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: 11788

Comment by Katrina Kibben on March 9, 2015 at 11:22am

I personally think "I have an opportunity you may be interested in" is due for this list. Yes, recruiter, you might but when you say it like that I'm the one that's not very interested. I need SOME detail up front if you really want to catch my attention. 

I laughed out loud at the "rock star" - I bet if we did a quick search for job posts with that phrase, the count would look like a power ball jackpot total. 

Comment by Roxanne Abercrombie on March 9, 2015 at 11:28am

Ahh yes, that's definitely another baddie! It's even worse when coupled with "I wanted to reach out to you", i.e. "I  wanted to reach out to you because I have an opportunity you may be interested in." Throw the word "challenge" in there instead of "opportunity" and we might just have the ultimate recruitment cliché! 

Comment by Linda Ferrante on March 9, 2015 at 3:37pm

There is a local business coach who constantly uses 'rock start' when talking about candidates. I have to follow behind and clean up because we don't recruit 'rock stars'.  We recruit candidates who are going to be the best fit for our clients, not freaking rock stars.  I get the analogy, but it's seriously misguided.

Comment by Roxanne Abercrombie on March 10, 2015 at 4:38am

Oh dear! I did a quick Google search out of curiosity and some recruiters are actually using it in their very job titles now...the one that tickled me the most was a listing for a "Telesales Rockstar"!

Comment by Linda Ferrante on March 10, 2015 at 7:36am

Not to go off on a tangent, but the job postings that say, 'Great opportunity in a downtown business!  Great culture, great pay, call me now for interviews!!'.  Um, for WHAT JOB?!  When recruiters post stuff like this it drives me crazy.  NO WONDER we get a bad rap sometimes!

Comment by Roxanne Abercrombie on March 10, 2015 at 11:04am

Unless perhaps they were cleverly recruiting for a clairvoyant? 

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on March 15, 2015 at 1:37am

I agree that 'rock-star' is a pretty ridiculous phrase to use, but there are nuances that are different.  For example, in Silicon Valley, a lot of people are aware that silicon or sand comes from ground up rocks (quartz)... It's not that unusual for candidates in Si Valley to own houses worth a million dollars or more (in fact that would be the price for a 2000 square foot basic home), and I have to admit that I once lived in a cheap apartment building in Van Nuys, CA with a neighbor who was the drummer for "Iron Butterfly"... so the 'rock-star' thing isn't really that far off, in some ways.  Still, it would be nice to come up with something more original... and one of my fellow recruiters was the sister of the drummer for "Paul Revere and The Raiders", etc.  Rock stars are actually pretty common... I've seen Tommy Lee in my neighborhood quite a few times, too.  It's just a bit of verbiage that could be improved.

Comment by Linda Ferrante on March 15, 2015 at 11:38am

Rock star, to me, means someone who is loud, out there, outrageous, over the top, prone to excess, etc.  Does not mean they are the 'best'.  Remember the movie 'Rock of Ages'?  What redeeming qualities did that character have?  I get people use the term to mean 'awesome, topo notch, etc', but it's such a lame term to use.  Not every role is deserving of that 'rock star' personality, either.  It's old, tired, and time to put it to bed.

Comment by Katrina Kibben on March 16, 2015 at 10:38am

Great points on both sides. In my book, if you’re actually looking for a rock star – the ego, the confidence, the bravado – I say put rock star in there. Hell, make it an interview question – do you think you’re a rock star? However, most companies are not looking for rock stars and it’s abused in general. I’ve seen it in a job description for an administrative assistant who, maybe I’m just speaking for myself, I do NOT want to be a rock star. 

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on April 10, 2015 at 11:45pm

I'm definitely a rock star, but it's way over-rated...

My personal idea of the thing you shouldn't say to a candidate is "Do you like body hair?"  Seriously, my firm once hired a very junior recruiter with and IQ of about 75 who would actually say that to candidates (mostly attorneys) that he was recruiting.  It was incomprehensible to me that he could be so stupid.  I will say, though, that he did introduce me to Tera Patrick, who is a beautiful porn star.  He wasn't entirely bad... just mostly bad.


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