Talent Acquisition Steps That Enrage, Not Engage, Top Talent

Many employers place critical talent acquisition responsibilities into the hands of ill-equipped and oftentimes unprofessional individuals who step on fingers of those perceived to be on lower rungs of the ladder. They do this without considering the future ramifications of not having a bridge back the other way. Perhaps these employers feel that they have nothing to lose with their lack of compassion and disregard for those expressing interest in joining their firms.

Usually what tends to happen is that an employee leaves the organization or someone decides that some new work must get done and it is time to expand the staff. Next, a haphazard job description is located from a previous opening or a new list of requirements is jotted down and hastily slapped up on the job board of choice.

Taking the time to examine which competencies and characteristics will enable achievement of corporate goals, rather than just refilling a vacant chair with a clone of the prior occupant is rarely done. Inevitably, resumes of predominantly unqualified applicants begin to pour in by the hundreds, leaving the recruiter frustrated and overwhelmed. Meanwhile, the hiring manager is eagerly awaiting some action and attention.

If lucky, some highly skilled impressive folks turn up in the pile and are immediately passed through an initial screening. They may move on through additional steps, meeting with various influencers and decision-makers. Ultimately, after anywhere from several weeks to several months of this going on, a selection is finally made and an offer is extended and accepted.

While there may be nothing particularly noteworthy in that oversimplified depiction, the main point of this article is the opinions being formed from the candidates’ perspectives. For a number of years, I’ve worked one-on-one with job seekers of all levels — mostly experienced, educated, mid/senior level professionals from various industries — to assist them in preparing for their next opportunity. In doing so, I’ve collected countless anecdotes and what some may refer to as horror stories.

For mysterious reasons, these experiences don’t seem to faze the people on the other end of the transaction. For brevity, these are condensed down to the basic situation without the full contextual reference points. These samples leave no doubt that employers are missing opportunities to build relationships with their target audience, potential customers, and most importantly brand ambassadors.

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  • Jordan spotted a job posting on one of his email alerts that looked to be below his level, but since he knew someone at the company, he checked for more information. It turned out the that the hiring manager really liked his background and even filled in some details to make the position sound a bit more advanced than how it was written. After investing several hours over a few weeks, including taking an entire day off work to travel for interviews, he was rejected with a vague and confusing “not a cultural fit” excuse.
  • During a phone interview with an internal corporate recruiter (that was arranged by a boutique search firm who pre-vetted her), the first question (45-year-old) Megan was asked was “what year did you graduate from college?” The remainder of the call contained equally irrelevant, offensive, and condescending questioning and commentary by the corporate recruiter.
  • In a face-to-face interview, Jody’s resume format and content was ripped apart by the interviewer, who proceeded to complain and chastise her over her level of experience and suitability for the position. Rather than sit there and take the abuse, Jody held her composure long enough to excuse herself in time to keep her tears between her and her steering wheel.
  • When it was her turn to ask questions at the end of a panel interview that seemed focused on company culture, Casey asked the interviewers to define and describe the unique elements of their culture. A few of them stated “fun” as the key component. Casey found this ironic since the entire team never smiled or showed any emotion or expression during her interview session that felt more like an interrogation or court hearing.
  • Ken was referred by an internal executive at a company, where he was ushered through a series of interviews, meeting up to 10 different people. Though the final round was positioned as a last gauge of chemistry/culture fit, Ken was subjected to yet another batch of rudimentary and one-sided behavioral interview questions posed by a group who seemed disinterested in him as a coworker, just curious to hear his answers to some oddly placed inquiries.
  • Tiffany was hopeful about a promising-sounding position after being led to believe and actually told that she was the only remaining top contender. She thought it was a great sign when the hiring company asked for her references. The very next day, luckily before her references were checked, Tiffany was crushed to learn that the company decided to move forward and offer the position to an internal candidate.
  • Alan’s prospective employer took things a bit further and actually checked his references (which were all glowing) before sending him through one more round of panel interviews. Unfortunately, even though everyone up to that point thought Alan was an awesome catch, the last crowd didn’t agree. He was left stunned, going from the top candidate with an imminent offer, to being told “never mind.” The worst part was feeling upset that he had troubled his references and now had some explaining to do for the false alarm.
  • Justin tried to prepare for several interviews at the same employer by researching the people he was scheduled to meet with, only to find fewer than 25% of them had a LinkedIn profile. When he met them in person, it was evident that their longevity at their employer was important to them and he immediately felt judged for having moved around a few times despite gaining new experiences with each job.

There are plenty more examples of poor behavior and broken employment brand tales to add, but the overall issue is that employers are expecting top talent to land at their doorstep and then they subject them to countless hoops to jump, steps to climb, and personalities to read only to coldly reject them for no apparent reason. Everything from their inadequate and misleading job postings to their guilty until proven innocent barrage of questions and abrupt unexplained dismissals, points to a severe lack of concern for the candidate experience.

While many people might think “so what, it’s a buyers market.” That is only partially relevant and obviously not a prudent business strategy or sustainable methodology.

The fundamental theme in this economy and for the foreseeable future is that none of us can afford to neglect or mistreat anyone who might be a source of revenue, references, referrals, business leads, or anything else connected to our personal and organizational success. Judging by the treatment that most job-seekers endure, it appears that only some are wise enough to believe and conduct ourselves based on the concept of “what comes around goes around.”

As a Talent Optimization Coach & Consultant with TalentTalks, Kelly Blokdijk thrives on “Creating a Voice for Talent” by partnering with business professionals and job seekers to build competitive career marketing strategies and customized communication materials, to create a lasting positive impression. TalentTalks consults with the business community on innovative, leading-edge human resource and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs. TalentTalks routinely posts employment market and job search related content on Facebook and Twitter -- fans and followers welcome!


19 Comments on “Talent Acquisition Steps That Enrage, Not Engage, Top Talent

  1. Kelly, all I can say is, “Wow”. You’ve beautifully encapsulated many of my same feelings. Frankly, these situations can rattle even the most experienced TPR. Why? Because they’re accumulative over the years. They wear on you.

    You learn to live in a world of overwhelming mediocrity where all Candidates are treated the same, despite the criticality of the role and/or how much value they may bring to the Organization. Often, when you try to explain what you yourself are so eloquently suggesting here, you’re often referred to as “too pushy” and/or “not understanding our process here at XYZ Company.”

    Nothing could be farther from the truth, however. In the end, it’s quite difficult to influence mediocre processes when you’re a Third-Party not inside the Corporate bubble. The positive influence (that actually endures) truly needs to come from the inside …

  2. Woman, you are a genius…how often in m y career as a recruiter have I experienced the results of candidate ill treatment without regard for the person or the circumstances that brought the candidate to the company’s attention.

    Your article should be required reading for anyone in a hiring position!!

  3. I concur. It’s amazing to me how companies pay so little attention to how they are perceived in the market due to a lack of recognition or concern that the candidate that they are interviewing is also deciding if they want the company.

    We could add probably several more examples of lack of interest on the part of companies without concern for the candidates. “what, we kept you waiting for an hour in the lobby and then made you wait another hour after your first interview lasted twenty minutes with an interviewer who had read your resume? Shocking.

  4. It is important that we continue to talk about these kinds of behavior, which believe it or not, are still way too common.
    The good news in all of these situations is that the candidate did not get hired and THEN look around them and realize the reality of the situation.

    Now more than ever, your treatment of candidates within the hiring process is a direct extension of your brand and I think it is going to be harder and harder to get away with this kind of stuff.

    Testing is also an area where candidates are often given little respect but this area lacks the face to face that interviews have.

  5. Kelly, so glad you wrote about this tale of woe. Well said. Too often the employees interviewing on “the other side of the table” have forgotten to “polish their shoes, so to speak” and treat candidates with the dignity and respect they deserve whatever the decision. Additionally each person who applies, those chosen to be interviewed, employee referrals etc are all evaluating the company and have influence on their reputation as customers one way or another. Talk about strengthening or burning your Branding inexpensively vs expensively? Treat people as you would want to be treated. Simple. You go a lot farther this way.

  6. As I see it, these are the normal circumstances, rather than the exceptions. Realisticaly speaking (as opposed to the idealized world), if you’re an employer of choice you don’t have to treat candidates well at all, and if you’re not an employer of chice, you only have to treat the 10% or so of A-players we always drool over here, because a good candidate experience (including a timely one) may be the only “sizzle” your company has.

    Companies could easily remedy this by hiring $2.78/hr Virtual Assistants to make sure that each and every applicant/candidate’s experience is professional if not actually pleasant, but I have yet to confirm any firm do this. (Imagine if you had even the nonhired C- and D-players singing your praises to everyone they met?) The fact is, there is no real downside for high-level staffing folks to oversee a dysfunctional interview process that is miserable for the ordinary candidate, and until they are either rewarded for having a good process or punished for having a bad one, very little meaningful change will occur.


    Keith “I’m shocked, shocked there’s gambling in this establishemnt!” Halperin

  7. Great article Kelly. I think its a good reminder that we have to always be honest and respectful of each and every candidate. You never know when they will be the right fit for your organization and what they will say to others about their process. Best bet is to be honest and tell them the truth throughout the process so they are prepared and can take the feedback onto their next interview. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thanks Kelly. Unfortunately, as Keith stated, probably not much will change. Employer brand is a big deal now especially with the advent of social media, and this is an instance that can have a huge affect on brand.

  9. I had one of the exact same scenarios happen to me last week. I had a phone interview with their HR department a first interview with 4 people, a second interview with 3 more people was told by one of their VPs that I was their top candidate, they called and talked to all 3 of my references, all of whom gave me high marks, only to be told a week later, they decided to move forward with another candidate. This was a very reputable company in downtown Chicago. Needless to say I was not happy!

  10. Thanks to everyone who commented here on ERE and also to those who sent private messages. IMHO, it really doesn’t take much effort to treat applicants and candidates with courtesy, dignity and respect. Though, obviously and unfortunately, that is the exception rather than the norm.

    Regardless of whether there is any incentive for creating a pleasant interaction or penalty attached to preventing a positive experience, the basic concept is treating others how we would like to be treated under similar circumstances. I encourage anyone who has any influence whatsoever in the staffing process at their organization to take an objective look at each and every possible touch point to identify any opportunities to increase engagement.

  11. Hey Jim Gracey……maybe you should be happy. You could of ended up working there.

    As far as this article goes, touche’! Our candidates and job orders are mostly senior executive level.

    Candidates we source will come from similiar companies with competitive technoligies. This way, we can infinitly approach the clone replacement solution.

    The candidates’ companies may be supplying product or services to similar prospective/current customers. Or, even ordering from that compnay who is searching.

    So OMG! What do the above scenarios reveal about the company who is searching for candidates? You’re right!

    A bad disorganized taste. The candidate will feel even better where she/he is at. But, they have aquired due diligence.

    Moreover, why would candidate order from or collaborate with any company that displays this lack of professionalism?

    The candidate has aquired a competitive edge as well. Where could this lack of foresight come from?


  12. Thanks, Kelly. Here are three things that can be done (of varying degrees and practicality):

    1) Had a great or a terrible candidate experience? Let your anonymous opinion be heard . Go to http://www.glassdoor.com and tell your story, and tell your friends to do likewise.

    2) Does your company provide poor “candidate care”? Hire the $2.78- $5.25/hr. Virtual Assistants to take/make the calls, emails, tweets, etc. to make sure EVERYONE who applies for a job with your company has a professional if not actually pleasant experience. Don’t know where to find really good $2.78- $5.25/hr Virtual Assistants? Ask me and I’ll show you where and how. Company won’t do it but you think it’s really important- PAY FOR IT YOURSELF AND SHOW ‘EM! (They can do other useful tasks for you, too.)

    3) I’d like to repeat my earlier (on ERE) suggestion of having a contest for the WORST candidate experience, for which employers would not want to be nominated, as the nominees are not just the companies but the actual heads of staffing/recruiting at those companies. What would you do to NOT receive that award?


  13. Kelly, you are so dead-on, it’s scary!   

    During 2009, like so many others, due to an acquisition, I found myself looking for work. In the many interviews I had, you might as well called me Jordan, Megan, Jody, Casey, Ken, Tiffany, Alan and Jordan, among so many others that seem to go through this over and over again. 

    You can see this from the two following examples; I was called to come into an interview for a finance and risk management contract recruiter role by a major player in the consumer credit industry.  Not being a specialist in this field, I questioned why I would be considered given my management background and history of technology recruiting.  After meeting with the hiring (staffing) manager, I was told my background was an excellent fit, only to be walked out after 10 minutes of meeting with the current contract recruiter who cited she required a “financial specialist.” In my second example, I was referred to and applied for a position with a major retail chain that was looking for a recruiting manager to “lead a team of recruiters” according to the written description. Once onsite, I was questioned as to why I was pursuing an individual contributor role.  Both of these are major disconnects within the respective companies that demonstrate a clear lack of communication and commitment to a thorough recruiting process.  

    As professionals, I think recruiters should take these personal experiences with them and use them as learning opportunities so that we do not let our own departments fall into this ongoing cycle. We should be asking candidates questions about their own experiences, learning from them, and making solid commitments and follow through to see to it issues like these are addressed.

  14. I had an equally bad experience during an interview. I first met with the HR person who I thought I connected with. Then I met with the hiring manager. Oh boy. This guy was a fast talker who barely let me get in a word at all. To me, communication is what a relationship is built on and I simply wanted to have a conversation. He then took several cell calls during the interview and called me by the wrong name several times. Then, he asked me to show my portfolio (I’m a designer). I used the company’s computer and it promptly hung up on my first image. What a waste of time. Several people told me after the fact that he was probably trying to blow me off and I should have excused myself. Com’on, a cell call during the interview?

  15. Great article, Kelly. Concur on all points.

    On the positive side, if candidates get a positive experience – even if they don’t get the job – they may well refer friends and colleagues your way.

    That’s not a Pollyana attitude, btw – it’s top of mind for me. I recently brought a software architect through a client’s process, and they passed on him. I was honest with him about why – not a nebulous “cultural misfit”, etc, the actual reasons why. He loved it, and last night referred in a fantastic candidate we are pursuing agressively.

    I’m fortunate in getting the insights I did – as a third party (to points already made in the comments), it can be hard to get some of that data. My relationship with this client is a hybrid of retained/ contingency, and part of the design of the approach is to make me a trusted advisor, working out of one of their offices. So, I’ve got that going for me…

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