Job Applicants: Letting people down gently

Unless I have a book translation to sink my teeth into over summer, July and August are generally quieter months in terms of freelance opportunities. At times like these I’ll browse LinkedIn and other career/job sites for temporary or contractor opportunities; and like anyone else applying for jobs will have experienced, often I receive a badly-put-together automated response, or no response at all.

Personally I find both reflecting incredibly badly on employers, and even worse on agencies who are paid to act as proper  professionals; yes, I know you don’t make money on rejected candidates, but please respect the human beings behind those applications, even – personally I would say especially – in the current market where you are never short of applicants.

Sometimes I get to be on the other side of the situation, when organisations hire me to support their recruitment campaign(s). Having experienced both sides fuelled my arrogant desire to write this post, dishing out advice you probably never asked for but which I hope you’ll read anyway.

In my opinion, if you care about the people who work for you, one way of showing that is in how you treat the people that don’t and won’t work for you nor are of any financial or otherwise professional or personal profit or benefit to you.

As a hiring manager or agent you often (not always) have no way of knowing whether an applicant clicked robot-like on your ‘apply’ button (and many others before and after that), or if he or she seriously took the time to study your organisation and the job description and then (re-)wrote his/her CV and cover letter especially for his/her application for the role you advertised. So why not treat all applicants as if they were the latter, even if you do end up turning them down?

You may wish to complain about the umpteen applications you received to your latest job advertisement, but have you ever spared a thought for those umpteen applicants who may (and probably will) have received equal or higher numbers of rejections, while having no idea about the gazillion other jobs they applied for because they never even received so much as an acknowledgement that their application even got a look-in? Why not appreciate your luxury position of (a) having a job and (b) receiving so much interest in your organisation?

Based on my experiences from both sides – either supporting the hiring process or as a candidate trying to get hired – please consider my following suggestions:

  1. Always reply to each and every job applicant.
  2. Make sure each and every response you send is a good one.
    1. If you can, send individual, personal replies;
    2. If you’re having to deal with hundreds or even thousands of applicants, by all means make it an automated response, but then at least make sure your automated reply is personalised to each recipient and the message sent appears as something that has been written by an actual human being, not by a robot.
    3. Good replies:
      • are genuine, friendly, polite, and respectful, but do not contain guff/fluff;
        acknowledge the time and effort an applicant may have put in his or her submission;
      • do not state your opinions as facts (“You are” should make alarm bells ring before you hit the send button);
      • do not blame the applicant for any oversights on your part (a requirement you failed to list, a closing date you failed to mention, a job advert you failed to take offline, company information you failed to update on the official website, etc.);
      • explain to the applicant what you have done and will be doing with their personal information (hint: treat people’s personal information with due care and attention, don’t hang on to information unnecessarily, make sure storage and disposal of information are handled securely, assure the applicant all this what you’re doing and stick to your word!);
      • do not (pro)verbally ‘kick people when they’re down’ (hint: imagine yourself without thick skin, receiving the message you’re about to send).
  3. When budgeting for hiring costs, allocate time and cost to the rejections. If you don’t have the time to do something yourself, hire someone to do it for you – the same goes for rejecting candidates. If you use an agency to take care of your hiring, insist they treat rejections as seriously and respectfully as their hires.

Does the above sound like too much of an effort to you? Outsource it! There are plenty of people like myself who will be more than happy and able to help you out without draining your financial resources. Remember, this isn’t just about ‘hiring & firing’; even if you personally couldn’t care less about the people you inevitably have to let down, consider it a brand exercise. While I am asking you to care, if you really can’t, at least show your brand to be caring and in your own mind label it as ‘good PR’.

How much should you budget for? Ask around; I can’t speak for other service providers, but if you were to hire me to provide process support towards filling one vacancy (acknowledging receipt of each application, arranging and confirming interviews, sending out rejection emails/letters, checking references, offering and confirming employment to the successful candidate etc.) would generally amount to anything between 4 and 16 hours (£60-240 ex. VAT) plus expenses, depending on the level/extent of support you would want me to give you.

Finally – and I realise this may be pushing it – extending the aforementioned courtesy to recruitment agency representatives who try their luck following a vacancy you advertised… or am I really asking too much now?