In the employment world, rejected candidates are often seen as the surplus or unimportant, because they are not immediately useful to hiring organisations. Overlooking these people, however, could be a costly mistake, not only in advantages missed but in disadvantages gained by your company in neglecting them.
When interviewing candidates it is a clear truth that you will, as an organisation, reject more of them than you hire. Statistics for the number of candidates brought in for an interview versus the number of people hired is roughly between 20 to 50 candidates for every job, depending on the role, salary, industry, etc. The number that reach interview for any job can be from 2 for a well-run process, up to 10 or even more for a less efficient one. Those people have all invested their time and commitment, but unfortunately will not all receive the job. It is simply a fact of business. However, there is a certain value the rejected candidates can still have to your company.
Just because you do not have positions for all these valuable candidates to fill at the present does not mean that you may not need them later. If you reject them harshly and they have a negative experience during the interview process they will have a dislike for your company and will not think of re-applying when a new position appears. If they are treated well, however, they may well be added to the pool of possible appropriate candidates you can look at contacting again. In many cases, you will already have reviewed their application and deemed them suitable for the position, this means less work sorting through candidates when you can draw from people that you know are up to your standards. And as they will also already have had some positive experience with you, they may also prioritise your company over others when deciding where they may want to work, giving you the competitive advantage. In a survey by a leading recruiter, 23.8% of respondents said that positive experiences with an employer made them more likely to continue contact and relationships with that company’s “brand alliances, product purchases or networking.” Out of all respondents, however, only 25.4% were actually encouraged to continue to maintain a relationship with an employer even after applying for a job. While poor candidate experience can lead them to sever all ties to the company, a good experience, even if the candidate is rejected, could have benefits for the employer. If more of these respondents had been given the opportunity to continue contact, there may well have been a more widely positive response.
If they have a good experience, candidates can also be used in extending your talent reach. You will be able to add them as part of your network and get in contact with not only them but also people they know, who may be useful to your company even if they themselves are not. By staying in contact with these rejected candidates you create a wider group of people you can bring into the company when needed, who already have a connection to you, just by asking them “Who do you know?” This gives your organisation a greater presence in the job marketplace and increases awareness of job opportunities you are offering as well as your spreading your employer brand in general terms.
If the experience the candidates you reject is positive they are more likely to promote a good image for your company. Without you having to do anything, they may recommend you to others such as friends, family and colleagues, and through their own networks. In this instance you do not even need to get in contact with them. More importantly than that they act as tacit ambassadors for your organisation by saying positive things about you. The way they are treated during the process can be enough to convince them to promote your brand through their various platforms, creating a positive buzz which enhances your employer brand, whether they spread the message through here-say, face to face interactions or social media.
Unfortunately there is another side. You must give candidates a good experience even if you do reject them, not only for their sake and their complementary words, but also to avoid the potentially huge downsides. A bad candidate experience is five times more likely to be reported than a good one. Human beings are naturally more prone to focussing on the bad aspects of something rather than the good, and any negativity or criticism sticks in their minds far more easily than praise. In short, people like to complain. They are more likely to write an annoyed post on social media about bad treatment than one praising your company if the treatment is good. 78% of people report that they would discuss a bad hiring experience with friends, family and peers. That is 78% of people willing to damage your company’s reputation when they are treated badly.
By saying or posting these negative comments, they can drive down your employer brand. The negative comments will spread more easily as well, since people like to warn others more than they recommend. Your employer brand will be sullied by this negativity and influence people who would otherwise apply, losing you valuable candidates and possible employees with the correct qualifications and outlook just because of a bad experience another candidate had in the rejection process.
Negative comments can also counter investment you make into employer branding, since the word of a peer is a stronger influence on potential candidates than anything a company directly says. As shown in the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, peers are one of the most highly trusted sources of feedback, ranking far more highly than company CEOs, boards of Directors and Government officials. This means that anything you say to attempt to counter negative feedback by rejected candidates is likely to fail.
Positive feedback is a good thing to have, but negative feedback is potentially disastrous and nothing you can say can dispel it.
Another reason why rejected candidates matter is the impact they have on your customers. Candidates may have found out about the job opportunity you are offering through social media, a friend or your company itself. In order to apply for a job, many people often have a connection to the company, even an emotional one. This can occur when they are a customer. As a customer they will hold sway over other people, in the same way that peers can persuade people not to apply to your company. If a customer has a bad experience as a candidate, not only are they more likely to stop doing business or buying from your company, they will be able to influence their friends and family members, as well as people over social media not only to avoid applying to your company but potentially to stop buying goods and services from you as well, losing you valuable customers and business. Rejected candidates can be a lot more dangerous than your company gives them credit for.
Buyer or Sellers’ Market?
One of the most overlooked reasons why rejected candidates matter is the economic truth behind the hiring process. All too often companies think they are doing candidates a favour by giving them a chance to apply for a job. The figures of people looking for jobs versus the number of jobs available completely contradict that way of thinking and the way the modern market works. In fact the market itself is candidate led; there are many more jobs than there are candidates to fill them. In strict terms of supply and demand curves, it is the candidate doing your company a favour by turning up. However, that is rarely how they are treated.
What is Bad Treatment?
Bad candidate treatment is rife throughout all industry sectors, but if challenged on it many managers, HR departments and executives do not even recognise that their behaviour is poor. So what is bad practice, and what leaves a negative impression on the candidate?
- Lack of information through the process
- Late or non-existent acknowledgement of their application
- Delays and poor communication in the process
- Lack of briefing and information on the company, the hiring process and the role
- Changing or cancelling the arranged interview times
- Hiring managers turning up late for the interview
- Interviewers being disorganised including not having a proper brief or repeating the same questions others in the process have asked
- An unfocused and repetitive interview process
- Lack of feedback on the interview, no explanation as to why they were wrong and how to improve
- Delays on being informed, or worse still just never hearing anything more
All of these behaviours are common, frustrating the candidate and leave the impression that the candidate’s time is not valued and neither are they. Despite there being multiple areas to address there are clearly behaviours that have a far larger negative impact on the candidate experience that should be addressed and avoided as a priority.
Feedback is one of the biggest potential places to win or lose the candidate’s favour. Only 5.5% of candidates are typically given feedback that they find even marginally useful after being told that they are not selected. Of that group, 2.6% of candidates receive “specific and valuable feedback.” Whereas 55.9% report not receiving any feedback whatsoever and 20% are provided “general or limited feedback.” Perhaps most astonishingly of all only 13.1% are encouraged to apply again. Having trawled through excessive questionnaires and online applications, to hear nothing back makes people feel like the whole process was a waste of time, which is not only demoralising for them, but also for the interviewer if the interview stage was reached. If the interviewer or prospective employer gives feedback, it helps the candidate feel valued and know what they did wrong. This means they may be able to correct it and apply again, which gives your company another entry into the network for another potential job opening. It also means that the interviewer will take their job more seriously and can accurately analyse why a candidate is not suitable, which is helpful in ensuring the right person for the job doesn’t pass by because of boredom or a lapse in concentration. It can help interviewers feel like they are not wasting their own and the candidate’s time as well, by being productive even in an unsuccessful interview and not crossing ground another interviewer has already covered.
There is nothing more frustrating than getting rejected from a job and not understanding why, or how to improve. Adding to this frustration when a candidate has been through the interview process before will just increase their negative feelings towards your company for the rejection. Over 4 in 10 candidates have said that they have experienced “unacceptable time lapses” in waiting for a response after an interview. This lack of appreciation makes people feel undervalued. As soon as you have made the decision, a wise course of action would be to communicate it immediately and personally. Appreciation of the candidate’s time and interest in your company instead of an automated response will help candidates and your employer brand, since so few companies do this. Another way your company can ease the rejection process is asking for feedback from them. By doing this as well as giving feedback to candidates, you can gain a valuable insight into how you have been perceived and shows the candidate you care about their opinion. It can also open the way for further communications, opening up the possibility to keep that candidate in your network.
In a typical recruitment process the communications between the hiring manager or HR department and the candidates often seems to take a huge amount of time, not just about interview arrangements, but even how long it takes to get an offer out. Nothing is calculated to leave a stronger impression of stunning disinterest in the candidate and give the impression that the company simply aren’t bothered by the amount of the candidate’s time they are using up. Even worse hiring managers will cancel interviews or rearrange at short notice. The reason is irrelevant, by doing so the hiring company is essentially saying that its own needs are most important, and the candidate’s time is not. Yet the economic reality is that candidates, not the opportunities, are the rare commodity.
This can impact at any stage of the recruitment process. If another company is enthusiastic, engaged and timely, and you are not, you could lose potential candidates even after you have made an offer. Competitor companies can target qualified candidates and make offers even after yours has been made and if the candidate is still waiting on your written offer and has not heard from you in days or even weeks, the engaged, fast moving competitor may steal their attention, and your next great hire.
By acknowledging the lack of candidates and responding in how your company treats applicants, you are actually only aligning yourself with the economic realities; that good people are hard to find, and in short supply. If you do treat applicants with respect you are setting your company apart from 95% of other employers and giving yourself an advantage over them. In view of a candidate led market, companies should be treating people as a valuable commodity, especially those with the required skills.
If 100% of companies were treating their candidates poorly perhaps it would not matter in terms of competition, since the playing field would be level. However there are 5% of employers out there who take a different approach and they are the ones who have the competitive advantage in the market. Their candidates have a much better experience and give them the positive reviews, where the others will receive bad press. They gather a strong employer brand, receive a ‘buzz’ on social media, have fresh and positive applicants coming to them and plenty of response to their ads, and even gain a positive reputation with their customers. As a result they receive a clear advantage in the market as an employer and as a brand, simply by being one of the few who treats its rejected applicants well, and not just following the crowd.