Are You Leaving Job Candidates with a Negative Impression? the past few years there seems to be a change in the candidate experience, and it isn’t a positive one.

Let’s forget for a moment the hundreds of applicants who apply for a particular position, with a small percentage of them qualified. The candidate experience is not going to be positive for the unqualified applicants, and that’s okay. If they had taken seriously the minimum qualifications listed on the job posting, they would have realized they didn’t have a chance.

And let’s even forget those applicants who are qualified, but don’t have a strong enough background to be considered for an interview.

What we are talking about, however, is the candidate experience for those individuals who get invited to the company for an onsite interview. That’s where we have a problem. And it’s a big one.

As HR and recruiting professionals, we’re the face of the company for potential employees. We want to, and typically do, make a strong impression on leading job candidates. We politely and respectfully do screening interviews. We carefully match the hiring manager’s criteria with candidate skills. We provide recommendations on strongest applicants. We work closely with finalists to coordinate days and times for them to meet and interview everyone necessary within the company. We juggle internal calendars. We make follow-up calls. We prepare and distribute interview schedules. For some candidates we make travel arrangements and hotel accommodations. And we provide a welcoming smile and positive attitude when the candidate walks in the door.

And then we forget about them.

What? Forget about them? Well, not intentionally. But many times we do. And that leaves a much stronger and lasting negative impression on the candidate than all the other positive efforts we have made up until this point.

Think about your experience with job finalists who have been invited to onsite interviews. How many of them have you left hanging after the interview was over? How many have sent follow-up e-mails or letters thanking you for the opportunity to interview, and reiterating their qualifications? How many have called to follow up on the job status, never to hear another word from you.

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Don’t get me wrong. There are many, many good recruiters, both internal and external. There are a few HR departments that put an emphasis on the candidate experience. Some do follow up with final candidates, even when the news is not positive. They share whatever information they can, from telling a candidate they were not selected for the position to telling candidates the position has been put on hold, or an internal candidate was selected. Sometimes they relay that the hiring manager has been delayed in making a final decision and that they simply wanted to keep the job finalists in the loop. That’s great communication.

But a great percentage of others leave the candidates in the dark. Never another word.

Is that fair to the candidate after all the effort he or she put into the interview process? Is that right to ignore a job finalist whom you have respectfully treated up to this point? Is this the way you want to treat someone who you feel may be a great future employee of your company, but perhaps just wasn’t the ideal fit for this position? If you were that candidate, wouldn’t you want to know at least a little bit of additional information? Particularly after the many hours you’ve invested in attaining that position?

Candidates understand that only one person can get the job. And they can readily accept when they are told that someone else was selected for the position. But not to say a word? That’s just not right. It takes a small amount of time on your behalf to do that final communication, but it can leave a lasting impact on the candidate. And a critical final impression of you personally, as well as the company brand.

Why wouldn’t you do that final communication?

Kathy Hagens is the founder and CEO of Common Courtesy, LLC. Its origins: as more and more of her co-workers and business associates lost their corporate positions in tough economic times, they began sharing their experiences with her. They were frustrated with not only wanting to work and not being able to secure a position, but also the experiences they were encountering when they were interviewed for positions. It became evident quite quickly to Hagens that the basics of common courtesy seem to be overlooked during the candidate experience. Hagens is a marketing communications and branding executive with more than 25 years experience in building strong marketing organizations. Her experience includes strategic planning, competitive positioning, sales training, branding, advertising, public relations, internal and external communication, company websites, electronic marketing, social media and event planning. Read her blog at


24 Comments on “Are You Leaving Job Candidates with a Negative Impression?

  1. Well… Kathy is right to highlight the importance of good candidate communications post-event, successful or not, but to be honest if your recruitment technology doesn’t have this built in to its workflow, you need a better system…

    Indeed, best practice these days is, I would say, to ignore the stage that a candidate is at, and the degree of success they are having, and to have great candidate communications at all times, even when they are not really a candidate. The best-practice companies today are in regular dialogue with both passive and active candidates regardless of opportunities. This cover all stages, from the time a person first enters your talent pool through hiring, onboarding, employment, leaving, re-hiring, etc.

    This might sound like pie-in-the-sky – it isn’t – the best companies do this today. Example: I still get a (very good, and personalised) monthly careers newsletter from a company I interviewed unsuccessfully with three years ago.

  2. The traits that make recruiters great never change, even though the “entitled” masses behave in a way that is unprofessional. No “follow up” (with finalists) is another way of saying, I don’t value you as a person (vs. your accomplishments). The new sales is service moving forward… Thanks for sharing, this was/is a great post!

  3. What I have found disturbing is when I experience this myself as a candidate for recruiting positions, i.e. – when the recruiter I’m dealing with at the company fails to reply in a timely fashion, or fails to reply at all. One would hope that out of professional courtesy, if nothing else, one recruiter would reply to another.

    There’s an old cliche about the only thing that travels faster than the speed of light is a bad reputation. A bad experience is something a candidate is quite likely to share with his/her friends and associates, and it can do exponentially more damage to that company’s image than the one experience alone. It’s not just being left in the dark that does this, either. I vividly remember advising a VP of IT, in the most diplomatic fashion I could muster, that it was unwise to turn down an interviewee to their face at the end of the interview. Even if it was clear in the first 5 minutes that the person was not the right fit, one does not do this. I am also certain that this particular VP still disagrees with me, but he at least went along with me in the time I was there.

  4. Thanks for the article. I agree with Andrew that it doesn’t matter which stage the candidate is in but more the acknowledgement that the applicant respected your company enough to apply. At a former company, we were required to meet with every applicant to determine if they would proceed to the next step in the process. If not, we would send them a courtesy acknowledging their application.

    While I don’t agree that this can be done in every business model, I do believe that there should be a system or person in place to respond to applicants.

    Every applicant should be treated as a potential client.

  5. While I understand a reason for passing on a candidate is not always available, I’ve found a simple “Unfortunately the manager is going to pass on your candidacy, I just wanted to keep you in the loop”, are always appreciated. As a recruiter I’ve always tried to give candidates who interview the appropriate feedback and I can’t count how many times people have emailed me back, telling me they have never had a recruiter do that for them before and thank me. It’s the little things that go a long way towards developing a reputation in this business, good or bad.

    In my opinion, if you have the guts to pick up the phone and cold-call someone about a job, you should have the guts to tell them they didn’t get the job after they take the time out for an interview. Unfortunately this lack of feedback can more often than not be attributed to one of two things, laziness or cowardice. The brave recruiter gets the referral.

  6. Great post. Given the current capabilities of recruiting software every company that values the way they treat people should be able to effectively communicate with applicants through the process. Simple courtesy emails and follow ups can be automated to the masses, while more personalized communications are appropriate for candidates that make it through the screening process.

  7. Thanks, Kathy.
    Folks, let’s get real:
    A. If your company isn’t an employer of choice, you only have to decently treat the fraction of “the Fabulous 5%” who might be suitable for another position within your company. Every one else: your company can “blow off”.
    B. If your company is an employer of choice, you only have to decently treat the fraction of “the Fabulous 5%” who mightbe connected to someone powerful in your company. Every one else: your company can “blow off”.

    The above being said, it sucks not to hear back from an employer you interview for.(It’s happened to me, too.) In the past two weeks, I have spoken with a company whose representatives can speak with anyone you don’t want to deal with, as politely and as well as you could hope for. They charge $5.00/hr, and there are other firms that will do the same for less. Let’s see who contacts me about this….


  8. Hi Kathy,

    Thanks for sharing, great post. Any potential employee is also a potential customer – how would you communicate with a potential customer and why would it be any different with a potential employee?

    Remember than through the interview the candidate gains a very good and valuable inside look at your company and your values: do not miss the opportunity to gain both a customer and someone who can speak well of your company!

  9. Great description of the recruiters daily tasks Kathy!

    The worst part is that as we send job seekers away with all that bad taste in the mouth, their likelihood of applying again is very low. In the same time the likelihood that the company will have very similar (or the same!) position to fill again is high. Especially for a fast growing company. The fact we do not just behave politely to especially the last few runners up, makes us the victim of our own company success. Since the runners up will never apply themselves again, and in our sourcing process we never touch them again. As a recruiter – we know we have failed them, simply by not acknowledging all their efforts they have pup into the unsuccessful application process.

    Perhaps we should have a special place in our ATS for those that we liked during the process and did not hire. This would enable us to go back to them when the next job is up. Even a scoring system, that would later on enable us to to some semantic match making between a new jobs and the already shortlisted (and half processed) candidates?

  10. Right on the money, Kathy! I heard it best summed up at a recruiting conference about two years ago, and the comment was “We do not define our employment brand, the candidate experience does.” How we treat all of the candidates we have considered is just as important as how we treat those who pass the interview/phone screens and move forward in the process. It’s those people who are talking about what happened to them during the interview process and creating our brand & we need to understand that and take steps to treat them with the same respect as we do our finalists.

  11. Surprising that a recruiter would do this with a candidate they’ve spent time developing to the point of an in-person interview. Our form calls 100% of candidates after a phone or in-person interview and we always let people know if and why they didn’t get the position.

    Also, remember that’s a 2-way street. It’s hard for a recruiter to get upset if a candidate isn’t returning calls or emails when they do the same thing to others.

    To Keith’s comment about blowing off candidates… just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

  12. @Tim. Absolutely right. At the same time, if you don’t positively reinforce good behavior (by providing the resources for treating candidates well & following up with them), you shouldn’t expect it.


  13. Recruiters are not valued by most organizations, which is a big part of the problem. The folks who manage recruiters are more concerned with how many “clicks” someone made last week versus how many quality contacts they made. I have been in the industry for ten years and if I followed the direction of “leadership”, I would not have accomplished a fraction of what I have. My simple rule of thumb is treat people how I would like to be treated. Too many pseudo managers reading airport books these days in my opinion.

  14. This is great post and dialog. Kathy, it is a great question “Why wouldn’t you do the final communication?”

    It seems that the majority of the group does touch base with their candidates and that the most significant reason for not touching base is time or “time to hire.” The other reason mentioned was having the guts to call. There are many good points made and I agree with Sergio that any potential candidate could be a future customer or client. Ivan also has a great point that individuals may be the runner up today, but the winner in the future.

    Individuals do continue to learn and progress and a company that does not communicate with a candidate may be handing their competitor strong future talent. Many individuals may not be ready for the job today, but are excellent candidates of the future and companies could be losing out if they are not maintaining relationships. They also may be handing their competitor a new client. It takes less time to let someone know that another candidate was chosen, the business initiatives have changed which in turn changes the needs for the role or any other reason, but it takes more time to repair a relationship or rebuild rapport.

    As an external recruiter supporting clients, it is clear that good communication is very important for my client and my company. I consistently communicate through the process and upon conclusion (good or bad). Though I have known the value of this through my career, I recently was on the candidate end of this article. I had a recruiter call me to present an opportunity. I was not sure I wanted to leave my firm, but I listened. We spoke and met face to face. We decided that if this was not the right fit for me or the company we may do business together or refer business in the future. The recruiter left me with the parting words that my background was strong, they were going to be meeting the client and would get back to me by a specific time. That recruiter never called me back and I chose not to call them or to do business with them for that matter. I found out from someone else who knows the firm that they have a reputation for this behavior and that person will never work with them either. It was a great example to me how important “final communication” is.

    Thank you Kathy for sharing this article.

  15. It’s a travesty when clients start “requisitioning” people, treating them as disposable commodities. It’s simply stupid when recruiters do the same.

    Candidates are people who talk to other people, they above all set your brand and image in the market place and in executive search they are your network resource with whom friendly collegiate interactions make your work possible.

    Candidates are also people who influence other candiates, may be right for a different role in the same company/client (either now or in the future) or who work within competitors (and with your competitors)…would you rather have competitors who respect you or who hate you?

    That’s why we always treat candidtes with respect, that’s why we’ve run a quality survey since 1987 where an independent third party talks with every candidate we interview (our worst quarterly result was 93% satisfied/delighted with their interactions). Why, because it’s the right thing to do and because that has allowed us 30 years of continuous profit and growth….

    We have a credo, and we live it!

    Our Credo
    We have responsibilities to all of our stakeholders:

    Our Candidates are central to the growth and continuing success of our business. They deserve our respect, care and consideration. When they impress our clients, they sustain our reputation for quality. When they speak well of us, others listen. When they succeed, they may well become clients themselves.

    Our Clients are the source of our earnings and give us our livelihood. They deserve our best efforts, our energy and our complete integrity. If we serve them well, they too will tell others.

    Our Staff deliver our promises to candidates and clients. They deserve good pay and conditions, the opportunity to develop themselves and to enjoy their work. When we deliver on this, they will respond with energy and enthusiasm to produce good results.

    Our Suppliers provide the physical and intangible resources that we need to run our business. We should keep the promises we make to them, pay them promptly and treat them with fairness and respect. When we do this, they will give us competitive prices and good, prompt, loyal service.

    Our Shareholders give us the means to run and grow the business. They deserve our best efforts and a fair return on their investment. When we deliver on this, they will continue to support us through bad times as well as good.

  16. Thanks for a great article Cathy, I fully agree, but maybe we could add that the fundamental problems of todays society, most people have been taught to be egoistic, self serving, uncaring creatures. The outcome is what you wrote about today. Until there is caring and love taught in our schools the world will stay divided as it is today

  17. When was the last time an employer of choice lost substantial numbers of quality hires because of how it treats ordinary, non-connected applicants?

    When was the last time you heard that an SVP of Staffing was disciplined or fired for having large numbers of ordinary, non-connected applicants treated like crap under his/her watch?

    When was being a thoughtless, inconsiderate jerk a career hindrance to high-achieving, high-level staff?


  18. The problem, Mr. Halperin, is there’s really no way of measuring much of that. Or at least, nobody has tried to.

    As others have alluded, it is not a big leap in logic to presume that persons who are obnoxious in their dealings with external candidates are obnoxious in other facets of their business behavior and indeed may be liabilities to the organization when the intangible costs are considered ranging from communciations to turnover.

  19. I’ve been appalled at a few of my own experiences and many more yet relayed to me. Not one of these cases have been of “morons” applying for jobs they are unqualified for or otherwise “have no shot at” and in fact in several of the worst offense cases the organization actually found them and encouraged them to apply.

    It DOES matter. You actually have no idea what the real cost is. The economy may be weak and you may not find a lack of applicants, but there’s just more to it.

    Best to assume an applicant whose time (and perhaps financial) resource was wasted and otherwise was treated poorly WILL relay the affair to peers, friends, family who may well not use your services or buy your products, that they won’t apply for other openings, and that it even may affect morale in your company.

    Additionally how sure are those of you who think this is a non-issue of your own positions? Trust me in that applicants who feel they’ve had their time wasted or were treated rudely WILL remember you. Possibly forever. It is a small world indeed.

    Here are some thoughts and suggestions. I hope you’ll find some pearls of well intended wisdom and something to ponder in them somewhere.

    1. I am appalled at some of the suggestions persons who you deem have “no chance at” the position should are deserving of being ignored when it costs virtually nothing or at worst a postage stamp to simply tell them they don’t meet the requirements but you will keep their application on file for XX month. If they ARE applying out of desperation due to economic circumstances that’s all the more reason to do so.

    2. No interviewing external candidates when you know you have the position filled internally or pegged for somebody’s buddy. Trust me, the word gets out.
    Ditto for unfunded positions or to bank resumes.

    3. Hold off if you don’t know what the heck the job is and the hiring manager can’t adequately define it or otherwise has somehow landed a subordinate position for a skillset/function s/he is utterly unqualified to have reporting to her in the first place.
    Otherwise you’re effectively using other persons resources to try to figure out what you want, which is inconsiderate and ridiculous. (I can relay an anecdote of my own to support this but you’d probably think I was making it up…)

    4. Stop interviewing so many people. Interviewing 30 people when you have one position is a sure fire way to make at least some enemies. So why do it? It’s ludicrous that organizations will interview 20 or more persons for a marketing analyst but only 3 or 4 for the guy that’s going to run the company. I can determine if someone is of beginner, intermediate, advanced status in my field in about 10 questions. Why can’t you?

    5. When you find someone who can do the job that you like, make a prompt offer and get back to work. There’s no value in interviewing everyone you can find in six adjacent counties to see if there’s anyone you like a little better.

    6. Give up the J. Edgar Hoover stuff because you actually are not getting the best candidates by seeking out everyone who worked on the same floor for an opinion. Do NOT buy/use “anonymous” software being marketed to build elaborate networks to see if there’s somebody somewhere who will say something nasty about your candidate.
    I can promise you there WILL be people in the organization that will snipe at their high performance peers.. and these snipers are typically NOT energetic high performers.
    Instead count upon your own impressions, the opinion of their managers and check their HR records to verify title, salary, absentee records.

    7. Above all, provide TIMELY feedback to every last candidate you’ve brought on site for an interview. When someone has spent their time and resource coming to talk to you (perhaps more than once) it is the least you can do.

    PS – Mr. Stephens;
    Well done. Exactly the sort of organization I’d want to work for.

  20. @ TC William: Please call me Keith. Your suggestions are sensible and thoughtful. The organizations most in need of implementing them are the ones least likely to do so. Most companies aren’t prepared to spend $3.00/hr on Virtual Customer Care (was $5.00/hr, but I found a lower-cost resource) because they don’t have to. There are no positive reinforcements for doing so, and no negative reinforcements for not doing so. Consequently, the desired behavior is not performed.


  21. Very interesting feedback and many different perspectives. The question that I’ve not yet seen answered is “Why wouldn’t a recruiter or the hiring company do that final communication?” For the minimal effort, look at the difference in makes in terms of a positive brand image. And a strong reputation. Yet it is rare. What holds us back from doing it?

  22. @ Kathy: Time, exhaustion, and more important (as defined by what matters to our managers) things to do.


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