The Five Phases of the Recruiting Process


The above diagram was created based on a study of first year teacher’s attitude toward teaching vs. time of the year.

I’ve come to realize it does a great job of modeling the five stages of the consulting recruitment process as well (though the timescale is very different).

It’s also a great model for undergrad / MBA / medical school / law school / summer internship recruiting processes as well.

In today’s article we’re going to talk about what these phase are, how to use this knowledge to keep you grounded, and when you’ll see this again.

What Are The Phases?

1. Anticipation – This stage is prior to entering the recruiting process. I think the best way to describe it is a feeling of excitement and nervousness.

You’re reasonably sure you want to pursue this, you’ve probably put in the legwork to understand what you’re getting yourself into, but you haven’t yet faced the inevitable difficulties and rejections that come later on in the process.

You may also be somewhat idealistic and romanticize what the job actually entails (i.e. “I’m going to be telling CEOs what to do!”). Or you might have hopelessly high expectations for how this is going to turn out.

Either way, as soon as you get into the process you’re going to enter an emotional roller coaster.

2. Survival – This stage is the beginning of the recruiting process. The best way to describe it is that most people struggle to keep their heads above water with all the things that they need to do.

In the case of consulting recruitment, most people need to balance their schoolwork with networking, practicing cases, going to information & prep sessions, writing cover letters and resumes, and attending interviews.

Most people are caught off guard at how much they need to get done and how little time they have to do it. However, many people surprise themselves by how energetic, efficient, and creative they end up being.

There are disappointments as well. The person who promised to submit your resume drops off the map. You don’t get an interview with your top firm and all your friends do.

There’s also very little time to reflect and improve your processes because of all the time pressure. Eventually, you may feel like doing nothing at all.

3. Disillusionment – This is the trough of the recruiting process and where many people end up giving up.

Usually this stage is triggered by the nonstop stress of constantly being under pressure, being evaluated, and being rejected.

You may even start to experience doubts about your own professional / personal competence, question if this is the right path for you, or start to auto-reject and rationalize why the firms you applied for rejected you / weren’t good enough for you.

Suffice it to say, this is a tough time for most people. But it does get better.

4. Rejuvenation – This phase is characterized by a slow rise in your confidence / attitude. Usually what happens is you get through the worst of the process and have some time to reflect / figure out how to improve for next time.

You’re better able to come to terms with the system, your own capabilities, and you learn how to cope with failure. And usually, somewhere at the end of this process you get a job. The worst is finally over.

5. Reflection – This is the final stage of the process, when you start to look back and reflect upon what you’ve learned.

You start to learn more about your new job, your new firm, and accept where you’ve ended up. Your expectations, hopes, and dreams are recast around your new reality.

And hope springs anew.

(credit: Phases of First Year Teaching)

How to Use This Knowledge

The best way to use this knowledge is to do the following:

1. Identify which phase you’re in based on the above descriptions.

2. Identify what common negative emotions / mindsets come with each phase.

3. If you find yourself dwelling too much on the negative emotions / mindsets associated that phase, call yourself out on it.

For example, let’s say you recently interviewed with your top firm and didn’t get it. Now is not the time to be considering whether or not this career path is right for you.

You’re probably in the disillusionment phase, suffering from reduced self esteem, questioning your own ability / competence, and feeling sorry for yourself. Of course you’ll feel this way. Better to keep going and hold judgment until you have a job offer in hand.

Also, keep in mind that probably everybody you know is going through this same set of emotions. If you see anybody else going through the survival and disillusionment phases, lend a helping hand. That’s my philosophy.

When Will You See This Again?

You’ll see this same set of phases throughout similarly stressful periods of your life: undergrad college admissions, internship recruitment, full time job recruitment, your first job, professional schools, launching a business, and maybe even marriage / having children.

The biggest takeaway from this article should be that things get better. Even in the worst of times things will eventually improve. It just takes time and repeated effort.

Good luck!

Also, please subscribe if you want more insights into consulting recruitment and how to get better at case studies (see the button on the bottom left of the page).

And please send this article to anyone you know who’s in the survival / disillusionment phases right now. Nobody should have to struggle alone!


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