How do I get the recruiter to see my potential instead of my experience?

Guest blog post by Hanna Sandvall, Business Area Manager Dfind Science & Engineering, Stockholm. First published in March 2018 on Dfinds blog (in Swedish) re-published and translated with the consent of Dfind. Dfind Science & Engineering is a recruitment and consulting company within science and engineering. All their consultant managers and recruitment consultants have an education and work experience within their respective field.


We’ve probably all been there. You find a new exciting job, and you are ready for the next step. You may want to broaden your expertise, advance into a managerial role or into a new specialist area. You have the experience, just not the experience of this particular role. So, how do you get the recruiter to dare and bet on your potential?

The key to success is translating your experiences and personal potential into what you can contribute with and what it would mean for the company in a short and long perspective. Also take time to prepare yourself, whether it’s for an interview or if you chose to proactively contact a company you are interested in.

Here is a list of some things to keep in mind when you want to highlight your potential.

Lift your eyes
When you want to sell your potential, it’s important that you focus on what you want to accomplish and not get stuck in what you’ve done previously. For example, let them know how you would take on the job, improvements you think could be done and what the results of these improvements could be. Of course, you need to be humble and focus on what you can contribute with without speculating too much or talking down the company’s current or past achievements.

Have a positive attitude
Be positive and focus on opportunities. If this particular hiring manager or recruiter does not dare to bet your potential, it is a good idea to spread the risk and contact several companies at the same time.

Get to know the company
Get to know the company. By reading on the company’s website and on the internet in general you can get a good picture of their business area, as well as business culture and values. If you want to be in a managerial or sales position, the company’s annual report is a good source of information.

Adapt to the person you meet
Do a background check of the person you will meet at the company. On LinkedIn you can often find out a little about a person’s background, for instance if he or she has a specialist background or if you share any particular interest or background. With this information you can adjust your manners and conversation to the person you meet, while also creating a more comfortable situation. On the other hand, if you have completely different backgrounds or if your experience differs completely from the company’s profile, this does not mean you have no chance. Prepare a little bit more about how your experience can contribute to the company’s development – you have a great opportunity to come up with new approaches.

Get to know the role
Read up on the role you are interested in, for example in the role description in the job ad. Talk to people in your network or in other fora that have been in similar roles to ask them how they had to respond to challenges and opportunities. Then match the requirements and insights you gathered about the role with the potential you see in yourself.

With these tips, I want to encourage you to take opportunities, facilitate for the company and the boss to get a quick overview of what you want to accomplish and can contribute with so they dare to bet on you.

Keep in mind that experience can be acquired, but your personality and potential you carry within!

One thought on “How do I get the recruiter to see my potential instead of my experience?

  1. This was an utmost fascinating read, evermore so as I have been going through a process of searching for a job in a modern world abuzz with buzzwords and corporate speak and this piece was pretty much the thing that made me see what exactly I was doing wrong. Most likely I was not “taking opportunities and facilitating for the company and boss to get blah-blah-blah blah-blah-blah blah-blah (and I’ve ran out of hot air at this point).

    If you started reading thinking I’m being 100% serious, don’t despair. I actually am. Sarcasm is a serious business. As in “undertaking”. Not much money in it – even if you are a comedian. It takes someone smart to appreciate sarcasm well-done or even medium-rare. Raw stuff has extremely limited audience.

    Now allow me a minute or two to elaborate on a few points regarding why I would honestly consider the magnum opus of insight of how to make a recruiter to see your potential as something not too far off a fortune cookie wisdom.

    Number 1. Recruiter is not interested in you. They are interested in their pay for filling a vacancy and the political correctness of the procedure. Recruiter does not care what you are, who you are and what is there in your head. They care about you as an abstract soulless object ticking the right boxes: degree and a piece of paper to confirm it – check, “right gender” – whatever it happens to be – check, “right minority” – whatever it happens to be on the day – check. That’s it. After that you are in for a draw. As in “lottery draw”. There is little to nothing at all what you can do to affect your chances apart from just happening to have “the right stuff” on paper. I hear a howl of indignation and quite possible a fair few of unprintable expletives addressed at the author, but bear with me. The problem, or rather boon, for the recruiters is that the world is filled with unemployed saps applying for the jobs they advertise. Now some of the saps are incompetent, some are moderately competent and some are actually good at what they aspire to do. The employer however does not want best, in their vast majority they want someone just competent enough and above all ACAP – as cheap as possible. So all the recruiter has to do is to weed out absolutely unsuitable (in their opinion) and just randomly draw a CV out of the pile. On the balance of probabilities it will be “good enough” to satisfy requirements. Evermore so you don’t have to bother with understanding just how suitable someone is for a job – when it doubt, discard – that’s the mantra of modern employment. As long as you limit the pool of candidates enough you can not go wrong with your choice.

    Number 2. If you ain’t got “it” you ain’t getting it. Your interviewer is convinced they know what and who you are before you walk in through that door. How are you going to change that? You are not. Your CV is what you are. The only way to get ahead is to doctor it and just count on logic outlined in point 1 to carry you though. Judging by the amount of utter incompetence of people working in some areas in Sweden, technical and not – it is surprisingly common. Seeing an engineer to burn out an ammeter after connecting it parallel is precious, just as is asking someone a question and getting the same answer you got earlier yourself by googling the question.

    Number 3. Positive. Attitude. It seems that this is a major stumbling stone for people looking for a job. Whenever we come for a job interview we all are sullen, unfriendly and talk trash about our prospective employer – or so would one think reading all the inane suggestions about “lifting your eyes and having a positive attitude.” I have no idea about majority of people, but I’d wager that 99% of people seriously looking for a job are willing to roll over and beg to get one. That’s about as positive as one can get and all of us will try our damnest not to screw up. That’s a positive attitude.

    Number 4. Different experience. Hm… that’s a tough one. Good question to ask here – if you make great pizza but have no idea how jet engine works, why are you applying for an aerospace engineering position? Well, that’s how I would see it if I was a recruiter or an employer. Turns out in new-age corporate world hiring bakers to design jet engines is the new vogue – or so everyone tries to make you believe. Well… it’s not really true, is it? In reality it’s all about the piece of paper you have proving your RELEVANT experience – in addition to your RELEVANT education. If either of those does not match company expectation it is “be gone, fel beastie, be gone!” followed by a sprinkle of consecrated liquid. The reality is that no one is going to give you three seconds if you ain’t got it on paper. Speaking from experience of working for years with particular equipment daily and knowing the workings of it inside out to the point of rebuilding said machines from casing up you apply for a job connected to the said equipment and the answer is “but you do not have relevant qualifications”. To your objection along the lines “but I have!” you get shot down with “ah, so you say, but can you PROOVE it?” followed by a finger-wagging with the meaning of “WE know better what you can or can not do. Or know.” The same company then sends you an engineer who connects ammeter in parallel…

    Someone I know said recently: “After seeing how recruiting works in Germany, UK, Sweden and US I can tell you one thing – it’s not who you are or what you know – it’s who you know. Unless you know someone at the company don’t bother applying.” That’s from a guy holding degree from a prestigious university who worked in Ivy League level institutions before heading corporate. Well, caveat is he was talking about serious jobs requiring professional competence and carrying degree of responsibility rarely seen in consultancy-level positions. The very example of the debacle with Nya Karolinska is enough to convince anyone that words consultancy and responsibility do not go together. Well. Or at all.

    To cite the closing line of the magnum opus – “Keep in mind that experience can be acquired, but your personality and potential you carry within!” – maybe better read it as: if you want a job, trim your CV and fall in line with the expectations, your personality and potential are better off staying within where they belong, out of sight.

    A bit of honesty never hurts, but it’s too much to count on nowadays.

    Corporate-speak Blah-blah-blah is more PC and eminently more quotable.

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