I was prompted to write this after observing my colleagues go through a tough summer in recruitment. Tough, not so much due to the economic conditions as things are actually more positive than they’ve been for a long time but because of numerous issues simply getting our candidates through a recruitment process. I will try to elaborate .
During the recession, due to the glut of candidates on the market, companies have had the pick of the bunch. It really has been a ‘buyers’ (client) market. Companies in the happy position of being able and willing to recruit have held all the cards and conversely, candidates have had to accept that they are one of many and so need to do whatever it takes to land a rare job offer.
I think this situation has had an adverse effect on the ‘candidate experience’ which we recruiters often talk about and which is often held aloft by companies as something they are truly proud of.
The Candidate Experience is, broadly speaking, how candidates are treated when they go through a recruitment process. What the application process is like, how they are communicated with, what information they are given, how they are made to feel and if they are unsuccessful, how they are rejected from the process. It continues through the offer stage, notice period and on-boarding process.The quality of this experience should be important to companies (particularly in the Retail & Hospitality and Consumer sectors) because each candidate is likely to be a current or potential customer. In a competitive market where a strong brand is so important, it is important to ensure that your brand as an employer is as strong as your brand for consumers. It is also really important for recruitment agencies, as we need our candidates to come back to us for all their subsequent career moves. We work in an industry with such a poor overall reputation that individual companies simply cannot afford to lose candidates or damage relationships.
What has got me flummoxed at times this year, has been the disregard of the impact on candidates of poor recruitment processes, whether that be due to sketchy information, elongated timescales or poor assessment techniques.
Before I go any further, this is not about apportioning blame. As the ‘middleman’, our job is to deliver for our clients and support our candidates and, when all goes smoothly, it is a fantastic privilege. We must take the rough with the smooth and, irrespective of our lack of responsibility for how companies choose to assess people or treat them through the process, we need to act as a buffer and minimise the impact on the candidate and client if things aren’t as professional as they should be. What worries me is that a lot of processes suffer from a lack of common sense and worse still, a lack of common courtesy. We have seen examples of this over the past year and often I think it is because, when planning a recruitment process and assessment method, the assumption is that candidates should bend over backwards. In principle, I agree with this and if you are serious about getting a new job, you will need to be extremely flexible about making yourself available and travelling wherever necessary for interview. However, when candidates are currently employed, we have to respect that they should not jeopardise their current role when attending interviews. So, if we are only giving a few days notice for interview, we cannot expect a busy Store Manager, Regional Director or Head of Marketing to miraculously free their diary. Equally, when asking candidates to take a day off to attend an assessment centre, in my opinion, we should give them full opportunity to represent themselves. The current vogue for X factor-style rejections half-way through the day makes sense from a practical perspective however it is hardly fair on candidates, particularly if you have asked them to prepare a presentation in advance which they then don’t get to deliver. The same is true of interviews – much better to give a little more notice for interviews and make sure that the hiring manager is fully focused rather than a candidate travelling several hours only to spend 35 mins in the interview because the interviewer has another meeting.
Another issue candidates have raised is being interviewed by inappropriate people. Such was the experience of a Senior Operations Director whose first meeting with a particular business was with a junior member of the resourcing team whom was clearly out of their depth. When it came to giving feedback to the candidate, they lacked the level of knowledge or capability to deliver it positively and at the right level given the level of seniority. Feedback in general is a recurring issue. We are constantly in a position of having to make excuses to candidates who, several weeks after interview, may at best have a verdict, but don’t have any detailed feedback about how they performed. This reflects badly on the agency and the company concerned. The worst culprits are line managers and I feel for our in-house contacts who you can hear cringing as they explain that they have been trying to get feedback for weeks from an unruly hiring manager! For the hiring manager, you can understand the logic – why waste more time if a candidate is unsuitable? However, surely this comes down to basic manners: if someone has taken the time to come and meet you, the least they deserve is a response.
There are more extreme examples. We heard recently about a candidate who, after receiving a verbal offer from a client (thankfully not one of ours) and agreeing a start date 4 weeks hence, received no paperwork and no returned calls despite chasing them for 3 weeks! Needless to say, he accepted a role with another business. There are numerous examples like this and let’s be clear, anyone working in recruitment is going to struggle to keep everyone happy when there are so many complexities and variables involved. However, I think it’s important that we remember that candidates are not commodities to be traded but real people with commitments, responsibilities and diaries to manage like the rest of us. If they are working hard to land a new role by being flexible and spending time going through a process, the very least they deserve is to be treated with respect.
Interestingly, the market is on the turn. There are more vacancies and we are seeing the best candidates get multiple offers.
When things return to a candidate driven market, as they inevitably will, the Candidate Experience may become a deal breaker for candidates who view this as an indicator of the professionalism and company culture of their potential employers.
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