It’s Time for a Candidate’s Bill of Rights

When times are tough, candidates are often treated with disrespect. Many recruiters see a surplus of candidates and start acting impersonally or begin ignoring them. At the same time, candidates, many of whom may be unemployed or very worried about their current positions, are super sensitive to how they are treated. I have heard from unemployed colleagues and from many other candidates about the poor customer service they are receiving as the volume of resumes grows and the number of positions decline. Perhaps some of this can be rationalized because many recruiters have been laid off and workloads have, of course, increased. On the other hand, we have never had more tools to help.

From email to caller ID to voice mail, recruiters can now employ and hide behind electronic shields that are virtually impenetrable by ordinary candidates. Job boards have promised exposure to more potential employers and an easy one-stop experience for job hunting. What candidates actually get, especially in a depressed job market, is inclusion among thousands of others who have similar backgrounds or job aspirations. Rather than gain exposure, their resumes become buried.

Email makes submitting a resume and communicating with a recruiter or hiring manager easier than ever, but in reality the huge volume of email most recruiters receive causes them to ignore and neglect candidates more than ever. Voice mail has become primarily a way of avoiding speaking directly to candidates.

So much of the technology that aids recruiters has actually increased candidate frustration and disenchantment with the corporate recruiting process. Mistreated, ignored, and often frustrated candidates are not likely to say good things about us or our organizations. They may be easy to hire, but they will be hard to retain.

It would be in our own self-interest if we developed and promoted a candidates’ bill of rights that spells out how they should be treated and what they should expect in their search for a new position. There have been attempts to create these in the past, but none have gained much interest. In good times, unfortunately, neither candidates nor recruiters have much motivation to create such a document. Perhaps in this period of uncertainty and frustration such a document can flourish. If there is no collective effort to create a bill of rights, it would be a competitive advantage for any company to create its own such document and use it on their career site and in their promotion to candidates.

The level of frustration is growing. The longer the recession continues, the deeper this will become. Candidates are not asking for a lot — just basic guidelines and an understanding of how we make interview and hiring decisions. They are seeking some understanding of what the process and timelines are for a position and how your organization goes about its hiring. This is not a lot to ask, but I have not seen a single corporation that spells this out at any level.

Using ideas from RPOs, Accolo, and the American Staffing Association, below I have suggested several possible categories where candidates’ rights could be explained and guaranteed. Your organization may not choose to use all of the categories, but providing information or guidelines for any of them would be a huge step forward.

Honesty and Authenticity

The first category would focus on ensuring that the status of a position was honestly stated. It would ensure that all advertised positions were really open and available to job seekers, and would indicate how committed the hiring organization was to filling the open position with external candidates. It would clearly state if the positions would be open in the future or if internal candidates were being considered first.


The second category would focus on accuracy in describing the position. It would list the competencies, skills, or other specific attributes that will be key in making a hiring decision. It would be clear about whether or not the position requires relocation or whether it can be performed virtually. Ideally it would also contain some indication of how success will be measured.

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Complete Information

An additional category would guarantee that candidates will be fully briefed on the organization, hiring manager, and position prior to any interview. They will be provided with links to appropriate websites or other information useful in preparing them for an interview.


A fourth category would provide some indication to the candidate as to how the interview and hiring decision will be made, who will make it, and approximately when it will be decided. It could indicate the selection criteria or the process by which the position will be filled. It could explain the interview or selection process.


The fifth level would inform applicants about the status of their application and where in the process they are, and would provide them with a guarantee that they will be given a reason as to why they were not being considered. It would let them know how soon after an interview they will be notified of the result and what that notification will contain.


A final category would outline the type and level of confidentiality. Ideally it would entitle candidates to security and confidentiality of their personal and professional background and data. It would require a candidate to give permission for that data to be shared with anyone outside the organization.

While I am a believer that as an industry we should adopt such a document, I urge you to consider doing so as a way to differentiate yourself from the completion and as a powerful way to build candidate loyalty and your employment brand.

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


41 Comments on “It’s Time for a Candidate’s Bill of Rights

  1. A candidate bill of rights is a good idea for the recruiting companies as much as it is for the candidates. Generally, it is in the company’s best interest to treat candidates with respect. Here’s an excerpt from my new book “Onboarding – How to get your new employees up to speed in half the time”

    “…We’re not suggesting you pretend to be anything other than what you are. We are suggesting you treat the people you are recruiting and interviewing with the same respect with which you will treat them once they are employees, consistent with your employment brand. If you tend to emotionally and physically abuse your employees, go ahead and treat people you are recruiting the same way.”

    Otherwise, remember that everything communicates and the way you treat candidates during the interview stage will impact the way they feel when you’re trying to close the sale.

    George Bradt – PrimeGenesis Executive Onboarding

  2. As someone in the market for a position now, I certainly applaud this article. Nothing is more frustrating than having email contact or voicemails completely ignored. Everyone is busy, but it really doesnt take much more than a minute or two to respond to an email.

  3. It seems that companies could quite easily put this kind of information on their career site. Even if they don’t cover every aspect of what you’re describing, some of the basics could be put there.

    Would be especially useful for an applicant to see this information when they’re getting ready to apply for a job, or post-application.

  4. Writing the document and publishing it on a career site is easy. DOING it every day is where organizations will realize the competitive advantage. Creating processes, skills, performance metrics and reward systems that align with the candidate experience – that is the real work.

  5. Catie – I agree, but I always think in terms of baby steps. By virtue of deciding to publish SOMETHING on your site to speak towards the way you plan on treating candidates, it forces you to (a) think about it, and (b) make a public statement. Once you’ve made that public statement it’s much harder to ignore.

    It’s hard for companies to make 180 degree turns on what they’ve been doing, invest that time, energy and money in one shot. But through baby steps, companies can get there…

  6. I would not want to see even more legal regulation in this area- having to prove you got back to candidates, what kind and how much feedback etc. would be bad news.

    I’m also wary of the “bill of rights” construct- seems we barely take care of the real thing anymore, let alone a phrase thats already most of the way toward being a gimmick.

  7. Hiring companies and candidates both need to be aware of the openness required to have meaningful dialogue – which may lead to job opportunities. Treating everyone as if they are important, just as you would a valued customer, goes a long way in helping organizations maintain a positive image in the community. Either a formal Candidate’s Bill of Rights or just the stated goal to be open and communicate effectively during the hiring process would result in a much better environment for all concerned.

    In our retained search process we have made a commitment to stand out by using this same type of openness with all candidates, and work with our clients to help them do the same. The result is a strong, focused business process that includes appreciation of the individuals who are involved, and every candidate feeling they have been treated with respect, whether or not they are the final candidate selected for the position

  8. The main thing recruiters must do is treat candidates with respect. Part of that is follow up with status. I agree with Martin – extremes are not necessary. Some recruiters don’t even have the basics however. The comments about making the actual workplace consistent with the advertising, reminds me of a fun joke.
    So we all need a smile:

    While walking down the street one day an APPLICANT is tragically hit by a truck and dies.

    His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.

    ‘Welcome to heaven,’ says St. Peter. ‘Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a qualified individual around these parts, you see, so we’re not sure what to do with you.’

    ‘No problem, just let me in,’ says the Applicant.

    ‘Well, I’d like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we’ll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity.’

    ‘Really, I’ve made up my mind. I want to be in heaven,’ says the Applicant.

    ‘I’m sorry, but we have our rules.’

    And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other people who had worked with him.

    Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had.

    They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne.

    Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it is time to go.

    Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises …

    The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him.

    ‘Now it’s time to visit heaven.’

    So, 24 hours pass with the applicant joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.

    ‘Well, then, you’ve spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity.’

    The Applicant reflects for a minute, then answers: ‘Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell.’

    So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.

    Now the doors of the elevator open and he’s in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage.

    He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls from above…

    The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder. ‘I don’t understand,’ stammers the applicant. ‘Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there’s just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?’

    The devil looks a t him, smiles and says…….

    ‘Yesterday we were recruiting. Today you’re hired.’

  9. I totally agree with this philosophy. However, I think there should be a Bill of Rights for recruiters, too. I am a corporate recruiter for a Fortune 1000 company. When times were good, unemployment was near 4%, and we despirately needed people, the candidates were the ones not returning phone calls or in some cases not even showing up to interviews. Now the shoe is on the other foot and they don’t like it. I think the best solution to this issue is for both parties to treat each other with respect all the time, regardless of who has the “advantage” in the short term.

  10. i think this is an interesting idea… but what about a code of conduct for recruiters instead? that’s what this all seems to boil down to. candidates will always have expectations but it seems to hold more weight for me when you hold a recruiter accountable for their actions and behaviors…

  11. It seems logoical to me that if recruiting is really a profession that rights and responsibilities for both candidates (customers) and recruiters would be logical, necessary and upheld by some sort of professional society.

    Accountants, doctors, engineers, nurses, lawyers and many other professions have these and enforece them with licensing and discipline.

    I have long advocated that recruiting create such a body. The American Staffing Association has done some of this but its focus is on agency recruiters.

    What are your thoughts about this?

  12. @Kevin – The closest thing that corporate recruiters have now is SHRM’s Staffing Management Association, right?

    Would a group that would put this together need to represent all kinds of recruiters (corporate, contingency, staffing agencies, retained) or are the interests of each group sufficiently different that different bodies would be necessary?

  13. Ideally, someone would come forth and create an entity that would embrace all of these. There is nothing different about them except where and in what way they do their work. SHRM, the ASA, or even ERE could form an umbrella to put some initial stakes in the ground.

    Does anyone agree with this?

  14. Do we really need a professional society to govern this? What is stopping us from calling candidates back today? Keeping them informed? Treating them with respect? In the end, organizations who do this will win the top talent. Organizations that continue as they are today – won’t. Isn’t that enough?

  15. One of the things I love best about working in this business is the array of people within it. Everyone from buttoned-down types to wild and crazy cowboys can and do make a living connecting people and jobs. It’s a vital, flexible, and interesting space- but not an unregulated free-for-all by any means.

    While it is a profession, it is only in the widest sense. “Sales” is a profession too, but the what and how of it is a vast range. The low barriers to entry are a feature, not a bug.

    Accountants, doctors, engineers, nurses, and lawyers are a different story; those jobs require heavy skillsets and the price of poor performance can be grave. Licensing and robust regulations and barriers are a cost that is worth the price- but there is a price.

    Credentialism ( leads to stratification, which entrenches people and kills innovation and value.

    Kevin is 1000% correct that candidates deserve first-class treatment- heck, everybody does. But when you legislate what amounts to manners, don’t expect good results…..

  16. Our recruiting team has been meeting to craft a level of effort surrounding the “do onto others as you would have them do onto you” approach. As we contemplate doing more with less, as is the global recruiting climate du jour, we’ll approach “honesty and authenticity, accuracy, complete information, process,” and “confidentiality” as baseline 101 non-negotiables. Unfortunately, “status” in an applicant rich recruiter cycle lean environment a 601 upper level course where even the conventional Masters wisdom no longer is as easy to practice as it is to preach. We welcome the wisdom of others in this area.

  17. Our recruiting team has been meeting to craft a level of effort surrounding the “do onto others as you would have them do onto you” approach. As we contemplate doing more with less, as is the global recruiting climate du jour, we’ll approach “honesty and authenticity, accuracy, complete information, process,” and “confidentiality” as baseline 101 non-negotiables. Unfortunately, “status” in an applicant rich/recruiter cycle lean environment is a 601 upper level course where even the conventional Masters wisdom no longer is as easy to practice as it is to preach. We welcome the wisdom of others in this area.

  18. Kevin, there is another aspect of this issue that I believe is a growing problem. Our company has had several waves of permananent reductions this year so I have taken it upon myself to try and help our laid off people to the extent I can. I developed a blanket e-mail quickly explaining our situation, the types of people available, and attached 2-3 resumes of some of the excellent people that wanted my help. I sent this to a very large group of fellow HR people in our region. I also tried to network with some various groups for the same purpose. If the HR contact or group knew me the response rate was good, If they didn’t know me the response rate was terrible even though I was a fellow HR Leader. How long does it take to hit the reply/send button on your MS Outlook and type “no openings”? I guess profeesional courtesy is also disappearing in this market and the lack of empathy for these laid off people is amazing. If everyone in HR had to personally go through what these people are going through at least once in their career, you wouldn’t need to write an article like this!

  19. The lack of respect that Recruiters give Candidates today is appalling! Candidates bend of backwards to comply with a Company’s application process only to fall into the black hole. With today’s technology there is no reason for candidates to be left in the dark about their status.

    In my applicant tracking system Recruiters are prompted to send an e-mail update whenever there was a change in a candidate’s status. Yes, they were e-mail templates, but candidates knew where they stood.

    May companies strive to be the “Employer of Choice” yet most follow the same old process.

    I think all Recruiters should experience what they put candidates through. It would be a real eye opener!

  20. The idea of somehow regulating the recruiting industry to make people mind their manners (as my boy Martin Snyder mentions above) seems a little off. That being said, it’s not happening without any structure, so I guess there’s a case to be made for something stronger than blog posts. Before environment regulation, dumping chemicals into rivers and poisoning your neighbors downstream was just common practice — now it’s abhorrent as well as illegal.

    It’s Accolo’s view that candidates will vote with their feet — you treat them poorly, they won’t come back. You treat them with respect, they’ll come back and bring their friends. Unfortunately, this kind of employment market leads some recruiters to believe that respect isn’t required. I personally don’t think that a statement on the careers page that says “Sorry – due to the volume of applicants, only those that are a fit will be dignified with a response” is enough.

    As an RPO, it’s part of our responsibility to our clients to protect their employment brand. Respect is obviously the right thing to do, but it’s also good business — every applicant is a potential investor, customer, partner, etc. We’ve generated over 25,000 referrals because we ensure that every candidate gets a response, even if it’s not the one they want. If ‘doing the right thing’ isn’t enough, maybe tangible business results will be.

    We’ve had a Candidate Bill of Rights since 2003. Here’s the link:

  21. @Matt Cooper – It’s good to see the Accolo Candidate Bill of Rights – and it’s great that these are clearly placed on the website. It does set an expectation (and also serves as a marketing tool). I would be interested to know how each of the statements is achieved / measured.

    Though some employers and recruiters / RPO providers treat candidate care seriously, others, even if they have all the technology tools in place and talk the right talk, fail. I would suggest a recruiter’s remuneration and/or service level agreement include measurable candidate care KPIs. Ideally there should be a culture, supported by strong leadership, of wanting to provide service to candidates, but sometimes you have to enforce things to get behavior change. The question for me is whether this should be enforced at the industry level or the business level?

    To help a candidate in their decision making, maybe there could be a criteria-based and real-time candidate care reporting dashboard which either sits on a recruiter’s website and/or on a dedicated website which consolidates data across many recruiters.

    A consideration is that some unsuccessful candidates, despite the best efforts from the recruiter to provide sound service, will blame everything and everybody under the sun for the outcome. This negatively skews the measurement.

    Out of interest, does anybody use “mystery shopping” (actors) to assess candidate care?

  22. Óutside enforcement in any sphere is a real cost and leads to distortions and unintended consequences- its use should be carefully considered and attempted only when stakes are high.

    By the way, what more are most hiring entities willing to say to rejected candidates beyond the fact of rejection?

    Not too much I imagine……

  23. I was intrigued by Matt’s posting and impressed with the website complete with the Candidate Bill of Rights. I promptly referred a Sales Exec candidate I know who is looking in the KC area to this site. (hopefully they live the words)
    At the end of the day A Bill of Rights document is simply a bunch of words. The organizations ability to execute and behave as such is what sets the company apart. Same can be said with the slick marketing, mission statements, etc. If the culture does not support; why bother or mislead. All professions (Including recruiting) have those that follow what we would consider common sense, and those who are an embarrassment to the profession.

  24. A waste of ink…To each his own, and let those businesses who don’t satisfy candidates and clients fade away. Any bill of rights (regardless of its intentions) actually sets a “minimum” standard when in fact, all of our practices should be free to compete, raising and setting new standards for each other.

    Take a look at and see their “standards” for candidate and client bill of rights. Nice eye-candy, but in the end it really doesn’t do any good. I say we guide ourselves by our own definition of honesty, compassion, integrity and ethical behavior. If my competition has a different perspective of what those definitions are, then good luck.

  25. @Robert Stein – a big part of me agrees with your free market perspective, but there is a problem across the whole recruitment industry where many candidates are receiving crap service – they shouldn’t have to endure being treated poorly. Standards, including ethics, need to improve and be maintained across the industry. I think many recruiters don’t feel candidate care is important – and in a commodity-driven, sales-oriented market there could be a fair case for this. Minimum standards around candidate care should at least be a goal, like standards & ethics are in many other industries. Some recruitment agencies, who provide awful candidate care, still get awarded as preferred suppliers by employers and the cycle continues.

    If an employer or recruitment agency wants to exceed the minimum standards then by all means let the free market run its course. True a manifesto in itself is nothing, but at least it outlines some standards to follow and benchmark against.

    It is about time that the recruitment industry globally lifts the standards, is viewed more positively, and evolves.

  26. @Paul: My point is that if you need a piece of paper to guide you on ethics and behavior, then you’ve already failed the integrity test. As for candidate perspective of the list, I take the same approach: Every candidate has a different standard and expectation. Every recruiter should attempt to meet those standards. How can you do this? Easy, communicate, and make sure no candidates expects something you can’t deliver.

    I see your frustration about preferred status, etc., but once the client company figures out that their representative in the talent market place is hurting their brand, they’ll lose the status…

    I think it’s important someone establish a single resource for all candidates to provide feedback regarding their recruiter experience, like the one a the top of this page: Check it out.

    Some recruiters have this, but there needs to be a single, unbiased one, disconnected from any search firm to ensure it is untainted.

  27. Have some compasion for those people who are out looking for a job and at least call them or email them back if you can even help them. I think they are just looking for people to be honest with them if you can help or not. If your in a vertical industry this is a great time to be building your database with good candidates I have seen people in the job market who would of never left their position before, who were good and at the top of the sales force, but now are forced to!

  28. Matt Cooper,

    Accolo may have a Bill of Rights, but they do not follow their own guidelines. Case in point. I have an associate who has applied for a position 4 weeks ago, emailed 3-4 times since then, hoping to keep interest in him, and has yet to receive any reply what-so-ever. I expect you/Accolo are busy, but if you are going to say Accolo will treat candidates in a timely manner with respect and courtesy, then follow through. Having a Bill of Rights is nice, acting on it is tremendous good will.

    Bryce Johnson

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