Dear Candidate 5a26jd7: Your Application Is Very Important to Us

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 9.52.30 AMThe recruiting buzzwords circle in our brains: candidate experience, employer of choice, culture, employment branding, talent pools, talent communities, candidate relationships, etc.

Your expensive and time-consuming investments in all of these things won’t be worth it the technology is used wrong. Candidates will sour on you or abandon the process. They’ll self-select out for reasons having nothing to do with aptitude or job-related qualifications.

Let me explain.

“Please rest assured that your information has been received and there is no need to try and contact us directly for a status.” This was the automatically generated reply that was sent from an applicant tracking system. I was flabbergasted at the impersonal message as well as the fact that they used more words than necessary to say, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

As a former product manager of applicant tracking systems, I know that these messages can be customized. Recruiters: use this communication as a way to embrace candidates and enhance that candidate’s experience. I understand that you are busy, and implementing applicant tracking systems can be arduous, and that oftentimes other aspects of the implementation get priority. But don’t forget to make the content valuable and inviting.

With my most recent experience as a candidate, I thought I was applying for a position with a company that shared similar values to mine. The website touted a mission statement of “Building Relationships; Enhancing lives.” Clearly two different people wrote the web copy and the automatic email response. Ask yourself: is there a discrepancy between your HR’s employment brand and the company brand? Are you consistent with your messages that are sent out from your company in the recruiting process?

The technology you implement to recruit candidates and get their information into your system should be easy for candidates to navigate. Assuming you’ve eliminated all technical issues, the process should reflect your company’s employment brand.

Many articles have been written on employment branding, but to sum it up in the simplest of terms your brand is the impression you create through your website, your recruiting process, and the communications you have with candidates. In this electronic age, this is where you get to convey your human personality. It is what will resonate with your ideal candidate. Your brand is what makes a candidate say, “I will fit in there and I want to work there!” Be who you say you are in all that you say and do.

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Automatically generated email responses are a necessity. They are clearly a time saver and an opportunity to provide follow-up information to the process or manage candidate expectations. As a candidate, I may be the 12,001st applicant to that position, but don’t make me feel like it. During the application process, I typed my name at least once. Please use the mail merge field and use my name in future correspondence with me. If you call me “applicant” or “candidate” now, will I be just an employee number later?

Your relationship with your candidates needs to be nurtured, and the process of getting your database populated with good data should be painless. The best organizations have found out how to meet these two objectives in one applicant tracking system. Highly qualified individuals may be one “next step” away from abandoning the process you’ve designed merely because it is cumbersome.

In the real world, no one cares if telephone numbers are entered with dots, dashes, or parentheses. An applicant tracking system should not care either. After entering all of my employment start and end dates and telephone numbers, I don’t want to be told that the formatting was incorrect. Technology has evolved; it can transform data or automatically correct it. If you have a legacy system or homegrown one, build reminders or examples into the system.

Your recruiting process, regardless of applicant tracking system, should bolster your brand and keep your candidates active and engaged through the entire process. After all, you want your new employee’s enthusiasm on day one to be higher than the day they started the applicant process.

Kate Sensmeier is a senior product management professional who has developed leading edge technology solutions to improve the human resources functions, specifically in the areas of talent generation, recruitment, onboarding and performance management. She is an entrepreneur and small business owner and has consulted with numerous clients who want to grow their organizations. Most recently she worked at Talent Technology as the director of business development.


17 Comments on “Dear Candidate 5a26jd7: Your Application Is Very Important to Us

  1. Well said Kate
    This is what in talent acquisition is called ‘getting the basics right’ yet where even the most established and sophisticated companies get it wrong. Any ATS not able to convey basic response to applications should not be on the market. Secondly as for content. It is possible to send a personal and well phrased message back to an applicant that despite being a standard answer and from a template can convey a human and personable touch so that the recipient at least feel that their efforts and interest has not gone unnoticed. This is 100% about the mind-set of those in talent acquisition that manage and set the agenda. For those that claim volume of applicants making any deeper interaction and response impossible the message is BS and not having a clue about how to.use technology. For those that decide to ignore these issues they deserve to get 2nd and 3rd rate candidates and for their businesses not surviving. This is as said initially basic and very very easy to get right and about time too.

  2. Unfortunately, too many organizations still see recruiting as “if they want the job badly enough, they will take the time to complete the application” even if it is cumbersome. Recruiting is a sales job (and a company better constantly be recruiting their own employees as well!) and one of the best forms of PR. Making the initial experience a pleasant one will go a long way (maybe even a little viral marketing). I’m wondering how many recruiters have gone through usability testing of their own systems. Am also wondering how many of them actually speak up to change things for the better – for the candidate, not just for themselves.

  3. Kate,
    Excellent article, especially since so many Recruitment Leaders fall all over themselves extolling the virtues of their ATS as the “Lamborghini” of their recruitment effectiveness. Most ATS’ and how they’ve been customized are so pathetically useless, it’s pathetic.

  4. Hi Kate

    Well put. I have been on this soapbox for over 15 years now – and agree with Jacob – those companies who use volume of candidates as an excuse for not replying are definitely in the BS mode. There has never been any excuse for not showing a bit of common courtesy and replying to every candidate – a simple message that explains what your process is and sets expectations for future interactions would ensure that your employer brand is protected.

    And let us not blame the ATS – it is the person using the tools (whether in set up, configuration or day to day use) who can drive the content and the interaction. This was possible when I ran Resumix in Europe 15 years ago and is just as possible today.

    “Your brand is what makes a candidate say, “I will fit in there and I want to work there!” Be who you say you are in all that you say and do.”

    Spot on – one of the best descriptions for Employment Brand that I have see.

  5. Really interesting post! If you want to connect with the best candidates in the interview process, whether this interview is in person or through online video, you need your candidates to actually complete the application. This is why you need to really pay attention to how user-friendly your recruiting process is. Does your process accurately reflect your company culture and values? Does it make it simple for talented candidates to apply or is it a maze only the most motivated would complete? Remember that top talent is unlikely to waste time if your process is too difficult, meaning your recruitment process might be helping the candidates you need self-select out of your talent pool.

  6. Throughout most of my recruiting career, I can safely say that an ATS has never made a hire. Most of our outbound recruiting is very high touch and personal, and as a result, we help our candidates apply regardless of the backend ATS etc. Whether it’s a spreadsheet or ORACLE or Taleo or whatever, I have zero expectations of this technology. The top candidates in their fields are courted. We CALL THEM. They don’t come through an ATS. Most never do. I worry that there’s too much emphasis placed on the use of process and technology. Flow charts and process maps are great until the box that’s marked ‘this is where you do sales’ comes in. …. But some of your points are good ones. If you’re going to depend on your ATS at least make the experience a positive one.

  7. “Your recruiting process, regardless of applicant tracking system, should bolster your brand and keep your candidates active and engaged through the entire process.”

    This is lovely and idealistic and well-meaning but it is hype and talk and little more.

    I know that you believe this and there was a time I believed it too but as time goes on, you will see that in most companies, Senior Management does not even care about their employees so in sad reality, they do not give a damn about those who are just candidates.

    Are there a few? Sure. 5 to 8% on a very good day. Read your article again in 20 years and see if you feel the same way.

    By the way, this is a great article and it is so nice to see you here. I simply see things differently.

  8. @Howard
    A rather sad and pessimistic viewpoint, and I suppose formed through what seen and experienced through a long time. Sadly you may be right, but whether hype or not and whether senior management having a true interest or not, I for one as a TA manager have difficulties doing what I do, sleeping well at night if I did not give this matter some serious thought and heart and my best shot at treating every fellow human being the same way that I would like someone to treat me.
    Reality may be cynical and stark, but if it isn’t for some with a sense of duty and wish to do the best they can (and with thought, care and heart) then what a place this would be.

  9. Agreed Jacob. I would often times rather be wrong than be right but I have seen so much.

    As an side, I too give this serious thought and consideration as that is a part of why I do this work.

  10. Kate, this is an excellent article. Clever writing, very lively and upbeat, you also make great points about how companies need to improve their outdated ATS. Loved the section on ATS responses to applicants (how did that automated message ever make it to the market?)!!

  11. Great article Kate and a reminder to all of us on the technology side of the recruiting industry that although we provide the tools – we should also continue to focus on education as to how these tools should be used. We work with a lot of recruiters out there so we know many of them are doing a great job despite all the corporate time/workload pressures. Through continued focus through articles like this and other “knowledge sharing” venues, we can all at least try and share ways to make the recruiting experience more human!

  12. Thank you, Kate. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
    Why not? They don’t have to care. If they’re not an “employer of choice” and looking for the “Fabulous 5%,” or an “employer of choice” not looking for the “politically well-connected Fabulous 5%,” then they can treat people any old way they please, and the people will line up for more: THEY WANT A JOB.

    I’m putting out a challenge to the Staffing Managers, Directors, and VPs out there reading this: if you’re sincerely interested in fixing your Candidate Care, let me know off-line. If you’re not a manager, etc. but you think your manager, etc. would be interested in really doing something: forward this on to them. In a couple of weeks, I’ll let people know in my weekly column what I’ve found about who “walks their talk”….



  13. I appreciate everyone’s comments. I have to respectfully disagree with @Howard, “This is lovely and idealistic and well-meaning but it is hype and talk and little more.”

    In the process of gathering requirements for some of my previous employers, I had the luxury of working with many thoughtful HR Leaders who did want to engage candidates. Who truly wanted to work with hiring managers to cull through the volumes of candidates. Those HR leaders were people who cared about the people over the process. They had the mindset that doing the right things for the right reasons will yield the right results. In my opinion, that is not an idealistic approach. It is humanistic.

    After being on the technology side for so long, I can tell you @Jacob how these things get into the product. Typically a developer or a product manager (like myself) would write some boiler plate template text. It is normally during product implementation that the implementation team changes the template text to something meaningful. For me, as a product manger, a takeaway from this experience would be to replace the template text with something more thoughtful, just in case it was never replaced!

    But @Keith, you are right, most employers don’t care about doing the work to be an employer of choice when it comes to the candidate experience. As thought leaders though, we can influence this change. Nurturing candidates is important because we know that eventually some of those candidates become employees. And those employees will become the cogs that turn the wheels. They could come in inspired and feeling like they are valuable from day one; they will ensure the organization runs smoothly. Alternatively the new hires could come in broken and jaded from the process, simply glad to have a job and jam up the works of the organization.

  14. Thanks, Kate. I am no “thought leader” I’m merely been a recruiter and an applicant for very long and see neither positive reinforcement for high level staffing heads who make sure there’s good candidate care nor negative reinforcement for those who don’t. If you want to change behavior: that’s how it’s done…



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