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The Limited Goal of a Courtesy Interview

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Of course, you hope to just walk in and find the retainer recruiter hard at work on a search that represents an exciting next step in your career. Or if she isn't, you hope she'll take you right down the hall to meet another recruiter who is.

Don't you wish!

What you're hoping to gain from an interview that you ask for sounds far too much like what you'd be lucky to get, even if you were already well known, thoroughly checked out, and eminently respected by the recruiter you're meeting...not just an attractive "walk-in" making your own unsubstantiated assertions of background and achievement.

Moreover, the recruiter handling your courtesy interview has no authority to declare you a candidate on any search except the few she's personally handling at the moment you're in her office...probably no more than eight to ten. So even if you have her totally convinced, and even if she's with a giant firm handling upwards of 3,000 searches per year, the statistical odds are infinitesimally small that what you're selling is what she's buying on the day you walk in.

So keep your goal realistic. Expect only to demonstrate these three points:

  1. Valuable experience...potentially appropriate for some client someday, but probably not for a current search of the person across the desk from you today;

  2. Excellent track record...consistent and impressive achievements; and

  3. The personal characteristics that tend to indicate...but don't guarantee...a fine executive.

Once you've successfully registered these points, a warm to-be-continued, but later-and-probably-by-someone-else assumption will suffuse the conversation.

That's it. That's all for today. Take "yes" for an answer! And, like any other good salesman, leave before your "sold" customer begins to have renewed doubts.

Prove you're an effective business communicator, and your courtesy interview is a success. Prove you're not, and you're finished at the firm.

The courtesy interview will be short and superficial enough that you can easily get through it without revealing that you don't do your job very well. Challenging discussion on that subject won't come until you're brought back as a potential candidate on a search.

But the get-acquainted interview will reveal whether or not you're potentially an attractive candidate. To prove you are, you'll have to demonstrate one attribute that's important for success on the job, and even more important for success as a candidate:

Prove that you have the common sense to figure out what's important for you to cover, and the poise and confidence to put it across in a limited time.

If you don't show these abilities in your courtesy interview, the recruiter will assume you won't in a client interview...or on the job. And he'll mark you as an unlikely candidate for future searches by his firm.

Do unto the retainer recruiter as he'd like to be done unto: Thoughtfulness and efficiency will win him over.

When you arrive for a courtesy interview with a retainer recruiter, you're getting-free-his most precious resource, the only inventory he has to sell: his time.

Format your visit so you don't waste it:

1. Express appreciation for seeing you.

2. Exchange pleasantries. Maybe admire something in his office. Probably mention the contact who brought you together. Whatever. A few unhurried but brief pleasantries will make sure that you don't just barge in and take over.

3. But then, get right down to business. You'll get plus-points, not demerits, for being organized and efficient. You've asked for this meeting. So it's okay for you to subtly assume some early initiative. Chances are the recruiter aches to say, "Let's get this over with, so I can get back to my search work." By moving along, you give him what he wants, without forcing him to be impolite enough to ask for it.

It won't seem pushy to ask for time parameters, if you do it out of sensitivity to the recruiter's needs. And it'll certainly help you pace yourself. Not overstaying will dazzle and delight the recruiter, because hardly anyone else is ever so considerate and efficient.

The average recruiter spends about one-hour to an-hour-and-a-half interviewing a candidate he's referring on a search. Therefore, you can't expect to get more than one-third as much time...about thirty minutes maximum. And, if you can get in and out in 15 or 20 minutes, the recruiter will breathe a sigh of relief, admiration, and gratitude...thinking to himself:

"Wow! That guy was really on the ball. He knew what he came for, and he got his message across. He was very efficient, yet thoroughly pleasant, attractive, and likable. What an effective executive he must be!"

Bring your resume...and hand it over.

Good business communication is two-fold: written and oral. And the written is indispensable to an effective courtesy interview with a retainer recruiter.

You'd never attempt an important presentation at your company without visual aids, and a persuasive document. If you were presenting a budget review, or requesting money for an acquisition, or proposing a new product introduction, you'd use charts or slides, and a good "leave-behind"...the tools that help a business audience "track" your message, and refer to it later.

Similarly, at the courtesy interview, you must have your resume. You asked for this meeting. So you're obviously selling. This is no time to play coy and say, "Oh, I don't have a resume." Or "It's not in finished form yet." Of course you have a resume. And it wasn't difficult...or vastly time-consuming...for you to prepare it. After all, you are a highly competent and well-organized person.

Believe it or not, quite a few executives deliberately employ the irksome tactic of showing up for a courtesy interview without a resume...perhaps because there are several how-to-get-a-job books that recommend it. Don't fall for that advice. The premise is that you'll appear "less eager" by not having a resume. Or that you'll get a second shot of the recruiter's time and attention when your resume and follow-up letter arrive in the mail.

Face it. Your eagerness was out of the bag when you asked for the courtesy interview. And the recruiter's lasting impression will be formed while meeting you face-to-face. It won't be something she reads later. Indeed, she may not bother to read anything you send later. Don't be tempted to play the "withhold your resume" game. It's obvious and obnoxious to every experienced recruiter.

Bring in a polished resume and leave it behind. Then immediately after meeting you, the recruiter can conveniently set up a file on which she'll add her fresh-in-mind favorable comments about what an effective communicator you are.

The recruiter's comments will be far less favorable if you have to "wing" your presentation without a visual aid, and if afterward you tell her to wait for a letter or an e-mail to deliver a clear impression of you.
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