Bad Candidate Experiences: How companies are losing the Talent War

A few months ago, I met with a former intern who had impressed me in the past. He had since graduated and become a successful junior software sales person. After a couple of years in his first sales role, he had decided to leave his current employer and find a more challenging sales position. I referred him to two companies, after first asking each of the companies if they were interested. Both wanted the introduction to him.

A couple of months later, he called again to ask if I would be a reference. He had been interviewed by another company who were interested in offering him a job. I agreed but also asked him about the two introductions that I had made.

With the first referral, it took about three weeks to set a call up with the General Manager and then the GM missed the meeting due to a calendar screw-up. The candidate tried following up with the GM’s executive assistant but never heard back, so the meeting with the company never happened. When I circled back with the GM, he acknowledged they had dropped the ball, but didn’t realize he had missed a meeting because he thought it had been rescheduled, then his EA was away for a week and rescheduling the meeting dropped through the cracks.

With the other referral, the CEO had asked their Sales recruiter to meet the candidate. The initial screening interview was right away. From the candidate’s perspective, it went well and ended with a promise to set up a meeting with the VP of Sales. That meeting never happened. About a week later, the candidate got an automatic form email from HR saying “his application for some specific role was turned down”. When I circled back to the company, their perspective was that they hadn’t promised a follow-on meeting and had some concerns with the candidate’s compensation expectations versus their experience level.

Unfortunately, perception is reality and in both cases, the candidate’s perception was negative to the companies’ recruiting brand and forms the reality of what they share in terms of the Candidate Experience.

A few weeks later, the candidate called me again to update me on his job search. References had gone well and he had been offered a job. At that time, he also had another company interested in hiring him but were not far enough along to make an offer. The external recruiter for this new opportunity did not want to lose the candidate. This recruiter suggested that “the candidate accept the offer in hand, but if he could get him a better competing offer in the next few days, that the candidate renege on the first offer and accept the second”. The candidate responded by saying that that would be unethical and once he makes a commitment, he does not go back on it.

While these situations can be treated as isolated cases, poor Candidate Experience, whether real or perceived, happens frequently and every time it does, it damages your company’s recruiting brand and your ability to attract candidates, especially from referral sources. When I circle back to the senior executives and relate these stories of their organizations in action, they are horrified, but without my external feedback they are rarely aware there was an issue.

What are the implications of providing poor candidate experience and does it really matter?

Just Google: “What is the cost of poor candidate recruiting experience”. The resulting articles should help you to conclude there is a large cost. Rather than regurgitate from those articles, I want to share my personal perspective of the cost.

A while ago, I met with a CFO that I know who was looking for their next gig. I introduced them to a CEO of a company that was doing a search for a new CFO. The CEO never got around to following up on the introduction and the CFO took a job otherwhere else a few weeks later.  About the same time, I introduced their VP of Marketing to two senior CMO-level coaches because she was interested in engaging a coach. Four months later, after multiple meeting reschedules, conference call no-shows, and ignored emails by the VP Marketing, neither meeting had happened and both CMO coaches told me they would not have the company as a client. Because of the candidate experience the company offered, I will not refer any candidates for any role to this company in the future.

When I talk to people who have had a great candidate experience, they will generally refer others to the company, even if they did not get hired.

Conversely, when they have a poor experience, that company goes on their “shitlist” and they share this with everyone they can. If you doubt this, just check on Glassdoor for comments from people who have interviewed, had a negative experience and declined an offer. For example, from Glassdoor:

“Applied online and after a week I was invited for a phone interview. Poorly managed interview. The interviewer got an emergency call in between and then resumed the interview later. 10 min after discussing the role, he left the interview in between, the person left me hanging and said ‘We are having a conversation with our colleagues, we will contact you later’. Nobody contacted me later. Not a polite and professional way.”

Is this account accurate? Who knows. But it is the one publicly posted about the company. Perception is Reality.

So what can you do about it? Here are my thoughts:

1.     Manage every candidate and especially referrals, with white gloves treatment. I often get unsolicited referral introductions yet even when they arrive at the most inopportune time, I ensure I action them immediately. I also follow-up with the person who did the referral after the fact to let them know the outcome. By doing so, they get to hear my side of the story as well as the story from the person they referred and if there is a disconnect, they will likely let me know.

2.     Make the candidate experience personal. Regardless of the outcome of the interaction, ensure the experience has been great. While email is an easy efficient way to close out an interaction, it is impersonal and subject to misinterpretation. The old rule of when in doubt, pick up the phone still applies.

3.     Manage your inbox. A huge pet peeve for me is when emails go into a black hole and are not responded to in a timely manner or never answered. I have written posts about this in the past (“Getting Good at Email”, “How email damages your Personal Brand”, “Another rant about email etiquette”, “What do your email habits say about you?”). There is no excuse to not be able to manage your inbox.

4.     Develop a feedback mechanism to allow you to measure the candidate experience such as a Net Promoter Score (NPS) for candidates who have gone through your recruiting process.

If you can do the above, I think you will start winning the talent war.

© 2018 Meaford Group

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