Need a Job? Prepare for the Good, Bad, and the Ugly of the Candidate Experience

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IF THERE IS A SINGLE piece of advice that’s critically important for every recruiter and hiring manager, it’s this: Always remember what it’s like to be on the other side of the table.

Everyone who recruits or hires should have to step outside the job and actually take a turn as a job candidate sometime.

The candidate experience has been on my mind lately. That’s probably because I’m back on the market again and was thinking about the last time I was doing this and was forced to experience the good, the bad, and the ugly (mainly the bad and ugly) of hunting for new job.

Here’s how it went:

  • The good is that some really great jobs popped up that I was all but offered.
  • The bad is that the jobs I thought I had locked down suddenly fell off the face of the Earth.
  • The ugly part? It’s that people who seemed ready to hire me one day suddenly went incommunicado and treated me as if I had Ebola. I never could get them to tell me why.

Three jobs, three bad experiences

The details are instructive for job seekers and recruiting pro alike:

  • The No. 1 “Nearly Had Job” was with a guy in Boston I met through one of his relatives I previously worked with. This guy had a media arm of his company he needed to get back on track. After a year of talking, numerous written proposals, and a trip to Boston, he told me he was “ready to take a swing at this.” That sounded great. We tentatively agreed on a mid-January start after I returned from a long-scheduled trip. End result: I never heard from the Boston guy again. There was no response, not even to tell me that the deal was off. I still don’t know what the hell happened.
  • “Nearly Had Job” No. 2 was a gig with a well-known consulting firm that wanted me to write a column and serve as mentor/sounding board for the editor of their new magazine. I talked with the editor in November, we agreed on the pay rate, and that I would start in February. In the run-up to the job, I spent a month filling out paperwork and dealing with a nice person in the HR department. End result: I never heard from the editor again despite numerous attempts on my part. However, I did hear from my HR contact in the company months later. She asked if I could send over an updated car insurance card for my file. I told her what happened and she said she would check on it, but that’s as far as it went. I still don’t know what went wrong.
  • “Nearly Had Job” No. 3 came from an ad seeking an Editor for a “major West Coast business publication.” Although the job ad was terribly vague, I had once been Editor of a major West Coast business publication, so I applied. Two weeks later, the publisher called. Turns out the publication I blindly applied to is not only near me but is also part of the company that owns the business publication I used to edit. Not only do they know me, but they tried to hire me back at one point. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? I thought so, and after the publisher’s call, I had three days of conversations about the position, including one at their office. But then, the talking stopped as suddenly as it started. End result: A week later, I texted the publisher to ask where things stood. His response? “We are far down the road with another candidate, but nothing final yet.” That’s the last I heard from him. Of course, they hired an Editor — someone who had never been a top Editor or managed a staff. So much for professional courtesy.

Who gets treated worst of all?

What do all those “Nearly Had Jobs” have in common? They’re all prime examples of a shortsighted and indifferent candidate experience.

When I tell people about my job hunting woes, the response from Millennials and Gen Z is the most telling of all. They generally say something along the lines of, “Wow. I thought it was only younger people who got treated like that.”

Clearly, the stories about the terrible treatment of job candidates are alive and well. Unfortunately, they resonate most with the largest part of our workforce.

My biggest gripe?  It’s that these companies and hiring managers couldn’t be honest with me. They just couldn’t say, “sorry, this isn’t going to work out.” And it reinforces something I’ve always told my hiring managers — the worst answer in life isn’t no; the worst answer in life is no answer at all.

Nobody likes to hunt for a job, jump through all the hoops to land it, then get ignored and left spinning their wheels.

Lots of companies have a problem communicating with candidates, and the Talent Board North American Candidate Experience Awards Research Report has pointed this out before:

“In 2016, 47 percent of candidates were still waiting to hear back from employers more than two months after they applied. Plus, only 20 percent of candidates received an email from a recruiter or hiring manager notifying them they were not being considered, and only 8 percent received a phone call from a recruiter or hiring manager notifying them they were not being considered.”

Those numbers change a bit year to year, but they don’t seem to improve all that much. All too often, the only candidate experience is a bad one.

Here’s how to improve the Candidate Experience

I know that the volume of candidates applying for a job can be overwhelming, but in my case, all three companies made me believe I was a top candidate and they STILL couldn’t extend me the courtesy of an honest reply.

Kevin Grossman works for the Talent Board and understands the need for a good Candidate Experience as well as anyone. He makes these recommendations for companies trying to get better at this:

Major changes take time and resources, but what talent acquisition teams could do now to improve candidate communication throughout any part of the recruiting cycle is to do a combination of these four (4) simple things regularly:

    • Thank the candidates for their time – always;
    • Follow up with recommendations on what can be improved or what missed the mark;
    • End with positive comments about the situation, no matter what;
    • Not only give positive feedback but ask for it as well.”

These are simple things, yet it’s shocking how many organizations can’t get them right.

HERE’S MY TAKE: How you treat people when they’re vulnerable — like when they apply for a job — says a lot about your organization.

Any company can treat its candidates well (although that not a given, as I found out), but how they handle the great mass of people who apply speaks volumes about how they not only treat those who actually get hired, but how they probably treat their customers too.

It’s another version of the Golden Rule — treat your job candidates as YOU want to be treated.

If you really care about the Candidate Experience, this should be something all recruiters and talent managers totally embrace.

Everyone will be better off if they do.

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