invisible-manMany recruiters don’t read. Most of them don’t write. Fear not. The Career XRoads 2015 Mystery Job Seeker Survey doesn’t indict our educational systems; rather, it highlights basic failings endemic to corporate recruiting.

The  study, featuring the fictional job seeker Frank N. Stein, found that many major employers do not carefully read or review resumes – that is, the rare times they take the time to read them at all. Too many of the world’s biggest brands and most reputable businesses still treat candidates like The Invisible Man.

Their methods for luring talent are anything but highly refined or sophisticated; their big budgets belie the fact that many fully one in three companies who responded to Stein’s application as if he were anything but a fictional phishing attempt to get the goods (and gather the data) on what candidate experience is really like at these companies.

The fact that a staggering half dozen recruiters actually followed up with personalized communications prompting Stein on next steps is truly horrifying. That’s right. Six recruiters in our relatively small sample, supposedly the top talent for finding top talent at some of the world’s top brands, actually expressed enough interest in a candidate named “Frank N. Stein” to call him back without noting that he is fairly obviously a completely fictional job seeker.

It is worth noting that this year’s study presented Stein as a somewhat unusual candidate, with what should have been more than enough blatant red flags and obvious reveals on that resume to give any recruiter pause. For example, we put Mr. Stein on a six month, self-imposed bicycling sabbatical as his most recent relevant experience before beginning his current job search.

The Candidate Experience Monster Is Alive. Alive!

YoungFrankSnap9Of the hundreds of positions at dozens of employers for which Stein threw his resume into the ring, only two – count ’em, two! – recruiters saw through the ruse.

To be sure, we give the companies who even took the time to respond in the first place, such as health services provider WellStar, credit for responding in the first place. At least they provided some kind of closure to Stein’s narrative. Most of the time, our fictional candidate never heard back at all.

This marks 12 of the last 13 years Career XRoads has produced the Mystery Job Seeker Survey, a dissection of some of the most fundamental aspects of corporate recruiting. Our data seeks to dig a little deeper into that initial interactions employers have with job seekers – and candidates have with companies. This includes the submission and processing of resumes, long one of the biggest causes of candidate frustration and applicant fatigue.

We create a fictional job seeker with a fictional resume. Then we submit that resume to companies on Fortune’s 100 Best Places To Work List. Then we sit back and wait for what happens next after we apply for jobs at such industry stalwarts as Google, Deloitte, Wegmans, Goldman Sachs and LL Bean, all considered models for consistently defining the leading edge of recruiting and HR best practices.

What these companies do in HR influences countless employers – and workers – all over the world. We engage professional recruiters as unwitting volunteers in our annual experiment – and in the actual processing and analysis of the data itself. There are many Frank N. Steins in our talent laboratory. Based on their own real world experiences, these recruiters answer a dozen survey questions, provide some additional remarks and comments and provide a practitioner’s point of view to our candidate creation experiment.

The Mystery Job Seeker Survey is designed to gauge the ease and efficiency by which candidates can access information about an employer online or apply for an open position via the company’s own career sites. We do not rank these websites in any way; rather, we believe the information more or less speaks for itself. Job seekers aren’t stupid. They can pretty easily discern the good from the not so hot, just like companies.

Weird Science: The Mystery Job Seeker Survey by The Numbers.

It’s those companies that Career XRoads primarily focuses on because it’s these sites that remain the most common entry point for sending resumes to recruiters, the destination that determines whether or not a passive seeker will become an active applicant. Given the explosive growth of mobile applications in the job search process, though, that may change.

The most cutting edge firms, of course, have steadily added resources to keep pace with this trend.

Here’s the 2015 Mystery Job Seeker Report By The Numbers.Myster-shopper-resume-2015

238 Responses Received From Real Employers by totally fake, completely fictional “mystery” candidate Frank N. Stein. That total represents the combined number of replies directly from companies as well as headhunters and job boards, including, which receives traffic for the explicit purpose of sourcing candidates for clients.

We have questioned just how appropriate unrequested or unrequited resume sharing really is before, and will do so again. If you’re confused, what this means is basically that a resume explicitly directed to one organization is being circulated to other employers online without the job seeker’s knowledge nor consent.

We hold that job seekers should have control over the information they share when submitting an application, and that companies have a responsibility to reasonably safeguard the personal data many require candidates to provide as a mandatory part of their hiring process.

Job seekers have the right to apply for a job without getting bombarded by unsolicited recruiting e-mails and unwanted communications; as Stein found out, however, some companies even send more than one e-mail as part of their marketing efforts to candidates whose resumes are subjected to unrequested sharing by recruiters.

28 companies told Stein that he was not selected for the job. As discussed, a half dozen not-so-observant recruiters called or emailed Stein, including major medical device manufacturer Stryker Corporation, which both wrote and called. It continues to shock me how many hiring professionals don’t take the time to read through a résumé, relying instead on search engines to make their selections for them.

Job seekers would be wise to take heed to this warning, frontloading their resumes with as many buzzwords and key phrases as possible so that they show up towards the top of the stack ranked results so many recruiters rely on to do their jobs for them. We do give Stryker credit for following up its initial phone call with a nice personal note. This high touch approach showed this company understood that individualized attention and personalized follow-ups are just good business in the business of talent acquisition. Even if that candidate happens to be completely fake.


2 Companies Caught Us In The Act. This year, only a paltry single pair of Top Places To Work actually called us out and caught Stein redhanded (not to mention also ruining our ruse in the process), including global synthetic materials giant WL Gore & Associates. Our 2015 Top Two proved that at a couple companies, at least, there are actually human beings in human resources and recruiting.

Houses of Horror: The Mystery Job Seeker Hall of Shame.

universal-monster-movies-rebootA few other companies stood out this year, too – for reasons not nearly as laudable, but every bit as unusual as receiving a resume from a candidate named Frank N. Stein in response to one of your job postings.

As was the case two years ago, Goldman Sachs relied on a two part recruiting process; when Stein applied for a position in HR, he immediately received a link to begin the application process accompanied by an automated response advising him that he had just 24 hours to successfully complete his submission.

We question why Goldman Sachs (or any other company) would require this additional step and send candidates off their career sites completely, forcing job seekers to return to the career site a second time to successfully apply for the position after receiving the aforementioned link in their inboxes. This unnecessarily lengthens the application process and almost unquestionably preempts otherwise interested candidates from applying for roles due to the unnecessary complexity this cumbersome, overly complex application process entails.

Another contender for the Mystery Applicant Wall of Shame, Ohio Medical Corporation, seems to have the best of candidate experience intentions at heart, providing applicants with a pretty comprehensive list of sample interview questions so that they could be ready if one of their recruiters reached out, which is good.

They did not, however, provide any way to actually access this information; while this value ad was promised to every applicant directly on the company’s career site, it failed to also provide them with the necessary credentials required to login to access these sample interview questions, tips and tricks. Not so good. The recruiting road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Another firm who followed up with Stein, early education and childcare provider Bright Horizons, actually asked Stein when he planned on decamping from his peaceful New Jersey digs to California, where the position he applied for was located, along with a reminder that no relocation assistance would be provided. Stein then received a letter from a second recruiter at Bright Horizons, containing a reference number which would allow him to track the status of his application.

I’ve long warned against the use of such numbers because they add an extra, unnecessary element to the recruiting process, forcing candidates to input a long code simply to know their status – that is, for the few candidates that actually remember them or think to write down these random numbers or characters for future reference. There’s really no reason why that should be necessary, if you stop and think about it.

0 Offers or Interview Invitations were extended to Frank N. Stein, who even after hearing directly from a few recruiters even the opportunity to speak with one of them in real life. But so it goes for our mystery candidates; Frank N. Stein joins an illustrious list that’s been bamboozling, befuddling and unmasking lazy recruiters since 2003. These include the original Mystery Job Seeker, hard driving Credit and Collections Supervisor Vinnie Boombotz.

Boomtotz was only the first in a long line up of these fictional job seekers to discover that even the best employers didn’t seem to be doing the bare minimum – or in many cases, what they publicly professed to doing – when it came to treating job seekers appropriately.

GEM Recruiting AI

Other candidates who have learned this hard recruiting reality firsthand over the years include marketing assistant Gold E. Locks; crack environmental technician Jack Coostow; cybersecurity systems specialist and coding genius Chris Kringle, not to mention unassuming accountant Noah Z. Ark.

American Horror Story: The Skeletons in the Candidate Experience Closet.

2015-08-26_02-53-30We started this ongoing exercise with the hopes of lighting a torch for companies to make fundamental improvements to the way they treat job seekers;

The Mystery Job Seekers bride in this endeavor, the five-year-old Candidate Experience Awards, offer additional motivation by honoring best practices in recruiting and elsewhere in HR.

Whether they’re besieged by too many resumes with too few resources to adequately handle them all or simply feeling like they don’t owe any response to any applicants at all, companies over the last 12 years have shown a somewhat surprising inattentiveness to the topic of candidate experience.

I say surprising simply because every organization is quick to say that their success depends on the excellence of their workforce, and how they market to and recruit potential employees impacts the company’s overall business objectives as well as bottom line results. The way they recruit, purportedly, directly impacts that quality. But as the economy has improved, and the balance of power has shifted to the job seeker, the stakes for getting candidate experience right have growth higher, too.

Opportunities arise rapidly in the modern economy, and companies cannot have the flexibility to respond to or maximize those opportunities if they’re not ready with the right team, with the right talent, already in place. But companies clearly continue to ignore obvious problems and put off making even the most essential changes. Consider the initial communication between job seeker and candidate; it’s these exchanges that often leave the most enduring impression.

Although more than nine in 10 companies acknowledged receiving Stein’s application and provided some sort of automated receipt that it had been successfully received (a positive number), Stein had not heard back on his status on 66 applications he submitted for positions that he was qualified for (at least on paper).

No e-mails. No calls. No nothing. That means after completing an often arduous application process, only one in three companies even bothered to update Stein on where he stood.2015-08-26_02-59-02


That’s a howling oversight. While the obvious optimal outcome would have been for Stein to get contacted by a recruiter directly for next steps in the hiring process for every single position to which he applied, we – like most job seekers – preferred the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses we received as status updates during our search than receiving no reply at all. There’s no worse sound any employer can make than silence.

In the absence of a response, a candidate can’t really reasonably infer anything except that an organization is either too uninterested or too disorganized to even muster up an automated response or answer of any kind. Among other highlights of this year’s survey: 6 recruiters contacted Stein with the hopes of scheduling a subsequent interview, a sure sign companies are increasingly depending on automated screening tools triggered by keywords to review and rank incoming resumes instead of being thoroughly read by a real recruiting professional.

And make no mistake: we clearly identify who we are and what we’re doing at the bottom of Stein’s resume. Our disclaimerread:

“This is a Career XRoads Mystery Job Seeker. If you would like to learn why we created this resume you can contact us at [email protected] or (732) 821-6652. Congratulations if you’ve read this far as most recruiters will not.”

Which is pretty scary, if you think about what’s really at stake in recruiting and hiring today.

Candidate Experience: Not Entirely A House Of Horrors.

To be sure, it’s not all bad – candidate experience does have a bit of Dr. Jekyll thrown in with its Mr. Hyde, small but encouraging signs of improvement in progress. One of the most noticeable is that companies are getting better at helping job seekers get where they need to go; it was much easier for Stein to navigate through career sites and apply for jobs than for Mystery Applicants in years past.

In more than a third of Stein’s applications, he was able to readily navigate directly from a company’s homepage to their careers site, and from their careers site to job listings – there was much less guesswork and far fewer dead ends in actually finding what positions companies are hiring for and where to apply for them than ever before.

This improved UI/UX is also one of the reasons why time to apply for positions, on average, has become shorter, too – on fully 4 in 5 occasions, Stein needed only 10 minutes or less to apply.



Companies also seem to be doing a somewhat better job acknowledging candidates’ applications; as dismal as recruiting response rates were for Stein, they still represent a slight upward tick on our ratings, particularly the scores related to branding. In fact, employer brand related statistics were consistently up across the board this year, even if they’re still far lagging even the most reasonable or expectations for what an optimal initial interaction with a potential new hire should look like.

This is a continuation of a trend that clearly reflects more improvements in technology over the past few years than an attitudinal shift. Companies clearly have the tools to more efficiently identify job seekers and respond to candidates faster (and through more channels) than ever before. But it can still be scary out there if you’re a candidate, and there’s still ample room for improving the candidate experience.

Candidate Experience Nightmares: A Recruiting Wake Up Call.

Clearly, organizations have seen the brand benefits for taking the extra steps to connect with and inform candidates. Employers know job seekers appreciate transparency. So why are such features, then, not already an ubiquitous recruiting reality? We believe most recruiters are still mummified in their techniques, wrapped up in a time where organizations were under much less obligation (and scrutiny) for sharing much.2015-08-26_02-55-48

A skeleton crew of only 18 firms in the survey sample supported Stein’s application with additional careers-related content; 16 of these offered video.

Only 6 companies, however, enabled job seekers any way to directly talk to or connect with individual recruiters or employees; these half dozen companies provided personalized interactions for job seekers via direct e-mail and live chat capabilities, which is pretty cool (and pretty encouraging).

Similarly, only six companies offered advice on how candidates could better compete for a position, while a paltry seven provided any sort of status update on where Stein stood in the recruiting pipeline.

Make no mistake: candidate experience remains, largely, a nightmare; applying for any job or successfully navigating through increasingly automated and inordinately complex hiring processes still feels like being stuck in a bad dream.

The good news: it looks like, at long last, employers might finally be opening their eyes and waking up when it comes to improving an experience that’s been so broken for so long. Just remember: it doesn’t have to be this way anymore.

gerry-300x300About the AuthorGerry Crispin, SPHR is a life-long student of staffing and co-founder of CareerXroads, a firm devoted to peer-to-peer learning by sharing recruiting practices. An international speaker, author and acknowledged thought leader, Gerry founded a non-profit, Talentboard, with colleagues Elaine Orler and Ed Newman to better define the Candidate Experience, a subject he has been passionate about for 30 years.

Gerry has also co-authored eight books on the evolution of staffing and written more than 100 rticles and whitepapers on similar topics. Gerry’s career in Human Resources spans is also quite broad and includes HR leadership positions at Johnson and Johnson; Associate Partner in a boutique Executive Search firm; Career Services Director at the Stevens Institute of Technology, where he received his Engineering and 2 advanced degrees in Organizational/Industrial Behavior.

Follow Gerry on Twitter @GerryCrispin or connect with him on LinkedIn.