Is Your Hiring Process Hurting Your Employer Brand?

“Your website and application process is the absolute worst I’ve ever encountered. Hopefully your company is not as disorganized as this site makes you appear.”

“…I was completely disappointed in the lack of professionalism and consideration. If this is how potential new employees are treated I can only surmise that existing employees are treated poorly, too.”

“This experience has change many perceptions about (your company) for us forever. We may choose other healthcare options in the future.”

–Source: anonymous job applicants, responding to Improved Experience employer surveys

Are job applicants saying things like this about your organization to their friends and family? Do you know what job applicants are saying about you? Do you know what your job application and hiring process says about you as an employer?

If you’re thinking “Who cares, it’s an employer’s market,” feel free to stop reading this and move on. This article isn’t for you.

However, if you agree with the following four points, this article is for you.

  1. Your competitive strength will always depend on your ability to attract and retain the cream of the talent crop–regardless of the economy or unemployment rate.
  2. Your employer brand isn’t just affected by the experience you deliver to your employees. It’s also shaped by your job application and hiring process.
  3. As explored in an earlier article of mine, when it comes to your employer brand, “Everything Matters.” Every interaction job applicants have with your organization has the potential of shaping your employer brand. The experience they take away with them can profoundly affect your reputation as an employer and, in many cases, as a provider of products and services. Therefore, if you want employer of choice status, examine each step in the job application and hiring experience.
  4. When the economy does turn around, companies who have great talent already in place–and not just worn out, warm bodies doing time–these are the companies positioned to capitalize on emerging opportunities.

What Does Your Job Application and Hiring Process Say About You to the Labor Market?

Stop and reflect on each step job applicants take in your application and hiring process.

Ask yourself whether each step communicates that:

You’re a well-run company, one they could feel proud to be part of

or …

You’re a slipshod, second rate organization.

Employees are treated with respect in your organization …

or …

Disrespect and incivility are the norm in your organization.

Do You Make These Common Job Application and Hiring Mistakes?

Based on the survey responses she has seen over the years, Claudia Faust, CEO of Improved Experience, recommends that employers ask themselves if they are making these employer-brand-damaging job application and hiring process mistakes:

A confusing, and sometimes infuriating, online job application experience that leaves a horrible early impression. Remember, everything matters. Not only does a poorly designed online experience leave the job applicant with a bad taste in their mouth, it also communicates:

  • “This is a poorly run organization that accepts mediocrity.”
  • “We’re not concerned enough about would-be employees to provide them with a user-friendly experience.”

In his excellent article We Should Be Ashamed, Kevin Wheeler describes an experience a talented friend had wrestling with poorly designed, information-deprived corporate recruiting sites:

Most of them lacked good general information and offered nothing specific about the kind of work he was interested in. Only one of the sites listed the position he knew was open, offered little information about the position except the usual boilerplate, and then asked him to go through a tedious process of uploading a resume. None of them really learned anything about him or his referral. No questions, no interactivity, nothing. He didn’t know what they really wanted to know about him, and they certainly weren’t providing him much that was useful.

Requiring more than 20 minutes to fill out an online job application. Notes Faust: “Based on our interviews and survey data, 20 minutes seems to be the tolerance threshold for applications. After that, interest turns to annoyance and drop-offs.”

Faust goes on to recommend that employers examine what is the “right amount of information to collect at the right time.”

“When job seekers are required to provide details up front that aren’t pertinent until a later stage of assessment, the process may be efficient, but experience suffers. If your first interaction feels like a proctology visit, where’s the incentive for job seekers to deepen the relationship with your company? And for those who remain engaged in the painful process, doesn’t it beg the question ‘why?’ It’s important to think about the behaviors you’re filtering in — and out.”

Article Continues Below

An exhaustive application followed up by … nothing. Back to the saga of Kevin Wheeler’s friend. After surviving his death match with the company’s website, he never received a response. When he called, the voice mail message said someone would get back to him. No one did. Six weeks after his initial contact, friends inside the organization told him the position was still open.

What are the odds that this talented, currently employed passive-candidate will ever apply for a position in this company? What are the odds he has told others of his impression?

Disrespectful Interview Behavior. Alise Cortez, an independent consultant and board member at Improved Experience, found the prevalence of incivility reported by applicants startling. “Job applicants report a surprising level of basic discourtesy: managers showing up late and not apologizing. Others … not even showing up. You know it happens, but it’s astounding how frequently it does happen. I hear from candidates all the time the manager answered cellphone calls during the interview. They end up saying:

“I wanted this job so badly, but now I am certain I don’t want it.”

“I think ‘if this is the way they treat prospective employees, do I really want to work with them?’”

Because We’re Pattern-Seeing, Generalization Creating Creatures…

If you review the survey respondent quotes at the beginning of this article, notice the connections they made between their experience in the recruiting process and their broader impressions of the organization as an employer. Notice how some even extrapolated their experience to include a new–and unflattering–perception of the employer’s status as a service provider.

We make these connections and create generalizations because our brains are hard-wired to see patterns–even when they’re not there.

That’s why as customers we can have an unpleasant experience with a call center representative and think “This is a lousy company. I’m never going to do business with them again.” Although it was one person, we naturally–without trying–extrapolate that experience to include the whole business.

This is one of the reasons why I’m always preaching everything matters when it comes to onboarding (or any aspect of the employee experience and its potential impact on engagement and morale).

So Find Out What They Think–and Say–About You

In today’s world of social media, a careless, thoughtless, or clueless recruiting process can offer unlimited opportunities for employer brand-damaging PR.

So, if you’re serious about enjoying the benefits of a great employer brand, and engaging new hires from their very first interaction, find out what job applicants think about your hiring process.

I recommend that you use both a survey and interviews. While surveys can give you important breadth of information, interviews can give you the more granular, in-depth information you’ll need to upgrade and refine your process.

Not matter what, though, ask them about their experience.

You may be surprised about what you hear.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," as well over 60 articles and book chapters. You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at, or follow him on Twitter at


26 Comments on “Is Your Hiring Process Hurting Your Employer Brand?

  1. This is great, David. As someone who’s been in the game since the mid-90’s, it was eye opening for me to be on the job hunt in this recession.

    Or rather: it was stomach turning. I have to admit, I’m a bit ashamed of us. From phone screens with no follow up feedback (not even a no, just no answer), to 30 minute ATS applications that prompted a “We promise we look at every resume” canned e-mail that had been _preceded_ by a canned “Sorry, you’re not a fit” e-mail (btw, the application went in at 10 pm, nobody read it).

    I got bored, intrigued, and geeked out sometimes by creating fake “perfect” resumes for jobs, based word-for-word on the job descriptions, and got either rejections (rarely), or (most often) a black hole.

    One company I was interviewing at, and doing well, decided not to pursue me because I proposed that the recruiters (including me) should look at every application – that ATS’s had become too much of a crutch, and we had to stop using them until we found a better solution. This seemed to upset them…

    Oh, do I have stories… frankly, the only good encounters (including the one that got me into my current role) were with business leaders, and had nothing to do with recruiting or HR. They’re bottom-line driven, frank people – you at least got a “no, and here’s why”, which is refreshing.

  2. I love this article.

    Martin I love your candid honesty. It is sad that the recruiting process in some companies has become a churn and burn process. How can a recruiting function boast of being high quality and looking for the best talent but demonstrate weak and inferior practices. It makes no sense.

    Recruiting is about relationship and effectively managing relationship to onboard quality focused people needed to help drive the organization forward. Ultimately, this can not happen when an organization integrates inferior practices which include lack of communication, lack of follow-up, ect.

  3. No doubt about it, we can all do better. In Washington DC on November 18, ClearedJobs is celebrating several recruiters at an Awards breakfast. More than 5000 job seekers voted for the recruiters who are being honored.

    Along with the stick we perhaps should be looking at more carrots to honor those who see their job as hiring the very best and brightest without damaging the rest.

  4. I love this article as well. At last someone said it! I look at websites, analyse the recruitment / candidate journey for a living every day as we offer digital recruitment marketing solutions to improve the candidate experience and increase findability (that is a new word!)

    We have been designing and developing recruitment websites for over 10 years but for the corporate market there is a need for more than just a nicely designed website and application process, it needs to have a logical and easy candidate journey / work flow.

    I personally cannot stand the front end look of an ATS. Back end, yes, really important and saves a lot of time and effort, but integrating the ATS with a much nicer and more functional website software (like ours) would be so much more effective and I am hoping with time, more companies will look at this option.

    To my knowledge other providers don’t seem to integrate ‘seamlessly’ with ATS systems, partly due to not having the recruitment software, however many ad agencies and other marketing agencies will offer the design and then you have the ATS as soon as you click apply. First time I tried this I thought ‘where did I go?’ They are ugly, clunky and, most times, let down the employer brand.

    I would love to see more functional, logical and interactive career sites out there with simple and quicker applications. The recruitment industry would be a better place!

    When there is a lot of talk about acquiring top talent, what I don’t understand is how they allow their recruitment process to miss it if they aren’t checking every application. We cannot leave everything to an automated system or we won’t get the best out of recruitment.

    Thank you for sharing this article!! My passionate rant is over.

  5. Thank you, David. IMHO, application, interview, and hiring practices are set up to reflect the prejudices of those in charge, rather than to maximize applicant usability and convenience.

    Companies don’t have to treat applicants well because they don’t have a need to -particularly “employers of choice”.
    I’ve mentioned it before and no doubt will mention it again: if a company cared to do so, it could hire virtual Application Reviewers for $1,500/mo to manually look at every single application for suitability, and virtual “Applicant Service Reps” for $400/mo to make sure each and every candidate has a decent experience.
    They don’t, because IT DOESN’T MATTER TO THEM.



  6. David makes it obvious as to why the hiring process doesn’t work very well in corporate America. It seems we are so fixated on funneling people through systems that no other business sector would even fathom. The sad fact is that the systems used by 9 out of 10 companies are designed for people that are motivated to put up with being treated like animals in a stockyard…

    These systems are geared toward “processing” people to fit some 1 and 0 IT code. People that absolutely don’t need the job, but like something about an opening avoid them because of the systems that are used – or complain about them as those quoted in David’s piece. Its a shame really as there are other options that can be used for applicants (see Tara’s company for instance).

    The real story that gets overlooked here though is what happens to the people that don’t apply. What about their experience – you rarely hear that! Ask yourself, of the people that visit a Career Page (typically 50% of overall site visitors), what percentage actually apply? We make sausage out of applicants and ignore 95% of those that could be cultivated for future hiring…

    None of this is a Sustainable Business Practice, and if there was ever a sector that needs a top to bottom remake for sustainability – workforce development is it!

  7. Amen. Candidates can learn a huge amount about a company’s culture from their experience the hiring process. Employers may figure they don’t need to care, since it’s a buyer’s market — but (a) that’s going to change eventually, (b) great candidates — the ones you most want to hire — even options even in this economy, and (c) there’s simply something to be said for treating people well, particularly when they’re in a vulnerable position.

    I’d like to post a reward for someone to show me an incredibly well-run organization that also treats job applicants badly. I don’t believe it exists.

  8. Technology is meant to ease the process and help manage the function and be able to report on it. I dare say that companies fall prey easily to data miners and BI talk about how to gather information and search for what is best given the requirement. Where people are involved, there is a big risk if you depend purely on the science and not at all on the art. I often tell clients, friends and colleagues that if you start searching for technical attributes only, you will find it hard to get the talent which will lift your business into the next level.

    It is not about now being an employer’s market. It is about the process and shortfalls being recognised over the long term. If I gave you my CV/resume, you would immediately approach me for a Finance role, being ecstatic that I have working experience of Hyperion. Well, the first problem is I do not have an interest in that type of role anymore, albeit I am built for it and am still good with numbers. The second problem is I was great at using the tool (Hyperion) and have not touched it in 5 years. The search function would not recognise this and I would be a candidate.

    Data gathering by making candidates go through the process of completing endless fields for 20 minutes does not leave people with a good impression if after all that trouble there is no people engagement even to give feedback that they were unsuccessful in their application. Similarly, talent knows it has options, so if you employ with the approach that everyone wants to work for you, you will push good people away with that arrogance.

  9. So glad you wrote this post David — well done! The amount of brand neglect around the recruiting process out there right now is astonishing.

    What made me want to comment today: “Every interaction job applicants have with your organization has the potential of shaping your employer brand. The experience they take away with them can profoundly affect your reputation as an employer and, in many cases, as a provider of products and services.”

    Like Martin, I have a few amazing stories to share about the bad behavior and practices I experienced when I briefly considered returning to the corporate world this summer. I shook off that idea within a month and instead doubled my efforts on filling my consulting/freelance pipeline. (Best move I could have made.)

    I’m working on my own blog post about being on the receiving end of these brand destroying behaviors because I now have even more empathy for some of the career strategy clients I’ve worked with this past year. I’ll be sure to re-post it here when it’s completed.

    Until then, I just wish people involved in the recruiting process would consider the fact that word-of-mouth and social media have a way of spreading a company’s (and individuals) bad behavior, and creating damage to a brand faster than ever before.

    Plus, the world just keeps getting smaller and smaller, and as always, one never knows where today’s candidates will land once they do find work, OR just how much influence and decision making power they may have down the road.

  10. Gerry Crispin – “No doubt about it, we can all do better”

    Gerry you are absolutely right. I have to be honest over the course in my career as a recruiter, I’ve made some tactical mistakes in the hiring process.

    One valuable lesson that I have learned and continue to learn is that it is easy to point fingers but, but for me personally, the real questions is what steps can be taken to make this process better?

    Kind regards,

  11. David,

    Great follow up to my blog entitled Your Recruiters Could be Killing Your Brand. (“”) As you point out, you can’t build an authentic Employer Brand internally without embedding it into the way you operate externally as well. You are preaching to the choir. Good stuff.

  12. You all make wonderful comments regarding David’s article. There are many of us out there who have been preaching the same for many years. You’d think companies would start to get it. I assert the problem lies with the difficulty perceived in actually making change. My company’s ( process places the onus on us and we build a process for the client that is streamlined and user friendly based on their needs. This way the “users” are compliant in the process we give them and this leads to 80%+ top talent.

  13. There was a great discussion on “candidate experience” in the last HR Happy Hour blog talk radio show – I listened in & made two comments on the twitter back channel worth repeating here:

    1) The best way to kill your brand is to ignore or mistreat employees & candidates.

    2) Candidates & employees both deserve to be treated the same as CUSTOMERS. Like customers, all they want is an experience that’s courteous, responsive and satisfying.

  14. I like Heidi’s comment that we need to look at ourselves as recruiters and do the things we can do to change the candidate experience.

    So, if I were to take Sylvia’s reference of an oft repeated cliche to heart- “treat them as customers” here are a couple things that come to mind:

    – If a customer asks for the price, you give it. (If it is negotiable or variable you might give a range within which 80% of the hires are offered but lets not get off the point). You don’t answer a question with the question, “what is your current salary?” before you supply the answer. Only one public firm in the US has stepped up to this issue and offers compensation as part of any search result.

    – If a product isn’t available, you will tell a customer when it will be there. No firm I’m aware of supplies the frequency with which positions that aren’t open are expected to come open. How many times will you hire an accountant this year?

    – If you had the product but you couldn’t acquire it in ‘your’ store, you would tell them which store to get it wouldn’t you? If you post a job on your career site that has been given exclusively to a third party, does your posting indicate the third-party firm? Do you send them the folks who applied thinking this was the right store?

    – If a product were not going to be available but you knew someone else, a competitor for instance, who had it you would direct that ‘customer’ to your competitor. (Northrop Grumman has placed more than 80 severely disabled candidates they have assessed as qualified for a job that had no opening with competitors who had the opening…this year)

    – If a product is broken you wouldn’t sell it to a customer. It’s a fact that most people leave a firm because of a lousy boss. Recruiters who then fill that position are….selling a broken product? When was the last time you refused to fill a job because it wasn’t in the ‘brand/value (business)’ interest of your firm or, told the hiring manager you wouldn’t work with him until they demonstrated managerial competence? Right.

    I’ve got more but the point is that treating a customer well goes beyond a smile and a welcome and only a few internal recruiters I’ve met have the chops to treat their candidates as customers.

    To say we should is aspirational but not currently practical at every level.

    We can however:
    …Put our contact information in our open position statements.
    …Promise that every person will be thanked for their interest and told when the position is filled.
    …Thank (even automatically)every person for considering the job enough to spend their time to apply.
    …Tell every person who applied that the position is filled when the position is filled.
    …Give every Employee who referred a candidate a valid reason why that candidate wasn’t selected, considered, etc. and allow them to share that with the person they referred.
    …Stop a person clearly unqualified for a job from completing the application…and give them the reason, thank them and suggest how they might move on or get what they need and come back.
    …Offer a process (time, process, chat room, email)by which any person qualified and considered but not selected can receive feedback.

    There’s lots more. I’m currently working on a rather lengthy approach to operationally defining “Candidate Experience” with a bunch of peers but the point of this list (feel free to add yours) isn’t that it can’t be done.

    It is that it isn’t being done by 99% of our peers out of concern for time, money, legal issues etc. etc.

    Recruiters who whine about not being able to do it IMHO need to step up their game and do it anyway. Those who do and raise the standard of our game need to get much more recognition and support.

    I propose we start putting some awards into recognizing the candidate experience (Todd…ERE)

  15. Great post Gerry and I love the idea of creating awards for the candidate experience, plus the operationalizing the Candidate Experience.

    In some of my previous articles and when presenting on onboarding I always encourage employers to examine each step of the employee experience and ask:

    “What’s the Emotional Take Away?” and

    “What’s the Perceptual Take Away?”

    The first question is self-evident; the second one refers to the perceptions and impressions this step in the process will naturally leave the employe with.

    So for instance, if your orientation program is disorganized and boring, it creates perceptions such as:

    “This is a poorly run organization.”

    “They don’t get it.”

    “Mediocrity is tolerated here.”

    Another way of thinking about the creating optimal employee experiences is to use what I call “The Designer’s Eye”.

    Great design is both aesthetically pleasing and functional–i.e. it works well. One without the other is not good design.

    So…as it relates to the hiring process, the onboarding process, or any aspect of the employee experience, applying The Designer’s Eye means optimizing the “aesthetics”–the emotional take away–and the “functional”–it’s ability it optimizes employee performance.

    I would LOVE to see greater attention and intention brought to all aspects of the employee experience, because–to use one of my favorite mantras (borrowed from branding guru Scott Bedbury–Everything Matters.

  16. Gerry, I’m not opposed, but for this year I think it would be a part of the other categories. The candidate experience is part of onboarding. The candidate experience is definitely part of referrals. The candidate experience should be part of the department of the year. It’s definitely part of your brand (like the way Starbucks has historically treated rejected candidates well). Definitely part of college recruiting.

  17. Great points Todd. What makes it different is the voting. I would have job seekers recommend and then offer for a vote 4 or 5 firms that purport to give great a candidate experience.

  18. Disclaimer first: I am one of the founders of a firm specialising in customer and employee experience management. I therefore take a pretty biased view on the importance of candidate experience.

    We apply a set of techniques typically used in marketing and product development to helping clients develop strong, manageable experiences.

    Experiences should never be left to chance. They can be systematically planned, measured and continually improved using a set of well-established (albeit outside HR) techniques.

    Central to developing great candidate experiences is a deep knowledge of candidate needs and behaviours. Understanding how candidates use the complete ecosystem can provide ideas on how and where to improve.

    Most of our projects will involve some form of experience lab to get a granular understanding of how candidates are experiencing the end-to-end recruitment processes. We find no substitute to working with real candidates (or customers) as those involved on a daily basis – or even ‘experts’ – can become blind to issues.

    As systems are central to most recruitment processes then thorough usability testing should be included, not just on the recruitment system but also through the whole website. As the design becomes more sophisticated, I’ve found eye-tracking to be useful to further optimise the design.

    Most of the ATS systems have poor interfaces and frequently the usability issues are compounded by poor customisation during implementation. Using usability testing as part of any system-selection exercise and developing solutions to enable an experience strategy is a great way of ensuring success and reducing costs. Bringing typical candidates into the design phase through an iterative prototype-test-refine cycle ensures that the implementation is right first time.

    On an ongoing basis numerous insight approaches, some of which are often described together as ‘voice of the customer programmes’ can be used to get an ongoing perspective of how candidates are experiencing and perceiving the firm. What is useful is to link quantitive transactional data with qualitative information from candidates at key points. You’re looking for lead indicators that help predict success, changes and provide warnings where action is needed.

    Ultimately there should be a real desire to build a candidate-centric recruitment organization and a willingness to make necessary changes. I would argue that the firm needs to see employees as customers.

    Benefits are typically derived from several areas. First, our research shows a strong probability that candidates are customers (for firms where this is possible). I’ve seen organizations where applicants are 4 times more likely to be customers than you’d expect of a random sample of the relevant population. Job changing is a sensitive time for all of us and experiences are not seen exclusively related to hiring – if a candidate to an insurer has to endure a slow, inefficient process from a recruiter they deduce that this is likely to be how the insurer would handle any claim.

    Secondly the channels candidates select – firms’ desires to drive recruitment directly (rather than through agencies) and success of employee referral programmes – can be linked to reputation of the recruitment function. Candidates want to take the path of least resistance whilst employees are staking their own personal reputation when referring. As experience metrics improve there is typically a positive channel-switching effect.

    Finally in a competitive recruitment market a slick, candidate-focussed experience pre-joining can influence whether a candidate accepts the offer or declines. Furthermore, over-delivering on recruitment expectations is a sure-way of developing company advocates. Many of their ex-colleagues could easily by swayed by when hearing what they’ve just experienced.

  19. A quick update following my earlier comment:

    1) we published a short note on brand implications of rejections with some interesting information on how total process time is linked to where people get in the process.

    2) In preparation of an article which we are writing for early 2011 we have a short 5 minute survey looking at recruitment experiences. Do take the time to complete it and ideally send it to folk you know who have been job-hunting recently. We’ll provide the full analysis to everyone who completes / provides contact details.

  20. David, I really enjoyed your article. The reality is — for an interview process to be successful — both hiring managers and candidates must be at their best. When both parties step it up for an interview, the interaction is maximized. Top performers want to work with other top performers. A negative first impression could be ultimately a deal breaker for a desirable candidate.We definitely shares similar view points. I recently wrote and article on this similar topic.

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