Why don't recruiters return my call? Recruitment of minority applicants

WINE_GUY's picture
Rank: Chimp | banana points 14

Have you every wondered why recruiters do not return your calls or even acknowledge your online application even though you applied on their agency's website for a position that is really there (not speculative application)? Maybe the reason why you don't get through to them is that you don't fit into what is perceived as "normal applicant" for that specific position.

I think cold-call is really important if you are a headhunter. The ability to pick up a phone, talk to a stranger and convince the corporate HR to share an assignment. Recruiters in the street that deal with job-seekers are junior recruiters because this part is easy (literally anyone can do it). Recruiters who have to convince the corporate HR to share with them assignments (although unlike IBD-mandates, these are seldom exclusive) have to have great people skills even if those recruiters are well-connected and respected individuals such as ex-bankers.

There are some problems with this type of recruitment because the relationship between recruiters in the street and corporate is never equal and recruiters work to please the corporate. In a real life example, for most positions, recruiters are reluctant to push foreign candidates because they want to play safe. Recruiters are reluctant to push ethnic candidates (unless it is for a role that demands certain ethnicities) exactly for the same reason. In a nutshell, recruiters in the street hate taking any risks or hate being seen by the corporate HR that way.

Maintaining the relationship with the corporate HR brings these recruiters in the street regular income. Upsetting the corporate HR is one thing recruiters in the street must not do given the number of recruiters in the street. Minorities often come through direct recruitment, not through a recruiter from the street. It's not racism per se. People become more conservative when the level of uncertainty increases. The risk of forwarding a minority applicant has a negative value to recruiters in the street (taking on additional risk) and neutral or even positive value to the corporate HR, in-house recruiters (who get credit for giving a minority applicant a chance).

Labelling allows us to classify people and offer a way to deal with ambiguity. For example, it is difficult for an ordinary person to imagine an Asian man in NBA. By the same logic, we would have trouble accepting an idea of a woman in a senior IBD role, shaking hand with CFOs and CEOs of major corporations. Management consultancy is perceived to be somewhat "gay" or "less masculine" profession and I personally do not have any problems with a woman (whatever race or ethnicity) becoming a senior partner at one of those prestigious consulting firms. Because recruiters in the street are dealing with a lot of factors that they cannot control, they stick to what can be broadly described as "normal candidate."

I am not saying that these "normal" candidates are white, blonde and blue-eyes. I am saying that you have to make it easier for recruiters to label you because recruiters in the street are extremely risk-averse. As soon as they spot any irregularities, they try to move away from that. For example, for a quant role, Indians, Arabic and Chinese (and Greek) are considered perfectly acceptable in Wall Street. This was beautifully captured by Michael Lewis in his Big Short (in his description of one of the hedge fund managers). For trade-reconciliation, women candidates are seen more favorably, not one of those power-suit women, but normal women who enjoy socializing after finishing work at 6pm and enjoy having lunch and dinner with the in-laws over the weekend. Many of those recruiters in the street, however, have trouble conceptualizing a Mongolian or Nigerian man for a sales and trading role (for all seniorities) or Chinese/Japanese/Korean man as a portfolio manager (excluding those Asain portfolio managers that specialize in Asain markets).

The name in your resume gives a number of ideas about your background. Sometimes, it is difficult to spot a black person and it is not one of those questions recruiters in the street are willing to ask the candidate. If in doubt (maybe you sound "black"), probably, they would not take those candidates.

Having a Master's degree can be good for some roles, but not for all roles. Hiring too smart person for a role that requires only a monkey's brain is a recipe for disaster. In fact, it seems more pertinent to hire someone who currently has capabilities to meet 80-90% of the job description and has to learn the rest on the job because that individual would work harder to keep the position (and there are mutual benefits that can be shared by employer and employee). Do you have more than one Master's? Are you crazy? 99% of the positions don't even need a Master's!

Next time when a recruiter does not return the call even though you are perfectly qualified for the role that you have applied for, think this, "Can people see me doing this? Can a normal person, an average person, see me in this role?" If the answer is no, then, hey, at least you now know why the recruiter hasn't returned your call. If the answer is yes, do speak with your friends (not those lefty college people, speak with "average" people) and confirm that yes they can see you doing the job you have applied for. My guess is that for 95 out of 100 cases, recruiters can't label you in the right way and refuse to forward your resume to the corporate HR.

Comments (5)

Jan 15, 2016

see, i just got refused for an SA stint at HSBC London. at least one VP from a BB said my resume was a good one.
i would love to have your opinion, would you mind me sending you my resume ?

Jan 27, 2016

this was a good post.. being white and having good people skills can't hurt. ever.

Jan 28, 2016

Incredible Post. This is 100% right. Recruiters play a huge role in the success of you breaking in or not.

Nov 23, 2016

Recruiters are the scum of HR. They are not "employers" for the purposes of the civil rights and fair treatment laws and as such have pretty broad latitude to discriminate and black ball. Most firms have cut back on headhunters as their own HR can get just as good a candidate and without the 33% fee. Recruiters repeatedly mis-represent companies, towns and positions, relo packages etc just to make the sale. They are peddlers of human flesh and to be avoided.

Nov 23, 2016

How is my grammar? Drop me a note with any errors you see!