Great Expectations: Are Employers Demanding Too Much of Candidates?

are employers demanding too much of candidates


We’re hearing more and more about a supposed “skills gap” in today’s job market. Employers are desperately trying to fill positions, spending months and months on recruitment, but cannot find the right calibre of candidates with the skillset to meet their requirements.

Here at Brand, we speak to hundreds of marketers each week who are extremely talented at what they do, with an impressive skillset, CV, and attitude to boot; yet they still struggle to even get an interview for a role which they are more than qualified to do. So, is the issue here with the candidate? No, it’s with the employer who is being overly unrealistic about what he/she can expect from candidates in today’s job market.

In marketing, and other industries, graduates have long been complaining that entry level positions are harder and harder to come by; with employers expecting you to have a first-class degree, four years’ industry experience, fluency in another language and a stint volunteering at an orangutan sanctuary all by the time you’re 21. Increasingly, we are hearing this complaint from more senior level marketing candidates, too. They have an abundance of relevant industry experience, skills they have amassed from years of hands-on experience and a proven track record of success, yet still they are being told that their experience isn’t enough for roles. What are they missing?

A quick straw poll of the Brand Recruitment office shows that all of us have come across employers with impractical expectations of the market. Stories vary from employers wanting someone with 5 years’ experience for a £25,000 salary, to wanting engineering graduates with strong graphic design skills. The most common complaints are clients that expect a senior candidate on a junior salary or those who are unwilling to compromise on overly specific – and often lengthy – job descriptions. We recently recruited for a client who was adamant that they would only consider marketers that have experience in one narrow industry sector, limiting the pool of candidates considerably. Realising – after much cajoling from the exasperated recruiter – that this approach was not working, they opened-up the job search and found their perfect candidate.

It has become increasingly clear to those of us in recruitment, that often companies don’t actually know what they’re looking for at all. There are two instances where this is especially prevalent; when the role has been newly created or when the former employee has been put on a pedestal by the company. It’s understandable that when an exceptional and valued employee leaves the company that you would want to replace them with a candidate of the same calibre. Many companies forget that their employees have progressed a great deal since they started in the role, having been afforded the opportunity to learn and grow on the job. No candidate will live up to the ghost of employees past. Newly-created roles are particularly tricky, often the role changes organically once it is filled, adapting to the needs of the business. But this can be hard to predict, and hiring managers know it. They send over job descriptions more akin to a 5-year old’s Christmas list, with bullet point after bullet point of everything they MUST have. In their uncertainty, they think the broader the better and expect the perfect candidate to magically appear. But it doesn’t work that way.

Understandably, employers are looking for return on investment. If they are going to pay someone a substantial salary, they want to be sure they’re getting their bang for their buck. Not so unreasonable, I agree. However, companies are increasingly looking for people who can come straight into a role, without any training or guidance from them, and produce results from day one. In this scenario, the only way to get a job, is to already have that job. Hiring managers used to look more for potential; someone they could invest in and nurture, someone who could develop and grow with the company. In focusing solely on a candidate who hits every single box on their extensive check list, they are missing out on some hidden gem candidates who, given the right opportunity, could flourish within their organisation.

But maybe the tides are changing. If the last few weeks have shown us anything, it’s that the candidate with no relevant experience or qualifications can ultimately land the job.


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Roger Christiansen

Great article. I have two perspectives on this – as a recruiter and a candidate seeking a role.

I’m a school Governor and was recently involved in Headteacher recruitment. The advert (using a template provided by our City Council) was asking for superwoman/man – at least 30 essential attributes! In practice we didn’t specifically take all of these into account – and we have ended up with a great new Headteacher.

As a candidate, today I have been rejected for a role even though I have provided proof that I meet all of the criteria. This isn’t a case if sour grapes – clearly the employer is looking for something that isn’t in the job spec. So it was a waste if my time to apply and his time too.

There has to be a better way of matching the right candidate to the right job.. Where’s the Uber of recruitment?

Sarah Rhodes

Hi Roger,

Thanks so much for your message. It’s great to hear that as a recruiter you were able to see past the long list of required responsibilities and hire someone not just based on their skill set, but their cultural fit also. We do find that some companies find it hard to see past the previous employee, and want to recruit like-for-like, which I’m not sure always exists.

As a candidate, whilst there will be a set of requirements that candidates must meet a lot of companies use recruitment agencies as it is the personality which is just as important these days. We meet the majority of our candidates before we send them over for suitable roles. We firmly believe that’s a more effective way of matching the right candidate to the right job, whilst also getting to know more about their skill set.


What exactly is a “cultural fit”? I’m confused. Is it being able to speak the same language as every other employee inside the company?, Having the same values? The same interests outside of work? It’s a very ambiguous term, as is “a higher calibre of candidate”.

It is either reasonable for a recruiter to assume that a particular candidate is able to perform the tasks required for a particular job role, based of their application, CV or interview and is able to perform those tasks to a standard where the company can profit from those tasks or it isn’t. It not rocket science.

I’m also not sure what bearing a candidates personality has on their ability to perform the tasks outlined in a particular job description unless it is a customer facing role, assuming they can integrate into an existing team properly. Every single candidate’s personality will be different from the next yet many will have the skill sets necessary to perform to tasks outlined in a particular job description and be able to perform those tasks to the required standard.

As you stated in your article, employers do often recruit with unrealistic requirements and this is self harming, as the more unrealistic their requirements are the less interest in the vacancy they will receive and therefore the vacancy will go unfilled for a longer period or may not be filled at all, which is lost profitability for the company. When they do this at a time of low unemployment and less people are looking for work overall, they are effectively shooting themselves in the foot. They then convince themselves that they simply could not find a candidate with the right skill sets, when in reality they have simply place too unrealistic a requirement on a potential candidate for the remunerations they are offering.


Great story.

As a candidate and recruiter currently out in the market I have been horrified by the level of free consultation that is required by hiring managers. I value my time and my skills and have invested countless hours and money into developing them. I am not in the business of giving free presentations and consults to under qualified managers. If companies insist on these then they should be willing to pay the hourly rate for candidates preparation and presentation time.

Personally if the hiring person is unable to make a decision after three interviews then they they are operating beyond their competence level.

Group interviews ( or shall I call these passing the buck interviews) are another bug bear. Countless studies have found these to be ineffective yet companies persist in the name of teamwork.

Finally, the long shopping list approach to digital and brand marketing roles betrays a fundamental lack of experience and understanding of the role and value of marketing in organisations.

Marketers need to respect themselves more or know one else will.


Hi Edmund,

Thank you for your message. I can sympathise with your current frustrations.

I understand the thought process behind hiring managers requesting potential future employee to do a presentation as part of the interview process. However, I do believe that this should perhaps come as a final interview rather than being followed by another ‘catch up’ meeting/interview.

Regarding group interviews, I agree with you, i’m not sure they do work. It’s another way of evaluating how well you can work within different group, even if your potential role is a stand alone position. Perhaps hiring managers perceive this way of interviewing as a time saving exercise?


Excellent article, I think it encapsulates much of the frustration candidates feel. I’d add a few more things to consider as well………
1. If a candidate is rejected for something that wasn’t in the spec, why wasn’t it in the spec? All too often, lazy/vague job specs are produced with clients rejecting candidates in an ‘evolutionary’ fashion for things that they haven’t shared with the recruiter because it only occurs to them as they see CVs based on their (poor) spec. The candidate is annoyed at having wasted their valuable time and it creates distrust with the candidate and the agency that encourages them to apply.
2. Why do companies not add salary ranges to every job? What are they hiding or expecting to happen? Inflated job titles or specs with unrealistic salary levels for the job annoy candidates and often attract the wrong ones. It may create the impression that the current incumbent is leaving because they were offered more elsewhere and upset other jobholders because they don’t have a fair and transparent pay structure. Forcing candidates to give away their current salary package before they know what’s on offer is not only unprofessional, it discriminates against women and candidates generally who are not already being paid a fair rate. Who wants to join a company like that?
3. Most candidates, especially senior ones, are not attracted by carbon copies of their former or existing roles, they are usually motivated to look for a stretch role or to learn about a new industry. Employers should beware of those who would be happy to merely coast in a new role just for the pay bump.
4. Getting the job incumbent to recruit their replacement can often be a recipe for disaster. Get input to the spec by all means and allow candidates to meet them but the final decision can’t be theirs – they will rarely pick someone ‘better’ who might make them look bad!

Recruitment is a two-way street, everyone needs to respect that.


Thank you for saying this. I think it is a bit like buying a house on a property show – for some people, the kitchen is never big enough, glossy enough, characterful enough, even if it is beyond what most people can even aspire to. It’s the same with recruitment – the bar gets raised higher and higher and no one is ‘good enough’.

The point about not being perceived ‘as good’ as the person being replaced is also sensible. The replacement might be better, the same or worse – what is undeniable is that they will be different. And, as we know, people are hardwired not to want change – it’s dangerous.

Ultimately, all this reflects on the individuals recruiting – and the company. It is not about the calibre of the candidates.


Hi Jenny,

I think you’re right. There are countless occasions where hiring managers are looking to recruit ‘like for like’. The argument is, skills sets have advanced since then and perhaps the next candidate wont have the same bubbly personality, however, they will certainly be able to do the role! With regards to the bar being raised, you’re right but equally, I am finding that after a period of time that will come back down after realisation that the ‘dream candidate’ doesn’t always exist.

Craig Forsyth

In a recent interview for a managerial position, I was asked if I could build websites, despite that being in neither the essential or desirable criteria.

I work in PR and marketing and am damn good at what I do. I have a pretty broad skillset including plenty of content management experience and I understand web structure and analytics, but website design? That’s an entirely separate discipline.

It strikes me that some employers feel they ought to get two people for the price of one or they just don’t understand the skills they’re buying. It turns out that nobody was employed for the post, so clearly they didn’t get what they were looking for.


Hi Craig,

I’m afraid that this is a common occurrence in the world of recruitment. Many businesses are on a cost saving exercise of some sort and are trying to get 2 different skill sets and merge these into one role. I guess there are some skill sets that do go hand in hand, perhaps some design and content experience? What you’ve mentioned is a little bit out of the ordinary!

I have found that recently that hiring managers are starting to listen to me a bit more about skills sets and the likelihood of them finding someone who ticks ‘all the boxes’. As specialist recruiters we probably know the market better than anyone so if a hiring manager is looking for something that doesn’t exist I will tell them. So much of recruitment these days isn’t just about the skill set of a candidate but the cultural fit within the wider business also.


This definitely reflects my recent experience, in particular expecting relevant technical AND marketing skills only likely in a highly experienced technical marketer, but offering junior salaries.
Along with potential employers ‘changing the spec’ half way through the process or in one case after 3 interviews, including a presentation on how I would market them, and an online psychometric test, being told the role hadn’t been approved by the CEO – thus wasting their time and mine.
So pleased to be in my current role in a company that doesn’t mess people around!


Hi Sarah,

Great article and I can certainly relate to a number of points raised in the comments. I do wonder also if sometimes employers truly understand the roles that they are recruiting. For example a job post I saw recently was for a Social Media Manager and there was an awful lot of emphasis on how the person had to be very outgoing and sociable.

Now while I understand why they may feel from the office point of view that they want someone sociable it doesn’t relate much to the actual job. Relating this to myself, I may not be the life and soul of the party but I do know about social, content and digital marketing.

On some other points, I find long in depth job descriptions annoying and puts me off applying because I feel like I can never meet those standards. Equally, it’s annoying when a salary range isn’t listed and it just says competitive. The market I’m often looking at has salary ranges anywhere from 20k to over 60k, so I have no idea what competitive means.

Finally, in today’s digital world experience can be gained in different ways. However, I often feel that employers are selective on how they want experience to be gained. For example, many roles within marketing agencies state must have agency experience. While I understand that work in agencies can be different to client side. Essentially is someone is good at what they do, then they should be able to adapt.

Maybe this just comes down to employers not thinking outside the box enough and have very fixed ideas on what the perfect candidate is like.


Great stuff and so true of the market now. Very, very specialised by job role and industry sector with expectations of knowledge of very specific systems and increasingly recruiting by content rather than attitude / skills / experience. I appreciate the efforts you are making to help move the industry on !

Cheryl Robbins

Sometimes I wonder if employers are making decisions on a purely emotional level. I had one employer tell me that he wanted to come into work , be happy and stay happy and have everything run as usual. He had “brought up” an employee into a very specific position over three years and that employee quit with no time to train the next hire. This biz owner didn’t want to train anyone so when he realized that there was going to be a transition time he let the perfectly great new hire go in 5 days despite good performance. He’s now at a breaking point in his business and he’s not following any normal protocols to handle his expansion. I noticed that he’s self taught with no MBA or specific business managment skills. I think candidates should inspect the qualifications of their managers. People who hire candidates bear some responsibility for interrupting the lives of their new hires before they’ve sat down and thought rationally about the hiring transaction.

Jeromy Davis

This article goes hand in hand with two things I have seen in my job search since being laid off.

1.) This is dead-on accurate. When you look at job postings for entry-level positions that have the requirements of a mid to senior level professional, something is wrong. There should be very little times when an entry level employee should have to compete with a senior level employee for an entry level position.

2.) I can see why companies aren’t looking for potential anymore. Just start taking a look at the work histories of people on LinkedIn and you will understand. How many people have more than 3 jobs in 6 years? From what I have seen, the vast majority of people only work an average of around a year with a company before going to another company. Why would employers care about finding people with potential when there is a good chance those same people are just going to leave for greener pastures as soon as they get a little experience?

Gold Panda

Bad recruiting is contributing to the nations unemployment rate. A unfilled job position hurts business revenue and economic progress.


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