Hiring PhDs: A Recruiter’s Perspective

ID-100129664We’re here today with a recruiter working in the Bay Area. As an undergraduate, they knew that they wanted to go into Sales or Recruiting. After graduating with a BA (Business Administration, with a focus in marketing), they hired on with a staffing company, and have been working as a recruiter ever since.

They asked to remain anonymous, so as to avoid giving the impression they were speaking on behalf of their employer.

BA: Tell us a bit about what your job entails – what does it mean to be a recruiter?

Recruiter: I look for people who fit the job profile I’m given by executive management. After assessing their qualifications and talking to them, I use my best judgment to decide whether they are the candidate we’re looking for.

BA: What kinds of recruiters are out there? What different recruiter roles can we expect to encounter in a typical job search?

Recruiter: Currently, I work as an internal recruiter for a company. That means I’m given a very distinct profile for a specific job. It makes my job easier, because I look to see if candidates fulfill basic requirements – if they don’t, it’s a quick disqualifier.

Before starting this job, I worked at a staffing agency. That’s a much less cut-and-dried job, because we would get hired by other companies to fill gaps their internal recruiters couldn’t. For example, say a company needed a highly qualified engineer for a 6 to 12 month contract job. They would pay my agency a premium to find someone to fit that job. So the criteria we were looking for were much broader – we wanted to have a good database of potential employees to provide these companies when jobs opened up.

BA: What kinds of things do you look for in a resume?

Recruiter: An applicant’s resume needs to be highly tailored, because I will spend maybe 5 seconds looking at it before I move on to the next one. I’m looking for well-rounded applicants who have relevant information on their resume. I don’t want to see that you worked at Round Table during college. If I were hiring for a tech job, I’d want to see relevant coursework, programming experience, leadership experience, internships, and group projects. Every recruiter has their own preferences. For me, I care about your qualifications and communication ability. Other recruiters are big on grammar, and will reject applicants with typos in their resume. It’s very individual.

BA: Could you tell us a bit more about what you mean by a “well-rounded applicant”?

Recruiter: In my current job, “well-rounded” primarily means that they meet the criteria set forth by executive management. I also look for good communication skills, and that they are dressed appropriately. It doesn’t have to be a suit, but I go by the saying “dress one step up than the position you want”. Another important factor is timely follow-up, because that shows me how interested the person is in the job.

BA: Walk us through what happens after you’ve read someone’s resume.

Recruiter: The next step is the phone screen. I want it to feel like a conversation, where the applicant learns about the company, and the recruiter about the applicant.

BA: What do you look for in the phone screen?

Recruiter: I want the candidate to be informed about the type of position, the company, and the job at hand. Don’t ask a question you can find the answer to on the web, and do your homework beforehand. I’m also looking to see whether the candidate can articulate their experience well – can they explain their research in layman’s terms?

BA: What happens after the phone screen?

Recruiter: The next step is the pre-employment assessment, which is an onsite interview that is out of my hands. I like to do a 30 minute prep call with my applicants ahead of time, so I can tell them the nuances about the on-site interviewers. I prepare my candidates, but they need to hit it off with the hiring manager.

BA: So once you’ve found a candidate, you do your best to help them get hired?

Recruiter: Of course, I’m their advocate. When a recruiter submits a candidate, what they’re telling executive management is, “This is your person, I endorse this person.”

BA: What are some resources PhDs can use while they’re still in graduate school?

Recruiter: Be very active on LinkedIn! I use it all day, every day. Go to Career Fairs. Get in contact with recruiters, even if there’s no position. Recruiters always want to talk, so take advantage of their limited time and conduct an informational interview about their company.

BA: What can you do while in graduate school to make yourself competitive?

Recruiter: Network – be an active participant in your field. Do extracurriculars – this shows us that you took the initiative to learn a skill or get involved. Go to meet-ups about your skill. If you code, provide us a sample of your work. Think outside the box! Your resume will be in a pile of 50-100, and it’s all about how you differentiate yourself.

BA: Do you have any advice specifically for people who want to transition out of academia?

Recruiter: They need to be able to explain why they want to leave academia and go into industry, and articulate why they are taking this step now. It’s important that they don’t look at industry as a fall-back. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

BA: Before we finish the interview, do you have any words of wisdom about the job search?

Recruiter: Control the things you can control, and show resourcefulness.


BA: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us!