Rock"?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fPf6L0XNvM

Comment by Janet K. Hausrath on August 9, 2016 at 8:28am

Great article! Thank you

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on September 26, 2017 at 7:17pm

Thought but NEVER said: 

"Are you really that STUPID, or are you just pretending?"

Comment by Ginni Agarwal on August 11, 2021 at 6:47am

Amazing article and I agree with point number 1. The question is out of context and recruiters need to be serious about the hiring process. There are other better ways to attract candidates and things that a recruiter can say to candidates.


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