Peeing in the Candidate Reservoir

There seems to be something “in the air” lately regarding the hiring process. The one-sided nature of hiring has been grist for conversations at networking group discussions for years. I’ve written about it too, opining on the potential corrosive effects of the treatment of candidates – in particular on candidates to whom an offer is not extended – but lately I’ve seen a spate of topical articles. Let me depart from my normal style to present some links with selected excerpts – get things warmed up… thus, this will be quite long. Note, in all places bolding is added by me for special emphasis (any existing italics are in the original). And, I will probably intersperse snarky comments. Rest assured, there will be opinionating by me after this section.

One last thing. As you look at these, skim the comments where they exist. I’ll get to those in my discourse.

And So It Begins… (obligatory sci-fi nod here)

When did recruiting become so ONE SIDED?

These days you can find the exact job you are looking for, which you are perfectly qualified for, and never even get the chance to speak to anyone at the company even though you take an extensive amount of time, sometimes up to 20 minutes, to go through the companies (sic) application process.

Only 20 minutes? I’ve had some sites require well over an hour to enter all my information.

What Job Seekers Dislike About Employers

Looking for a new job can be extremely challenging in this economic climate. Now we are hearing from a steady stream of job seekers who are being irritated by the application and interviewing process. Many job seekers are actually quite upset with what they perceive as “shabby” overall treatment. This is damaging the employer brand of many organisations (sic) and damaging the recruitment teams’ reputation.

A lengthy list of sore points; I’ve heard all these aplenty in private conversations.

The Crazy Standoff – Applicants V.S. Employers

Years ago, I worked in the staffing industry. I was there for a recession AND the rise out of it. I’ve seen this situation before. Companies think they can still get top talent at rock-bottom prices. There’s even a term for it in recruiting. We call the impossible to find candidate a, “purple squirrel.” Back in my staffing days, we used to joke around and say, “Got any bilingual brain surgeons for $10/hour?”

I do disagree with author’s later claim that it is soon going to become a “candidate’s market”. That’s only going to happen when company leadership, the ones who should have broad and long perspective, understand that their line managers’ obsessive search for Purple Squirrels can cost them far, far more than the costs of the occasional bad hire. (Some thoughts on how to remedy that obsession here.)

The Key to Closing Interested Candidates

We have a broken, toxic recruiting framework that hurts productivity, hurts our financial results and hurts individuals every day. We treat job-seekers like garbage instead of the valued collaborators they are, and when we say, “We don’t need to sell job candidates, because they should want the job already,” we add insult to injury.

I understand it’s currently an “employer’s market” and will – IMHO – remain so for quite some time. But I have the impression of the scene (warning: NSFW language in video) from the movie Jerry Maguire, where Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is forcing Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) to scream “Show me the money!” at the top of his lungs, with feeling and gusto and enthusiasm, just to prove he wants the job enough.

5 Reasons Hiring Processes Never Attract the Best People (Like You)

Oftentimes qualifications are a proxy for a skill or attribute. Take college degrees; if a four-year degree is required… why is it required? What does a degree prove? If you need a mechanical engineer, then a degree does indicate a certain level of knowledge. But if you need a customer service rep, is a degree required? Oftentimes not – yet when you require one you automatically exclude some potentially awesome people.

The metastasizing of the number of qualifications required indicates a search for the fantasy date. But I think it indicates more than that; it indicates the desire for a risk-free hire. I sometimes wonder if this is a subconscious mechanism to avoid risk, as the creation of impossible-to-meet descriptions precludes finding candidates and having interviews, which would then force the need to make a decision for which the hiring manager could then be held accountable if things go wrong. It also can indicate a search for a replacement for a long-time employee, not a successor… an important distinction, and a Quixotic quest. Another quote:

I go to your online application system. After one screen I’m still excited. After the second screen I’m a little less thrilled. After the third screen the bloom is off the rose. After the fourth screen I bail out. I like your job but I don’t need your job… and I definitely don’t need this.

In most cases cumbersome applications systems are designed to benefit the employer, not the potential employee. “Since we might need all this information,” the thinking goes, “let’s have the candidate fill it out so that it automatically imports into our database. That’ll make our jobs easier!”

And it also makes lots of great people – especially those who already have jobs – decide not to apply.

And I’m stunned at the next statistic (link in original).

Research indicates approximately 94% of the people who apply for a job never get closure. They don’t know whether they’re being considered, whether the job has been filled… they’re never told a thing.

Not only is that rude, there are definite business repercussions. People talk, especially about bad experiences. And some of the people they talk to may be awesome candidates… who will never apply for a job with your company once they know how you treat people. (And the rest of the people they talk to could be potential customers.)

Nobody expects a hand-written note in response to an application; it would be nice, though, to explicitly know an application was received and completed correctly. But if a person comes in for an interview, a decent respect for a candidate’s humanity should mandate letting them know the outcome of their interview after they’ve invested hours driving, interviewing, and potentially dollars and time making portfolios or presentations.

Think Your Interview Process is Fair? Read This Letter.

Dear Hiring Manager,

Thank you so much for your interest in me for the position of Senior Technical Analyst for your company. Before we commence with the interview, you will need to do the following:

  1. Fill out the application, You’ll find it at my website under the “potential employers tab.” It’s critical that you fill out all the fields, including your personal job history as well as the company’s history. Pay special attention to the government investigations tab. If you’ve ever lost a lawsuit or settled one, I need you to list the details.

And it gets better; deliciously sarcastically better. Read the whole thing.

News Flash! HR Causes Talent Shortage!

The McQuaig Institute (a developer of talent assessment tools) recently polled over 600 HR professionals. The #1 reason they lose job candidates — reported by 48% of U.S. companies — is because the offers they make are too low.

HR knows where the talent shortage comes from: Lousy job offers.

Peter Cappelli, a human resources and labor researcher at the Wharton School, confirms that “employers can’t get candidates to accept jobs at the wages offered.”

Employers know exactly what the problem is, but they play dumb.

Cappelli points out, “That’s an affordability problem, not a skill shortage. A real shortage means not being able to find appropriate candidates at market-clearing wages. We wouldn’t say there is a shortage of diamonds when they are incredibly expensive; we can buy all we want at the prevailing prices.”

And something I, and others, have harped on for a long, long time (and also said above):

It can be hard to swallow the reality that a company just isn’t going to make a prudent decision when it makes a ridiculously low job offer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve advised clients to raise offers — after I’ve shown them what it’s going to cost to leave work undone. Crummy job offers also cost employers their reputation — in their own professional community when word gets out that their offers are too low.

Many just don’t get it. Employers incorrectly view hiring as an expense rather than an investment with an ROI. The great irony is, the actual extra dollars spent on higher offers are almost irrelevant when compared to the value the new employee will create. The more subtle lesson that some companies — but not most — learn is that enhancing an offer can make a new hire happy, more loyal, and more productive. Money doesn’t buy love, but it can buy better work.

However, Cappelli points out that corporate accounting systems do not track the cost of leaving a job vacant, making it appear that the “cost savings” of leaving the job empty translate into “profit.” (Yes, I’m still laughing my A off at that one. Call it revenge against the bean counters!) A crummy job offer costs an employer — and our economy — quite a lot.

These are just the essays I’ve seen. Doubtless there are others.

Comments Aplenty

What’s fascinating to me is the avalanche of comments agreeing with the articles. Consider the one by Jeff Haden (5 Reasons…). As of the last time I looked it has approaching 1,000 comments, almost all agreeing with the author about the dysfunctional hiring process in today’s economy. The same pattern is echoed in other places where comments are allowed. And I suspect hiring professionals who attended job search networking groups incognito would hear the same things one-to-one.

Clearly these columns have struck a deep and widespread vein of anger, and it’s not anger at one company but at employers in general.

The Second Rule of Sewage

In one of my more popular essays discussing human nature and judging character, I draw lessons from the analogy of mixing sewage and water. One, the Second Rule, discusses sewage poured into one corner of a tank: it spreads, it does not stay isolated in that one place. So too do negative attitudes towards employers. People talk. People share their bad experiences. The bad treatment of one person by company X gets transmitted, infecting the attitudes of others who had no contact with company X, but become sensitized to noticing how they, themselves, are treated by companies Y and Z. Like an allergy, once sensitized people notice things that, beforehand, they would not have.

Not only that, but that attitude continues once a person lands. Going beyond networking groups and private discussions, recruiting industry professionals themselves are questioning the idea of loyalty. Liz Ryan, in What Happened to Employee Loyalty? (which I quoted before, here), states:

The horrified and angry people who write to me asking “Whatever happened to employee loyalty?” are barking up the wrong tree. The relevant question is “Why would anyone expect employees to be loyal to employers who can (and do) change their work arrangements, cut their hours, cut their pay, and lay them off at a moment’s notice?”

And from a relatively new one, Why You Should Never Be Loyal To Your Job:

The first thing you must do is get rid of the ridiculous notion of job loyalty.

This goes against all conventional wisdom, but it’s important to rid yourself of this out-dated employment model.

Employer’s certainly have. They’re completely content with having a revolving door of new hires.

Decisions, Decisions

Companies do not make decisions; people in those companies make decisions. People make the decision to not have an automatic “You’re in, you’re good” email from their ATS systems. People make the decision to pile on requirements to job descriptions as a wish list, which then becomes the impassible filter of the ATS, which should really be called “Application Termination System”. People make the decision to require complete consensus on a candidate (ever get ten people to decide, unanimously, where to go to lunch?). People make the decision to not take 15 minutes to write emails to candidates who didn’t get the job once an offer has been made and accepted. So it is people that can change this.

Peeing in the Reservoir

Given this understanding that the actions of some companies affects others, there should be a shared responsibility to care for the reservoir of job seekers. In looking at that reservoir in toto, company leaders can see that others are (metaphorically) peeing in it through their treatment of candidates. Will they speak out, calling out bad behavior and speaking on behalf of all those who want to draw uncontaminated water?

Or will they shut their eyes, cross their fingers, and hope that the pee won’t spread to where they’re dipping their bucket?


© 2014, David Hunt, PE

6 thoughts on “Peeing in the Candidate Reservoir

  1. “Given this understanding that the actions of some companies affects others, there should be a shared responsibility to care for the reservoir of job seekers. In looking at that reservoir in toto, company leaders can see that others are (metaphorically) peeing in it through their treatment of candidates. Will they speak out, calling out bad behavior and speaking on behalf of all those who want to draw uncontaminated water?”

    Probably not, since this situation as described in David’s article looks like a tragedy of the commons type situation. Why would company leaders want to bother calling out other company leaders on this unless there is some immediate direct benefit to themselves for doing so?

    I think that David hit on the head earlier in the piece when he quotes Cappelli as saying, “That’s an affordability problem, not a skill shortage. A real shortage means not being able to find appropriate candidates at market-clearing wages. We wouldn’t say there is a shortage of diamonds when they are incredibly expensive; we can buy all we want at the prevailing prices.” In fact that is the kind of situation that the British economist Joan Robinson wrote about when she contended that labor markets are monopsonistic in character. (

    In her view this was an old phenomenon and she quoted with approval Adam Smith’s statement in The Wealth of Nations, where Smith wrote:

    “Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is everywhere a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals.”

    In Joan Robinson’s view this was a situation that had not changed since Smith’s day. Employers still want to pay wages below market-clearing rates and they will collaborate both overtly and covertly to make that possible.

  2. Sorry to be late to the party. I appreciated the Liz Ryan article about closing candidates, and especially the section about waiting for employers to call.

    My experience always was employers who wanted to go forward with me, either with interviews or job offers, would call me within three working days max after receiving my apps and resumes or after interviewing me. If I heard nothing after that period of time I knew nothing further would happen and I moved on. I NEVER followed up beyond thank-you letters. Such followups IMO are bad psychology. They are demeaning and akin to groveling.

    1. While I agree that companies that are interested generally move forward quickly… often they don’t.

      And is it really demeaning to hope to be treated with professional courtesy? The message a company’s representatives send, by not even saying “Thanks, but no thanks!”, is one of utter disdain for those not making the cut. The action, or rather lack of action, says they care so little for people – let alone their reputation as an employer – that they can’t spend 30 minutes contacting those who didn’t get an offer. Even that miniscule amount of time.

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