Inside a Recruiter’s Head: Finding the Best Employees

Over the years, I’ve asked myself thousands of questions about how recruiters find and measure the potential of their candidates. What factors and criteria do they consider when conducting their search? How do they go about the search process? Are recruiters identifying candidates based on their potential or only factors like keywords and job titles?

And I spent countless hours, weeks, and months trying to understand it better and get better insights into these mysteries. However, instead of finding clear answers, I encountered one puzzle after another.

After conducting dozens of tests, I finally found answers to many of my questions. Since sharing is caring, I will discuss the results of my recent recruitment test results, assumptions, and findings in this article. However, while the group of participants in this test was significant, a larger group would have provided more accurate results.

Recruitment Test

For some time, I’d been eager to understand further what recruiters look for when reviewing resumes. With the purpose of seeking out more information, I decided to design a small recruitment test.

To make sure I had accurate and precise data, I employed resources such as Microsoft ClarityGoogle Analytics, and others to monitor how quickly recruiters were able to validate resumes. My research also involved tracking how they read resumes, review job descriptions, etc.

After concluding the test, I gained valuable insights into how recruiters read LinkedIn profiles and whether they truly reviewed them in just a few seconds. However, the most crucial aspect was ensuring that the results were not tainted in any way. To prevent this, I did not disclose what I would be tracking or how I would be doing it to anyone involved in the test.

I want to express my sincere thanks to the 211 people who expressed interest in participating in this test. Among them, 187 were recruiters, and out of those, 132 successfully completed the test. After eliminating those who did not understand the task or provided abnormal results, I was left with 114 recruits whose responses offered invaluable insights into recruiter behavior.

The test I conducted consisted of three parts, but for the purpose of this article, I will only focus on the first part.


First Part — LinkedIn Profiles

The first part of the test was interesting as it involved three resumes from candidates applying for a Senior Engineering Manager role with a US-based company that offered relocation and other additional support.

Participants were given job descriptions at the beginning of the test. Then, they had to evaluate three resumes and make a recommendation to the hiring manager without being able to search using Google or LinkedIn. The resumes were presented as images, making searching for keywords impossible. So they have to focus on the resume’s content, not only on keywords.

During previous tests, I found out that many recruiters do not use CTRL+F (Search function) for their keyword search when they screen profiles on LinkedIn or in their ATS.

I also asked participants whether they would send the candidates to a hiring manager or not consider them at all. However, the participants had no idea that all three resumes in the test belonged to people already working in similar roles at the same company and that the job description matched their current roles. Therefore, all three candidates with their profiles were hired for that role.

Contrarily, the profiles of the candidates differed in terms of their previous work experience. One candidate had worked as a VP, the second as a Senior Engineering Manager, and the third as an Engineering Manager. The goal was to understand how the participants would assess these candidates.


First Candidate

Profile: The last job this candidate profiled was a Vice President role, so to many recruiters, this candidate should look like someone who is overqualified for a role.

My Assumption: I assumed that recruiters would not recommend this candidate to the hiring manager because they might think this candidate was overqualified for the job.

Results: 26% strongly recommended this candidate to a hiring manager, 55% recommended it, 16% would not recommend it, and 3% were unsure.

Despite conventional expectations that overqualified candidates are not considered for positions with lower job titles, 81% of recruiters would recommend this candidate to their hiring manager, and only 16% wouldn’t recommend this candidate.

Second Candidate

Profile: This candidate’s career trajectory was different from others — having spent several years in a Senior Software Engineer role, they then moved straight into the position of Senior Software engineering manager without any prior experience in a management role (at least based on their LinkedIn profile) or having a role like Engineering Manager between the senior developer and Senior engineering manager role.

I chose this candidate because even in real life, career progression is unique for each individual. While some may gradually move from junior to senior roles, others may progress quickly and skip intermediate positions.

And some individuals may only list their most recent role, which could result in their profile not accurately reflecting their current experience. As a result, even if someone has only been a manager for a few months, their LinkedIn profile may tell a different story.

My Assumption: The reason why I expected that recruiters would recommend this candidate the most is that during their search, they often focus on candidates who are already working in the role they are trying to fill instead of those lower-level titles which could potentially grow into the role or see it as a career progression. This is partly based on preliminary data and testing I’ve conducted over the years.

Results: 49% strongly recommended this candidate to a hiring manager, 40% recommended it, 8% would not recommend it, and 3% were unsure.

Out of all the recruiters asked to give their opinion on this candidate, an overwhelming majority of 89% expressed approval and recommended them. The remaining 8% wouldn’t recommend this candidate to a hiring manager.

Third Candidate

Profile: This candidate has a great work experience profile: starting with the basics, growing as a software engineer, then becoming a lead, and finally occupying an engineering manager role in two companies. This career journey shows consistent advancement in their professional knowledge.

My Assumption: This candidate would not be recommended as highly to a hiring manager as the second one due to their lack of previous role at the Senior Engineering Manager level despite having five years of experience in the Engineering Manager role.

Results: 26% strongly recommended this candidate to a hiring manager, 53% recommended it, 18% would not recommend it, and 3% were unsure.

Out of all the recruiters asked to give their opinion on this candidate, a majority of 79% would recommend them. The remaining 18% wouldn’t recommend this candidate to the hiring manager. The highest number of people who did not recommend this candidate out of all three were part of this test.

Despite the test being small and having limited options, and despite not granting recruiters access to hiring managers or information on previous roles or companies at Google, the results prompted me to consider how we define talent and whether companies should focus on hiring for potential even that they are working on roles with lower job titles or seek out individuals who are already working in similar roles and help them grow internally.

It would be interesting to see what insights LinkedIn has on this topic, and I hope they will eventually share their data to help answer this question that I am curious to know more about.

Question: How much time do recruiters spend on each LinkedIn profile during a search?

When I ask candidates this question, their response is often similar to what they say about resumes, that recruiters typically spend around 5 seconds reviewing them. I have never believed this statement, not only because I have been working in this field for years, unlike some career coaches who may spread this myth, but because I have also taken the time to understand how this myth originated.

I know that recruiters typically spend anywhere from ten seconds to a few minutes reviewing each LinkedIn profile based on the complexity of the profile. They look for specific information, such as the candidate’s work experience, skills, and background, to help determine if the individual is suitable for the job they are looking to fill.

Recruiters often use keywords and filters to narrow down quickly a list of potential candidates. Additionally, recruiters may review publicly available information on other social media accounts or platforms associated with the candidate’s name to gain more insight.

My Assumption: Candidate #1 had the most complex resume, given they were already a VP. Therefore, a more thorough evaluation would be required to assess if they were the right fit. Candidate #2 was more obviously suited to the role and likely wouldn’t require as much time to review. Lastly, Candidate #3 had a clear profile and career progression, allowing for easier reading and making it more likely they were the right choice. The profile was easier to evaluate as we have it written in the same form as many other profiles we can see on LinkedIn.

Results: The average time required to evaluate a candidate’s profile is 34 seconds for the first profile, 18 seconds for the second, and 15 seconds for the third.

These results are based on the average review times of 114 individuals, but it’s important to note that each person’s results varied.

Is AI Better than a Recruiter?

Many could argue that AI can match candidate profiles more accurately and efficiently. While it’s true that AI can be faster, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more accurate. To demonstrate this, I used LinkedIn search and other tools to find candidates using job title and keywords from the job description.

Unfortunately, I missed the first candidate because they were already working at the VP level, while my search was limited to the Senior Engineering Manager title. An example of how some candidates might be overlooked during our search.

I found the second candidate because they held a Senior Engineering Manager role, and job title I used for the search was “Senior Engineering Manager”. The third candidate only appeared in the search results when I included both the titles of Senior Engineering Manager and Engineering Manager.

This illustrates how easily talented individuals can remain hidden — not just from recruiters but also because of the tools used and our search criteria.

Last Thoughts

After analyzing the results of the first test, it is evident that recognizing talent in potential candidates is challenging for any recruiter. Recruiters must be mindful of their biases and avoid relying solely on traditional factors or quick scans when assessing potential candidates. By adopting a more holistic approach to recruitment, recruiters can increase the likelihood of finding the right candidate for the job and help organizations achieve their long-term goals.

Contrary to popular belief, traditional factors such as job titles and educational qualifications are not always the best indicators of a candidate’s potential. As we increasingly leverage AI tools that often pair job titles in their database with candidates’ job titles, it’s becoming clear that recruiters must be adept at finding potential candidates and possess the skills to review their profiles more effectively while using these tools.

While AI tools are starting to play a significant role in recruitment, it’s the people who work with them that really matter!