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How recruiters evaluate talent (aka are you an "A" player?)

Recruiters see so many candidates that they have developed pattern recognition to recognize which candidates to build relationships with.  This page is based on conversations with experienced talent partners, recruiters and hiring managers about what they look for.

Generally the first interview is focused on quickly determining if you are an A, B or C talent. These labels are arbitrary but if you are placed in a lower bucket, it can be impossible to change that perception. 

What is "A" Talent?

In the first interview, people are asking “Is this someone we want in our portfolio / to place in a search”. The following are things people are looking for in the first interview

  • Your Leadership Ability

    • Your executive presence

    • Your EQ

    • Your thought process

  • The impact you have had at prior companies

    • Was the company successful because of you or were you just on the ride

    • How effective are you at driving cross-functional impact

    • How good are you at execution

The following are questions you should be prepared to answer that will help the interviewer understand if you are A talent

  • “Tell me about yourself” Seeks to answer how clear you are in your career journey and assesses your leadership ability

  • “What are you passionate about?” If you don’t have clarity here, it speaks to the drive and ability to execute

  • “What is top of mind for you?” They want to understand what trends you are excited about. They are looking for people who know how the markets are evolving vs. just reacting

  • “What are you known for?” / “Where have you done your best work?” Trying to understand your super-power and the impact you have on companies.  Be able to convey it through stories.

  • “What were you biggest impact / challenges?” Typically comes in follow-up to the above question to understand your understanding of challenges and how you overcame them.

  • “How can I help?” Clarity in the types of introductions and companies you are interested in helps them help you more. See our articles on recruiters and talent partners for how to respond effectively to this question.

When you are answering questions, don’t just answer the question but also include a “why”

"If someone asks if you’ve managed managers, for example, don’t just say yes and describe the project and the team size. Volunteer an explanation of why you built layers into your org and how you gave autonomy to those you led while still ensuring that product was reliably delivered. Share how you determined your objectives and how you met them. In other words, always look to give your potential colleagues a deeper understanding of how you think." Bret Reckard, Head of Talent @ Sequoia

If you come across as “A” talent, recruiters and particularly VC talent partners will try to help you in your search by:

  • Inviting you to their talent portal

  • Introducing you to a few great companies (in the case of VC talent partners they can also make intros to recruiters)

  • Working hard to stay in touch and have another touchpoint (one top talent team at a VC has a KPI to have another touchpoint with top talent within 30 days)

What Knocks you out?

Below are some red-flags shared by recruiters and talent partners:

  • Don’t air your dirty laundry It is ok to say you weren’t a fit because X but don’t whine/complain

  • Disorganized

  • Struggle with analytical questions If you don’t have an organized thought process

  • Can’t get specific on questions / evasive Having stories and examples is a great way to get specifics.

  • Lack of clarity on what you are seeking. If the interviewer is coaching you on your career rather than interviewing you, this is a problem

  • Lots of short stints. More than 2 short stints in a row is a problem. The interviewer will be working to understand “did you get fired and why?”

  • Being Negative. Whining/complaining.   See Jason Lemkin talk about "broken/bitter candidates" (from 25:30 to 29:10) in this podcast

"What does "being negative" mean in interviewing? Many focus on the tone and words they use, but being negative also happens when you share what you "don't want" in a job. To be positive - lead with your "DO WANTS" Chuck Brotman, Leading GTM Recruiter

Other Interviewing Tips

  • Recruiters are NOT going to give you valuable feedback. It is unfortunate but they often get very little from their clients too. 

  • Remember that interviewing is just storytelling. Your job is to distill your unique career journey into a compelling narrative… don’t just answer questions but have anecdotes that you practice and refine that will engage them.

  • “Thought Process Questions” the questions asked by consultants / Google to “understand how you think”. The secret to these is to ask for more detail:

    • Push your interviewer to define the specifics of the situation. This will allow you to focus on one aspect of the problem and it will show your interviewer that you know how to get to the root of the problem by asking the right questions.

    • Additionally, these questions can buy you time to think and pushes the conversation back on the interviewer (better if they talk more!).

  • What should you ask in an interview? Most job seekers make interviews about themselves. They don’t do a great job of making the conversation about the employer.   Do your homework and come prepared with questions on their business.

  • Be Proactive: If you really want to stand out, think about doing a proactive project

Do you know how to leverage recruiters, talent partners and investors in your search?


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