It’s time we started treating candidates with more respect

Auckland-based recruitment specialist Fiona Hewitt says it’s time the industry took a long, hard look at how it treats candidates after a survey revealed a list of horror stories.

I’m a recruiter with over 20 years on the clock. I’ve worked in agencies, in-house, freelance and contract. I’ve worked with the best and sometimes the worst of recruiters.

Google the words “recruiters are” and you’ll see that they’ve had a pretty bad rep over the years – not unusual for a service industry. You’ll always have poor service called out and recruitment gets its share of that, which tarnishes the really good work some of them do.

There are also businesses that have never managed the recruitment process respectfully and, sadly, it has almost been accepted as the norm - a job-seeking Stockholm Syndrome where everyone “knows” they might not get a chance beyond sending off an application and that’s just the way it is.

Well it shouldn’t be.

When I was thrown back into touting for my own work post-COVID I was pretty shocked. I would say that over 50% of applications went unanswered, despite me following up.

COVID-19 has thrown a huge number of unsuspecting jobseekers into the market and they’re feeling pretty vulnerable. In New Zealand we have a Prime Minister imploring that we, as a nation, be kind.

So you would think that treating jobseekers well, and with empathy, would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it seems it seems to be more like a “no-starter”.

It’s a complex issue because it’s not a problem with a single industry. Every company employing staff is in the recruitment game and so many of them are being, quite frankly, awful.

Taken aback by my own experience (and those of immediate friends I spoke to), I put out the call on LinkedIn asking for input. I invited those who wanted to share their “war stories” to have a phone chat.

As a result, I chatted/listened for three days solid. What I heard almost broke my heart.

While most of them echoed the view that “you go to the trouble of researching the business, reading the ad (and job description if there is one) believe it to be a good fit, send a tailored application and - crickets. You don’t hear anything back at all.” No response at all!

And there were far worse stories.

Let me share a few examples:

  • “Had three face-to-face interviews with a well-known business – each meeting confirming what a great fit I was. Followed up a week later and it was still a ‘yes – just completing some final compliance’. Never heard from them again. Not one text, email or call despite contacting the business for answers.”

  • “Applied to an advertised role and heard nothing. Several weeks later I was approached on LinkedIn by the talent agent with that same company saying I’d be great for a role they were recruiting for. Explained I’d already applied and have heard nothing since.”

  • “Interviewed for a role and was down to the final two. Several weeks later I hadn't heard so I made contact. An apology – they’d forgotten to tell me I was unsuccessful. Forgotten! There were only two candidates and they forgot to call one of them.”

What should the recruitment industry do about it?

If you’re working for an agency which measures your business development calls, your jobs on, the number of candidates you have at interview, placements and billings but has no metric for 360 service to every applicant, you should talk to your manager.

End-to-end means a 360 response to every, single person who responded to your ad. If your ad response has been overwhelming, ask for help to deal with that and then get some coaching around more succinct ad writing.

If you’re an agency owner or manager and you’re not actively tracking the most rudimentary candidate care (communication) then pull finger. You need to start right now. Are you using an NPS (Ask Nicely or similar)? It’s probably the best coaching tool you could implement.

You have more tools and technology than ever before. If you don’t have the functionality to manage a kind, human response to every applicant – engage your vendor or developer and make that happen. There is no excuse. You only have one job and that is managing a recruitment assignment.

There is no place for sloppy, unprofessional behaviour in the recruitment industry but we are all human and we all forget and make mistakes. So, own them. Of all industries, you work in one of the most human-centred of all. People will be pissed off with your mistake but they will understand if you simply own up and have a conversation about the way forward.

Understand this. You are not a gatekeeper; you are a facilitator. Your job’s purpose is to facilitate candidate introductions to job opportunities as briefed by your client. If you haven’t sat yourself down in front of your client and taken a full job brief, you are not working on an assignment – you have no right to involve candidates in your sham “opportunity” to make a fee.

What about individual companies?

We have an equal issue within companies which choose to run their own recruitment process.

To those which have an in-house recruitment function, I offer the same admonishment and advice as I do to the recruitment industry. You only have one job – do it well and stop pretending you’re the Prime Minister of recruitment.

If you need more training, ask for it, because if your job applicants are not being treated well, you are providing a polar opposite experience to your marketing and branding efforts.

If you’re boasting of your employee engagement, diversity and inclusion programs and you’re treating job applicants poorly, there's a massive disconnect between what your business claims to be and what it actually is.

All that work your business is doing around customer engagement, acquisition, experience and retention? Your attitude toward recruitment might be undoing it – in fact doing it incredible harm.

Why do you not include recruitment in your customer journey mapping and process? Job candidates are your customers.

To the smaller companies who don’t have the budget or inclination to use an external recruitment agency – there are many options.

Engage a specialist to develop and imbed a robust, human-centred recruitment process for you, coaching your hiring managers when need be to make great hiring decisions. I can help with that. I know several other recruitment professionals who can help with that and not one of us charges ludicrous fees.

To everyone - learn how to say “no” and how to let unsuccessful candidates know.

I get it – letting people know they weren’t successful isn’t easy, but it’s part of the recruitment process. If a candidate has been in face-to-face interviews at your company and were unsuccessful, they are deserving of a phone call, not a generic email.

Robyn Hill of Courageous Conversations NZ, offers four tips to recruiters for saying “no” effectively to unsuccessful interviewees.

  • Always go with constructive feedback over a “nice response” that conceals the truth.

  • Be brief, clear and stick to the facts – cover what the candidate did well and could improve on in bullet points (not paragraphs).

  • Be genuine and empathetic in your response – the rejection isn’t personal and it is a learning opportunity.

  • Provide your response as soon as possible after the interview so that the candidate will be able to quickly get over their disappointment, learn, and move forward with a positive view of their experience with your organisation.

I really think the biggest change we have to make (2020 is the year of change, is it not?) is a mindset change and no longer tolerate poor behaviour in what is a human-to-human engagement.

We have to start caring more and complaining less. Care more about the people in the process because your response could have a significant effect on an individual – both positive or devastating.

So let’s not talk about change, let’s be the change.

Fiona Hewitt is a recruitment specialist based in Auckland. She specialises in auditing and improving the recruitment process for businesses who prefer to manage their own recruitment and coaching hiring managers in making better hiring decisions.

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