Candidates May Need Some “Tough Love” to Succeed

Over the last week, I’ve met or spoken over phone with a couple dozen or so people in transition to do some resume/job search coaching. Often, I find that a good deal of what is discussed and recommended during such conversations is difficult to hear for the person being coached. After one such session with a former Human Resources executive, whose resume needed quite a bit of work (it did little to reflect her supposed HR expertise), the individual looked at me and remarked, “Wow, that was really tough love, wasn’t it?”

Yes…and the frustrating part for today’s hiring managers and recruiters is that this type of discussion needs to occur with way too many candidates.

During this same time period, I met with an executive coach, a Global Recruiter for a large, multi-national company and spoke at length with a career coach/recruiter at a large corporate outplacement firm. Below are some of the main points they shared with me when asked about strengths and weaknesses of the resumes they read and candidates with whom they speak:


  • Mindset – Candidates with the “that job is mine”/“I can and will make a significant difference at your company when you hire me” approach…and, come fully prepared to back up that confidence with examples of their exceptional successes and accomplishments.
  • Preparation – Proving that they really are interested in the position by demonstrating much research has been completed regarding the target company and respective industry and reflecting such in their cover letter, resume and interview discussions.
  • Resume That “Wow’s” – Having to dig through what is normally hundreds of resumes per position posting, hiring managers and recruiters consider only those documents that tell a great story about exceptional accomplishments at previous employers when selecting a pool of candidates for interviews.
  • Powerful Interviews – All of these folks told me that they will develop a strong “sense” about a candidate during the first few minutes of speaking with them – whether that discussion is over the phone or in person. The candidates who are moved along in the process are those who do the best job of engaging the interviewer during the interview conversations and can create a sense of excitement about the possibility of having them become part of the team.
  • Global Thinkers – Candidates who demonstrate that they “get it”…that they have a great feel and understanding of the company’s challenges and the direction of the respective industry. This is the difference between someone with a holistic view of the work environment/organization/industry vs. a person with “tunnel vision”.
  • Culture Fit – Candidates who demonstrate that they can and have flourished in a work environment similar to that which exists at the prospective employer. Candidates that are perceived to have the ability to perpetuate and strengthen the company’s brand/image.


  • Wrong Mindset – Candidates who act as though they “deserve” a job just because they claim to have the required skills and that they have “worked for 20 or 30 years” doing something of a similar nature. They may arrive late for interviews, dress in attire which is too casual or engage in phone screens/interviews at home with the dog barking and the children running around the house screaming and fighting with each other (during which the candidate often stops the interview discussion to yell at the dog or the children to “be quiet”). This occurs more often than you would think. Last week I was doing a resume review over the phone and had to stop what I was saying because the person who called me started washing dishes! I’m not kidding.
  • Lack of Preparation – Candidates whose resumes or answers to interview questions clearly demonstrate that little to no research and preparation was done regarding the target company and the respective industry. One of these folks told me, “How does someone expect to sell something (themselves as a great candidate…a great fit for the organization) if they know nothing about the buyer?” Resumes and cover letters that lack customization for the specific job being offered reflect little to no extra effort by the candidate…and this is not a message that will impress recruiters and hiring managers who are seeking to refer or hire “the one” from a pool of hundreds of applicants.
  • Resume That Fails to “Wow” – Candidates whose resumes read like a job description, contain no quantifiable results or accomplishments, are poorly formatted or written (spelling and/or grammatical errors). These poorly constructed resumes are perceived to be an example of the quality of the candidate’s written communication skills. One of the recruiters told me that he would be embarrassed to show to his boss many of the resumes received, because they contained such a large number of errors. Another told me, “Why should I recommend a candidate if they are unable to differentiate themselves with ‘wow me’ results and accomplishments? Who I refer is a direct reflection on my ability to judge talent.”
  • Interviews That Lack “Punch” – Candidates that have “nothing” of substance about which to speak or who are unable to back up their claims of expertise and success with some sort of quantification (metrics, recognition, awards…etc.) Candidates who show no passion during the discussion and/or struggle coming up with substantive answers to the interviewer’s questions are not going to do enough to warrant being moved along in the selection process towards being a finalist. One of the recruiters remarked that they find it amusing when a candidate looks at the ceiling when answering a question. “The answers are not written up there”, he stated while smiling and shaking his head.
  • Lack of Big Picture Thinking – No demonstration of thinking “outside of the box”, being innovative or understanding how one’s actions can impact other areas of the company. These are qualities that are basically no longer an option for a candidate to have…they are expected to be “part of the package”.
  • Culture Mismatch – Recruiters are paid to find the person with the “right stuff”…the candidate whose brand/culture “fits like a glove” with that of the prospective employer. Hiring managers are judged by the level of talent they find to bring into the organization and how well that talent works in harmony within the existing culture. Candidates that are perceived not to be a good fit are often “put back on the shelf”. Too much is at stake for the hiring manager to consider doing otherwise.

So…where do you stack up? Would you be considered a strong candidate or one that should not be moved along in the selection process?

First, you need to listen with an open mind to those providing you, the candidate, with feedback/advice/coaching…the “tough love” regarding your job search strategy and tactics.

That does not mean all advice is great advice that will work well for you. Advice consists of opinions based upon facts or years of actual experience, but can also consist of nothing more than “just my opinion as your friend, family member or former co-worker” (who may know/understand very little about the hiring process). Ultimately, you must make the decision regarding what strategies are followed and which tactics are executed – and with how much effort!

You must be your own toughest critic and fully committed to push yourself to take the steps necessary to be one of the candidates considered by recruiters and hiring managers as strong and potentially “ideal” for the position they are seeking to fill.