Santa to Recruiters: Are You Naughty or Nice to Candidates?

What do Santa Claus and job seekers have in common? Neither gets much respect from recruiters.

Three months after applying to the last of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, Santa has no idea if the job has been filled at 78 of them. He doesn’t even  know if 25 of them got his resume.

Applying under his given name, Chris Kringle (Anglicized from the original German), the jolly old guy was looking for a job as a systems engineer in logistics or product security.

With his uncanny ability to know who has been naughty or nice, and to manage overnight global delivery of billions of packages, Kringle should be a shoo-in for every recruiter’s short list. And even though he got turned down by 22 of the 100 companies, a few recruiters did call him up for a phone screen.

So you can imagine their embarrassment when Mark Mehler, principal in the recruiting consultancy CareerXroads, pointed out that Chris Kringle is another name for Santa.

“I would say, ‘Would you please read the bottom of the resume’.” And there it was, the disclaimer: “This is a CareerXroads Mystery Job Seeker.”

“Obviously,” says Mehler, “They hadn’t read the resume.” There were other tip-offs. Chris’s resume says he once worked for the CIA at the North Pole where he “analyzed coded messages from around the world from children asking for holiday gifts.”

Over the 10 years that Mehler and his partner, Gerry Crispin, have done this survey, they’ve created resumes for Ted E. Baer, Gold E. Locks, and, last year, for environmental technician Jack Coostow.

While the names are all in fun, the exercise has a serious purpose: To survey the responsiveness of companies to their job applicants.

“Our objective is to see how the job seeker is treated,” explains Mehler. “If these are the 100 best companies to work for in the U.S., they should understand how to treat the job seeker.”

“You would think,” he adds. And in so many ways, you would be wrong.

Not only did companies fail to acknowledge receiving an application, but the process itself was so arduous that one of the volunteers helping submit applications said it was almost impossible to do more than a handful a day.

“It’s just amazing what we find when we do this,” Mehler says. “And these are the best companies.”

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Many companies had pre-screening questions. One had 144 multiple-choice questions that had to be completed before an application could be submitted.

Other companies had online forms that had to be filled out, in addition to uploading a resume. “Point, click, upload, and go,” Mehler says, is the ideal candidate experience. Few were set-up to do that.

Like the fictitious Chris Kringle, real candidates want acknowledgement of their application and to know when the job has been filled. A survey of candidates by Shaker Consulting Group showed they valued both of those communications more highly than anything other than knowing when they can expect to hear.

To recognize companies that do the best job of meeting candidate expectations, and to spur others to improve their application process, a group of recruiting professionals have created The Candidate Experience Awards.

Sparked by a suggestion from Chris Forman, CEO of Startwire and former head of Airs, now a part of The RightThing, a group of recruiting professionals formed The Talent Board, a non-profit specifically to produce the awards. Its mission “is to facilitate the evolution of the employment candidate experience principally through the annual production of The Candidate Experience Awards.”

Employers of every size and from any industry can participate. The first step is a 40-question application that not only provides the basis for the initial screening, but will allow applicants to see how they compare to other companies.

The competition FAQs say, “Each applicant will, at a minimum, receive specific survey feedback on how they compare to the applicant group. In other words, each applicant will get specific feedback on how they can improve their candidate experience.”

Only the winners will be publicly identified, and recognized during a ceremony at the HR Tech show this fall in Las Vegas. Others remain anonymous. There’s no cost to enter. The deadline is June 30.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


16 Comments on “Santa to Recruiters: Are You Naughty or Nice to Candidates?

  1. “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

    IMHO, a far more accurate (and much less likely to be “gamed”) award would be for the companies with the most dysfunctional, worst hiring processes. This would be in a variety of categories, and be awarded to the SVP of Staffing of the “winning” companies.
    The ceremony would be webcast and the names of the “winners” sent out to hundreds or thousands of outlets/sites/blogs/tweets. What would a company do to NOT win one of those????



  2. Good point, Keith. Take it further though. Why not share the entire list with each company’s grade/evaluation? Since everyone benchmarks each other, perhaps it would be good to share the results to make benchmarking this one item easier.

    As to the points of the article and actions Mehler and Crispin discovered, none of this is a surprise. There are lots of reasons for the gaps, but none is more significant than the fact that automation has taken a lot of the hands-on out of the recruitment process. It’s also why so many third-party recruitment agencies are used by companies.

    Very few companies test themselves well for the candidate experience either. This is really a lot like secret shopper programs. Corporate recruitment teams should have them in place 100% of the time as a spot check.

  3. Great article, John.

    And yet, hiring companies continue to dream up more ways to obfuscate and complicate the hiring process. All in the name of “metrics” or “talent acquisition strategies” or whatever the buzzword of the moment is. The mind reels…

  4. Also, it’s not surprising most companies have gotten away from using “recruitment” terminology. Recruiting, by definition, almost requires good candidate and applicant treatment.

    Automation should have made recruiting easier. Instead, it’s become a foundational building block.

    When unemployment was hovering around 5%, hiring companies were in the process of implementing steps to reduce hands-on in recruiting. Now that there are easily double or more candidates for openings and unemployment 9-10%, those hands-on-deck are completely overwhelmed.

    It’s probably not reasonable to expect big changes unless something drastic happens. Word-of-mouth about recruiting nightmares will pop up on social sites more and more. Then we’ll see who’s serious about how things get addressed.

    Companies actively monitor social sites to address customer service issues. I’ll bet recruiting gets some of that attention soon.

  5. I really hope this effort can change the culture of candidate abuse that is out there.

    I did a similar experiment once, with the very best fake resumes I could come up with, written specifically for the job I was “applying” to. (E.E. degrees from Stanford, promotions in working at a competitor, all the right skills, etc.) I even wrote cover letters! (And who does that anymore?)

    I never heard back from 70% of the companies. One contacted me more than a month after I applied.

    Clearly, many companies waste a tremendous amount of money on sourcing, just to abuse well meaning strangers.

    Hopefully, Mehler’s and Crispin’s efforts will get recruiting management to wake up to this mess, and fix it.

  6. @ Darryl: Thanks- very good idea. I’m going to do some investigating on this. Perhaps it could be the “Razzies” to Gerry and Mark’s “Oscars”.

    @ Thomas: The mind reels.…and the stomach turns. This comes from the far-too-common practice of having people not responsible for carrying out the additional work coming up with procedures for the people who have to do the work without the “doers” input.


  7. Keith, good luck on those awards for worst candidate experience.

    We listed the best and worst companies for several years at in the last decade when we began reviewing Fortune 500 websites and applying to the 100 Best but it is simply too easy to find terrible examples of candidate treatment.

    We think it more instructive (albeit less fun) to acknowledge the firms that know how to treat people in pipelines of prospects before they apply, during the application process, candidates who never become finalists, finalists and new hires as they onboard.

    Check out the candidate experience awards at and feel free to see if the 40 questions we used to ‘identify’ companies that treat candidates well could be used to identify your worst of the bunch.

  8. Thanks, Gerry. I would be very interested in seeing who the worst companies of years past were if you would forward a link to them. (Hopefully they will have improved since then.) I will check out the questions.

    I did see in your FAQS a section that said:
    Q:Is their any risk that our poor practices will be revealed or exposed?
    A:NO. Each applicant’s responses will be treated as confidential information. Only applicants that win the award will be revealed. The identity of companies that apply, but not win, will not be revealed.



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