Stories of Covid Killing the Candidate Experience

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Jun 10, 2021
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Not long ago, job interviews took place in extravagant office buildings where you would be greeted by a warm receptionist who would notify the hiring manager of your arrival. Usually, a buffet area containing coffee, soda, water, and sometimes even snacks was laid out for your grazing. Of course, you arrived about 15 minutes early “just in case,” and the parking and entrance instructions received in your confirmation email made locating the office rather easy.

Then Covid-19 happened. 

There is no arguing that many of us are burned out by the ongoing stressors that come with living through a global pandemic. Indeed, most people would agree that they have noticed a change in their attitudes and behaviors as side-effects of social isolation, incessant digital stimulation, and the barrage of world events that seems to grow in gravity as the days go on. 

Consequently, has providing an outstanding, or even lukewarm, candidate experience fallen to the wayside?

Prior to the pandemic, treating your candidates like customers was a key focus for talent acquisition professionals. How many touch points a candidate should receive during the hiring process and implementing post-hire surveys to evaluate the candidate experience were popular topics. It seems that, either due to pandemic-fatigue or a tighter labor market, such topics have not been discussed as much. And a few real anecdotal experiences highlight this trend:

“Can We Re-Re-Reschedule?”

Candidate A was interviewing for a senior strategic HR role at a gourmet grocery chain based out of Texas. After a promising meeting with the company’s recruiter, Candidate A was set up to meet with the CHRO. The interview was scheduled for a week later but had to be rescheduled the day before due to a conflict on the hiring manager’s end. 

Life happens, so Candidate A agreed to the reschedule. But on the day of the rescheduled interview, Candidate A received an email explaining another conflict, and was asked to reschedule again. Candidate A, less optimistically, agreed and rescheduled the interview for the following week. 

At the re-rescheduled interview time, Candidate A was waiting in the Zoom room for the hiring manager to join. Five minutes pass, and then 10. Confident of the correct meeting details, Candidate A emailed the recruiter to verify that the interview was still happening. 

Fifteen minutes after the original start time, Candidate A received a call from the recruiter explaining that the hiring manager was still in a meeting, and asked if Candidate A would be OK with rescheduling for the following week. 

Having taken off work for this meeting, Candidate A pushed back and relayed availability for the remainder of the evening. The hiring manager called shortly after and, without apologizing for the delay, stated. “If you’re OK with doing our interview over the phone, we can start now.” 

Not having much of a choice, Candidate A obliged. It was difficult for Candidate A to gauge how they did, mostly because the hiring manager was driving the entire time (Siri’s navigation instructions will always be a clear giveaway). 

Ultimately, Candidate A did not receive a job offer, but often wonders if the outcome would have been different if they had the opportunity to meet face-to-face (even via Zoom) in a more controlled environment.

A Lack of Respect

Candidate B was interviewing for an entry-level corporate merchandising role with one of the most established department-store chains in the U.S. Candidate B graduated from a four-year university with a degree in fashion merchandising and had spent the past four years in retail leadership roles. Looking to transition out of the field and into a corporate role, Candidate B was excited at the prospect of joining this organization. 

Like Candidate A, Candidate B enjoyed an enthusiastic and promising interview with the recruiter, who explained that Candidate B would have five additional interviews as part of their hiring process, four buyers and one HR representative. Candidate B was also asked to visit a few competitor locations and prepare a SWOT analysis for discussion, which Candidate B enthusiastically spent the larger part of a day off from work completing.

Candidate B connected well with three of the four buyers and felt neutral about one. But during the interview with the HR rep, everything changed. The rep was late to the interview (no apology here, either), had their infant screaming in the background, and attempted to blame their connectivity issues on Candidate B (who had no problem with the other five interviews and could see and hear the HR rep crystal clearly). 

At the end of the interview, the HR rep flatly stated “OK, you should be hearing from us soon,” and disconnected. The SWOT analysis was never brought up.

To clarify, Candidate B did not have an issue with the infant being present in the interview. Work-from-home policies allow for many children, spouses, and pets to be casual participants in work meetings. The problem was that the HR rep never even acknowledged the disruption with Candidate B, appearing to give the impression that nothing was out of the ordinary.

Treating People Like People

Prior to Covid-19, these experiences would have been viewed as unprofessional and likely lamented about in public forums, serving as warnings for other candidates. But nowadays, with many individuals still trying to recover from layoffs, furloughs, or a decrease in hours, candidates are trying not to rock the proverbial boat and are instead putting up with these transgressions (even though this can make for a rough start to an employee-employer relationship if an offer is made and accepted). 

The world has been through a lot. People are on edge. But companies need to keep on moving. They can do this in a manner that respects the time, energy, and efforts of the people they are asking to join their teams. Treating each other as human beings — like apologizing when you are late or asking about the research you requested from candidates — are all easy things we can do to improve the candidate experience.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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