I was recently speaking with a friend who happened to be looking for work as an HR practitioner, too. And as you can imagine, our shared experiences slid quickly from swapping war stories to lamenting how friggin’ frustrating the entire job search process is.
If you’ve ever looked for one, you know what I’m talking about – even if, as is the case at most companies, that harrowing experience is easily forgotten by most HR pros before the ink on the offer letter is even dry.
Still, even though we all know the inhumane hoops and asinine barrels employers ask job seekers to navigate every day, it’s always good to find someone who’s sympathetic enough to understand the overwhelming aggravation underscoring the shared war stories – and battle scars – incurred during a prolonged search.
The biggest source of that aggregation, turns out, is the rejection that’s inexorably intertwined with the hiring process today. I mean, rejections suck – and there’s nothing more dispiriting than finding yourself more or less discarded. But as much as we can all agree how painful rejections of any kind are, when it comes to the job search, they suck for more than just the most obvious or universal reasons.
Nope. This is a whole other level of rejection. It’s the fact that, in those rare instances where a recruiter actually does bother letting you know, you know, thanks but no thanks, their feedback seems flimsy, to say the least; their rationale, if there is any, always seems dubious at best, duplicitous at worst. And when you’re looking for a job, it’s almost always the worst.
Of course, I do have to give even those bearers of bad news a bit of professional respect – they, at least, had the cajones to call and let me know I was no longer under consideration, which is actually better than being left hanging. There’s something redeeming about closure, even when it’s for an opening that seemed like the perfect fit or to be told that hiring manager you really connected with chose to work with someone else, instead.
No news is the worst kind of news, and sometimes, the silence can be deafening, particularly when it drags on interminably, day after day.
What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate.
Call me silly, or maybe naive, but in my opinion, the entire point of recruiting, the one critical job function that’s basically the reason recruiters are around, is so they can communicate with candidates – you know, that most basic and most ignored of core competencies.
Sure, we can talk about engagement all day, but recruiters largely chose to find any and all possible excuses to providing any candidate, no matter how qualified, any modicum of feedback once they were no longer part of the hiring process long before social media, CRM or whatever trending topic we’re talking about this week even existed. Please.
Engagement isn’t a technology feature, it’s a mindset, and it’s one recruiters have ignored to the point where common courtesy, that “thanks but no thanks,” is unilaterally unwelcome by most talent organizations.
Obviously, when you’re a candidate, not hearing back from recruiters is pretty much the worst. But as inured as most job seekers soon become to the crappy experience they’re subjected to by every employer out there, the thing is, this shouldn’t be the rule, or even the exception. Candidates simply shouldn’t have to encounter this sort of treatment, much less accept it as just another part of looking for a job. Screw that.
See, the thing about being a candidate who also happens to work in HR or recruiting, like me and my friend, is that we’re far too familiar with the unfortunate state of candidate experience today, and consequently, have lowered our expectations so much that we take it for granted that every interaction, every conversation, every e-mail exchange or meeting with a potential employer is likely to be the last contact we’ll ever have with them. I know it sounds terribly cynical to expect absolutely nothing absolutely all of the time, but it sure beats holding onto false hope.
Which is what you force candidates to do when you won’t even give them the courtesy of giving them some closure after they’re no longer being considered for an opportunity. It’s emotional abuse, and it’s eminently preventable.
Applicant Tracking Systems generally bear the brunt of most of the blame for the whole black hole phenomenon, but the real credit belongs to those conflict-averse recruiters who find even the thought of following through on some sort of feedback to be not only inconvenient, but inconceivable.
That said, there are a few recruiters out there who, for some sadistic reason, actually relish the chance to reject candidates, and love nothing more than killing dreams and letting those who make it through even the most perfunctory parts of the process exactly why they were never in a million years going to get an offer.
These recruiters prove that sometimes, in fact, no news is better than bad news, particularly when the reasons for rejection sting so much worse than the simple sound of silence.
Within my own job searches, I’ve encountered more than a few of these face-palm inducing, contradictory, confusing and conniving snake oil salesmen whose “feedback” creates a far worse experience than the norm of not hearing anything at all.
For example, on several occasions, I interviewed for a sudden spurt of similar opportunities sprouting up during a relatively short time span, all variations on the same professional theme. As similar as the positions were, and, consequently, my overall viability and qualifications as a candidate, the feedback I heard couldn’t have been more disparate or disconcerting.
They were iterations of the following cliched themes, but they prove that some recruiters really should be on the other side of the damn desk:
“Well, you see, based on such and such subjective criteria that’s never before been mentioned by the job description or during the prescreening process, you seem to be overqualified for this role.”
This one I got mostly for jobs I actually proactively pursued, applied and interviewed knowing I’d at least have the proficiency required to be an above average performer, which is all you can really hope for from a new hire.
But turns out, not many hiring managers feel that way – particularly since I found myself in the unfortunate position of being one of those “active” candidates whose willingness to start sooner, come aboard for less compensation and actually be a win-win situation means that, of course, we’re obviously terrible hiring decisions.
“It looks like you’ve got a really diverse work background, but unfortunately, we’re really looking for a candidate with a little bit more experience in something that’s completely unrelated to the actual job.”
This one came mostly for jobs where I clearly met – or, in most cases, far exceeded – the minimum stated qualifications for the position and was, without exception, never even given the benefit of the doubt or the opportunity to discuss that particular requirement or part of my background before being summarily dismissed. Which, really, is more about an unqualified recruiter than an unqualified candidate. But there are too many of those to hope to make a dent in this particular problem.
“After very careful consideration, we’ve decided to move forward with someone with more skills doing something that we never once mentioned or emphasized we gave one single shit about before needing some reason to say no to you.”
Yeah, I get it. I’m not stupid – although I can’t say the same for you.
“Well, it looks like this position is probably going to be a little too much of a stretch from where you’re currently at right now in terms of comp and career level.”
I get it. Because I’m actually open on pay, and there’s a pretty huge fluctuation in level, title and pay for other jobs in this category, you’re not willing to at least try to see if I’m willing to make these decisions on my own. Nope, not when a recruiter who doesn’t know me can do such a more effective job managing my career trajectory.
“Why it appears you have several years of related experience, we’re really looking for someone whose experience is a little more recent.”
So lady, you know what you’re doing, but if you’re not doing it right now, there’s a good chance that you’re going to unlearn all those years of experience after those few short months of inactivity in which you’ve lost even the most remote semblance of relevance.
“You’ve got a very broad skill set, but we’re really not looking for a generalist, since this role specializes specifically in some niche role that you not only know, but kind of like doing.”
I get it, being capable of doing more than a narrowly defined role within an organization and a broad enough skill set to grow and develop within the company is probably a negative. You won’t last long enough for that to matter once you find out what working here’s really like, anyway.
…and my favorite…
“We see you really have a very specialized background, which is great, but we really need someone who’s going to come in and be more of a generalist.”
Wait, what? See above for why I have a hard time believing any of this bullshit you’re spooning to me.
Now, some of those ståtements actually came at the onset of the process, often as early as when a recruiter had just looked at my resume or came across my profile online. Others were provided to me only at the very end of a grueling selection process where I was consistently told I was the top candidate, only to ultimately not be the one to whom they opted to extend an offer at the end of it all.
Either way, keeping in mind that I don’t just apply for every job I see out there, or even ones for which I’m qualified, but instead, am selective enough to only go after the ones I really think are a good fit for both me and the employer alike.
I don’t take applying lightly, but when I do, the superficiality, subjectivity and senselessness of screening and the subsequent subjective feedback I have to endure make feedback an acutely painful experience in a process that has enough of those to go around.
Being Subjected to So Much Subjectivity.
We all know that almost every hiring decision, and every point in the process leading up to it, are based almost entirely in bias, speculative interpretations of spurious superficiality and spectacular subjectivity. It’s just human nature to judge and scrutinize real or perceived flaws without taking a step back and looking at any information beyond the bare minimum needed to make a decision.
Those six seconds scanning a document. Those 15-20 minute perfunctory phone screens. Those half hour in persons that we spend in each others’ presence, most of it asking each other questions neither really care about the answer to, or dropping in a few soft sells in case what comes next works out, but never really doing anything other than confirming the biases that already existed the moment we stepped into the interview.
Screwed in sixty seconds.
Questionable Questions: Shooting the Recruiting Messenger
If you’re a recruiter, let’s go through the above “feedback” for a second, if you don’t mind. Now, let’s go ahead and say you really believe that an applicant or candidate is so overqualified that it would somehow preempt them from successfully meeting performance expectations, why the hell would you even bother interviewing him or her in the first place?
Seems like a huge waste of time for both of you.
And what if the applicant doesn’t have the must-have experience that you can’t live without, why in the world are you not even bringing this up to the candidates or giving them the chance to clarify whether or not you’re not knocking them out on a bad (or misinformed) guess based entirely on gut instinct that’s almost always instinctually wrong.
If a certain skill set or specific experience is truly mandatory, and no other possible combination of expertise or background knowledge or even training would ever enable a candidate to do a job successfully, then why weren’t you able to come to that conclusion only after wasting so much of my time? You should have spotted this on my resume, had you bothered to look.
If an applicant has current or previous applicable work experience, job title, level or compensation be damned, any new opportunity is entirely that – and should be looked at in a different context, since there’s a reason that person applied to begin with. If they earned less or more, if they worked as a Director instead of a Manager, or were a VP instead of an SVP, how the hell does that impact their ability to do the job you’re looking to fill?
Finally, if an applicant or candidate has too much or too little of any capability, categorically speaking, what I call the Goldilocks approach to recruiting, why are you not giving them the chance to address these perceived gaps and at least the opportunity to set the record straight and clarify how and why they’d be able to meet performance expectations?
It makes no sense, but then again, not a whole lot about recruiting really does.
Appetite for Rejection.
For those of you keeping score at home, I know what you’re thinking. But you’re wrong. So let me take a minute just to reiterate that this post isn’t driven by being bitter or pissed off at the constant recruiter rejection.
The real issue is how legitimate the reason for that rejection really is, and whether or not recruiters are missing out on the “top talent” they purport to be looking for by ignoring what recruiting is all about. And that’s matching the right person with the right opportunity, sure, but you can’t find the right person if you don’t even look for the right things.
I get that there can only be one hire for every opening, but if (and when) you evaluate the critical factor of fit, try to screen candidates for “culture,” or any tangentially related recruitment trending topic, what you get is an exercise in affirmation bias. Every candidate gets filtered through personal perceptions and individual experiences from every person responsible for evaluating their candidacy.
In doing so, these decision makers almost always make those decisions on unfounded assumptions, unconscious (or unstated) biases and more or less looking for a reason to rationalize a “no” instead of looking for a reason not to say “yes” to an obviously well qualified, interested and available candidate.
The problem is, there’s often little rationale when you realize that you couldn’t catch what should be fairly obvious red flags before the candidate invested so much time and effort into exploring a fit that wasn’t there to begin with.
Declare and Decline.
Look, justify it however you need so that you can sleep soundly at night, but you and I both know if you’re a recruiter, giving no feedback whatsoever is unacceptable. But you should also know that if you’re going to give candidates the feedback they deserve, you should also realize they deserve more than a vague response or obvious put off.
Instead, you need to accept that giving candidates logical, substantive and meaningful feedback is part of your job. If you can’t make an offer, you can at least offer value.
But at least realize that having to turn down candidates is an inevitability – and most candidates accept this reality, but they don’t have to accept that reality means rejection comes without any real rationale, rhyme or reason.
They deserve better, so they can do better – and ultimately, the job search might not suck so bad if we realize that we’re all going after the same end goal, and if we just treat each other with professional respect and a modicum of courtesy, candidate experience should solve itself. It really all comes down to empathy.
So ask yourself how you would feel when you never heard back from a company you were in process with, and realize that you aren’t too busy to do this. Trust me.
Handling rejection isn’t a part of a recruiter’s job. It is your job.
About the Author: Leveraging her unique perspective as a progressive thinker with a well-rounded background from diverse corporate settings, Kelly Blokdijk advises members of the business community on targeted human resource, recruiting and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs.
Kelly is an active HR and recruiting industry blogger and regular contributor on RecruitingBlogs.com. She also candidly shares opinions, observations and ideas as a member of RecruitingBlogs’ Editorial Advisory Board.
Follow Kelly on Twitter @TalentTalks or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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