Candidate Customer Service and One-to-One Recruitment Marketing

A black hole is a rare phenomenon in nature. According to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, a star eventually collapses on itself, becoming infinitely dense and transforming into a so-called black hole. Any object that encounters one – including asteroids, Lincoln Continentals, entire suns and planets, and even light, cannot escape its infinite gravitational pull. Mr. Einstein would be very surprised to find that in recruiting, black holes are incredibly common. In consulting with companies on the creation of their employment websites, I have the opportunity to speak directly with several job seekers and recently hired employees about their job search experiences. With amazing consistency, the concept of “resume black holes” comes up in our conversations as their number one frustration with the way that companies hire. The conversation usually goes something like this: Recruiter: “How did you find out about and apply for the position at ‘Company X?'” Job Seeker: “I found it on the employment site and then submitted my resume using their resume form.” Recruiter: “How long did it take for someone to reply back to you?” Job Seeker: “I got one of those machine-generated emails back the next day, but I didn’t hear back from a live person for an interview for a month.” Recruiter: “How would you describe the experience of submitting your resume and waiting for a response?” Job Seeker: “Frustrating. Whenever I submit my resume somewhere, I feel like I’m submitting it into a black hole. I didn’t know whether the right person had gotten it, whether I was a fit for the actual position or when the position was filled. I had pretty much given up on it by the time they actually called me.” The Recruitment Transaction Compare the act of applying to an online purchase or customer transaction. To do this, imagine that you’re a customer buying a very important product, like a book you have to finish reading by the end of next week ? you have 14 frantic days to purchase and finish this 300-page book in order to give a presentation to senior management. You find a website that is selling the book in question ? Unfortunately, this website doesn’t tell you up front how long it will take to get the book delivered. You are also dismayed to find that nowhere on the site are there links for Customer Service email address, Frequently Asked Questions or even a phone number to call for more information. Chances are that you would refuse to buy from the site since they’ve already broken almost every rule of online customer service. For the sake of argument though, let’s pretend that this website is the only place you can find this rare book, and you forge on to buy the product because you know you won’t find it anywhere else. Next, you enter your personal and credit card information into a form that takes 1/2 hour to complete, despite the fact that the site does not have a Privacy or Security Policy posted. This is really a fly-by-night company, you think! 3 days pass, and you haven’t gotten confirmation that a real human being got your purchase. You’re getting nervous. 2 more days pass. Now you’re really nervous. You call the company, and leave a voicemail with the one person in book sales with whom the operator will connect you. Pretty soon all 14 days have passed, you’ve got a presentation to give to senior management, and still no book. A week later – 21 days after you attempted to purchase the product – you get a postcard in the mail that tells you that the book was out of stock. The principles of customer service dictate that as a result of your bad experience, you will tell approximately 10 other people about this negative experience with the online bookseller. This sounds like an unrealistic scenario in the world of e-commerce, but it is quite normal in the world of recruiting. Besides the “hot” candidates you interviewed, how many other candidates did you actually respond to immediately or at all? How long were they left hanging about the status of their resume or the position for which they applied? Did you ever follow up with these candidates down the road to see if they still might be interested in your company or have enhanced their skills? Did you set their expectations up front about how long it would take before you contacted them? Resumes are personal, and HR communities are close-knit, meaning that there’s some privacy risks to the job seeker; did you provide job seekers with a Privacy Policy? If you’re like most employers, you did none of the above. A quote from “I’m First: Your Customer’s Message to You” by Linda Silverman Goldzimer is particularly appropriate here: “Would you do business with you?” Candidate Customer Service and One-to-one Recruitment Marketing

As the Internet increasingly becomes the main way that job seekers and companies communicate, candidates are screaming for higher levels of on- and offline customer service from the Recruiting community. The level of support they desire includes immediate emailed responses to their resumes, real-time updates on position status, ongoing communications inviting them to update their resumes or revisit your employment site, follow-up contact information, and more. Here are some of the existing resources that you can use to support candidates in addition to any customized candidate support tools that can be developed and added on to your website.

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  1. An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) should already be providing candidates with customizable automatic email responses, and possibly notifications of when positions are filled.
  2. An Email Marketing System ? a relatively new tool in the talent wars ? can provide you with the ability to automate broadcast communications with certain types of candidates and establish ongoing one-to-one recruitment marketing relationships to reduce time-to-hires and lower “re-recruiting” costs.
  3. Your recruiting team should be positioned to provide all the “customer” support candidates need and then some, including feedback, follow-up information, and frequently asked questions.

Companies who are quick to recognize the value of providing higher levels of customer service to candidates will differentiate themselves as employers and spread positive word of mouth about the potential to work at their companies. Those who are late to adopt this customer service philosophy will suffer the setbacks that the online book seller in the example above will face as more and more “customers” respond by backing out of their transactions or (even worse) telling 10 friends that the site isn’t worth visiting or buying from. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (, a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.


5 Comments on “Candidate Customer Service and One-to-One Recruitment Marketing

  1. I got the following email (I’ll leave the sender anonymous) about my last article, in which I compared the act of applying online to making a purchase in order to make the point that the same standards of customer service should apply. Below that is my response, which I thought would be good to share with everyone! I’d love to hear your thoughts.




    Read your article.
    Since we live the time frame you describe. I think you are on point.

    However (always a however) Your attempt to use this book transaction thing
    as some sort of analogy really doesn’t apply since you have switched the
    buyer and seller.
    The applicant is not the buyer and we (companies) are not the seller.
    We -companies -are the buyer -we make the offer- the employee is the seller
    offering his services to the bidder.
    We are willing to pay up to and over $100,000. for one year of the
    employees services. We as cautious consumers are going to shop around. To
    us resumes are the equivalent of advertising.
    All these services (applicants) are flooding us with advertising because we
    have the money and are willing to spend it. We in response send them a thank
    you note stating we may shop at their store sometime in the future, if and
    when we have a need for their services. Then we receive a follow-up phone
    call from a service saying they sent us an advertisement for something they
    are sure we need and why haven’t we stopped by their store. Well we didn’t
    stop by their store because;
    1 We didn’t need what they were selling.
    2 We didn’t respond to their advertising.
    3 They are not carrying the merchandise we are interested in.
    4. They have the right merchandise but we don’t like the brand.
    I could go on and on but you can see how this offers a clear understanding
    of the parties differing viewpoints on the object.
    I personally would not use a purchasing analogy to represent what is really
    a contract between two parties.
    But I didn’t write the article.


    You make some interesting points about who the end customer actually is. Since the book seller example is an analogy, the transaction isn’t an exact match. The employment transaction obviously isn’t one-sided – both parties have to convince the other party that they have something to offer at some point. The employer is the seller when trying to convince candidates to apply; the candidate is the seller after deciding to submit his or her resume and during the interview; and the employer becomes the seller again once it is time to make an offer.

    However, I think that the following arguments that show the the employer is more of the *buyer* and the employee is more of the *seller*, and validate the use of the book seller analogy:

    – Even if you are the one paying the employee in dollars, the employee is actually paying you by performing services for your company that increase your ability to make a profit. This profit is usually greater than what they are earning (except if you’re a dot-bomb).
    – While there are many transactions in which the employer will have the pick of the litter so to speak, most desirable candidates will have multiple companies and possibly offers to consider, meaning that employers must jockey for position to prove their worth, not the other way around.
    – As a result, companies are the ones who are spending the money to advertise and brand themselves, not candidates. Even with headhunting firms – who pays the fee? The employee or employer? This speaks volumes about who has more to offer.

    Overall, I think that the employer represents the seller with one notable distinction: employers have to be more selective about who their customers are, making the recruitment transaction even more difficult to achieve.

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  2. A comment on your respondent who sees his company as “The Buyer”: The tone of this response suggests to me those companies out there (some of them excellent organizations) whose HR folks act like they work for the only company in town. Their attitude seems to be “Gee this applicant is lucky to be talking to us because we’re so great!”
    My experience suggests that very few companies hire people they do not need.
    HR departments who do not recognize( and act like they recognize)the two-way nature of the hiring experience can count on loosing many excellent candidates who have other, equally attractive alternatives. Second tier candidates will put up with being treated like a commodity.

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  3. You’re both right, depending upon your perspective. However, you’re splitting hairs.

    The bottom line: At all times, in all circumstances – treat others as you would like them to treat you. The Golden Rule, the revolutionary *NEW* recruiting methodology that never fails!

    — Sorry for the sarcasm. I just don’t see very much of it any more. —

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  4. I disagree with your argument comparing the recruiting transaction to purchasing a product on the Web. When you order a product you are a purchaser and incur financial risk. When you submit a resume you are selling your skills and submit without cost. A buyer has a right to receive the product and be able to communicate with the company regarding the status of the order. A seller is frequently rejected and shouldn’t expect response until his skills match a job spec. A communication acknowledging receipt of his resume is good. Submitting a resume doesn’t obligate the recipient to respond. Corporate recruiters are gatekeepers skilled at admitting only qualified applicants. Evaluating qualified applicants is very time consuming. There’s little time to babysit careers of unqualified applicants. Usually a company won’t budget resources to sweettalk poor employee or customer prospects.

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  5. Some good points Sheila! As I stated earlier, it’s an analogy, so not an exact match in terms of the transaction or the parties involved.

    The main thing I think you’ve ommitted is getting candidates to your site in the first place. This is the part of the equation in which you as the recruiter represent the seller. You are not obligated to respond, nor are you obligated to follow up.

    Whether or not a candidate should or shouldn’t (as you say) expect a response, the reality is that they most often do have expectations of a response. Job seekers constantly refer to the frustrating “black hole” of recruiting. Whether or not you choose to deal with this complaint is your call. But ignoring candidates’ expectations will ultimately hinder your ability to attract them to your site and convince them to apply in the long run.

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