Internal recruiters, sometimes called in-house or corporate recruiters, are hired by and work exclusively for the company you’re applying to. They’ll understand the needs of the specific business closely, as they’re developing a tighter relationship being on “the inside”. Along with this, they may have a bit of a marketing aspect to their work as well to help sell the role as it improves the quantity and quality of candidates. More interest likely means more resumes in front of them, allowing them to be choosier. They may also be privileged to information that external recruiters are not, which can offer some insights otherwise missing in making a decision.
On the flip side, with marketing built in as part of their job, they’re unlikely to give details such as problematic parts of the company. After all, they don’t want to scare away potential candidates. You should feel empowered to ask questions, but know that they’ll more often than not want to make a quick decision on moving you along through the interview phase than spend an hour about the day-to-day details. If you’re looking for information early on, keep it brief and on topic about the job, such as team size, or about coordinating for the interview itself. We’ll look at questions for the recruiter in a later section.
Internal recruiters don’t have a direct interest in you getting paid more, and sometimes just the opposite. Their aim is to make the hiring managers happy, with those hiring managers having a fixed budget and timeline. If the job req is lacking in details about compensation, which may influence your decision to apply, you can ask though their response may be “competitive with market value” or something equally vague. In some locales, such as Colorado in the US, listing the salary bands is a requirement up front, but that’s not universal. In all likelihood, the interview itself may influence the offer. For all that, you can and should ask early on about all forms of compensation they’re willing to share. As you may need to negotiate with the internal recruiter and/or hiring manager, this is where doing your own research pays off, to know your worth in the market when reviewing open job postings.
If nothing else, it’s important to not openly declare what salary you’re willing to accept. In many places, it’s illegal for recruiters to ask though there are sneaky ways around that, such as asking what your expected salary and benefits would be. The best answer is similar to how they would respond: competitive with the rest of the industry and commensurate with your title and experience. Note, you may be labeled “difficult” but you have to advocate for yourself. Negotiating yourself out of a corner is much more challenging, so start on a strong foot.
Your short term goal is to get past the initial screen with internal recruiters. For any sufficiently large company, recruiters will be engrossed in a number of activities surrounding the hiring process, so you’re vying for their attention. They may get dozens of resumes and CVs per day to review on top of scheduling the interview slots, helping to write the job postings, and working with hiring managers to understand their needs. In short, their time is limited. If they’re hunting for you, it’s likely by boolean searches against your online presence or publicly posted job history. That’s hardly enough to get a complete picture of you and can be problematic, but it’s rare they have much time to do anything more in depth. They also may pass on you without consulting the hiring panel. This is where having a strongly appealing resume or CV and general public persona is so critical, with continued ideas on this in a future post. Regardless, a recruiter is going to want to make a decision quickly either way, to free themselves up or to avoid losing a prospect to another company.
As they are representing the company, you can glean several subtle insights in interacting with internal recruiters:
- Did they reach out to you? Your skill sets are in demand! Note what tech or experience is mentioned and build that into the narrative you use to describe yourself during interviews.
- Did they explain what compensation is offered? Keep track of that between companies and use it as a negotiating tactic. This is how you develop an accurate assessment of your compensation.
- Do they quickly schedule the interview with a clear layout? If they’re struggling to coordinate or it feels haphazard, that may indicate dysfunction within the company. Businesses in growth spurts or early start ups may have trouble keeping up. Likewise, if they’re experiencing many departures, it could indicate a loss in morale.
- What do they highlight in the intro? They may talk about building out a new team or tech they’re looking for an expert in. Be ready to describe projects and answer specific questions on this.
- Are they responding to you quickly? If a company isn’t respectful of your time, that may indicate disorganization or mistreatment of employees.
- What are they eager to hear about from you? Tech recruiters will be casually familiar with the stack, but are unlikely to be experts. If you mention a project and it engages them to hear more, you likely hit on a keyword or phrase they’re actively seeking out.
- What parts of the culture are they emphasizing and what are they leaving out? For example, if you’re looking for cutting edge tech that they’re unfamiliar with, it might not be the right place for you.
- Are the expectations for the role too broad? This may indicate that they’d rather overwork and underpay you for a role that should be split up amongst a team.
- When do they change the subject? Recruiters are going to emphasize the good and redirect around challenging questions. You don’t always need a stated answer to get info.
- Are they eager to hear about your projects nonspecific to tech, such as mentoring or DEI work? This can be a double edged sword. Wanting details can be indicative that they may strive for inclusivity, but be wary of a company looking to make you work multiple jobs.
The best thing you can do with internal recruiters is to practice describing who you are. Though tailoring to each opportunity may be nice, don’t fret too much about having a bespoke story for each company you apply to. This means saying a lot with the minimal channels available that offer a detailed description about you, one you’ll continue with the rest of the interview panel. Most internal recruiters are not engineers first and foremost, so you can leave out the specifics on a technology but cite it for projects past and present that can tie your name to interest at said company. It’s good to show interest through questions, though save the nitty gritty for the interview panel, especially the hiring manager. Cite work that highlights your collaboration, interpersonal skills, and working remotely with folks over deep technical discussions. Being personable always helps too – it doesn’t have to be just about the job! Stand out in a positive way and you’ll improve your chances of moving on.
This post is the current version of a section in my book on interviewing for technical roles. I’m trying to help out with any advice I can while I’m putting all of this together. As part of that, I’m looking for constructive criticism and feedback. My experiences as an engineer are also not universal and so my own biases will creep up in my writing.
Recruiters come in many different styles and from a wide variety of backgrounds. It’s challenging to synthesize all the interactions you may have. Understanding their motivations, for good or bad, will help inform your approach as you interact.
For more information about recruiting, see Connecting with Recruiters, pt 2: External Recruiters.
Many thanks to Jill Wohlner on sharing her thoughtful input and deep experience as a recruiter in the software industry throughout several conversations with me to help inform this post.