This candidate’s experience

For the first time in a long time, I’ve been job hunting.  I got my last role on a recommendation, so it was more than ten years since I’d been out in the market by myself.  As a recruiter, candidate experience is something that I’ve talked plenty about, but it has been interesting to be on the other side of the fence for a while.  Much of what I have learned as a candidate, if not all, should be self-evident to recruiters, but I can’t help but think it still needs to be said based on my own recent experiences.

  • My first observation.  It’s pretty soul destroying to put your CV into an impersonal ATS, and get nothing back other than an auto generated email saying thank you for your application, and then get nothing else at all.  An email saying your CV was rubbish would have been something, and at least helpful to me.  Do we really get so many applications for our roles that we can’t send one more email to confirm you didn’t get through the first stage?
  • It’s nearly as miserable to be contacted about a role by an agency, agree that they can put your CV forward to their client, and then never hear anything from them again.  No one minds a ‘sorry it’s a no’ message.  If I’m important to you when I might represent a placement fee, then you can take the time to drop me a text to say that the company didn’t want to see me.  There should be no excuse for not doing this.
  • Much of recruitment is very impersonal.  For an activity that’s all about people and their personalities and the elusive ‘fit’, much of my recent experience was electronic and lacked any sort of personal touch.  Recruiters, both in-house and agency, are missing valuable opportunities to really find out about their candidates.
  • Waiting for feedback is horrible.  Waiting for the phone to ring, to find out if you are in or out.  Especially when it doesn’t come when you are expecting it.  If you are going to give people an expected time to give feedback, then meet it.   If something stops you meeting it, then update the candidate.
  • The worst thing?  Going for an interview for a role that I really, really wanted.  And then the company pulled it.  I know stuff happens; things change in a business, and sometimes this can’t be avoided.  In my case the reason was a genuine one. But you shouldn’t really go to market, and involve candidates in time, effort and engagement if you are just not 100% sure you actually going to hire, or what you want.  Being told you aren’t right for a role is fine, being told we’ve changed our mind about recruiting someone is damaging for your employer brand.  Avoid at all costs.

I actually got my new role through a recruitment agency that were pretty damn good.  Here’s the truth though.  They met and exceeded my expectations, partly because those expectations weren’t actually that high in the first place.  I’ve talked to other job seekers lately, and the general view was that they didn’t like going through agencies, or even like the recruiter they were dealing with particularly, but felt they didn’t have a choice if they wanted to have visibility of as many roles as possible.  This is a sad thing for the recruitment industry but is unlikely to change when the activity remains largely contingency based and sales target led. I don’t want this to turn into an agency bashing post, but fellow blogger Robert Wright has some interesting things to say on the subject of agencies and implications of the bonus structure:

The agency that placed me did nothing out of the ordinary, nothing new or ground breaking.  They simply did everything I should have been able to expect as a candidate.  The recruiter (note I refer to an individual, not a company here, as that personal relationship is what it’s really all about):

  •  Updated me regularly.  Even if that meant a quick text to say that he didn’t have any news.
  • Sent me lots of useful info on the company.  Yes, I’m a big girl and could find it for myself, but it was a nice touch and made my life that bit easier.
  • Talked to me.  As an actual person.  He didn’t just send me emails. Checked in with me regularly, and has continued to do so.
  • Briefed me.  Properly and in detail.  And debriefed me post interview.
  • Managed my expectations about when there would be feedback.
  • He also managed me well on behalf of the client.  There was no real chance I was going to drop him in it by declining the role at offer stage, as he’d constantly checked my levels of engagement throughout the process.

As I said, nothing new, nothing ground breaking.  But I was left feeling valued and that I mattered as a candidate.  Whether I’d got the job or not, I would have worked with this recruiter again and have since recommended him to others.

When you give a role to an agency, you are handing over a big chunk of your candidate experience to an external party.  Do you ever ask your candidates how it was for them?  In-house teams need to put themselves in the shoes of the candidate and take a good hard look at what it feels like to apply for a job within their organisation, and regularly check how the agencies they use are representing their employer brand.  It’s the start of the psychological contract after all.

And as for me….


Image by @AATImage (Graham Smith)

9 thoughts on “This candidate’s experience

  1. Some things ought to be evident but going through the experience ourselves helps bring them to life – a wonderful write.

  2. A great post and a sad indictment of “parts” of the industry. I know all candidates are equally important and should be given the same amount of respect but I would also point out that if there is one type of candidate that you really don’t want to let down with a poor experience it would be someone who is a) in HR/Recruitment and knows what “good” looks and feels like b) will be in a position to make or influence future buying decisions concerning recruitment spend and c) has a voice in the industry and the wit to use it. Sounds like they messed with wrong lady.

  3. Gemma – I completely agree with your thoughts above. Large parts of the recruitment consultancy market are poor in terms of how they view the longterm candidate experience. Equally, employers can damage their brands significantly with their recruitment process whether via a 3rd party recruiter or direct hire strategy. I have just set up a small independent research project to get feedback on the candidate experience from recent and current HR job seekers across the UK and will share the results via the HR press and a couple of “round table” events scheduled later in the year.

  4. Never in the last 25 years have their been as many tools at disposal, and never has it been so easy to communicate, and yet it appear that gone is what constitute good recruitment, respect and decency as never before has so many felt indifferent. It is all about mind-set and a question of ‘where there is a will, there is a way’ yet those elements appear to have vanished and not regarded as of importance. As people as society we are becoming more and more un-caring and thinking about the human beings and the lives that are involved. Shameful and shocking if you ask me.

  5. Cracking blog Gemma with some highly salient points. “Service levels” of recruitment consultants varies wildly & the bad certainly tar the profession. I’m lucky enough to work on a high proportion of “retained” briefs, which you are ultimately an ambassador of an employer’s brand and manage the process effectively. More tricky when you’re working on “contingency” briefs – multi agency, where often you aren’t given much feedback (and we’ve walked away from a number of these companies). Bottom line whether you’re a rec con or in house is to set expectation from the outset!

  6. Sadly it’s not just recruitment. Imagine the shock horror when a company calls you back because you left them a message to call you back? It’s often down to the individual as you found but if the company has the right culture then hopefully we will find more of “those people”. Congratulations and I hope you can show how it should be done in your next role 🙂

  7. Congrats on your new role! One would think that as recruiters, we would extend a little professional courtesy among our peers who are looking, but it never pans out that way. While my last job search was a couple of years ago, I’ll never forget VP of HR who responded to my request for feedback with simply a smiley face or the Recruiter who didn’t want me for the job but then who asked me for help finding another job. People are crazy all over. Thanks for posting!

  8. Thanks to everyone who has commented on the blog today. A number of people have commented on recruitment agencies; some of my experiences were through agencies but not all. Being a recruitment consultant is a tough job – I know I used to do it. I don’t want to be more critical than I have to about the industry. In-house teams have plenty to do here too. In my own experience recruitment is not always given the attention it deserves in HR teams. If the war for talent does take place as the future of work specialists say it will, we are going to have to improve – agency and in-house. Otherwise the talent will choose somewhere else to work.
    In my last role, we used to regularly survey new starters and ask them to rate the whole joining experience from 1-10, along with a few other questions. It’s certainly something I would recommend if you are not already doing it – results can be illuminating!

  9. Pingback: There is something wrong with recruitment | hrgem

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