A tale of three recruiters: a multi-generational perspective on hiring practices

Jun 06, 2023

5 mins

A tale of three recruiters: a multi-generational perspective on hiring practices
Michele O'Brien

Freelance writer and podcast producer

In the realm of recruitment, the prevalence of AI-enabled and digital tools has drastically transformed the hiring landscape. Automated systems can sort through applications, perform initial screenings, and even schedule interviews. However, no matter how technologically advanced these tools become, there remains a vital human element in the hiring pipeline. This human touchpoint invariably arises in the form of a recruiter, who serves as the linchpin in the hiring process, bridging the gap between candidates and their potential employers.

While it may seem that the role of the recruiter is relatively straightforward, it’s a position that is affected by a myriad of factors - one of the most impactful being the recruiter’s generation. Who your recruiter is, their age, and their overall life and work experience can greatly influence how they approach the recruitment process. With the workplace now hosting a mix of Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and the rising Generation Z, we see a range of techniques and philosophies in the world of recruitment. In a bid to understand how these generational differences play out in real-life recruitment scenarios, we spoke to three of them: one Gen Z, one Millennial, and one Boomer.

The recruiters

  1. Clare Kessi (Gen Z) - Technical Recruiter, Palantir: Recruits primarily for intern and new grad engineering roles
  2. Nate Silver (Millennial) - Head of People and Culture, The Org: Recruits primarily for engineering and marketing talent, some customer success and sales roles
  3. Jerry Bernhart (Baby Boomer) - Principal, Bernhart Associates Executive Search: Recruits for VP-level and above roles in marketing and ecommerce

What’s the job?

Though our three recruiters have varying ages and experience levels, the contours of their jobs are similar.

  • At Palantir, Kessi says she’s “with a candidate from when they submit their application and I review it to when we potentially give the offer. I’m their main point of contact and the person that’s prepping them and helping them to feel taken care of, hopefully, through the process.”

  • In Silver’s view, “My job is to close a role. And so I’m rooting for candidates every step of the way.”

  • Bernart sees himself as “a professional shoulder-tapper.” Since he works independently, with the company that’s hiring as his client, his focus is on leveraging his network to get his client a handful of great candidates to interview.

Starting out

For all three recruiters, the process begins with a job description or a conversation with the role’s hiring manager—the person who will ultimately make the call about which candidate to give the job. Says Silver, “I spend a fair amount of time with the hiring manager, getting inside their head about … not only what the work that [the candidate is] going to be doing but how they’re expected to fit into the team.” As a job seeker, remembering that your recruiter has an inside track to the hiring manager can be a huge asset.

The reach-out

Though all three recruiters reach out to candidates directly—that’s “outbound prospecting,” to those in the know—they take different approaches to both sourcing and communication. In their work, Kessi and Silver each use AI-enabled toolsHandshake and Teamable, respectively—to help source candidates and begin the reachout process. Kessi also goes in-person to colleges and universities to recruit new graduates. Bernhart’s method is lower-tech, though no less impactful: over his 35-year career, he’s built a network of tens of thousands of marketing professionals that he regularly taps into when hiring. All three recruiters also use LinkedIn to connect with and vet candidates.

Outbound vs. inbound

Though they both engage in outbound prospecting, Kessi and Silver work for companies who post job descriptions and take online applications. As an independent recruiter, Bernhart does not. Rather, he reaches out to dozens of potential candidates and asks them what their current situation is, trying to gauge if the role he’s hiring for might be a good match for their needs, asking “where it is they’re looking to go in their career, are they happy where they are now? And then and only then if I feel like I may have an opportunity that would be appropriate for them and I’m getting them at the right time, at that point then I might say, ‘Hey, I’ve got something I’d like you to look at.’” Through the winnowing process, he’s eventually able to pass along a handful of highly-qualified—and interested—candidates to the role’s hiring manager.

Favorite interview questions to ask

All three recruiters are primarily interested in whether the candidate and the role or company are a good match.

  • For Kessi, favorite questions include, “What are you looking for in your next role? If you got an offer from your top three choices right now, what would you weigh to make that decision?”
  • Silver’s favorite questions are more specific to his company’s mission: “What is it about us, what is it about our company [that appealed to you]? Our mission is focused on transparency. So I’ll often ask questions about what transparency means to them or where they’ve seen transparency be valuable in their past workplaces.”
  • Bernhart’s focus is on the candidate’s readiness and willingness to change positions: “I’ll say, so if you could wave a magic wand and change anything you could about your job—and that could be anything from comp, to your boss, culture of the company, the health of the business, how it’s impacting your family, as it relates to your work hours or commute or anything at all—if you could change anything at all, what would that be?” From there, he’s able to assess whether a new opportunity would actually provide that magic wand, or whether that candidate is better off negotiating with their current employer to get what they want.

Favorite questions to be asked

All three recruiters agree: the most important factor is that a candidate is curious and asking questions. As to what their favorites are…

  • Kessi’s take? It’s about showing you’ve done your research: “I see that your company has XYZ type of leadership structure or organizational structure. What does that look like for you day to day?”
  • Silver wants to make sure candidates are invested in what they’ll be building, and thinking big-picture: “I’m always glad when people are asking about our company as a business and not just like a fun place to work. And that goes back to, do they get what we’re building? Because it’s not immediately clear how we make money.”
  • For Bernhart, the questions themselves are less important than the curiosity behind them: “My best candidates are the ones who really ask the most questions and deep questions … They’re like detectives.”

Philosophically speaking

We asked each of the recruiters to share a bit about their philosophy on recruitment.

  • As far as Kessi is concerned, the primary goal is “just making sure that there’s that fit there … It’s in everyone’s best interest that you are excited about the job, that you are happy in the role, that you want to really dig in and grow and learn and hopefully be here for a while.”
  • For Silver, the key to his work is keeping things simple and clear: I don’t think that recruiting is rocket science … I actually think it’s just being a really good project manager.”
  • Bernhart wants both his clients and candidates to know they are in excellent hands: “My philosophy is, if I’m going to recruit an e-commerce professional, then know what the hell they do and know it really, really well.”

Key takeaways

  • No matter what generation your recruiter comes from, know that they are ultimately rooting for you, and extremely conscious of how your talents match with the role’s needs.
  • Come prepared to every interview, at every stage of the process, with lots of questions! If your recruiter can’t answer them in the moment, they’ll be able to get in touch with the hiring manager to get answers later.
  • Think about fit. Each of us needs something specific from our jobs—whether that be location, compensation, or work-life balance. Be thoughtful about what you need, and communicate that to your recruiter so you don’t end up in a position that doesn’t meet your needs, and vice versa.
  • Remember that there are humans driving the hiring process! Be respectful, be engaged, and make key information easy to find on your resume or LinkedIn.

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