April 30, 2019

An unreserved apology to all the candidates I’ve treated badly!

Let’s get it straight, a recruiter’s one true value-add is the candidates, yet unfortunately, we have a tendency to put all our attention to clients and tend to forget the candidates. In the following, I will get into how I have failed given proper attention to candidates, especially when it comes to feedback.
Since the start of my professional career, I’ve met and handled many thousands of candidates. I have always worked with a mission to be a candidate-driven (candidates first) recruiter, with an overall purpose to make companies perform better and for candidates to find their optimal fit career-wise. I now see that I have failed, especially in the last part. Working with recruitment you are facing many uncertainties and uncomfortable situations with candidates, you are constantly fighting mental biases around the client's and your decision which often makes it hard to give good feedback timely - but that doesn’t justify the poor handling that many recruitments end up with. In recruitment, it is no secret that in most cases only one candidate gets the job and it's not rare that the longlist of potential candidates or the number of applicants ends up to +100 (we often have longlists on +300 candidates, especially when doing international searches) at the same time as a rule-of-thumb a recruiter should be able to handle on average four assignment at the time (of course the number differs due to process and complexity), all in all, you are saying no a lot - like, really a lot.
As you move along and learn the ropes, the value you provide to the candidates you’re interacting with increases exponentially. You learn how to judge who you want to proceed with faster. Your confidence goes up and you learn how to give clear no’s with actionable feedback on how you came about that decision. 
Although I have gotten a lot better at providing value in my feedback, I’m still struggling and have made a lot of mistakes in my past when it comes to candidate feedback. Therefore, here’s an unreserved apology to the candidates I’ve met and handled badly, along with a couple of examples of things that could’ve been handled better. Hopefully, there are some learnings for candidates and recruiters alike in here. 

  • Postponing

    This one is a classic, when you think you have the right candidate in place, but you still want to keep the “semi” good candidates in the loop so you have something to fall back on if something goes wrong with the preferred candidate. At the same time, you don’t want candidates to feel like a second choice and thus, you don’t give a clear answer but come up with vague explanations, when following up.
    For a candidate, this is always a bad experience. You want recruiters and companies that believe in you and see a great fit. My advice to candidates that experience this would be to demand a clear answer when things get blurry. Are you in or out?
    I’ve been guilty of this several times and to be honest probably still am to some extent today. I still haven't developed a good method to get around this yet (suggestions would be highly appreciated). However, I’m very aware that every time I’m doing this, I’m tearing apart my reputation as a candidate-driven recruiter, and at the same time wasting candidates valuable time. For this, I’m terribly sorry.

  • Ghosting

    This is perhaps the worst behaviour and sadly one you hear about quite often. You’ve applied or have been contacted about a position. The recruiter promises to get back within a certain amount of time. However, after that comes radio silence. You follow up, yet the answer never comes. 
    Should this happen to you, write no more than one follow-up email if you haven’t heard back. Sometimes delays happen due to bad admin or a busy schedule. If you still haven’t heard anything by then, move on. It sucks and it’s a waste of time. Yet your time is better spent working on things that actually move you forward, rather than chasing a phantom. Tell other candidates how that recruiter behaved and everyone comes away stronger. 
    It hurts to admit, but I’ve conducted my share of ghosting throughout my career, never on purpose but mostly due to bad admin.

  • Standardizing

    As a rule-of-thumb, I send standard rejection emails to the candidates that have applied and or have been screened on phone but haven’t made it to an interview and I give personal feedback to candidates that have been at an interview. But I too have failed on this, especially when the feedback is difficult to give, for example, personal issues.
    I find that most candidates (not all) really enjoy getting candid feedback and we as recruiters have a responsibility, when the candidates have invested in us. After all, feedback positive and negative is one of the best sources of development.
    As a candidate, the best way to handle this is to simply ask for more elaborate feedback. If you can get the recruiter to call you when he/she has your data at hand, even better. 

    I often find that many candidates call when I post new jobs, with sometimes questions that seems more like an excuse to get attention more than real question (this is a real turn off for any recruiter), but that very few follow up after rejection - when the real learnings are to be made and a good chance to get “attention” from the recruiter actually exists. Chances are that the recruiter will get new matching opportunities in the future.

  • To sum things up

    Being a recruiter is not an easy job, especially when it comes to candidate handling. Sometimes you feel that you’re crushing people’s dreams for a living. However, this is rarely the case and candidates are not precious snowflakes. They can handle your bluntness. Hiding behind your insecurities is never the way. Nobody likes a jerk, even the unconscious ones. So, don’t be a jerk.
    I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career as a recruiter. I’m very certain that I will continue to do so in the future but hopefully, I will stop making the same ones, at least writing this piece is a great step on the way. 

    I see great value in becoming more candidate-driven in the future, getting wiser on my value-add for both companies and the candidates - in fact, this is some of the changes that we are working on with talentree.

    This piece was my attempt at giving some of my learnings back to candidates and recruiters alike.

  • This piece was inspired by Christian Jantzen, Founding Partner at Futuristic VC, an apology to the founders he had in his first year as a VC - I wish I had picked up on my mistakes after the first year :-).https://hackernoon.com/a-genuine-apology-to-the-founders-ive-met-in-my-first-year-as-an-investor-a1a0c8ea0695

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