TLDR: if your corporate or brand values involve anything to do with “caring about your people”, then you should care enough to tell potential employees when a job has been awarded to someone other than them. If you can’t be bothered to do this, then I question how much you really DO care about people and whether your brand values are nothing more than “blah, blah, blah” for your website and corporate image.

Aligning values with your recruitment process by Suzanne Whitby

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been helping an out-of-work and down-on-her-luck friend go through the process of re-doing her CV and applying for jobs. It’s been fascinating and somewhat disheartening. I have been self-employed for so long that I had forgotten what’s involved and how time-consuming, and at times, draining it can be.

Technology has revolutionised the job search: no longer can a candidate hope for an appointment with a recruitment professional who will take a look at their CV and make suggestions before carefully matching them with suitable roles. Instead, job openings are posted online through various platforms—LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, and others—as well as on company websites. The application process is very much a “no human contact” experience.

Candidates are expected to read through a job description, the detail of which varies from company to company. Some descriptions are no more than a few paragraphs written in plain English. Others involve scrolling down several times, with sentences the length of short paragraphs, and convoluted language that can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on one’s perspective or experience. Once the job description has been deciphered and the candidate believes that have a good understanding of the job, they can write a cover letter and tailor their CV for the application. Then the fun begins because every application process is slightly different. Some simply want the CV and cover letter sent through an online submission process or via email. Others have complex questionnaires to complete before submission, with multiple questions asking about motivation, experience, likes and dislikes, views on current affairs, a description of skills, and links to online profiles or old companies. Some of these forms stretch to 20 or more questions, many requiring answers of “at least 200 words but no more than 500” (to quote directly from one of the forms). Multiply that by 10 questions, and a candidate will have to craft 2000-5000 of content BEFORE they upload their CV. The CV is duly uploaded, along with any supporting documents, and it all goes whizzing through the ether.

The job application process takes time and energy

How long does it take people to do this? How much time does it take for a job seeker to find a position for which they think they are a good fit, create a cover letter and a CV, complete additional information in an online form, gather extra supporting documents, and submit it all?

If a candidate is playing the numbers game, responding to hundreds of job postings with little thought, and they have all their supporting documents ready to go, the process probably takes 30-60 minutes per submission. If candidates are like my friend, the time investment is significant, They spend a lot of time searching for a position that they are genuinely interested in. They spend ages writing and re-writing their cover letter and tailoring their CV, then sending it out to a few friends for feedback before applying the finishing touches. What’s “ages”? Let’s say 2-4 hours. When the process includes additional questions that require short essay-like responses, each question takes another 30-60 minutes of thought, writing, proofing, and finalising. That means that for people like my friend, a single job application can easily involve 4 hours of time investment for a simple application, or 8+ hours for an application with additional requirements before submission.

I mention this not to complain, but to outline the amount of time and energy involved in the process.

Immediately after the submission…the silence begins

Once the application is submitted, how many employers bother to acknowledge receipt of the submission? I don’t have hard facts and figures at my fingertips, but I can give you some anecdotal information. From helping my friend, who has submitted 23 applications over the last couple of months, I can tell you that only 4 of the companies who are actively looking for candidates have taken the time to set up a simple autoresponder (an automatically-generated form email) that says something like, “Thanks for taking the time to apply for this position. We’ve received it safely. Our next steps are…”

So why should employers do this? To my mind, it shows applicants the common courtesy of confirming that their application, which may have taken a great deal of time and thought to put together, has been received. In a world where technological glitches aren’t unheard of, this seems like the polite thing to do. It’s also kind: why keep a potential candidate guessing about what happens next with their application? Why risk being remembered as that kind of employer?

If you are an employer and you don’t bother to set up your application process to include an email that confirms receipt of a CV, then you don’t care about your people. You have no interest in the time and energy and hope that people invest in searching for a new position. Don’t bother talking about this in your company values, please.

(As an aside, my friend received one personal acknowledgement of receipt from an HR professional, which made the company all the more impressive. Having said that, although the personal touch is wonderful and sets a company apart, in a time when one role can attract thousands of applications, an automated response is practical and thoughtful.)

Going back to submission acknowledgements and numbers, my friend is currently enjoying a 22% acknowledgement-rate, which sounds okay until we turn that around and mention that this equates to a 78% non-acknowledgement rate.

Once the perfect employee has been found…the silence continues

If the candidate is of interest to an employer, they will receive an email and a whole new process begins, which isn’t relevant to what I am talking about today. What I am interested in talking about today is what happens when an employer has decided which candidates are no longer of interest to them.

This decision may take place after short-listing a few people or even after offering the position to a lucky soon-to-be employee, but it certainly will happen. All employeers are able to identify which of the dozens or sometimes hundreds of applications simply aren’t right for their culture or the position on offer.

You may think that employers would notify unlucky job seekers, but what actually happens is this: employers include a statement at the bottom of their job description, often in tiny letters, as follows:

“Owing to the large numbers of applications we receive, we regret that we will only be in touch with candidates who make it to the shortlist. If you don’t hear from us, then you haven’t made it to the next round.”

This fascinates me. First of all, there is no mention of timing. “If you don’t hear from us…” By when? How long should a candidate wait and hope? Should they cross their thumbs for a few days? Weeks? Months? Surely a decent hiring process includes a rough timeline for shortlisting candidates. If not, not? And if you do, it must be possible to give a rough timeframe.

Second, and what has appalled me, is that most employers never have any intention of contacting hopeful candidates again. They don’t even consider it. They solicit applications, create a shortlist, conduct interviews and presumably hire someone, and that’s where the process ends. The company has achieved their objective, so there is no need to consider the people who have take the time to respond to what is, in effect, a request for applications.

Why do employers behave in such a heartless and unprofessional manner? They collect so much information about candidates who apply for positions online. For every candidate, they have an email address. Presumably, in this techonological age of ours, they have the ability to send out a standard email to tell people that the position has been closed. Even if the company is small, SAAS providers like MailChimp and Zoho offer free accounts for sending emails to a list and simple tools to create the email itself, so company size and technical know-how aren’t good excuses. The email doesn’t have to be personalised, beyond a name and email address, both of which a potential employer should have in their records. Here is an example:

Dear [Candidate Name],

Thank you for taking the time to apply for the position of ‘Hero of the universe’. We know that it can take time and energy to apply for a position and we’re pleased that you wanted to work with us. Unfortunately your application wasn’t quite right for us this time. We encourage you to check out our website for other suitable vacancies, and wish you well on your search for the perfect role for you.

Best wishes,

[Company name]

Doing this takes little time. Simply import names and email addresses into a list (or capture them in a spreadsheet). Remove anyone who has received a job offer or who has been shortlisted – these are people who have already received additional communication. Upload the remaining list of candidates to a mailing list tool, and send out a form letter. The whole process could probably be completed in 15 minutes or less.

And doing this is the right thing to do. First, it demonstrates that your company understands that applying for jobs is time- and energy-consuming. It shows that your company could be a great employer, one that cares about people, even those who don’t get a reclining office chair and a big screen monitor in their offices. Second, it leaves a great impression. Candidates will tell friends, family, and strangers about their encounter with you, who you are, and how you have behaved. Their experience of your job application process is a touchpoint and an opportunity for you to live and breathe your brand values. Finally—and most important for anyone genuinely interested in people and the human experience—it allows candidates to move on without holding onto false hope for a position that they won’t win.

If you talk about how much your company cares about your team, or about people, or if your company builds its brand based on human-to-human interaction and engagement, and you’re NOT doing this, then perhaps its time to reflect on whether you are living your values, or if your values are just so much “blah, blah, blah” for your website and corporate brochure.  Perhaps this is an oversight and something that you’ll be anxious to address. Perhaps there is some hypocrisy involved. Either way, failing to rectify this and build additional communication into your hiring does you AND hopeful candidates harm.

Why not fix it?

The takeway: three small changes = the right thing to do for your organisation and potential candidates

The two small changes that I’d suggest are:

  1. In your job description, give people a rough idea of how long you expect the hiring process to take;
  2. When an application is submitted to you online, generate an automatic email that tells a candidate that their application has been received;
  3. Once you’ve found your dream employee, send out a form email to the rest of the candidates thanking them for their application and informing them that the position has been filled.

Time investment: minimal. Return on investment in terms of goodwill, brand awareness, and human kindness: immeasurable.