When hiring processes ask too much, return too little

Here is part 1 of hiring processes.

It’s a common complaint from job seekers, one I encounter nearly every day: “I never hear back from employers.”

The variations are disturbingly common in their patterns. There are the candidates who apply for posted positions online and receive only an automated receipt, if that. There are the candidates who were interviewed, but who were never contacted again after the meeting. And perhaps most shocking, there are the candidates who were recruited out of the blue to participate in a hiring process, only to encounter total silence after completing one or several steps.

What’s up with all this?

If it were only happening in relation to the online system — application in, receipt out, no further contact – you could write it off to the depersonalized nature of automation. In truth, I’ve stopped attending to the angst created by the online application process. Since I don’t advocate candidate participation online, I also don’t invest time trying to beat the system or recover from its humiliations.

That said, I still have to ask: Whether the candidate was chosen through an online system or some other process, what’s up with totally ignoring him or her after an interview has been conducted? I mean, how many people were interviewed: 100? One million? In the absence of such laughably incorrect numbers, I want to know what’s so difficult about sending a note or making a call to the handful of people who made it to this stage of the process.

Employers still enjoying the afterglow of a tight job market may soon find themselves on the wrong end of the recruiting equation when candidates learn through Glassdoor.com or other vehicles about disrespectful hiring processes.

Don’t think that will happen? Like others in my field, I personally keep a short list of employers who have sinned egregiously, information I don’t share unless a candidate contacts me with a posting from one of these organizations. One such company put my candidate through an eight-month, 13-interview hiring process before tendering an offer. Once on the job, she was told her position would shift from the IT project she was hired for to a sales role. What?

This same organization asked a different candidate to create a rather detailed report, an effort to which she gave more than 20 hours. You could say she went overboard but I have to ask: Wouldn’t most candidates? She probably wouldn’t feel so deflated about the situation if anyone had acknowledged receiving the report, much less reading it. Numerous contacts weren’t returned and she went forward feeling less optimistic about her career overall.

To my mind, this is not a reasonable outcome. Candidates should not have their time abused and their hopes raised, then dashed, while pursuing an apparently capricious hiring process.

Despite all this, I do feel empathy for employers. No one sets out to be one of “those” companies. It just happens when too many steps are layered into a hiring process without anyone looking at it from the candidate’s perspective. Here are three tips employers can use as a starting point for improving a cumbersome hiring process.

1. Respond to every candidate, at every stage. Begin with the end in mind, as the late Stephen Covey famously instructed us. For example, when you arrange meetings, why not simultaneously save a template email, complete with mail-merge? Later, you can quickly personalize each note for the unsuccessful candidates, while inviting the smaller group to the next round.

2. Revisit presumptive needs for candidate testing, whether conducted online or in a counselor’s office. I have heard stories about personality testing that would make your hair stand on end, including rogue outside services whose counselors took the opportunity to ask about candidates’ sexual practices. Really.

If you’re not taking the test yourself, do you really know how it’s being administered or used? Even seemingly benign aptitude and strengths assessments are rife with the potential for misunderstanding, raising a very valid point about whether hiring decisions favor individuals whose cultural backgrounds enhance their grasp of the questions.

3. Review your process overall. Would a reasonable person be able to complete each stage in less than an hour or two? If not, why not? What’s so essential that it’s worth stealing someone’s time? Be especially judicious about requesting research, essays and other work products that are almost certain to raise hopes exponentially while consuming large blocks of candidate time. Please remember that everyone on your side of the table is being paid to participate in this process, while the candidate is not.

Next week I’ll provide steps for candidates to use when mired in one of these difficult hiring situations.

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Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.