Candidate Abuse and Death By Interview

We frequently read about such things as animal abuse or alcohol abuse. But one of the least talked about forms of abuse that occurs on a daily basis is “candidate abuse” during the interview and hiring process. With the economy slow and jobs scarce, candidate abuse is increasingly common. Companies have become arrogant in how they treat candidates, and with HR often taking a “my way or the highway” approach to applicants. Corporate cutbacks also mean fewer well-trained recruiters who know how to treat the candidates correctly. At the same time, the candidate’s themselves have become more willing to take this abuse because the current scarcity of job puts them at the mercy of hiring managers and recruiters. In the business world, it’s not uncommon for individuals with power to take full advantage of it. But in this case, might doesn’t make right. Ways That Candidates Are Abused There are several different ways that powerless candidates are abused during the hiring process. Here’s a closer look at a few of them. 1. Death by interview HR departments have become increasingly conservative in how they screen candidates due to a large number of lawsuits relating to selection testing. As a result, most hiring tests have gone by the wayside. The net effect is that companies have increased the number of interviews to make up for the absence of other screening tools. At many companies, the standard number of interviews given to a candidate has proliferated like rabbits. Where one or two interviews used to be common, one firm I know now demands up to 10, while another averaged over 17! The same fear of lawsuits has also caused firms to increase the number of people who participate in interviews in order to avoid discrimination claims. The net result of both of these trends to powerless candidates is that they must endure a large number of interviews spread out over a painfully long period of time. From the candidate’s perspective, attending a large number of interviews on different days is expensive (a bigger problem if they are out of work) and time consuming. The long delays and the uncertainty can be stressful for candidates and their families. The burden is made even worse by the fact that in a down economy, the odds of all that time and effort actually resulting in a job offer are actually pretty small. Too much of a good thing is bad for you. This is true for both sweets and for interviews! 2. Death by repetition When candidates are subjected to multiple interviews at the same firm, it is quite common for different interviewers to ask exactly the same questions in back-to-back interviews. This tedious repetition occurs frequently, because interviews by different managers are usually not planned or coordinated. It is also partially caused by interview training manuals, which, by suggesting appropriate questions to use in an interview, can inadvertently cause interviewers to use the same questions over and over. From the candidate’s perspective, having to answer duplicate questions over and over is frustrating and confusing. 3. Uncertainty and being kept in the dark In addition to the number of interviews, another abuse of candidates occurs when firms keep the candidate in the dark about the interview process and what is expected during it. In nearly every testing or assessment process outside of hiring, individuals are told in advance what the judges are looking for and what the process entails. For some unknown reason, HR departments do not feel compelled to meet that standard and inform the candidate about what specific skills or abilities will be assessed during each particular step of the interview process. In addition, candidates are usually not told who will be there during the interview and what is the role of each interviewer. This lack of information leads to confusion and frustration on the part of the powerless candidate, and all for no reason. There is no legal regulation that prohibits companies from telling candidates upfront about the process and what is being assessed during it. Failing to educate candidates may cause them to over-prepare in unimportant areas and under-prepare in key ones. Not knowing who will participate in the interview also prohibits the candidate from doing research on the background of the interviewers. 4. After the interview, the abuse continues The abuse of the candidate doesn’t stop after the interview is over. Candidates who fail to make it to the final interview stage are seldom told right away that they have been rejected. Instead, they have to wait until the final selection is made to find out their fate. If they should have the audacity to call to inquire about their performance, they get the all too common “don’t call us, we’ll call you” response. To add insult to injury, when the final rejection comes, it is generally a form letter or brief call that does not tell them specifically where they must improve in order to land a job in the future. Being rejected without being told why is crushing many people’s egos?? and it also reduces the likelihood that the rejected candidate will apply again at the firm at a later date. The Net Result The net result of these multiple abuses is that candidates’ fear of the interview process keeps many top performers from even applying for jobs. Those who do apply certainly don’t look forward to the interview process. Their fear and uncertainty may also cause them to be nervous during the interview and thus they will likely fail to perform as well as they would in a more relaxed and certain assessment process. Using any customer service standard, the interview process fails to meet the grade. In fact, Michael McNeal, a recruiting icon once called it “the graceless process!” The Negative Consequences of Abusing Candidates There are numerous economic consequences to firms that fail to make the interview process user friendly. 1. Candidates are potential customers. Enlightened HR professionals realize that candidates are also potential customers. As a result, it’s wise to treat all applicants with a high level of courtesy and respect. Firms can no longer afford to treat applicants as people that “bother us” with questions. HR needs to learn how to duplicate the level of customer service that is usually provided by the sales, customer support, and product service departments. The habit of taking advantage of candidates or even abusing them can have some negative consequences to a firm. If your organization deals with retail customers, candidates are likely either to be current or future customers. A negative experience may lead to decreased sales and sales referrals. In addition, candidates talk about their experiences with colleagues, so a negative experience can also lead to a weakened employment and product brand as well as fewer future applicants. 2. Slow hiring means you lose the top candidates. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the top candidates for nearly any job are gone within 10 days. Even if the interviews themselves might take that long, finding time when both the interviewers and the candidate are available can mean it could take many weeks to schedule a series of different interviews. Unfortunately such delays will mean that many of the top candidates will likely be gone after only a short period of time. 3. Interview fatigue and costs to the firm. Not only can multiple interviews fatigue candidates, but they can also wear out the interviewers and the hiring managers. The amount of hours required by the process frequently leads to “management fatigue,” which can cause managers to delay future hiring or to put off the interview process. From the company’s perspective, a large number of interviews are expensive and time consuming. Multiple interviews, with more people participating in them, are expensive by any standard if you add up the multiple hours that managers and employees must spend in interviews (which is multiplied greatly when there are team interviews). The costs of a series of interviews to a firm can easily grow into five figures. During lean times when company budgets are low, justifying this added expense is difficult, especially when there is little proof that increasing the number of interviews or interviewers has a significant impact on the quality of the hiring decision. 4. Repetitious questions also hurt the firm. One firm I know had the audacity (or intelligence) to ask applicants what they thought about the multiple interview process. The results were, not surprisingly, highly negative. One of the primary things learned in the survey was that candidates were frustrated and angry about being asked the same questions over and over. They found repeating the same question gave candidates the impression that the firm was uncoordinated and disjointed! By repeating the same questions, the firm lost the opportunity to gather data in a broad variety of areas that might have helped to improve the value and accuracy of the overall interview process. In addition, frustrating the candidates may cause them to prematurely take other firms’ offers or to drop out of the process before it’s even over. 5. Multiple interviews can hurt a firm’s ability to hire. When candidates are unemployed they are more than willing to come in for a series of interviews. However, “top talent” is probably currently employed and therefore likely to find it difficult to come in more than once. Multiple interviews spread out over a period of time make it difficult for currently employed people to make up a believable story about why they will need to be away from work for multiple days. Interviews that require long distance travel are getting increasingly impossible to schedule because of the difficulty and fear of travel. In brief, a long and protracted interview process may discourage applicants from applying, decrease attendance at interviews, hurt your firm’s image. Even worse, it may cause top candidates to accept “other offers” long before your process finally concludes. Next week, in Part 2 of this two-part series, I will outline the steps that your company can take to reduce or eliminate this unnecessary candidate abuse.

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Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

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