Customer Service: Key to Successful Recruiting

Fast and personal customer service is what I insist is core to being an effective 21st century recruiter. Every candidate should receive a personal response customized to their questions and needs. Candidates should be sold positions on the basis of the goodness of their fit in the position and to the degree they exhibit the skills and competencies needed.

Yet, many recruiters are challenged to provide this level of service. Here are a few quotes from recruiters: “I have received almost 500 resumes. Over 90% of these people are not qualified or not what my company is looking for.” Another said, “I have been overwhelmed with candidates. Some fit our needs, but most don’t even take the time to read the job description…I wish I could reply to every candidate, but if I did, I would not be doing my job!”

Candidates, on the other side of the fence, say, “Now, as a candidate going through a very bad dry spell in finding recruiting work, I rarely experience this common courtesy among recruiters who post jobs that don’t exist and fail to follow simple due diligence.” And this: “I’m a downsized corporate executive who has been repeatedly appalled by the way companies and recruiters are treating candidates.”

We all, I believe, want to provide candidates with great service, and we all know that those who have been ignored, dismissed as not qualified, and otherwise treated with discourtesy will not forget and may never recommend our firm to friends or apply again, even when they may be excellent choices.

Every act of discourtesy will eventually be incorporated into the overall reputation that our firms have about people and how they are treated. As they say in the customer satisfaction business, for every customer that tells you they are satisfied, there are at least 3 dissatisfied customers who have said nothing. The same applies for candidates.

So, what does the overworked, overwhelmed recruiter do? How can you provide responsive service in the face of huge numbers of resumes? Here are three tips:

Don’t Post Job Descriptions, But If You Do, Make Them Precise and Specific

I have taken an excerpt from a job description I found on a website that is representative of many I see every day. The question I ask is who, with even a modicum of technical ability and a dash of experience, will not feel qualified for this job? There are no specifics, no details, and no firm requirements. I almost feel that I could apply for this and justify why if asked.

You’re looking for more than just a job in Information Technology. You want a career that challenges your IT experience while giving you the freedom and support to succeed. Look no further than [company name]. Our Professional Services offerings span the entire application life cycle, giving our customers a complete solution and our employees the opportunity to excel on all platforms.

With our technical focus and emphasis on delivery, we strive to hire experienced Information Technology professionals with broad skill sets and the desire and versatility to learn new businesses and skills. We are selective in hiring and serious about retaining those we do hire.

We are looking for candidates with the following attributes:

  • Oracle Financials experience
  • Oracle 11i application development experience
  • Strong PL/SQL

I am sure that this has generated many hundreds of unqualified resumes. Unfortunately, most job descriptions are written this way deliberately so that they will generate a large number of responses. When we lacked technology and reach, this was a marginally acceptable approach. But today, it creates big problems. Most candidates are very concerned with applying for an appropriate job, but how can they really tell from the way descriptions are written? Are the specific requirements spelled out? Are you using technology to screen for these?

We need to focus on a building a new mindset. We do not need mass marketing for most positions, we do not need to generate hundreds of responses to make sure we’ve “covered the field,” and we can’t ignore hundreds of applicants because of our own inadequacies. Many of us have attitudes that would be similar to those of a store clerk who, when overwhelmed with customers, simply walks off and leaves them.

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We Need to Use Technology, and Use it Better

The new recruiting tools and systems have built-in tools for communicating, screening, and maintaining relationships with candidates. These candidate relationship management tools are not magical, but they ease the burden and automate a portion of the task. However, the sad fact is that after these systems are purchased, only a fraction of recruiters utilize their powerful communication and screening features. Most recruiters are still focused on the zero value-added backend “administrivia” and don’t see as clear a connection between the candidate experience and the type of response they get from recruiters. and all the larger Applicant Tracking Systems can automate the responses candidates get to various actions they take on the website. They can periodically send e-mails and newsletters, and they can be better programmed to send intelligent responses to candidates’ questions.

The bottom line is that all recruiters need to do a better job letting candidates know where they stand in the recruiting process by sending regular updates and letting them know as soon as possible that they are no longer being considered. Even automatic bounce-back responses can be more intelligently written and distributed.

Relationships and Referrals Are Keys to Your Success

I am more and more convinced that posting job descriptions is an archaic process. While I have no doubt that the practice will live on for a long time, it is not the best, cheapest, or faster way to find good people.

Using technology to develop relationships and to communicate regularly with a selected and screened pool of candidates is the key to your real success. By developing and using tools that allow candidates and hiring managers to co-create requirements and refine requirements as needed, more good people will find jobs that fit them better. Posting jobs on job boards and pushing descriptions that seem to have been written by a PR firm out to wary candidates is no longer effective.

Recruiters have to use social networks, referrals, Internet search, and face-to-face conversation to build trust and establish a relationship with candidates that can be leveraged whenever needed. Unfortunately, face-to-face relationship building is slow, expensive, and clumsy. Social networks allow you do this with much greater ease and gracefulness at a lower cost in time and money.

Base your recruiting on the customer service mindset, go for quality (not volume), and do that by building relationships and asking for referrals. If you are generating hundreds of responses to a job posting, you are doing something terribly wrong.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


5 Comments on “Customer Service: Key to Successful Recruiting

  1. Kevin,

    I am fully on the page with you here. The War for Talent has made 3rd party recruiters lazy because there is so much easily available business. The Modus Operandi is ‘Take the business while the good times last, damn the quality’.

    Internal HR is overwhelmed by candidates because of a tendency to rely on web hiring portals, which provide a high volume of inappropriate candidates. Of course they can’t reply to everyone, how could anyone.

    This is admittedly a characterization but everyone needs to focus on the few candidates who actually fit the role. Customer service is everything and we will see who has it in the fallout this year.


  2. The more you help people, the more they are likely to help you and, later, when they acquire skills that may be needed, likely to work at your firm.

    A simple email thanking people for their response and/or feedback as to why they were not selected can go a very long way in building a relationship. I cannot begin to tell you, when I was a ‘hiring manager’ the grateful responses I received from applicants who I had to turn down. The people were grateful for the negative response and thanked me, many even said that if something different opened up they would be delighted to be considered – because they assumed my generous treatment of them reflected the attitude of the company. Hence, reflecting that it was a pleasant, appreciative and great place to work.

    A few minutes of feedback can result in unlikely assistance later when needed!

    I agree that tailoring job descriptions to be more specific will help – although I found that most people skim and don’t pay attention to detail anyway – a super reason to nicely turn down candidates.

    Posting a response that only qualified candidates will be contacted for further consideration within a certain timeframe can help also. So, if someone doesn’t hear anything – then they do know that they ‘didn’t make the cut’.

    In today’s environment and highly networked, open commentary world, a few minutes can help your marketing department achieve its branding and reputational goals. Kevin – right on target!


  3. Amen, Kevin.

    I love the quote by Anil Dash,

    ‘Connect with the people you care about.’

    Recruiters who choose to continue recruiting without using the tools you mentioned (social networks, referrals, and f2f conversations), will fail to build critical relationships (connect) with those who are most important to them.


  4. I am a firm believer in this approach. Yes, it takes work but networking is not a two day process. Relationships and reputations take years to develop. Most anyone can learn to spam candidates. Not everyone knows how to develop meaningful long-term relationships that provide mututal benefit. Part of relationships and reputations is about customer service. An old retail rule says that a bad retail experience results in that person telling 5 people and 5 people telling 5 more. I think this applies to recruiting as well.

  5. Its a very well articulated description on recruiting in the article from Kevin Wheeler,
    Its always nice to refresh the things in a new and easy manner, though these tips are quiet known & common to many recruiters,
    but how often we use them, makes all the difference,
    Its very powerful and effective, and i would say that in current scenario where e-recruiting is a defining sourcing medium, this three tips can change the results in a quality manner.

    This editorial would have attracted many recruiters and focused the light definitely on the way job descriptions are been written these days & how we can improve & attract the number of quality candidates through just refining our style of writing job-descriptions in our e-ads.
    Also the tips provided by writer on technology usage and on managing relationship for best refferals are really impresive.


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