Recruiters: Don’t Risk Your Credibility Because You Hate Giving Bad News

A lot of the recruiter bashing that occurs online is no doubt because there are so many people who blame recruiters when a company never provides a single word of follow-up information after an interview.

It’s hard to blame anyone for being angry about that. Maybe they think recruiters are purposely withholding information from them. Recruiters get irritated when candidates “vanish” during the recruiting and interviewing process, so it stands to reason that candidates in the interview process get irritated when recruiters “vanish.”

It is impossible for a recruiter to give personal (non-automated) replies to every person who applies to a job when there are hundreds of applicants to sort through. However, when a person moves from the applicant or prospect stage to the interview stage, recruiters should feel obligated to stay engaged and be responsive to their candidates for the rest of the process. Even when hiring managers don’t — or won’t — give the recruiter any feedback, recruiters need to stay in touch with the candidate during the interview process to let them know they have not been forgotten and that they are trying to move the process forward.

Always respond to phone calls and emails from candidates who are in the interview stage … even if you shoot back a quick, one-sentence response saying you don’t have any updates yet. There have been many times when I have sent an email like that to immediately have the candidate reply back with a note that says something like, “WOW thank you for your reply!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Sadly, they are so used to being ignored by recruiters that they almost go into shock when they finally do get a response.

Tell candidates the truth. If it has been a week and you don’t have any feedback yet, let them know. If a candidate has been rejected, let them know. If you have any feedback you are allowed to tell them as to why they were rejected, tell them. Knowing why they have been rejected could possibly help them do better on their next interview, and certainly you want to be the kind of recruiter who helps them out even if they don’t get hired by your company. If you are not allowed to tell them the exact reason they have been rejected, at least have the consideration to close the loop for them. You can always tell them you do not have specific feedback you can give them as to why they were rejected but will keep their resume and let them know if another position opens up in the future that looks like it would be a good match. Also be sure and connect with them on LinkedIn because there might be other recruiters in your network who can help them.

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The lead recruiter who has been assigned to a particular job opening should be the one responsible for making sure the candidate is kept up to date. Many large companies have recruiters, sourcers, and recruiting coordinators all assigned to cover multiple positions. In cases like this, the senior recruiter or lead recruiter for the requisition can decide which person on the team relays interview updates to the candidate. Often it will come down to who the candidate contacts to ask for an update. If the ATS is updated after every contact with the candidate, it will be easy for all persons concerned to quickly find out what the candidate has been told and when they were told it.

To just leave a person hanging after an interview because you don’t have any updates or don’t want to have a difficult conversation or don’t think it is worth your time is simply unacceptable. It is also the sign of an inconsiderate and/or poorly trained recruiter. Frequently interview processes drag out for week,s and it will be very difficult to close a candidate who has been poorly treated by the recruiter during the interview process. Also keep in mind your company may not hire the person right now but may want to hire them in the future.

What do you think it says about your company when a person does an interview, either by phone or in person, and never hears another word from anyone? Do you think that person will ever want to work with you or anyone else at your company again? Do you think they will send you any referrals? How do you think the candidate will feel about your company and its products? What do you think they will tell their friends? I know how I would feel if someone treated me that way.

Don’t risk your credibility as a competent recruiter over something as basic as giving interview feedback to your candidates. The interview process is the first experience your candidate has in seeing how your company treats people. You want every candidate you work with to go away with a positive impression of you even if your company does not hire them. You never know when you will cross paths with that candidate again for a different position or company. Candidates should never burn bridges and neither should recruiters.

Charlene Long is a corporate recruiter with RPO and agency experience who specializes in IT and engineering positions. She lives in Dallas, Texas, and has over 20 years of technical recruiting experience. Previously she was an analytical chemist for environmental labs in Florida and Texas and then for Texas Instruments in Dallas for four years.


21 Comments on “Recruiters: Don’t Risk Your Credibility Because You Hate Giving Bad News

  1. I really don’t have an issue with recruiters not getting back to me, I learned very early on if there is good news, you’ll get it, and if there is no news, then move on, as a matter of fact keep moving on. The issue I have with recruiters is that they don’t know how to interview people for positions, just like there clients, completely clueless about what types of questions to ask. I’ve worked with more than 100 recruiters, haven’t met one that knows how to interview. The best I get is walk me through your resume, an exercise in futility. Even those that attempt behavioral based interviewing don’t realize that it’s success rate is very low, and that assumes that your very good at it, which most people aren’t. There are only two companies in North America that have solved this issue, one is Talent Plus, the other is Hire Authority, Carol Quinn’s company.

      1. Take Carols Course, it’s ridiculously inexpensive, it will take between 4-5 hours. If you sign up for her newsletter, she will give you a free copy of her ebook, it’s 189 pages, best money you’ll ever spend. I’ve taken her course twice, it works like a charm

    1. John, Hello….

      Why is “…walk me through your resume…” an “exercise in futility”?

      I do this all the time so I get the recruit’s persona and credentials under my skin, enabling me to get to know the candidate as well as is reasonably possible…in preparation, of course, toward my presenting that recruit to a client.

      Also, the ‘walk me through your resume’ exercise enables me to observe the candidate and enables me to spot anything I may particularly like or may concern me. That forty-five to fifty-five minutes I spend on the initial credentials review gives me a great opportunity to spot anything that needs to be addressed or may give me reason to drop the candidate.




      1. Paul, here’s the issue, if you’ve studied the history of interviewing, you’ll come to realize that this is one area that no one really understands well. There is no science behind 99% of the questions that are being asked, it simply a bunch of people that are trying to be armchair psychologists.
        What value is walking through your resume, it doesn’t reveal one thing about your ability to work in adverse conditions, it doesn’t reveal your passion and certainly doesn’t touch on self -motivation.
        There is a difference between knowing what to expect in an interview and conducting an effective interview, the latter is the issue. If can walk you through my resume and tell you whatever it is I want you to know, it doesn’t mean it’s a reflection of anything but my story telling ability.
        If you study the history of behavioral interviewing, it was the first and only real break through in an approach that was based on the philosophy, past behavior dictates future performance, however, that’s not true and it’s not a validated approach.

        If you look at the work that Talent Plus is doing, they’ve validated their approach and it’s success rate is at 80% and better. If you think you know the candidate, your fooling yourself, what you know is what they reveal. There are people that are professional interviewers, they can talk their way through any interview.

        With all that’s been written about emotional intelligence, strength based management and the list goes on and on, here we are today, still focusing on issues that aren’t relevant, education and skills.
        When you ask individuals questions that demonstrate their ability to work in adversity, you are starting to then look at the high performers, the people that don’t quit or blame someone or something for failure.

        Visit the Hire Authority site and watch a few of Carols videos, she’ quite brilliant.

        1. Hi, John….

          I viewed most of her videos and frankly, for me, most of what she says is common sense. I say this because a) I can read people better than their neighbors know them and b) my intuitive skills are off the chart.

          So for me (and only me), what she says comes naturally. I don’t give away my agenda during my questions and I also -as she suggested- place obstacles (I call them ‘traps’ because I liken them to the tiger pits of Vietnam) into my questions. I can also make links between what is said and future events. In fact, being able to anticipate my recruits is one of my biggest strengths. When I test this on occasion, more for my own amusement than to seek out a ‘truth’, they react by looking down to see if their zipper is undone. Metaphorically speaking.

          I could go on but this was not supposed to be about me so I’ll stop here except to say that I’m one of those people who ‘hears’ what was not addressed when someone is walking me through their resume. So for me -and only me- walking me through your resume gives me the opportunity to read between the lines and spot what is missing or what is being dressed up to suit the situation.

          Frankly, the more ‘prepared’ someone sounds, the more likely I am to pop their balloon.

          BS artists are for me the easiest to spot since I can almost see their outer wrapping. And as I said, my intuitive side has people asking me if I can read minds and/or asking me if I am psychic.

          So I consider myself lucky I don’t have to interview in a fog. On the other hand, since what I do comes as easy to me as breathing and drinking water, it is not so easy for me to train others in what I know since I rely less on technique than on simply ‘being me’.

          Anyway, thanks for explaining what you had said about resume run-throughs. In my case, I succeed in killing two or three birds with one stone when I do this but it is clear that has not been your experience with recruiters, in the past.

          Sooner or later you will run into a better-armed interviewer and you’ll see the difference.
          By the way, ‘Medieval Recruiter’ is what I call a ‘critical based’ listener and most likely has similar success as I do since he actively seeks out BS and most likely lays out traps in a manner similar to myself.

          What I do intuitively, he does by masking the fact he is ‘gunning’ for the truth when he interviews. He probably scores high points when he plays ‘Asteroids’ since he doesn’t let anything get past him.

          Whatever works, n’est-ce pas, MR?


          P.S. John, if you ever want to test what I’ve said, just give me a call. In fact, if you make your picture available to me, it is entirely possible I will tell you interesting things about yourself without our even having spoken together.



  2. Good advice, but even on this front, because of the lack of value assigned to candidates by the companies themselves, this behavior is exacerbated. I try and call everyone, but even I hit a certain point where I can’t keep calling to let the candidate know that, sorry, there’s still no news, because the hiring manager just up and vanished from all communications as if they never existed. I’ve been dinged on this issue myself as a recruiter, and sometimes it was me just dropping the ball. The majority of the times though, it was me hitting the end of my day – which is ten hours a day minimum, and usually longer – and still having an endlessly growing list of calls I have to make, or respond to, to people who I’ve already told multiple times that it looks like the position isn’t moving forward. But since I’ve had no word from the manager, there’s no finality. I used to try and cap things at a week and just call it closed, but that ended up biting me in the rear recently when, three weeks after submission, a hiring manager calls and wants to interview people previously sent.

    Also, when you’ve been recruiting for a while, you also pick up the psychotics. I still remember one guy who was calling repeatedly claiming I sold his resume to the CIA. Then there are people who want to call just to expound on how hard it has been for them to find a job. Which I totally sympathize and empathize with, but I can’t sit on the phone for a half hour each day with all of them commiserating. I need to do the work that pays my bills.

    And, as is usual, a lot of this goes back to the over emphasis on Sales! as opposed to objective reality. Recruiters have pitched themselves as People’s Personal Job and Life Coaches, when in reality the client pays the bill. The candidates are a major part of the process, but as a recruiter you are being paid by a company to fill a specific job, not to find a specific person a specific job. But recruiters, unwavering Sales! people that they are, have BSed people into believing that they are there for them, when in reality at the end of the day the client pays the bill and ultimately calls the shots. And if they don’t value their employees, they will value candidates less, and if you as a recruiter push them to value candidates, chances are you will simply lose the fee, not change their outlook. So, to get the money, you have to devalue candidates or find other clients, plain and simple. And the ones who value candidates generally don’t need help recruiting, so…

    Not to mention, when you get consummate Sales! people managing businesses they usually encourage a massive over emphasis on the fee you can get right now, rather than nurturing longer term relationships. They tend to be way more present oriented and blind to opportunity costs, so all those people they’ve pissed off by not calling back simply don’t register as much in their brains. It’s like they lack an analogous sense to object permanence when it comes to candidates for positions which they feel aren’t likely to pay off, and that bleeds into the management of the agencies they’re in charge of. It’s like a dog, the only bone that matters is the one in front of them.

    So, all in all, until the Sales! is pulled out of recruiting, and until the companies out there start valuing people rather than seeing them as disposable, this problem will continue. It may be best practice to keep contacts up to the max, but the reality is it doesn’t pay the bills, so it really won’t factor in to a recruiter’s evaluations unless a company specifically emphasizes in on principle, which is about as likely as the sun turning into a bran muffin.

    1. If you step back and ask yourself one question, what is the root cause of my dilemma, you’ll discover the answer is, I’m not able to separate the mediocre people from the high performers. This is what your client struggles with as well. Hire more high performers, less turnover, less need for engagement, less everything, you see this is what we don’t understand. We are on the proverbial hamster wheel making one bad hire after another. Is it because there is a lack of talent, absolutely not, it’s because we aren’t able to match the talent with the needs of the position and the company culture.
      If the people you are working with don’t understand the nature of your relationship, drop them and tell them why, stop wasting your time dealing with cry babies, people need to start wearing the big boy pants and realize, if I have something to tell you, I’ll call you, I mean, how stupid do you think I am, this is how I make my living.

      The other part of recruiting that is very broken is the approach recruiters don’t take in understanding the culture. It’s very rare for me to speak to a recruiter who really understands the culture, it’s one thing to have leadership describe their culture, it’s another when you ask employees. If I had long term clients, I would ask to spend some time in their company talking to a variety of people to ensure what I was told was true. Most companies tend to describe their culture the way they would like it to be, not how it really is, that makes for bad decisions.

      1. High performers aren’t that hard to spot, I generally do performance based interviewing. No idea if it’s validated or not, but in terms of questioning it helps me get the answers I need without having to ask the questions directly, so I don’t get scripted responses. But the problem has roots, not a root, but the main reason is that companies don’t value people, so they don’t invest in the process, nor have much incentive to improve it. Also because of that, they often refuse to pay people market salaries because the only research they put into finding out what such a rate is, is to ask the owner, who thinks since he started at a quarter a day in 1945, that should be fine and dandy for anyone new coming in.

        As for the cry babies, I agree but they’re there and they have dealt with. I’ve got one lady calling me non stop now, several times a week. I can’t stop her from calling. Oh, and because a bunch of Sales! people run my current agency, they don’t believe in voicemail. All Calls Will Be Answered! So I can’t even manage my time by letting it go to VM. If I don’t answer, someone will, and the call gets transferred right to me, and I waste 30 minutes with this person, who barely speaks English, and is constantly looking for a job in a field we don’t even work with. Repeated attempts to explain why this is a waste of time to my managers, which range in number from three to twelve at any given time, have always resulted in a look on their faces akin to what you’d see explaining quantum theory to a dachshund.

        And while I agree with you on the culture issue, it’s not hard to figure out. The problem is you never get the truth from the manager. Most recruiters will regurgitate whatever the manager tells them, and never read between the lines or do any research. This again is the result of the industry being dominated by Sales! people, who think saying something makes it fact, i.e. “It’s a great opportunity!”, which has been said of every job in existence. You learn culture by doing your own research and/or living and working in it.

        1. If high performers were easy to spot, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If you ask the majority of recruiters they’ll tell you that there is a talent shortage and that’s just ridiculous. Don’t confuse answers with truths, a lot of people believed in Bernie Madoff.

          Compensation itself is another interesting topic on it’s own. I’ve had this discussion on many occasions with companies like Towers Perrin and Mercer, both experts in the field of compensation. Most organizations don’t even have a philosophy tied around compensation nor a goal, for example, do you want to be in the bottom 25 percentile, the 50 mark or at the top, 75,willing to pay for top performers.

          My opinion on compensation has changed over time. I had an interesting discussion with a consultant one day, we talked about compensation and the discussions you don’t want to have, one of them is, why is one person with the same title and responsibilities making more than another. Now, we know that they aren’t supposed to know what they each make, however, we also know how that plays out. The answer to this problem is simple, pay everyone at that level the same and incentivise them in other ways, bonus, stock. This way you don’t have to worry about have compensation discussions.

          What’s interesting about culture is that with the internet, your forced to be transparent, companies like Glassdoor are making certain of that and it’s a good thing.

          1. “If high performers were easy to spot, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

            I’d say that’s incorrect. Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean most people, or recruiters, know how to do it. Swimming is easy, a lot of people can’t do it. Avoiding a rip tide is easy, a lot of people can’t do it. In those cases panic overwhelms them so even if they have the knowledge, they don’t act on it. In recruiting it’s irrationality that overwhelms people.

            “The answer to this problem is simple, pay everyone at that level the same and incentivise them in other ways, bonus, stock. This way you don’t have to worry about have compensation discussions.”

            I agree. Generally speaking the work product has a value, if someone is producing it they should be compensated at that level. Where I disagree is that most companies do have a strategy and philosophy around compensation, and they are, “As low as humanly possible,” and, “Screw you, you’re luck you have a job,” respectively. Which is why you get the differing ranges. At my last job we had departments where people were earning 40K and 100K respectively for the same job, and the turmoil and turnover was horrendous, but the owner swore he was doing himself a favor by getting people as low as possible whenever possible. I finally got them to even out the pay scales and all of that magically disappeared. I say magically, because as we all know and as endless articles here and elsewhere have pointed out, compensation really doesn’t matter.

            “What’s interesting about culture is that with the internet, your forced to be transparent, companies like Glassdoor are making certain of that and it’s a good thing.”

            That’s the way it will be in a decade or so, right now those sites are still marginal. And, my guess is they’ll be sued out of existence, or into ineffectiveness, sooner rather than later. I have never met a more whining, entitled group of people than employers, and in my view they will do anything and everything in their power, ironically regardless of cost, to avoid doing two simple things: paying people better, and letting them work reasonable hours. There is some cultural or social blockage in the US where any other solution is preferable, regardless of how much more it may cost in the short, medium, and long term.

            I’ve seen this happen several times. In my last position the owner was repeatedly shown flex time options that worked, and one manager who could do no wrong in his eyes decided to just implement such a plan against the owner’s wishes, because why not? His job was secure. It worked great, that department was top notch. The owner admitted he had made a mistake, admitted it was superior to his clock punching mentality, and a week or so later a company wide proposal to do it was put up, and he sat there and SCREAMED at everyone for a ridiculous amount of time and refused to do it. Why? He wasn’t going to give anyone anything he didn’t have to. He viewed the employer/employee relationship as inherently antagonistic, and so any capitulation was unacceptable. Even if it made him more money, because it would mean he lost, even though he’d really end up winning.

            That is the mentality and philosophy that dominates US businesses to the core. That’s at the root of all hiring and retention problems, the idea that employees are a cost to be endured as opposed to an investment to capitalized upon, and developed and grown. And there’s simply too massive a mind shift that needs to happen to really see any significant changes in the near or even far future as far as I can see. Especially when the entire recruiting profession’s existence depends on placating morons like the owner I mentioned above, with articles and rhetoric that persistently validate their most idiotic, obnoxious, and counter productive behaviors.

          2. I appreciate your comments and insights, it’s unfortunate that these conversations aren’t taking place within organizations.

          3. When they do, people are fired. That happened at my last job several times, and then I tried to have some conversations with them. I was tired of them by the end and they were tired of me. The further up you move in management, the more infallibility is ascribed to you, and the less likely you are to hear true, constructive feedback. Some people know this intuitively and seek out more information and advice. They become leaders because they know they need to never stop improving. But most just start believing their own press and simply end up shoving their heads further and further up their own rear ends.

            So, I hate to say it, but these discussions wouldn’t even help in almost all instances. What needs to happen is new companies come in and kill the old ones, plain and simple. As we progress in the US, there will be some more Googlesque companies with good benefits and which are decent places to work, and they will be increasingly differentiated from, and perpetually out numbered by the dinosaur companies who will stick with antiquated policies and attitudes. Everyone at the dinosaur companies will want to work at a modern company, their poor treatment of their employees will lead to lower productivity and eventually their deaths. Problem is, it’ll likely take a century for them all to die.

          4. I was attempting to be positive, you crack me up, truth is, I think the same. Too many companies are just plain stuck in their old ways. They keep saying, we want talented people, however, when the talent starts to fire up the stove, they handcuff them and tell them to turn down the heat. Talented people are a pain in the ass to manage, that’s the price you have to pay.

      2. John,

        “…it’s one thing to have leadership describe their culture, it’s another when you ask employees…”

        This is why all retained searches are done in person, with me walking the facility and having a day to speak to everyone.

        It has never ceased to amaze me what employees will tell me once they have been given permission to speak freely.

        Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.

        1. No need to apologize, it’s these types of discussions that help both the applicant and the company. Too much is assumed these days and not enough questions are being asked, especially the right types of questions.

      3. “Most companies tend to describe their culture the way they would like it to be, not how it really is, that makes for bad decisions.”

        Yup. And the bigger the disconnect, the more immediate the problems.

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