Breaking Concepts

Open Letter to Recruiters

Only shortlisted candidates have the opportunity to actually communicate with recruiters, and obviously they want to secure a job offer, which means they cannot be entirely honest without coming across as ‘difficult’.

It’s like going for an acting audition, not only you have to look the part, you have to play the part as well. You need to sound super enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the role and the company you want to work for. Any form of criticism is to be avoided at all costs.

The pandemic has pushed unemployment to such an extent that a single position can receive nearly a thousand applications, said Trishna Malam, Talent Manager at Condé Nast Britain, after my desperate email asking for feedback:

“After sending literally hundreds of cvs over the years to Conde Nast UK for several positions, from receptionist to fashion intern, to editorial positions more in accord with my academic qualifications and media experience, not even once was I invited for an interview. I wonder what the selection criteria actually is…”

To receive a response was in itself a miracle, as most job applications are only entitled to the following automatic message, from an email that blocks any attempt to reply:

“We regret that due to the volume of applications received, we will only contact you if your application is successful. Those candidates who have not reached the shortlist will not be contacted/receive feedback.”

There’s no communication whatsoever, it’s as linear as the recruitment process itself. Coming from a media studies background, I have actually studied in great detail the communication process, and it involves an open feedback loop.

This open letter is a way of reaching out to recruiters and hopefully encourage a change in their mindset. Diversity and inclusion are not about ticking boxes but encompass a fundamental attitude: it requires being open-minded and non-judgmental towards other people, and having the ability to read between the lines.

Don’t add junior nor senior to a job title

This clearly demonstrates age discrimination. If you want to hire an editor for instance, the main point is to find out if he or she is a good editor, it shouldn’t really matter if the person is junior or senior.

There’s an underlying assumption that a ‘junior’ has more energy and less family responsibilities and can work longer hours for less pay.

A ‘senior’ tends to be looked at as someone more able to do a good job from the start, without much training, but wouldn’t be so easily bossed around and obviously requires a higher salary.

You’re clearly excluding ‘senior’ people who may be going through a career change and would be happy to compromise on salary and working hours. When there's a will there's a way. Nowadays, many women choose to be child-free, so hiring an older woman no longer implies less availability.

You’re also not acknowledging that a ‘junior’ editor can have already done a few internships in prestigious companies, and published a strong body of work online.

I was only 23 when I started working as a freelance contributor for Elle magazine, right after my masters degree, although I have to admit the Director was surprised by my youth when we met in person a few months later.

Don’t ask for native speakers

What you are looking for is someone with full proficiency in the English language. By asking for a native speaker, you’re excluding potential candidates who have studied at British universities and may have been living in the country for many years. This means their level of English is just as good as a native speaker. It’s a blatant form of exclusion.

Don’t ask for same role experience

This one is particularly upsetting, as most recruiters come from different roles themselves, and it eliminates the possibility of career progression or career change.

To make it really clear, there’s no need to have done the exact SAME role before, in order to be highly successful. These are just a few examples from the fashion industry:

  • Edward Enninful, editor-in-chief of British Vogue magazine ( previously a style director)

  • Natalie Massenet, Net-a-Porter founder (previously a freelance fashion journalist)

  • Imran Amed, Founder and CEO of The Business of Fashion (no previous fashion experience)

  • Fanny Moizant, co-Founder & President of Vestiaire Collective (no previous work experience)

  • Victoria Prew, co-founder and CEO of HURR Collective (previously a Chartered Surveyor)

Don’t ask for specific software skills

This is simply ridiculous, as there is a wide range of software on offer to do the same work, the point is what you do with it. For instance, if you know how to edit audio, video or online content with one programme, you can easily be trained to work with another one.

Many positions ask for experience in specific software such as WordPress, SalesForce or Adobe Premier to name but a few, as if these were the only platforms to work with.

BBC has commissioned tailor-made software to edit audio, but when training to work at Euronews, I found it easy to learn how to work with a different programme. It’s like discriminating a Chef because he uses a food mixer from a different brand!

Don’t look for someone like you or like the existing team

This is a classic and narcissistic mistake. If you want to captivate someone during a job interview, you have to find a shared common ground to win the person over.

There’s a natural tendency to gravitate around like-minded people, which could be highly discriminating and staling for the company.

What is important to bear in mind when building a dynamic and successful team, is that people’s strengths and weaknesses need to somehow come together and complement each other. Diverse viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences can be highly enriching for everyone involved.

I do recommend watching Master Class Live with Anna Wintour. After approximately 27 minutes, Anna Wintour lets Hamish Bowles reply to a question about job interviews, and her insightful comments afterwards literally brought tears to my eyes:

"There are people that you just simply can't put in a box because they will not flourish. You have to let them spread their wings and follow their heart and their passions. Then they will bring real magic..."

I truly believe this is the case not for certain people, but for everyone.