Professional Communication

When interviewing for a job, you get many opportunities to make a good impression. However, each of those comes with the potential for leaving a bad impression. How do you maximize your chances of leaving a GOOD lasting impression, and not becoming “that candidate” who serves as a cautionary tale to others? The answers is simple, and comes with a world of complexity behind it: Professional Communication. 

As recruitment professionals, we’re constantly on the phone and exchanging emails with candidates, and have to strike a balance between being professional and being engaging from the first candidate of the day to the 30th. When speaking with candidates, we expect a certain level of professionalism in return because, let’s be honest, we don’t want to send someone to our clients if we don’t think they can represent them in the best way. However – someone who is robotic and has no personality won’t do either; we need to enjoy talking to you so our clients will too. So, how do you strike that perfect balance between professionalism and personality, helping you to land the job you want?

It starts with the first phone call with a recruiter and goes all the way through your first day of work (and beyond – but that’s your area of expertise, not ours). Read below for some insight from our experience and tips that we to help you knock out that first interview and ace the position you are going after!

The Scenario

You have been applying to job after job on trying to find something that will give you a bit of extra income, but lend you the flexibility you want to finish earning your online MBA. You’ve sent your resume out online and completed application after application and you’re waiting to hear back. You finally get your first call from a recruiter – HOORAY! But before we celebrate, stop to think…

  • Do you have a “ringback” tone? When a recruiter calls you, they want to speak with a professional individual, not listen to your favorite song. Ditch the ringback song, no matter how much you love it – a good old ring will do.
  • Is your voicemail representing you well? When a recruiter calls you, will they immediately know they’ve called the right person, or do you have the generic “Thank you for calling 222-555-1212” message? Your outgoing voicemail is your first chance to make a good (or bad) impression – make sure it is delivering the message you want. Here is an example of a good message:
  • “Hi you’ve reached Sue Smith. I am unable to get to the phone at this time, so please leave a message with your name and number and I will be sure to get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks! Have a great day!”

Here is an example of a not-so-good message:

  • “Hey – it’s Sue. Leave a message”
  • Can a recruiter leave a message? If it’s been months since you’ve deleted your voicemails, clear out your inbox! When potential employers call and you’re unable to answer the phone, they want to be able to leave a voicemail with their contact information so you can get back to them.
  • Now that everything is set up correctly… check your voicemails! Don’t let a potential job opportunity sit in your voicemail box un-reviewed for days – that job could be gone if you delay too long.

The First Call

You are sitting by your phone and a call comes in from a number you do not recognize. The first thing to keep in mind is that you never know who is going to be on the other end of that phone call, so always be sure to answer in a polite manner. Even if it is just a simple, “Hello,” you’d be surprised how refreshing that can be. We’ve heard it all: candidates who just hang up, people who pretend not to be themselves (“just a moment, I’ll go get her…”) to those who scream and curse; when being contacted about a job that they applied for! Often once they realize who is on the other end of the line, the candidate apologizes for how they responded. Unfortunately, the damage has been done – you have now put a red flag into the recruiter’s head. What if we submit you to the client and you do the same when they call you? The client may not be as lenient, and this will reflect poorly on both you and your recruiter. Tips for the first call:

  • Answer the phone as if you knew who the person was; something as simple as, “Hello? Yes this is he/she. May I ask whose calling?” or “Hello, this is Ruth Johnson”. Keep it short, sweet and to the point. And please, no screaming.

Before the Recruiter Interview

When you and the recruiter finally have a chance to talk, they are more than likely going to go through the basics of the company and the specific position they are recruiting for and you’ll decide if you are interested or not. This is another chance to leave a good (or bad) impression.

Only you know if a job is right for you; do not feel obligated to set up an interview that you do not plan on following through with. Not showing for an interview or re-scheduling at the last minute (or worse, after the scheduled time) is one of the least professional things you can do in the interviewing process. It sends the message that you are unreliable and not committed, and is almost impossible to overcome. This may sound obvious, but “no showing” is one of the biggest problems we recruiters face. For recruitment agencies like Headway – these issues are noted on your profile, and will affect your consideration on other project as well. So just don’t do it; if you don’t want the job, don’t set up an interview.

The First Recruiter Interview

Be on time, be in a quiet place, dress professionally, don’t get distracted, and take notes. If you are interested in the job; ask questions; be engaged; ask about next steps; and tell the recruiter you are interested.

Your first interview may either be over the phone or via video. For more tips on phone or video interviews, see some of our past articles such as Pants Required: A Beginner’s Guide to Video Interviews, Are YOU Interview Ready?,  and How to Nail a Phone Interview. Pertaining to professionalism, our tips are simple: treat the interview as you would an in-person interview.

Be on time, be in a quiet place, dress professionally, don’t get distracted, and take notes. If you are interested in the job; ask questions; be engaged; ask about next steps; and tell the recruiter you are interested. Answer the question asked and don’t ramble, but do engage in some small talk at the beginning of the interview. Remember, your recruiter is a person and the more you can engage them while still discussing your skills the better you will represent yourself.

Again, whatever you do, don’t proceed with a position you’re not interested in. Just speak up if a job is not for you – moving forward wastes everyone’s time: yours, ours, the clients and it again paints you as someone who cannot be relied upon. The earlier you can withdraw yourself from a position that doesn’t interest you the better. There will be other jobs… don’t damage your reputation by being a “perpetual late withdrawer”

After the Recruiter Interview

You may be given an assignment to complete after your interview. It’s a simple as this: just do it! Follow all deadlines, follow all instructions, and speak up if you can’t complete something that is asked of you. Nothing is worse than being asked to do something in 24 hours and taking 48. Again, you’re representing yourself as someone who can’t hit deadlines, doesn’t care about the job, and is not reliable.

When speaking with the client

Repeat all the above! While you and the recruiter have gone through everything together, the client doesn’t know you from Adam, you have to start all over again with making a good impression and “selling” yourself. Never say “I have no questions because the recruiter answered them all” or “I already know all this”. The client manager will often be your new boss – treat them as such!

Most of all: Be best version of yourself at all times. If you’re having a terrible day and can’t snap yourself out of it to present yourself well – reschedule. You only get a few chances to make a good impression, and with hundreds of candidates applying to one job, you need to stand out by being professional, engaging, positive, and prompt in all that you do. Remember that each person you speak to has an opportunity to weigh in on your candidacy for a position, so treat everyone with the same respect, even the person who answers the phone!

Remember that each person you speak to has an opportunity to weigh in on your candidacy for a position, so treat everyone with the same respect, even the person who answers the phone!


  1. The way you answer the phone matters
  2. Be professional but engaging with every person you speak to
  3. Follow through on all commitments but don’t commit to something you can’t or don’t want to do.
  4. You may feel things are repetitive; treat every situation with a fresh outlook
  5. What you do today may affect your ability to get another job a year from now

Article Contributions By: Caitlin Yelenic and Ruth Johnson

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