When Applicants Hear Nothing, They Talk and You Get Hurt

You’ve written a compelling job ad that hits all the hot points. You’ve distributed it widely. You’ve even managed to get it high up on search results pages. Despite all that, the number of applications is disappointing.

What went wrong?

The problem, says CareerBuilder, could very well be technical. Bad links, computer or Internet difficulties, and cumbersome applications are the top reasons cited by interested candidates for not responding to a job posting.

“Sometimes it’s those little things you overlook,” says Dr. Sanja Licina, senior director of talent intelligence and consulting at CareerBuilder. When an interested job seeker clicks on an ad, and then has to click through from there to another location, an ATS for example, things can break down, she says.

That experience can leave a sour taste with potential candidates, some of whom will then go on to complain about the experience. CareerBuilder’s ongoing Applicant Experience survey found that 78 percent of candidates said they’d be sure to tell family and friends about a bad experience with a potential employer. Seventeen percent said they’d post about it on a social media site.

While technical glitches may not push most candidates beyond a little grumbling (though it might be very bad mojo for something like that to happen to a technical firm), the “black hole” application process causes 44 percent of those who hear nothing to have a worse opinion of the non-responsive employer.

Licina said many employers explain why they’re not responding, saying “We do get a lot of applications,” and thus it’s “really hard” to respond.

Any number of surveys and articles confirm that large numbers of employers never acknowledge an applicant — not even to say contact has been made. CareerBuilder, whose Applicant Experience audit now has some 5 million surveys involving 5,000 employers, reports that somewhere around half the applicants say they never heard anything after submitting an application.

Even when they do, radio silence often follows. Among the 57 companies vying for top honors in the still-new Candidate Experience awards, a mere 44 percent followed up their acknowledgments with details about the next steps in the process.

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Recruiters, too, are faulted by the surveyed job seekers; 15 percent of them have a worse opinion of the employer after hearing from a recruiter. Says CareerBuilder:

When asked to assess the recruiters who contacted them, one-in-five job seekers (21 percent) reported that the recruiter was not enthusiastic about his/her company being an employer of choice. Seventeen percent didn’t believe the recruiter was knowledgeable and 15 percent didn’t think the recruiter was professional.

“How your employment brand is presented to job seekers from the moment a job is posted can have a lasting effect not only on your ability to acquire talent, but your business overall,” Licina says. “First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge candidates and keep them informed.”

The consequences of a negative candidate experience go beyond the potential loss of quality talent and injury to the employment reputation. The widely held belief is that there is a direct economic impact from treating applicants poorly. A separate CareerBuilder study from a few months ago found nearly a third of respondents saying they are less likely to purchase a product from a company that didn’t respond to their job application.

Now, in conjunction with a university research group, Licina said CareerBuilder is attempting to put a dollar figure on the negative experience. “It’s difficult to attribute (the impact) to the candidate experience,” she explained, which is why the study development will take time. But, she says, with companies beginning to accept that there are economic consequences, determining the actual cost is growing more urgent.

Incidentally, it’s not money that first attracts a job seeker to a job posting. It’s the company’s location, report 45 percent of the candidates in CareerBuilder’s experience surveys. After that it’s industry and company reputation. Salary is sixth.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. 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.


20 Comments on “When Applicants Hear Nothing, They Talk and You Get Hurt

  1. When I survey job seekers, this is their number 1 complaint. It’s ironic, as you point out – employers complain that they aren’t getting quality applicants, yet the employers’ very lack of response tends to drive down the desire of quality applicants to apply in the first place.

  2. Have these surveys been qualified or controlled to any extent is my question? For example, I post an ad for a Project Manager for example, and I get 100 responses. Most will have resumes not only with no project management experience, but also no transferable skills. The fact that you were an accountant for six years doesn’t qualify you to be onsite at a construction project overseeing the HVAC subcontractor.

    How much time are you supposed to spend responding to candidates that are not only not right for your current job, but that you’ll never hire for any job? At my company we send out thank you responses to make sure people get a contact after they apply, we send out tnt letters to those who don’t get selected, and we give personal calls to those we interview and don’t select. We’ll even take calls from those we didn’t interview and give them reasons.

    But as a matter of opportunity cost how much time do you have, literally, to spend making sure someone you’re almost certainly never going to do business with again feels satisfied? In extreme cases I’ve had people calling for weeks on end and even showing up unannounced at our place of business wanting more and more and more and more and more information as to why they didn’t get the job, not apparently willing to take “no” for an answer.

    I any relationship there’s has to be reasonable expectations. Is anyone qualifying these surveys to see whether or not that point is acknowledged? It’s nice to hear about best practices, but in terminally understaffed and under budgeted reality where your time and resources are limited you have to make decisions as to how to allocate your time and energy, and making sure everyone is feeling as satisfied as possible isn’t an option.

  3. Some people are always going to be disgruntled when it comes to the hiring process, it’s inevitable. It’s impossible to respond to every candidate when you get hundreds, sometimes thousands of applicants. Furthermore, out of those, the majority either have completely unrelated experience or some other disqualifier.

    In a perfect world everyone would get a call from a recruiter thanking them for applying, but we just don’t live in that world.

  4. @Richard, I enjoyed reading your comment. Based on the process you’ve highlighted, it seems that your organization doesn’t let candidates drift into the “black hole” this post referenced. Well done.

    I work in Career Services at an institution (but I came from a position in the HR world so I have some understanding of the demands that recruiters face). I have assisted many clients who haven’t heard back from an employer after a second interview. It’s surprising, actually.

    This article seems to be focused on the earlier steps in the process, but in my experience candidates are used to not hearing back if they simply apply online (though that’s not ideal, they expect that to some degree). However, the point they become quite frustrated and have a negative reputation is when they’ve interviewed and THEN go into a black hole.

    I’m curious if others have thoughts/related experience.

  5. @Richard You should be incredibly proud of your treatment of applicants. As Miranda points out, there are plenty of companies that won’t even inform the candidates they interviewed they didn’t make the cut, let alone send a form email acknowledging an application.

    To those latter companies, the ones who think it is OK to invite people to apply, then ignore them, shame on you. There isn’t an ATS in the world that won’t send an automatic acknowledgement of an application. All the leading systems can also send notices to those applicants when a position is closed.

    You don’t even need an ATS to be courteous to your applicants. Outlook can be easily configured to send a “Thank your for your application” email.

    I agree with @James. There will always be unhappy applicants. And some will be a pain in the rear, but I will always remember the handwritten note I got from a rejected applicant: “Thank you for letting me know I’m not being considered,” it began. “I’m disappointed, but I appreciate your letting me know. I respect you and your company for being one of the very few that ever even said you got my resume.”

  6. Since job openings have switched to being posted on the internet it is common for job positions to receive 100’s of applications applying. Most jobs that I have applied to in the past and currently send a thank you for applying we will be in contact with you if we think you are a good fit. It’s nice receiving that message, knowing that great my the system received my application I don’t have to worry that maybe something went wrong with the internet connection. However, if you can automate a response like that wouldn’t it be easy for HR and recruiting managers to then have a second automated response for the applicants that don’t even make it to the interview process. The message could say something along the lines of “After receiving your information we have found more qualified individuals for this positions. Please continue to apply for other positions within our company.” The reason it would be nice to receive this message is because sometimes job positions are frozen due to things happening internally within the company or some companies take months to go through the applications, knowing that you are out of the running for the job you can move on and continue applying to other positions. If you get to the interview process a phone call or a personalized message should be sent saying thank you but we have gone a different direction.

    In all honesty I think the job application process has become a very rude process. If you post a job online you should assume 100’s of people are going to apply and companies should have their systems set to acknowledge the time people took to apply for the position. Sure you are going to have people who apply with poor quality resumes and cover letters with no relevant job experience but you still have people that put in the time who maybe aren’t quite as qualified for what you are actually looking for in the applicant but are have great experience and might even match some other lower position available. Those are the individuals you have to worry about “ruining” a companies reputation.

    In conclusion, have an automated thank you but we are not interested in you for the position.

  7. Miranda, your experience with where the frustration occurs is consistent with what I hear from candidates as well. And, frankly I couldn’t agree more. With the technology that exists now (even Outlook as John mentioned), it is irresponsible and rude for a recruiter to not to send a note to a candidate when they are no longer being considered (does it matter if it is a form letter? Of course not). It has nothing to do with volume, most ATS will trigger a message automatically upon DQ…if you have that set up. Once you’ve been on the other side of the hiring equation and realize what it is like, you find the time to be sure your candidates are communicated with each step along the way.

  8. John,

    Good article.

    Please send me a copy of the study when, and if, it gets done. I say if, because it will be very challenging to ID what factors to include/exclude from the data.

    Since CareerBuilder is doing it I would suspect it may be mostly unbiased. The team should look at all the data from customer service studies too. For example, a classic is it takes 10 positive reviews to offset just 1 negative.

    So if a company “black holes” 50 candidates from 1 job, do the math. It would take over 500 positive experiences to offset the effects of that 1 job. Then start attaching a $ value to that and I would suspect the results to be staggering.

    Combine that with the real, total cost to replace a given $100k person, (150k-325k depending on the study), an your lost costs may be enormous.

  9. This recurring discussion is getting boring to me. If your company wants *ALL candidates to have a professional (if not actually pleasant) app process: hire yourself some **$3.00/hr (or less) Virtual Candidate Care Reps to reply and answer to each and every query that’s made via: phone or internet. If a recruiter wants to handle the people themselves: fine, but if they don’t/can’t, here’s the highly affordable, practical solution.

    Keith “Tired of This” Halperin

    *and not just the “Fabulous 5%” or the “Politically Well- Connected Fabulous 5%”

    **Yes, that’s less than minimum wage, and yes, they’re overseas.

  10. Good Article. I agree with @John. It has become way too easy to have an automatic reply – app received, we will contact you if you are being considered.

    This initial response isn’t the most important one. It is the follow-up to any contact made to an applicant initiated by the recruiter or company, especially when the contact is ended with “we will know something by this date”.

    It is especially frustrating when you get through several interviews – phone and face-to-face – and are told that a decision will be made soon, never to get another communication from them again. At this point, Every person will be an unhappy applicant. Even if there was some delay outside your control and you do end up offering the job to that applicant who was ignored for a week or three, that person will go into the job with a negative attitude – if they even accept the position. If they turn the position down, many times you must start all over having wasted valuable time and resources.

    Automation has created a very impersonal if not rude initial application process. Once personal contact has been made with an applicant, there is no excuse for a lack of common courtesy, even if it is a form letter. The recruiter is the initial face of the company they represent. The ‘quality’ applicant’s first impression of the company is just as important as your first impression of an applicant.

  11. Same complaint since mail was invented. Same article gets written at least quarterly.

    How about a suvery from employers?

    1. How many applicants apply and never return recruiter calls?

    2. How many applicants are not qualified in the least bit and how much time is the recruiting team spending weeding thru these?

    3. How many candidates agree to an interview and never show or call to cancel?

    4. How many accept offers only to never be heard from again?

    5. How many accept offers only to accept another the day they are supposed to start?

    So us recruiters are spending our time and resources with the above candidates and yet “you didn’t get an email after you applied so you’re upset?” argument really doesn’t hold much weight. I can’t imagine someone is actually sitting at their computer waiting on an automated email as some sort of personal validation.

    I never seen an ATS that at the end of the application doesn’t present the candidate with a “Thanks for submitting your application” screen.

  12. We have an ATS that sends out the auto response that the application was received, and also will send out when moved into the “not selected” or “not suitable” folders. My big push with our recruiters is timeliness in moving people through the folders. To some of the points made above, if you have these chronically underqualified candidates (who apply for 14 jobs) the quicker you move them and they get the 14 responses that they are not qualified, hopefully the stronger the message. For those that are qualified, and especially when we interview, I try to make sure that we are responding very quickly if they are not selected so that they can move on. I know that even a negative response is appreciated most of the time when it done in a timely manner.

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