Why You May Not Always Want the Most Efficient Recruiting Process

If you work in corporate recruiting, third-party vendors are an integral part of life. Sometimes welcome, sometimes not, I have my fair share of dealings with vendors, a good number of whom I believe generally understand the recruiting field.

Vendor offerings in a host of buckets from niche job boards to automated reference checking systems use a similar pitch as part of their marketing strategy: help make recruiters more effective and efficient.

While I am a fan of progress and anything that makes life simpler and easier for all involved in recruiting, I offer caution against “over-automation” of the recruiting process, especially when it comes to technology. Sometimes, too much of a good thing is detrimental to success.

An example of how this could happen came to mind recently when I attended a vendor presentation at a recent conference. I was listening in the back of the room as the vendor representative extolled the virtues of his company’s applicant tracking system.

His closing comment was this: “Our system is so efficient that it practically eliminates the need for you to have to speak to anyone.”

In my mind, I immediately questioned this vendor’s true understanding of the recruiting space beyond the mechanics of process and technology. I couldn’t imagine why he would make such a statement to a group of people whose very essence of their jobs is talking to people!

I couldn’t resist asking a clarifying question about what he meant by the comment. He went on to explain that “the system could do the talking” when it comes to all candidate notifications, particularly notifications of non-selection where conversations are sometimes awkward and difficult. He then used an example of how difficult it is for some hiring managers, or even recruiters, to deliver “bad” news to a candidate that he/she didn’t get the job.

“So our system does it for you, with our customizable electronic form letter templates. No more difficult conversations!” he said proudly.

What I thought I heard was what I heard. Interesting that this vendor, who claimed to understand even the most subtle nuances of recruiting, prides himself and his company on how to let a system replace the good-old-fashioned courtesy of picking up the phone and notifying an interviewed candidate that he/she would not be moving on.

While the form-letter templates within applicant tracking systems are critical and valuable tools to help manage enormous loads of incoming resumes and job applicants, I draw the line when it comes to “automated rejection letters” for every candidate who interviews for a position but doesn’t get the job.

Integrating Technology with a Human Touch

Here are two examples to illustrate why automated rejection letters aren’t the best:

Scenario 1: One of the hiring manager’s own employees is a candidate for an open position in the department. The employee turns out not to be the successful candidate. To handle this situation with the grace and sensitivity it warrants, a carefully choreographed sequence of communications must be executed to ensure the employee hears the “right” message from the right person the right way (i.e., person to person).

Imagine this employee getting a system-generated form letter that says, “Thank you for interviewing for the Financial Analyst position. We’ve selected another candidate whose skills and qualifications more closely match those sought for this opportunity. Please continue to apply to future positions with ABC Company.”

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I know how I’d react. I also don’t think the hiring manager would be too appreciative. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the employee walked into the manager’s office, carrying a print-out of the “efficient” form letter in hand, asking for an explanation, and expressing her opinion on the process.

Scenario 2: There are two top candidates for just one position. After much discussion and debate, the hiring manager finally makes a decision and instructs the recruiter to reiterate to the non-selected candidate how interested Company ABC remains in her and plans to consider her for the next opening in the department, which is expected to become available within 60 days.

Instead, the candidate gets the “Thank you for interviewing for the Financial Analyst position?” rejection letter. Not knowing just how close she came, when the next position opens up, that candidate is long gone as she’s turned her attention elsewhere to other companies. She might even end up at one of Company ABC’s competitors.

It’s in situations such as these where the live conversation, whether by phone or in person, is invaluable. Instead of feeling the sting of a cold (yet efficient!) rejection form letter, the candidate walks away in both scenarios with an understanding of the context of the outcome, a sense of where he/she stands, and how much the company wants to make an opportunity happen in the future.

As I continued to listen to this vendor pitch in that session, an analogy came to mind. Think about a time when you’ve gone to the doctor and the doctor recommends you take a certain test. You show up for your scheduled appointment, complete the test, and nod on your way out as the technician says, “Someone will get back to you with the results in a week.”

A few weeks later, a report arrives in the mail with a series of numbers and medical jargon, which leaves you wondering if life is good or you are one step away from your deathbed. Not able to get an appointment with your doctor for several weeks, you began to search WebMD to figure out for yourself where you stand, and will probably draw an incorrect conclusion.

Replay. You receive a call from your doctor one week after the test, who says you will be getting your report from the lab in a few days, but she wants to talk through the results to make sure you are clear on your state of well-being. The results may be in the mail but you are already in a “good place” because you’ve had the benefit of the discussion in understanding what’s happened to you and why.

The key to being both efficient and effective in today’s recruiting race is the art of integrating technology with the human touch in the right places throughout the process.

In our perennial quests to be productive, and vendors’ perennial pitches on solutions to do more with less and be all things to all candidates, remember that sometimes the most efficient process isn’t always the most effective.

Relying too much on a host of technologies and services will not necessarily deliver the promise of an effective, efficient, and personalized experience for all involved.

Lisa Calicchio, SPHR, is Director of Recruiting -- Pharmaceuticals Team, for Johnson & Johnson Recruiting, the internal talent acquisition organization of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies. In this role, Lisa manages the development and delivery of talent acquisition strategies and execution for Johnson & Johnson?s U.S. pharmaceuticals and biotechnology operating companies. In addition to managing this segment of the business and a significant client base, Lisa focuses on enhancing JJR's consulting capabilities through specialty teams for business analytics, training, and recruitment marketing. Her background includes extensive experience as an HR generalist and recruiting, though she started her professional career "on the line" and held several line positions across key functional areas before moving from sales and marketing into HR.


13 Comments on “Why You May Not Always Want the Most Efficient Recruiting Process

  1. Good article , the interview process, and all feedback & communication with candidates is a chance to differentiate

  2. Quadruple Amen!!!!
    Lisa, thank you for putting your thoughts out for all of us to see. I have feared that maybe I was the OLD FUDDY-DUDDY for trying to hold on to what I have known to be the basics of the recruiting field. I have been a recruiter since 1973 and I have literally seen hundreds of recruiters come and go. Those that have stayed the course are invariably ‘people-persons’ who care about the feelings of those we attempt to place with clients.Automatically generated Dear John/Jeanette letters are certainly better than none at all. However they remind me of the automated receptionist with the ‘press-1-for’ so and so mentality. Doesn’t that leave all of us bewildered,disappointed, and angry and belittled?
    Let’s all do our best to replace some of our automation with our best personal touches and show the job-seeking world and the clients who hire, just how caring and professional that we are.

  3. I am a Business Consultant for a major recruiting technology firm, and have had the opportunity to help design or streamline many Fortune 500 staffing processes. I can tell you from extensive first-hand experience that we would never recommend (nor would our clients ever accept) the idea of an automated ‘rejection’ letter after an interview.

    The role of technology is not replacing the human interaction or relationships that are central to a high-performing recruiting process. It is also NOT wisely utilized as a stand-in for common sense, common courtesy or, I might add, proactive management of the recruiting function.

  4. Great article Lisa. Maintaining the human touch is essential in recruiting. Early in my career, one of my mentors taught me to always weigh efficiency vs. effectiveness. In doing so, you have to consider ‘what am I trying to achieve’. Failure to consider the ultimate goal often leads to misjudgements in efficiency vs. effectiveness. Your example of the ‘automated rejection letter’ is appropriate. If the goal is to avoid a tough conversation and quickly blast through a stack of non-selected candidates, the automated letter is both efficient and effective. However, if the goal is to build a relationship with a non-selected candidate and/or leave them with a good impression of your company, the efficient method is not going to be effective (in fact the efficient method might cause quite the opposite effect). This same thought process can apply to a multitude of business decisions.

  5. Excellent article, but frightening that a vendor would be so off base. I wonder if they would want a prospective client to decline their service electronically!

    I think many recruiters lose sight of the value of conversations with candidates, particularly those that did not get the position. I have always believed that whether or not we select someone, they should leave the process as both a customer of ours (if they aren’t already) and a ready source of referrals.

    By taking the time to have the difficult conversations, you can differentiate yourself from other companies. More importantly, candidates truly appreciate it when a real person lets them down with the dignity that no automated system can offer.

    Again, great article, thank you Lisa!


  6. While presenting my ATS to a prospective customer, my #1 ‘favorite’ question I’ve ever been asked by a recruiter is: ‘Won’t this software put me out of a job?’

    My answer was: ‘Only if you’re a bad recruiter, because it will help you do more of the wrong things, faster.’

    I’m keeping your article on file for next time someone asks me if technology will do their job for them. Thank you!

  7. I read your article with great interest!! How funny someone who has so much too say, doesn’t practice what they preach…I was someone who did not get a position in your group and while you did call me, you had no answers to my questions as to why I didn’t get the position, just I will get back to you and of course never did…yes, getting back to a candidate is very important but get back to them with some information or else….you might as well send them a canned letter…

  8. Excellent article. In all disciplines that touch customers, candidates, vendors, etc., it is important to consider the usage of technology for contact/communication. Many companies fail to consider the application of the technology itself – the who, what, when, where, and why.

    Technology is outstanding when it comes to automating certain tasks or facilitating a process, etc., however it cannot be leaned on for communication that, as you mentioned, should be personal. Unfortunately, this seems to be a growing trend because not all Recruiting Leaders such as yourself feel this way. With a growing emphasis on cost-cutting and HR budget reduction, these systems are often sold as a way to shave further expenses. Until HR and Recruiting carve out a truly respected seat at the executive table, we’ll continue to see solutions sold this way.

    Often in technology companies (especially smaller ones), it’s easy to over-romanticize your product and forget about what the customer really needs and wants. This normally happens when you build a product with the entrepreneur’s vision of what they believe the market needs in mind – in the B2B world, this is a recipe for disaster.

  9. Lisa,

    As a company focused on measuring and improving candidate experience and its relationship to employee engagement and employer brand, we could not agree more! Your fan in Dallas,

  10. Actually, no, speaking from experience, generally SmartSearch GENERATES a couple of NEW jobs in training and ‘client customization’.

    It’s a fine product, but, as with any other ATS, it’s only as good as the people using it.

  11. Although technology can sometimes make life easier, we must remember the applicant experience and not always choose the easy way out. Thanks for the article!

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