Want to know what is critically important for every recruiter and hiring manager? It’s remembering what it’s like to be on the other side of the table.

Yes, everyone who recruits or hires should have to be a job candidate sometime.

The candidate experience has been on my mind because I have been on the market for the last six months experiencing the good, the bad, and the ugly (well, mainly the bad and ugly) of looking for a new job.

  • The good is that I had some really great jobs pop up that I was all but offered.
  • The bad is that the best jobs I thought I had locked down, without warning, fell off the face of the Earth.
  • The ugly part? It’s those very people who seemed to want me to work for them one day suddenly went incommunicado and treated me as if I had ebola. I couldn’t get them to respond to save my life.

Three jobs, three bad experiences

The details are instructive, especially if you’re hiring people:

  • Job No. 1 was with a guy in Boston I met through a close member of his family I had worked with. He had a media wing to his company that I could help get back on track. After a year of talking, a half dozen written proposals, and one trip to Boston, he told me at Thanksgiving he was “ready to take a swing at this.” It sounded good, and we agreed I would start in mid-January after I returned from a long-scheduled trip. End result: I never heard from the guy again, and I never heard from the close family member I had worked with either. Both of them refused to respond at all, even to tell me that the deal was off. To this day, I don’t know what the hell happened.
  • Job No. 2 was a gig with a big consulting firm that wanted me to write a column for their new magazine. I talked with the editor in November, we agreed on the pay rate, and, that I would probably get started in February. I then spent a month filling out paperwork and dealing with a nice person in the company’s HR department. End result: I never heard from the editor again despite my many attempts to reach her. I did, however, hear from my HR contact in the company recently who asked if I could send over an updated auto insurance card for my file. I told her what had happened and she said she would check on it, but that’s as far as it went. I still don’t know what went wrong.
  • Job No. 3 came from an ad I saw seeking an Editor for a “major West Coast business publication.” Although it was terribly vague, I had once been the successful Editor of a major West Coast business publication, so I applied. Two weeks later, the publisher called. Turns out the publication is not only very near me but is part of the company that owns the business publication I used to edit. They not only know me well but tried to hire me back one time. Sounds like the perfect situation, no? I thought so, and after the publisher’s call, I had three days of conversations about the position, including one in the office. But then, the talking stopped as suddenly as it started. End result: A week later, I texted the publisher to ask where things stood. His response? “We are far down the road with another candidate, but nothing final yet.” And, that’s the last I heard from him. Of course, they hired an Editor — someone who, as far as I can tell, has never, ever been a top Editor or managed a staff — but they never told me of their decision despite assurances they would “let me know.” Oh well, so much for professional courtesy. C’est la vie.

Millennials seem to be treated worst of all

So, what do all these situations have in common? That’s easy — they’re all prime examples of a terribly bad and indifferent candidate experience.

When I tell people about my job hunting woes, the response from the Millennials is the most telling of all. They generally say something along the lines of, “Wow. I thought it was only the younger people who got treated like that.”

Clearly, the stories about how poorly companies treat job candidates are alive and well. Sadly, they seem to resonate most with the largest part of our workforce.

My biggest gripe is that these companies couldn’t be honest and tell me they didn’t want to hire me after making me think they did. They simply couldn’t say, “sorry, this isn’t going to work out.” It also reinforces something I have always told my managers — the worst answer in life isn’t no; the worst answer in life is no answer at all and to be left spinning your wheels.

A great many companies seem to have a problem communicating with candidates, and the 2016 Talent Board North American Candidate Experience Awards Research Report  makes this clear:

In 2016, 47 percent of candidates were still waiting to hear back from employers more than two months after they applied. Plus, only 20 percent of candidates received an email from a recruiter or hiring manager notifying them they were not being considered, and only 8 percent received a phone call from a recruiter or hiring manager notifying them they were not being considered.”

4 ways to improve the Candidate Experience

I know that the volume of candidates most recruiters deal with makes it hard to respond, but in my case, these were not situations where I was one out of a thousand resumes that applied to their ad. I was a top candidate and they STILL couldn’t extend me the courtesy of an honest reply.

My friend Kevin Grossman, who works for the Talent Board and understands the need for a good Candidate Experience as well as anyone, makes these recommendations for companies trying to get better at this:

Major changes take time and resources, but what talent acquisition teams could do now to improve candidate communication throughout any part of the recruiting cycle is to do a combination of these four (4) simple things regularly:

  • Thank the candidates for their time – always;
  • Follow up with recommendations on what can be improved or what missed the mark;
  • End with positive comments about the situation, no matter what;
  • Not only give positive feedback but ask for it as well.

These are simple things, yet a great many organizations can’t even get them right.

Here’s why this is important: How you treat people in situations like this says a lot about your organization’s values. Any company can treat top candidates well (although that not always a given, as I found out), but how they act toward the great nameless, faceless mass of people who apply to them really speaks volumes about how they treat not only those who actually do get hired, but how they probably treat their customers too.

It’s a version of the Golden Rule — treat your job candidates as YOU want to be treated. If you truly care about the Candidate Experience, this shouldn’t be so hard for recruiters and talent managers to understand.

By John Hollon

John Hollon is managing editor at Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. You can download the research reports in their Global Talent Mobility Best Practice Research series at Fuel50.