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Play Nice

by
Cynthia Trivella
May 27, 2010, 1:59 pm ET

Have you been kind today? Make kindness your daily modus operandi and change your world. –Annie Lennox

I recently finished reading the book The Power of Nice. I especially liked this book, because not only was it written by two very successful women, it was written by people who work in the advertising industry. I work in the advertising industry, specifically in the niche area of human resource communications.

As I was reading this book, I felt reassured in knowing there are people who do believe that doing right by people and treating them with respect should be a given, and not an exception to the rule. What the two authors, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, espouse in their book is similar to something that I read in the book How to Become a Rainmaker. Both books talk about how the importance of being nice is a good thing to do as a respectful human being and how this action can carry over into building and elevating your business relationships. What helped me to truly appreciate The Power of Nice was thinking about the people I have met during my career and the impressions they made on me, some of those impressions were good and some rather bad.

In this same vein is the multitude of comments, articles, and blogs I have read recently describing the way people are treated during the application and interview process.

Personally, I’ve not had the need to hire anyone over the past 18 months, but I do remember a time when I was actively interviewing. My needs were always for the same type of position: account manager. The title “account manager” is one of those universal job titles that transcends across many industries and can mean a multitude of different duties depending on the company and industry. I can remember receiving more than 100 resumes each time the position was advertised. In all honesty, 50-60% percent of the resumes were from people who were either overqualified, underqualified, lacking any relevant experience for the position, or seeking a salary much higher than what was clearly stated in the ad. As the hiring manager, I always felt very discouraged by this, but through this disheartened feeling I always thought about how these job applicants must be feeling. I remember being out of work early in my professional career and how deflating that feeling was. I don’t envy the unemployed.

For the obvious reasons, I wouldn’t hire someone who was not appropriate for the position, but there was something I could do and I made a point of it. That point was to contact each and every person who sent in a resume, whether they were a qualified candidate or not. Not that I relish giving people bad news, because I don’t. Now, I should also point out that my company uses an ATS that has an automated function which e-mails job applicants on their status, including the proverbial “no thank you message,” but having past experience with being on the receiving end of never hearing from a person at the company where I had applied, I made the conscience decision that I would pay these people the professional courtesy of communicating with them. So in between my daily tasks, I would contact the job applicants and hopefully speak to them live. In some instances I did leave a voicemail message, but always left my name and number and a best time to reach me so if that person chose to, he/she could call me back for a more in-depth conversation. Many of the people I spoke with, even when told they were not going to be invited to interview, actually sounded grateful that I called. One person said it was “refreshing to know there are companies out there who care.” Even in the face of rejection, I found that job applicants would rather know and have closure than not know the status of their application.

With all this said, I know that in today’s wacky economy, the number of resumes that are being sent way outnumber the amount I received 18 months ago, so I’m not implying that the HR department is being negligent. This department is doing more with less like any other department. What I am asking is this — HR, could you please take a moment to add a personal touch to your recruiting communications? It would mean so much to the job applicant and enrich the value of your worth to them. It also shows genuineness in that you care about the people who touch your organization, and in return your show of goodwill will reinforce your company’s employment value proposition and strengthen the brand image.

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.

  1. Kathy Lori

    I truly loved reading this particular article. Too often we are so wrapped up in our own worlds and troubles that we don’t see how we are all connected, that we are all human. We need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes from time to time. All these resumes are just the paper representation of some person who may desparately need money coming in. Yes, many of the applicants don’t fit the particular spot, some are close and some are very much out of their league. But they are still people. Try to think back to when you might have been unemployed. Any word back from a company was at least an indication that someone looked at your resume, even if for only a minute.

    When I meet people during the day, I try to imagine how I can make this person’s day a little better. It doesn’t have to be anything fantastic, just a kind word at the right time or holding the door for someone. Simple things to make each day better.

  2. Bilal Ojjeh

    Many thanks Cynthia for your great article. I fully subscribe to what you wrote.

    Two quick thoughts:
    1) Job descriptions are often void and hence attract a lot of the wrong candidates. Companies should better articulate the jobs they are seeking to fill.
    2) The way companies decline candidates has a tremendous impact on the employer brand / market brand of the company. In addition to the human element you raised, companies can save advertising dollors by treating their declines properly.

    Bilal Ojjeh, Founder and CEO
    http://www.MBA-Exchange.com
    http://www.Careernomics.com

  3. Carol Barber

    NICE post, Cyndy! The old saying — ‘what goes around comes around’ — will eventually have meaning for many of today’s job-seekers. Right now, they might refer to the “black hole that swallows resumes,” but when the economy finally recovers, they will remember the brands that took the time to just be kind. And perhaps, those will be the companies they’ll continue to buy from, decide to do business with, and recommend to their friends. No matter what business we’re in, candidates are our customers or potential customers, which makes just being NICE priceless. As Kathy noted in her post, the smallest kindness can make someone’s day. I think we can all make time for that!

  4. C.T. Trivella

    Kathy–Thanks for your comments. It is so much easier to understand another person when we can put ourselves in his/her shoes. And I totally agree with what you say about how a small act of kindness can make someone’s day.

  5. C.T. Trivella

    Thanks, Carol. I agree with what you say here. A bad word travels much farther than a good one. And yes, candidates will remember those organizations that showed their humanity.

  6. Kim Samuel

    Cynithia, good timing on this as the one complaint I hear from friends who are unemployed is that resumes seem to fall into a black hole, and worse, when they do interview, sometimes they get lost after that and never hear back. As the new staffing director for my company, I held a workshop this week with fellow HR professionals in our organization. Our goal was to reduce cycle time, but we also discussed candidate care. We came up with a rule that no active candidate should go more than 5 business days with an update or some communication from someone in our organization.

  7. C.T. Trivella

    Good for you Kim! I applaud your initiative to bring that added touch to your recruiting structure. It will pay off for you with dividends! Thank you for your comments.

  8. C.T. Trivella

    Bilal–Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You have raised two very good points and I appreciate that insight!

  9. Kim Samuel

    Just a couple thoughts to those points – I have posted some very specific job descriptions, particularly for engineering positions, and have received 95% junk resumes. Some job seekers think it’s okay to just send a resume in with the hopes that they’ll just be noticed, or fullfilling a requirement to receive UI benefits. That is a true hardship on the recruiter. I cringe every time I hear one of the so called “experts” on recruiting or hiring on one of the talk shows, as many times they tell candidates to just show up in the employer’s lobby, or to repackage their resume to meet other requirements.

    Trust me, as hard as it is to find qualified candidates for many of our jobs, if you are a bona fide candidate, we will contact you. The respect should go both ways.

    But, even having said that, I think most companies are atrocious at candidate care.

  10. C.T. Trivella

    Kim–I hear you loud and clear on the “junk resumes.” I received many of them too. I saw resumes that made me think, “I wonder what he/she saw in the job posting that encouraged him/her to apply.” Honestly Kim, I think this is something that has been going on as long as applying for a job has existed. It is discouraging for the recruiter and sad for the candidate, no doubt.

  11. Barry Hinds

    Kim is right on! I think 80-90 plus percent of resumes that I look at are rejected. I get the impression that some people don’t think that the interview process begins with what they put on paper. It’s not uncommon that candidates show us no respect with their application process and I have been berated for telling candidates that their resume has no or little connection to the position and I won’t send it to the hiring manager unless I get something more applicable. Sorry to inform certain candidates but there is a screening process contrary to a popular belief by many applicants. I am not like the government that has an open border policy that refuses to exercise control. The arrogant behavior of candidates is nothing short of astrounding as if we owe them a position. Yes not all are like this but I don’t have to look far to find them. I am more than willing to assist a candidate on how to apply and why they need to do certain things and some candidates thank me as they have no clue on how this process works. However, I no longer make it a habit of calling unqualified, lazy etc. candidates that refuse to do their homework or even cares about what they put down on paper. I am more than willing to help but I am very selective and won’t waste time with those that argue or think they are the experts when they have no clue what they are talking about. I have even been told by candidates, “I don’t have to tell you what I do, you have to read between the lines”! Well, if I have to do too much guessing, I guess you are out of luck!

  12. Keith Halperin

    Recruiting organizations can hire highly capable virtual assistants to handle all aspects of candidate care for $2.00/hr or less, thus leaving recruiters with the higher-value add activities. IMHO, organizations don’t do this because 1) they may not know about this option or 2) they just don’t care.

    Thanks,

    Keith

  13. Bilal Ojjeh

    The dark side of the Internet is that volume has multiplied and the hurdle to send an application (or an email) has come down to almost nothing. I was shocked when I first heard of companies that automatically applies on your behalf to hundreds of ‘matching’ jobs…

    The beast is out there so how can we stop it?

    IMHO, by:
    1) articulating our openings and showcasing what we are looking for.
    – review the text of the job description and compare it to other jobs in the same category. Does your job stand out? If not, do not blame the candidates who spam-apply
    – potentially add audio/video to further communicate your open position, culture, etc. My company is launching a service to do just that

    2) Asking candidates to do homework when applying (e.g. answer specific questions). I did that and it works great. This is the easiest way to filter motivation. For instance, if you are looking for a web designer, ask candidates to comment on a website of your choosing…

    Kind regards,

    Bilal Ojjeh
    http://www.MBA-Exchange.com
    http://www.Careernomics.com

  14. Kim Samuel

    I totally agree Bilal, but those of us without an ATS or any sophisticated way of data gathering really have to rely on people following the JD (and yes – I’m always pretty detailed in what I’m looking for). But it is a good strategy.

  15. Barry Hinds

    I don’t really care if YOU don’t blame the candidates that spam apply-BUT I DO! I hold candidates responsible for their incompetent data. This isn’t a one way street that all the responsiblity is on the recruiter or business. This isn’t a government handout where the candidate can do whatever and we give them money or a job. I do my best to give them a fair shake but with a high failure rate of disqualified applicants maybe the candidate should take some blame. I refuse to let the candidates off the hook for their actions. Adding video or audio isn’t going to stop the candidate that is intent on applying regardless of their skills to the position. All I am saying is, as a recruiter and as a company this isn’t a baby sitting service to those that think we owe them everything. Sorry libs it doesn’t fly here!

  16. Bilal Ojjeh

    Kim — In my case, I add in the JD 2-3 specific questions I would ask in an interview. Some candidates ignore my questions and just apply and that tells me a lot about them. Others reply thoughtfully and they stand out.

    Barry — You are right and I did not really mean to get the candidates off the hook. I wanted to highlight what we can do to make it easier for us to identify the right candidates.

    Bilal

  17. C.T. Trivella

    Thank you everyone—I appreciate everyone’s input and verve to stand behind what he/she believes.

    Obviously, we have a lot of work to do on both the employer and candidate side of the application process. The least we can do as a hiring company and candidate is show respect, humanity and be understanding of the other’s position.

  18. Keith Halperin

    Thank you, Cynthia. I am a bit puzzled, though: what do “respect, humanity and be understanding of the other’s position” have to do with recruiting?

    ;)

    …………………..

    Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’

    Keep movin’, movin’, movin’,
    Though they’re disapprovin’,
    Keep them doggies movin’ Rawhide!
    Don’t try to understand ‘em,
    Just rope and throw and grab ‘em,
    Soon we’ll be living high and wide.

    ……………………………..

    Cheers,

    Keith

  19. C.T. Trivella

    Keith–I good-heartedly chuckled when I saw your response. I don’t know you well enough to understand your humor, but something tells me that you understand that “respect, humanity and understanding of others’ positions” is integral to making us all never miss the mark on being a human being first, and the rest will follow.

  20. Prince Paul

    Hey Guys , thats a good argument going there on ethics and professionalism. Just wondering if the Internet and its “free” service to candidates has helped create this arrogance and irresponsibility amongst the job-seeker community ?
    Any thoughts on reviving the now dead process of “charging” the candidates a token registration fee ?

    Cheers !
    Prince Paul

  21. C.T. Trivella

    Prince Paul–Your response on “charging candidates a token registration fee” brings up some curious thoughts. How would an organization position this as a part of their recruitment process and where does it fit into the employment branding strategy? What about an employee referral program? Who gets “penalized” for an application that is not acceptable… the referring employee? The job candidate?

  22. Brian Whitfield

    Creating any sort of hurdle for candidates to apply WILL absolutely result in less resumes. It may also cost you some of the better candidates. Top notch candidates don’t have to jump through hoops to find a job and often times won’t. “Click through rates” (ie. candidates that go to the site but don’t go all the way through it) will be way lower for sites that aren’t extremely candidate friendly. Companies that put up roadblocks, intentional or otherwise, often do so while costing themselves the best talent.

  23. Keith Halperin

    As I have mentioned elsewhere, I believe that it’s best to operate under the belief that you will either recruit or have referred any candidates you actually hire- that’s active (as opposed to passive) recruiting. That being said, when you find them, you should make the process as easy, straight-forward, quick, and pleasant as you can.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  24. C.T. Trivella

    Brian–agreed! Top-notch candidates don’t need to jump through fire hoops, that’s one of the benefits of being an A-Level Worker. I know that folks like Lou Adler have said numerous times that the more we make a job candidate stretch and search when applying for a job, the more likely it is that he/she won’t apply.

  25. C.T. Trivella

    Thanks, Keith. You are so right.

  26. Howard Adamsky

    Wonderful article.

    Refreshing and insightful…

  27. C.T. Trivella

    Thank you Howard and everyone for your comments! I very much appreciate the input and points of view.

  28. Heidi Burkley

    Cyndy:

    Thank you for sharing this amazing and thought-provoking article. What I found equally interesting is that you took the time to engage with those who posted their ideas and opinion. I appreciate your openness and courage to talk to others rather than “hiding behind the article (screen)”.

    In my experience,the coolest part about recruiting is actually taking the time to talk to people and getting to know them (sometimes you actually find hidden jewels or you have the opportunity to have an open and honest conversation about fit).

    It’s ironic and funny how some people complain about “all these resumes” but all they do is sit behind a computer screen and sort resumes: this is what they call recruitment.

    As a recruiter, I’ve always felt it was important for candidates to know who I am -the “go to person” for a particular role. In addition, my sources knew what I was looking for and they were the extention of my department. Great recruitment in my opinion is about community, connectivity, engagement, and conversation.

    Best,
    Heidi

  29. C.T. Trivella

    Heidi–thank you for your kind words; I so appreciate it!

    You nailed it spot on when you say that “great recruitment is about community, connectivity, engagement and conversation.” Wow, I’m once again inspired! :+)

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