Recruiting Snafus: What Not to Say to a Recruiter

So, which did you prefer – the lifeless interrogation rooms at Chase (easy escape) or making idle conversation in “reception” rooms at the Doubletree (comfy internment)? Either way, it is what happened during the interviews which results in the most giggles all up and down the hallways of Aldrich. During our heady week of selling our souls to the dark side, we at NJ are proud to laugh at ourselves (and recruiters of all shapes and sizes). So, with much humility, here are some real NJ recruiting experiences (and in our defense, many did receive offers … just not from these particular companies). All names have been expunged from the record to protect the innocent. Like all good students, we think that what is really important is that we learn from our Snafus, so I offer up some potential takeaways for next year.
Takeaway #1: It’s nice to know the background of your recruiter.
Recruiter: When you led the stem cell team, why did you focus on Parkinson’s Disease?

J: The technology is applicable, it seems to be working in animal models and it’s an area with a big need …

R: I think a new drug for Parkinson’s is a ridiculous idea. I’m a Neurologist; I worked at Mass General, treated about 1,000 Parkinson’s patients, and trust me, there is no need.

J: ………(gulp) ……..
Takeaway #2: Probably a good idea to know the job you applied for.

R: So as a research analyst, who do you see as your clients?

J: Well, internally, I-bankers and sales and trading.

R: …. And? …

J (becoming less sure): And … uh .. people in fixed income?

R: ……

J (becoming less and less sure): Uh … maybe not? They could probably figure out how the stocks are doing themselves?

R: And we at sales and trading cannot?

J: ….

R: ….

J: Was that a trick question?
Takeaway #3: Pick your interviews.
Recruiter (introduces himself as doing M&A): So why are you interested in private banking and not I-banking?

J: Well if was going to do M&A, I would rather do it in a corporate.

R: Why?

J: I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but it’s because it is much more fun to be in the board room when the door shuts on the bankers and consultants and you get to hear what the CEO really thinks about them.
… moments later:

R: So what do you see yourself doing after you finish?

J: Not really sure – maybe media, maybe non-profit or a start-up (no mention of banking)
… 10 minutes of idle chat and the interview ends

Takeaway #4: Sponsored HBSers have an uphill battle.

R: So tell me why you want to move into investment banking and don’t want to return to [big consulting firm] after business school

J: Well, actually, I might want to return. I really don’t know yet.

R: …..
Takeaway #5: Get your subconscious under control.

R: I will tell you a bank name and you tell me what first comes to your mind:

J: Morgan Stanley… global presence
Goldman Sachs … team work
Lehman… bonds
UBS… new telecom team
Merrill Lynch …retail operation

R: Okay, so this means you would choose Morgan Stanley for its global reach, Goldman for its culture and Merrill because you want to become a retail analyst?

J: Uhhhhhhh…. On the way out: Guys, I want you know that I really want to work for Gold … I mean Merrill Lynch.

Takeaway #6: Know your audience.

J to Stanford Interviewer: How has HBS changed since you graduated?

Takeaway #7: Be aware of where you are at all times.

J to another J standing next to recruiting coordinator in waiting room for Boston-focused company: Yeah, I’m trying to decide whether to work in New York, London or Boston

Takeaway #8: Wait to complain until after you leave the waiting room.

J: So how’d it go?

J: I think I bombed it (meanwhile interviewer walks out of room …)

Takeaway #9: Be careful how you word things.
If you pick on others, you have to offer up your best.

Rebecca to recruiter: Yes, I think I am really good at building external relationships …. (paragraphs of detail on strong client skills)

Recruiter: (ignores all detail) Really? So does that mean that you are not good at internal relationships? …

Takeaway #10: Unfortunately for all of us, they will remember you!

R: You look familiar …

J: (remembering the same recruiter dinging him a year earlier) …

R: Didn’t you interview with me before?

J: Yes, I think so. It was a tight market then.

R: Okay, let’s cut to the chase. Why did I fail you last time?

J: Ummm … well, I think you gave a particularly hard numbers case and I may have gotten confused on some of the numbers …

R: Great, so let’s do the finance case to see if you improved ….

J (at end of interview): So did you see any improvement?

R: Sure, in your perseverance.

And finally, an award goes to the best question:

J to Sony recruiter: So do you have cherry blossoms in Tokyo?
Stunningly, it is a success. The recruiter takes the opportunity to talk about the many wonderful things they have in Tokyo.

For Billy Crystal fans:

Billy: So what do you have in Paris?

Debra Winger: We got stuff.

Takeaway: Simple and genuine. It’s the way to go!