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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

recruiter won't answer questions and wants to rewrite my resume

A reader writes:

I saw a blind ad (no company name provided) and sent my resume and introductory email. Within an hour, I received an email expressing interest by a recruiter followed by a voicemail. The initial email said “your resume is great.” I sent an email to the recruiter and asked if I could have the name of the company so that I could research it before we spoke by phone. I received a response saying that the company would not allow its name to be revealed until an interview was set up. Okay, I thought, but I was not happy to be unprepared. 

During the phone interview that followed, none of my questions were answered – remember, this company wished to remain anonymous, so nothing was discussed about specific job duties, size of team, first few projects, how work would be evaluated, etc. Remember, so many in the job search world always say “prepare and have questions ready.” Well, I was unable to prepare for this phone interview. But, at the end of the 20-minute phone interview, the recruiter asked for my resume in Word (I had sent it in PDF), because she wanted to re-do it. She said it was “flat, hard-to-read, and not easy to follow.” Excuse me, but in her first communication, the resume was “great” – her word. Would you have sent her the resume so she could have “re-created” it?

At this early stage, I can see her not wanting to get into something very detailed like specifics about the first few projects you'd be working on -- but she should have given you solid information about the job responsibilities and reporting structure. How are you supposed to know if you're interested in investing any time without this basic information? This goes back to employers (or in this case, a recruiter) feeling that they have all the power and that job candidates should simply be happy to get a chance to be considered. It's BS.

However, if these were questions you were asking simply because you felt that part of making a good impression was having questions prepared, well, obviously she's not concerned about that. But if you were asking questions because you're trying to determine your interest level and if it's worth your time to proceed or not, then you're perfectly entitled to hold firm on that before investing further time.

A lot here depends, of course, on how desperate you are for a new job. If you're not and you feel you have plenty of good options, there's no reason that you need to indulge her if you don't want to. It's completely fine to say, "I can appreciate the employer's need for confidentiality at this stage, but before I can move on to an interview, I'd want to know more about ___." But you need to be willing to risk losing the opportunity over it.

As for this resume re-write, at a minimum you should make it very clear to her that no resume can be sent out as yours without you having signed off on it. I'm a little worried that she's going to make changes that you wouldn't approve and send it out without you even seeing it. Regarding the contradiction of first saying it was "great" and later criticizing it, it's possible that she meant that your experience is great but the resume needs some work. And it's absolutely possible that she's right. But I'd proceed with some healthy skepticism until you have a better feel for how she works.

Any recruiters out there want to weigh in?


Anonymous said...

AAM, you're being naive. This is clearly a scam. I'm sure many other job seekers out there will chime in with similar experiences. These "recruiters" are paid based on the number of "prospects" they bring in; there may or may not be a job at the end of all this, and if there is, it's very likely it's in no field remotely like what the job seeker is after. They just troll the web, posting generic ads and harvesting resumes from sites like CareerBuilder.

Ask a Manager said...

It absolutely could be -- there are red flags. But I could also see scenarios where this is a legitimate recruiter who isn't communicating very well. I think it's worth asking questions but staying skeptical.

(I asked myself: Can I see a case where a conversation with a legitimate recruiter ended up being described this way? And I could.)

Anonymous said...

Too fishy.
Even if the company wants to remain anonymous, they have a set of requirements.
Ask the recruiter to provide you with those requirements and that you will be "glad to save them some time and make the modifications yourself".

Last thing you want is someone to claim you have 15 years of experience when all you really have is 5.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like either the recruiter was new to the industry or unfamiliar with the job and/or client. I would hope I would handle the situation better than the recruiter you mentioned, but most of that scenario could take place (with some better customer service I hope!) at our recruiting firm. We have clients that prefer to remain confidential until after they review your resume and agree to meet with you and depending on the position we would certainly want to update your resume -- however, I think any recruiter here would be very specific about what we wanted to change on your resume. Some recruiters here (especially at the executive search level) will not change anything on your resume and others will rewrite it entirely. It depends on the window of opportunity we have for submitting candidates to the job opening and it also varies by client. I find it odd that the recruiter was unable to share many basic details of the position. I admit, I have recruited for jobs with some details missing, but it sounds like most of the details were missing.

TheLabRat said...

Run; this is a scam. They will try to charge you for the resume rewrite at worst. At best there was never any actual job and this is a shady temp agency. Smells like a typical day in the admin section of craigslist and to me.

Anonymous said...

In my local paper, there has been a job advertisement since last summer; it appears every Sunday - that's when I buy the paper. Anyway, it struck me as weird, especially since there was no name, an ambiguous description about who they wanted rather than what the job entailed, and just a phone number. When I first saw it, the no name struck me as really weird. I googled the phone number, and sure enough it was a scam. No wonder I still see it there every week.

It amazes me how newspapers don't do anything to research who is putting ads in their pages. There are so many scams between jobs, pets, and merchandise. But that's another story for another time.

Even if you don't have any information about the company through its name, you still have a way of contacting someone. Take 10 minutes to log on to google and see what comes up with a phone number or email. If other people have been scammed before, surely they'll write about it on the internet. They do that for nearly everything.

A company not giving out their name is wrong and a red flag. I don't understand why they do that unless they have something to hide.

As for the resume rewrite, don't give it to them. Leave it in PDF and drop them like a hot potato. If you think it needs to be tweaked, see a career cousenlor - maybe your college has one because usually alumni are allowed to use those services. If not, then only allow yourself to correct later if someone legitimate says something.

In short, I wouldn't even bother asking questions; I back away and keep looking elsewhere.

De Minimis said...

I agree with those who say scam, when I've dealt with recruiters they almost always tell you the company once you get to a stage where they are considering presenting you to their clients. At the very least they give you more information than what has been described by the OP.

Might not be a scam so much as just a phony job listing. I wish that kind of thing would be made illegal.

JobFree said...

First thing that crossed my mind while reading this letter was...SCAM!

I think AAM is giving the recruiter too much credit for being legit. It is a scam and the writer shouldn't give them any more info.

Chad said...

I usually give the clients name out. However if a client wanted to be confidential I would probably been in the same situation as this recruiter. I don't know much about scams, but in the event you were interested in the job but needed a better recruiter get the job description from him and don't let him submit it. Google the description and see if any other agency has the job. You deserve good customer service, and you need to move fast, but once you submit you are stuck with them.

Hey on the flips side I redo nearly every resume after I get information from the candidate. It's my job to represent you to the client, and I only get paid if I can get you a job. Also I am nearly always working for clients who I have some background working with that I might not be able to explain in a ten minute phone call but I can incorporate into my summary or the resume directly.

Anonymous said...

I don't even have words for how awkward and fishy this is.

If the company wants to conceal their identity, fine. But no details about the job? I'm pretty sure you can give an overview of daily tasks, team size, expectations, etc without revealing a company name.

And if she thinks your resume needs editing, then she should give some recommendations and ask that YOU do it. And why does she care? If she's not impressed with it, why would she contact you anyway?

Yeah, you just got scammed.

Ask a Manager said...

So here's a little more about my thinking and why I'm not willing to say "yes, it's definitely a scam":

Before I advise someone to walk away from a job opportunity, I want to know for sure that I'm right. If I'm not right, I could be costing someone in a serious way. And I've learned over the years answering these letters that we often don't have enough information to really make a solid judgment -- either because the person's perspective is off (which I don't think is the case here, not at all) or because the letter didn't answer the questions that you'd ask if you could talk with them with some back-and-forth. So before advising someone to walk away from an opportunity, I ask: Can I imagine circumstances in which a legitimate recruiter ended up described this way?

And here, the answer is yes. See Anonymous at 2:31 for an example of how. Or, say for instance, the recruiter actually did give her some basic information but doesn't answer more nuanced questions at this stage, when it's only an initial phone screen, but the OP didn't distinguish clearly enough between the two in the letter.

In this case, I feel a responsibility not to advise someone to turn down an opportunity without knowing more.

Now, that doesn't mean the OP shouldn't proceed with a ton of skepticism -- she should. And she should arm herself with info, as she's doing here, so that she's on guard against scams and has her eyes open. But I still maintain there's not enough here to know for sure!

Unknown said...

I must admit I'm a bit jaded on this issue, as I was burned twice by recruiting/temporary agencies in pretty much the same way.

It's not that the agency is scamming anyone, the job(s) were legitimate, however in one case I was just not a very good fit for the company or the position, and had anyone had a bit more knowledge sooner that would have been readily apparent. In this instance, my resume was re-written without my knowledge, and questions were asked during the interview that I was not at all prepared to answer about my own experience. When I provided my resume, it was different in more than just having their logo splashed across the top. At some point (months into the job) I finally realized how different it was - by then it was a bit late, and during the economic difficulties of late 2008 every temp or contract worker this company had was let go.

The second time, I simply walked away from the agency. When the recruiter wanted to "re-work" my resume, I agreed and asked to review it before it was submitted. She did that, but had put very misleading information, specifically related to the duration of temp assignments and over-stating my experience in some pretty critical areas. I provided another edit and asked her opinion, and she would not budge. I even went down to the office and spoke face-to-face, to be sure we had no communication issues through phone or email. I said flat out - I appreciate what you are doing, however I am the one who has to sit across the table from a hiring manager and explain this, and I cannot in good conscience explain a lie. It's not because I think I'm holier than thou, I just don't want to start any relationship off on a dishonest foot.

At any rate, even after I asked to have my resume removed (and despite the fact when I asked that, she told me there was nothing someone like me was qualified for anyway - another frustrating thing - why bother doing all this tweaking if you don't think I'm right) I got a call from a hiring manager who'd gotten my resume through that agency. I politely declined the interview, and called the agency back.
It took more time than I realized to get them to remove my resume.

I can also appreciate the issue of being confidential and anonymous with employer information, but since my last experience I do want to know general information about type of work, whether it involves any specialized skill set, and a general idea about what industry the company is in. (This is made even harder by a company who doesn't even disclose much in an interview. That should have been a red flag to me in hindsight.)

Sorry to be so long in this, it just hits very close to home.

Anonymous said...

Probably a scam.

Personally I won't work with a recruiter who insists on rewriting my resume. It is NOT their job to reshape or rewrite my professional persona, that is MY job. The recruiter's job is to find qualified applicants for the employer. If the recruiter doesn't like my resume, its pretty certain that either I'm not qualified for the job, or they aren't qualified to be a recruiter.

The Engineer said...

I would agree with AAM on this issue if it the recruiter hadn't asked to rewrite the OP's resume. That is the red flag for me. That sounds a shift between recruiter for Company X and agent for the OP. The recruiter asks for clarification and expansion on items in the resume. The agent works to develop and market a client.

If you are rewriting my resume then I trust you completely and know you very well. No job where that level of control over employees is expected from the get go is going to go well for the OP.

salem said...

I've been a technical recruiter for 9 months.

I don't know if it shouts "scam," maybe just "inept." At the very least, the recruiter needs to get across the team, responsibilities and the nuts and bolts even if they don't wish to reveal the client.

Most clients are not in fact, "confidential" (those are typically Director / VP level positions where the current Director / VP doesn't know they are being slowly pushed out!).

Instead, the recruiter was probably nervous you, the candidate would apply directly and bypass the recruiter.

I only get worried about that with local positions, but with local positions, you don't want to double-submit a candidate anyway if another agency already submitted.

The resume editing, I always try to get the candidate to edit it down themselves, but realistically, recruiters have a good grasp on what fits and what doesn't. I ask permission to edit, and send over for their thoughts. Its normally just moving things around (EG, if they have great education but its touched in the bottom, or they have 2x sections of redundancies), you should ensure what, why and review the changes.

Probably a poor recruiter or a new recruiter, or a scam (doesn’t seem like it, unless they ask you for a credit check:D).

Trust has to start pretty quickly when working with quality candidates, so I'm actually happy (99% of the time) to disclose the client and gauge their thoughts. Why waste everyone’s time selling a job, when the company is a crap client?

Don't have crap clients :D

Anonymous said...

I agree with LabRat and Anonymous about these being scams by people trolling the Net. Re-writing a resume and then "charging" for it -- I haven't seen this yet personally but I can easily see how it would happen.

I too, do not understand why legitimate newspapers and job sites like CareerBuilder, allow phony jobs to be posted. They are constantly being flooded with "Make Money doing Surveys" and "Work at home." They end up in every job category and state you click on.

Legit sites like Monster and CareerBuilder, and newspapers, need to take more responsibility in ridding themselves of these things. It makes going to their sites/papers, very unattractive when job searching.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking for my next job at present, and came across this blog entry whilst Googling for opinions about the job hunting process. I've been working in my field for a fairly long time now (20 years), and have accrued a lot of experience, both in my specialist area, and in the recruiting process more generally. My experience has come both from the times I’ve been looking for a new role myself in years gone past, and from the times I’ve been the manager on the hiring side of the interview table. The net total of that experience has lead me to adopt some basic rules; my personal ‘red flags’. These are :

1) I don’t do blind dates. On the odd occasion where a recruiter/agent/headhunter claims that they can’t tell me who the employer that they want to send my CV to is, I tell them, politely but firmly, that I’m not interested in working for mystery employers. The reason usually given for such coyness by the intermediary is that the information is commercially sensitive, and they are worried that if the availability of the role is discovered by other agencies, then the employer will be deluged by other applications. When faced with that line of reasoning, I simply tell the agent that I have a firm policy of only discussing the roles I apply for with the intermediary I apply for it through, and reiterate that I do need to know where my CV is being sent, both because I need to know if the employer is a company I would be interested in working for, but also because I don’t make my personal details available to organisations/individuals unless I know exactly who those organisations/individuals are. Usually, the intermediary agrees with my logic at this point; if not, I walk.

2) I wont interview with recuiters/agents/headhunters as a preliminary step to meeting the hiring manager within the employer’s own staff. My reason for this is that, in my field (software development), such intermediaries often know little or nothing about the detail of what it is that I do, and precious little more about what it is that the employer does. If I meet with the employer themselves, that’s the only meaningful basis I’ve found upon which that the employer can discover whether what I can do for them matches their needs, and whether what they have to offer in return is of interest to me; a direct meeting lets us know in fairly short order whether there is enough of a match between us to take our mutual interest further. Hiring managers who don’t invest their own time in their own recruitment process, and who prefer instead to conduct the process through non-technical intermediaries, generally either don’t know what they want clearly enough to be able to express it succinctly to a prospective new employee, or simply see the process as not import enough to spend their own valuable time upon; either way, they’re generally not good people to work for, and so I bow out without ever having to subject myself to running a gauntlet of their lackys before they deign to meet me.

3) I wont fill out application forms. My experience and career history is succinctly summarised on my CV. Over the years, that CV that has proven effective in matching me with several roles that I’ve enjoyed enormously. When organisations ask me to discard my well-tested CV in favour of their own standard application form (usually in a misguided attempt to try and measure all applicants meaningfully against some loose common standard), I perceive that as a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to recruitment, and withdraw. These days, most companies have got the message that very few experienced technical candidates will fill out forms intended to capture information that an astute interviewer should be gleaning from the candidate’s CV. There’s simply no reason for us to, when so many other employers are willing to assess us on how we present ourselves as individuals, rather than on how well we fit into some arbitrary matrix.

(continued below)

Anonymous said...

(continued from above)

4) I wont do telephone interviews for companies that are located within 50 miles of my home. When a company doesn’t want to meet me in person, at their place of business, I begin to wonder what they don’t want me to see? I also know from the times I’ve been in the role of hiring manager myself how hard it is to gauge technical experience by talking alone; you also need to get the candidate to write actual code, in a real environment, before you’re able to meaningfully assess how experienced they are with a given technology stack. Where a company is located more than 50 miles away (generally, that’ll only be the case for short-term contract work), I will participate in a telephone screen, but usually only as a preliminary step to meeting the client if what I say I can do and what they say they want roughly seem to match. It’s only during the actual meet up that follows, though, that each of us will be able to be sure that the trip was worth the effort; the telephone screen in the case where the travel involved is not insignificant is purely a measure to weed out any grossly-unsuitable mismatches before expending any undue effort in getting to the client’s site.

5) I wont do written tests. Generally speaking, if you insist on speaking with employers directly (see red flag 2 above), this issue doesn’t even come up, as technical members of employers’ staff usually inherently understand how crazy it is to ask someone that designs systems on a computer for a living to suddenly switch to the completely unsuitable medium of pen and paper to try and do the same job. It’s like asking a chef to prepare you a meal.....with their feet. It’s the wrong tool for the job, and indicative only of a total lack of comprehension of what you do by the person asking you to work that alien way. As I say, most employers (who get their existing technical employees to interview prospective new technical staff) aren’t misguided enough to ask the candidates they see to attempt this folly. Recuiters/agents/headhunters/other non-technical intermediaries such as HR-types, on the other hand, regularly have a ‘list of questions’ that they themselves don’t understand the answers to, and that list always includes a question about ‘just writing a little program on this pad for me’. Equally misguidedly, they usually also include a question where a computer program is written on a typed sheet, and they ask you questions about what it does.......because, you know, programmers actually *compile code in their head rather than use a computer*. Those PCs we all have on their desks, they’re just for playing games and stuff. o_O

So much for the personal rules I’ve arrived at through my own experiences. Bottom line, whatever your own red flags are, I’ve found that it pays to have very clear ideas about what you will and wont accept of the recruitment process, every bit as much as it pays to know what you’re looking for in your next role. There are plenty of people out there that will be prepared to treat you badly, if you’re willing to let them, usually not out of malice, but more often simply out of a misguidedness. If you’re willing to put them right politely, and to walk away when required should they persist, your path to your next job will be fraught with less wrong turns.

Software Developer, Scotland.

Anonymous said...

The recruiter described in this job seeker's letter sounds like a shady character; the whole thing sounds like a scam, especially since the recruiter is a.) being vague and b.) wants to re-write the resume, which sounds like plagiarism. Personally, I would be very leery of this recruiter. Wouldn't have anything to do with this.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Rachel (anonymous) on all points. True, when I was on the market I did phone screenings - only because my conviction of how pointless it was lost out to the need to jump through hoops to get a job.

I know there are many hiring managers reading these comments so please take what she says about HR and a list of questions when hiring for tech positions.

It's ridiculous to be screened for qualifications when the person asking the questions has no idea what they are asking about.

Anyone in HR with a background in tech is excluded from this generalization, of course. In other cases it's just common sense to have someone sit in on these interviews with whom the candidate can have an actual dialogue. It's a win/win for everyone that way.