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Are Job Applicants Destroying Your Brand?

by Jan 11, 2008

Phil walks into his favorite retailer to apply for a job. He sits down at the kiosk and begins to fill out the employment application. He fumbles through the online form and realizes that he forgot to enter his apartment number. He clicks the browser to go back to the prior page. In doing so, all of the information he already entered is wiped out. Darn it! He begins completing the application again. Name, address, social security number, etc.

Once done, the manager waves him into his office as if he is flagging down a cab in Midtown Manhattan during rush hour. Phil makes his way down to the office. He is shocked and disgusted by what he sees in the office. It is a mess, and that is putting it mildly. Scattered papers are one thing, but leftover crumbs from lunch are another. Phil begins to wonder if he might need a tetanus shot after this experience.

John, the manager, tells Phil to sit down. Phil looks at the chair and notices that it is so badly ripped that it is beyond repair. The pattern of the rip looks like the path the Mississippi River travels as it heads from north to south. Phil looks at John and notices that his shirt flap isn’t tucked in. Better yet, John has a sauce stain on his left pocket. Phil begins to wonder if he is being Punk’d. Where are those cameras?

The interview begins with John asking Phil why he wants to work there. Phil wasn’t expecting a question like that right off the bat and stammers in his response. The truth is that Phil simply wanted a job so he could pay the bills. John didn’t look impressed. After a couple more questions with mediocre answers, the interview ends. John tells Phil that they will call him in a day or two to update him on his candidacy. The call never comes.

So, if you are Phil, when do you think you will shop at that store again? Do I hear never? How many people is Phil going to tell about his experience? 10? 20? 50? How many of those people will look at that store differently? And, to how many people will they tell Phil’s story?

To be clear, John wasn’t wrong for not hiring Phil. As the manager, he is responsible for selecting the talent to work in his store. However, the manager is also tasked with protecting the corporate brand. And that he failed to do. Phil left that store with such a negative impression of the experience that all the marketing and advertising in the world would not bring him back in.

This story is exaggerated. At least, I hope it is. Yet, there are things that recruiters and hiring managers do every day that damage the brand of the company. It doesn’t take much to create a miserable experience. Things like interviewers being late, offices being dirty, and interviewers being rude are just a few. The top of the list from the candidates’ perspective is when things go dark, meaning that no communication is ever received from the company informing them that they are no longer being considered for employment. When I talk to candidates, the lack of notification that they are no longer being considered is at the top of their list of company conduct that leaves a negative impression. They feel disrespected.

Some of you are probably reading this and thinking that you aren’t in the retail industry, so this issue doesn’t affect you. Care to wager on that? Consider this: You interview a sales candidate and, for whatever reason, elect not to hire him. The candidate has a less-than-favorable experience with your company during the interview process, leaving a bad taste in his mouth. He lands with a competitor of yours and proceeds to share his experiences with your company. Stories of your firm’s unprofessionalism spread like wildfire throughout not just this competitor’s organization, but with other competitors in your industry. Don’t think this can happen? Your frog is someone else’s prince.

Maybe you don’t care what the competition thinks of your company. But, do you care if this is a strategic partner instead? Better yet, it is one of your clients that hires this candidate. Now your client gets to hear the “great experiences” this candidate had while interviewing with your company. When these stories reach your CEO from your client, who in your company will get the call about this matter?

Look, hiring managers and recruiters don’t intentionally create bad candidate experiences. Sometimes they simply get tunnel vision.

I have to fill the seat. I have to fill the seat. I have to fill the seat.

It almost sounds like the repetition of “time to make the donuts” from the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. True, every day that seat is open, it costs the company “X” number of dollars, not to mention some manager’s or recruiter’s bonus. Thus, when it is determined that a candidate is not a fit for the role, it is all too easy to forget about him and move on to the next one. However, the same level of care that was used to recruit the candidate to visit the organization should match the level of care when exiting. Why create enemies?

If your company hires 100 people per year and it takes 11 candidates to fill one seat, 1,000 people were not hired by your company. Thus, a lot of people were touched by your process. How did they walk away feeling about their experiences with your company? Try this math with your company’s hiring metrics.

Companies spend hundreds of thousands, or sometimes millions, of dollars building a brand image. Managers and recruiters are responsible for protecting it. When I say recruiters, I mean both internal and external ones. While internal ones seem obvious to you, the external ones may not be. Yet, they are acting as an agent for your company when they are the intermediary between you and the candidate. As far as the candidate is concerned, the recruiter is your company.

I have written about the importance of a company mapping out its sales-talent screening program. I should have mentioned, for all candidate recruits, that a program should be put in place that addresses the candidate exit process as well. It’s not a lot of work to do this. It takes a little thought. (If you would like my tip sheet for putting together a candidate exit program, send me an email.) That little thought could save your company thousands of dollars.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Rafael Bonilla

    This article drives home a common mistake that unfortunately we as interviewing managers at one point in time have been guilty of. Good article to refresh and refocus on the basics.

  • Lydia Magill

    Absolutely true – the power of the word on the street from a disgruntled or disappointed applicant is huge. No matter how busy or cramped a business environment is, there still should be space set aside for the all important interview. It doesn’t take much – even an empty cube that’s clean and neat is a good way to go. Also – if you are savvy with your career website, get your application and other paperwork uploaded to it so that your interviewees arrive with paperwork completed in hand. A quick reminder page ‘here’s what you need to know about your upcoming interview’ works wonders. Saves time, and since we are all legally compliant, there should be nothing to worry about should that application get left in a public place, right?

  • Jim Vogel

    The article reads nicely. But it reads like Chapter 1 in a Recruiting novel. I hope this is more coagulation than reality. We all know first impressions. At least I hope.

  • William Johnson

    This is so true and it happens everyday! Great read thank you for writing it! The traditional recruitment process most organizations are using today is broken. They keep adding tools to try to fix the problem but that just adds cracks in to a failing foundation. Unless you start over and rebuild the model you will never be able to fix the problem.

    I talk to candidates everyday who felt they were front runners for a position and never even got a call back to let them know they did not get the position. It is the equivalent to giving them a slap on the face.

    Many organizations see the problem but justify why they can’t fix it. If they can’t fix it then such is life. I recently did not purchase a product because the manufacture never called my friend back about a director level role. If I did this for everyone I’ve talked to who had similar experiences I would be hard pressed to find anything I felt good about buying. There are a few other companies I would like to boycott but I have to get my wife on board first! :-)

    William

  • Megan McConnell

    This article highlights all the reasons I wanted to get into recruitment in the first place.

    I had such bad experiences applying for a new job (after leaving the company I had been with for 18 years) that I wanted to do it better, to give the sort of quality customer service and experience that I wanted to have as an applicant.

    It’s unfortunate that these mistakes aren’t just made within companies – plenty of Agencies also make them.

    Consultants I worked with always thought I was insane when I tried to hurry them along to get in and see an applicant – it seems as though this is the last thing they want to do!!

    It’s something that needs to be fixed by people doing both corporate and agency recruitment! In this candidate short market – your applicants are gold!

  • Jeremy Langhans

    Especially if they are in the school of thought to lie on the telephone and/or send eMails to lists of people who really don’t want the extra mail… I wish some people would get out of the 90′s and into 2008 where we can build communities which add value to their fellow membership. Anyone know of any network like that?

    Here’s a related story:
    http://crm4recruiting.wordpress.com/2008/01/12/do-you-use-inmail-on-linkedin/

    <3
    Jer

  • Alasdair Berry

    This article highlights one of the main reasons that training of hiring personnel in recruitment skills and the broader ramifications of getting right, is such a popular course provided by Hudson. Two thirds of candidates base their decision on whether to join a company on the ‘interview experience’, research revealed in 2007. So in a candidate-tight market, no employer can afford to get it (so) wrong.

  • Magdalena Meller

    Thank you for addressing HR using a marketing/sales analogy. It is important to create synergy between HR and branding activities. ?Employers of Choice? and Wannabes must realize the value of showing appreciation to all applicants since they have demonstrated interest in their company by taking time out to research the business, filling out an application, and preparing and going through an interview. Extending courtesy may prevent damage to your brand but also lead to new customers (check out http://www.inc.com/magazine/20071101/help-wanted-meets-buy-it-now.html).

    I also invite you to read my article on the importance of treating applicants as customers (http://breakpointhr.blogspot.com/2008/01/applicants-as-customers.html).

  • Michael Lam

    A good reminder that there is an opportunity to create a positive word-of-mouth at every part of the hiring process and that the cost of not doing so can be great.

    This message is particularly important when you consider the unfortunate reality that often dissatisfied customers will tell everyone else but the offending company about their poor service experience. But when unhappy customers do talk then tend to talk more than happy customers. I think it was Coca Cola that conducted a customer service study and found that less than half of the unhappy customers filed a customer complaint yet told twice as many people about their bad experience than happy customers did about their positive experience.

    It’s understandable that we focus on the people we select, place, hire, and promote. But it becomes dangerously myopic when we neglect all the resumes and candidates that were bypassed.

    Michael Lam
    Managing Partner
    HRinmotion.com, Candidate Preparation Software
    ‘prepare your candidates, build your brand’