Candidate Care: Do Unto Others…

One aspect of the recruitment process guaranteed to irritate, if not enrage, candidates is lack of communication from prospective employers or recruiters. Regardless of whether there is any basis for it, most applicants have the idea that they are the ideal candidate for an advertised position, and that an implied contract between the parties is engaged the moment they send their resume. Of course, from the perspective of the recruiter the reverse view is often the case. I remember one major telecom manufacturer despairing at all the “painters and decorators” clogging up their ATS, bemoaning the audacity of patently unsuitable candidates who wasted recruiters’ valuable time, degraded the system’s performance, and caused exorbitant response-management costs. But the candidate is right: there is an implied contract. From the moment a job requirement is framed in the organization, certain rules, regulations, laws, and accepted practices come into force that govern the transition through job posting and advertising to response management, interview, and eventual selection and hire. From a strictly legal perspective, these laws are essential to protect the organization as well as minorities and individual human rights. But from a recruiter’s standpoint, these rules are obstacles to be overcome, sometimes at the expense of the candidate. We have too frequently become blinded by the prescriptive view: “winning the talent war,” “recruiting only the best,” etc. ó moving away from the principles of candidate care into new recruitment management-speak slogans, such as “talent relationship management.” The implication is that we should look after those who we want to engage with (i.e., the successful candidates). But this is often, if not always, at the expense of those we do not want ó our so-called “painters and decorators.” I believe this to be fundamentally wrong for a number of reasons, first among which is the premise that, if someone has taken the trouble to apply for a job, the very least they deserve is consideration. Candidate care begins with the job advertisement or posting, where we must manage the four essentials:

  1. Talent branding. The identification of the company as the employer of choice.
  2. Job description. A concise and realistic description of the work, remuneration, environment, and expectations.
  3. Skills and experience. The drivers for a successful candidate.
  4. Process. Application and engagement criteria.

It is the last two items here that create the implied contract between prospective employer and candidate. This is also where problems begin to emerge. When detailing skills requirements or experience levels, we are looking to maximize the number of applicants while simultaneously “hoping” for an exact match. The fear is that, if we are too specific, our ideal candidate will in some way be scared off, and we will receive a low response. By the same token, we are also able to capture candidates who may be useable as a second choice or suitable for other positions. But we can flip this paradigm and argue that by being more specific, we are better able to engage with the ideal candidate and save both parties time, pain, and effort. Up until five or six years ago, before the use of job boards vastly increased responses, the expectation was that we could fill any position with 15-20 applicants. Now we will look at hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates if candidate databases are included in the recruitment lifecycle. As to the “process,” the majority of advertising does not even allude to it other than the contact details to submit resumes. The candidate has no idea of how their application will be managed or what the real selection criteria are. Their expectations therefore are either optimistic (a speedy thanks for the application and either a rejection or invitation to interview) or cynical (no reply at all, in which case what was the point of all the talent branding?) However galling for the candidate an initial rejection of their application might be, this is nothing compared to the way the relationship is managed during the hiring process. Recruiters will quite naturally tend to focus their attention on those candidates whom they believe will succeed and disengage from those who drop out during the interview and final offer stage. Common gripes in surveys of candidates is the lack of feedback from both corporate and agency recruiters and the length of time the recruitment process takes. Recruiters under time and target pressures may “forget” candidates, or they may not want to be the bearers of bad news. But this is where the contract comes in: the candidate must be afforded the consideration that is their due. Solutions providers have attempted to address this issue. But although the latest generation of hiring systems allow a large measure of candidate contact, almost by definition these communications are impersonal and clumsy, as well as surprisingly expensive. Response management rates can approach $25 or more per applicant for high volume hirers if good candidate care rules are applied. Indeed, it has been said that only the low-volume recruiter or small agency is able to devote the time and effort to real candidate care. Nothing could be further from the truth though. We all remember the golden rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. And that’s really the basis for the rules below, which I’ll call the “golden rules for candidate care”:

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  1. Always, without exception confirm receipt of an application, either by email, letter, or phone. Immediately.
  2. Explicitly detail the selection process and estimated time scales to the candidate.
  3. If an applicant is not suitable, be genuine in your communication (subject to legal parameters). Don’t leave no-hope applicants hanging on.
  4. Always provide pre-interview details and post-interview feedback.
  5. Always attempt to put yourself in the candidate’s position and use as your yardstick the way you would like to be treated when job hunting.
  6. Never avoid delivering bad news personally (if at all possible).

We are beginning to see a business environment where people have become commodities. And while I certainly do not advocate a return to a jobs-for-life scenario ó the new global economy is here to stay, like it or not ó I am passionate about refocusing on the individual (and where better to start than when they are job hunting?). Candidate care does not have to be as difficult as we all make it out to be, and the rewards ó both personal and business ó will make it more than worth your while.

Andrew Ellis is a recognized authority on using the Internet as a resourcing tool. He has worked in over 30 countries in senior HR, resourcing and operations management positions with world-class companies such as Nortel Networks, IMPAC, SunGard and Algorithmics. Andrew now heads the Human Capital Management consultancy, and writes and lectures extensively on resourcing and recruitment topics.


1 Comment on “Candidate Care: Do Unto Others…

  1. A very refreshing perspective. I’m ashamed to admit that am sitting next to a pile of internet inquiries to which I have put off responding because they do not seem important to my job. I have forgotten that there is another person on the other end of that inquiry, and I have become the source of their frustration as they wait for a reply. This article has opened my eyes to my ignorance; may I disprespect unsuitable applicants no more.

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