it’s time for a job-seekers’ bill of rights

As the job market continues to favor employers, job-seekers are increasingly reporting poor treatment from employers – from employers who never show up for scheduled interviews to inappropriate demands for private information in online job applications.

Employers may feel that they don’t have to pay much attention to the candidate experience in such a flooded market. But this is short-shorted, because the best candidates have options and will turn elsewhere. And it’s also unkind to people who are in a vulnerable and anxiety-producing spot.

It’s time for a job-seeker’s bill of rights, to improve the hiring process on both sides!

1. Stop playing games on salary. Employers love to demand that candidates name their salary expectations up-front, while simultaneously refusing to divulge the range they plan to pay. There’s no reason not for employers not to share that info, other than that they’re hoping to make the hire for a lower price. It’s unfair and they usually get away with it, but we’d all be better off if employers simply shared the range they plan to pay and put an end to all the drama and coyness.

2. Provide clear job descriptions. Too often, employers post jargon-filled, incomprehensible job descriptions that make no sense to anyone outside their organization. Job candidates shouldn’t have to struggle to figure out what an employer is looking for, or if they might be suited to providing it.

3. Share the hiring timeline. Whether it’s through an auto-reply after an application is received or through direct contact with a hiring rep, employers need to have some way of telling candidates when they can expect to hear back and what the next steps will be.

4. Just say no to unfriendly online application systems. More and more companies are switching to endlessly long online application forms, which are often riddled with technical problems. Having to spend an hour wrestling with an onerous application system simply to submit a resume is a bitter pill to swallow.

5. Rein in the invasions of privacy. Increasingly, companies are asking candidates to submit their social security number, references, and even driver’s license number with their initial application. There’s no reason to require this kind of information from candidates who haven’t even gone through an initial screening round yet.

6. Show regard for candidates’ time. From last-minute cancellations without apology or acknowledgement of the inconvenience, to not paying attention in the interview, some employers act like their time is the only time that matters. Most candidates go to a lot of trouble to prepare for an interview – reading up on the company, taking time off work, and often traveling – and their time should be respected too.

7. Don’t misrepresent the work. Interviewers who make the job sound more glamorous than it really is or downplay less attractive aspects of the job – like long hours or a tyrannical boss – are guaranteeing they’ll end up with a resentful, unmotivated employee. Truth in advertising works to everyone’s advantage, because candidates who won’t thrive in the job or the culture can self-select out before they become disgruntled workers.

8. Interviews aren’t a one-way street. Interviews aren’t just about determining if the company wants to hire the candidate. They’re also about the candidate figuring out if he or she even wants the job. Employers need to be open with information about the job, the company culture, and the manager, so that job-seekers can make informed decisions about whether the fit is right on their side too.

9. Keep commitments. Interviewers are notorious for telling candidates they’ll hear an answer within a few days, only to disappear for weeks. Of course timelines change, but candidates should be notified when this happens. Companies that would never treat a customer this way think nothing of being cavalier about the commitments they make to job candidates.

10. Send rejections. Many companies never bother to notify candidates that they’re no longer under consideration, even after candidates have taken time off work to interview and even traveled at their own expense. Candidates are often anxiously waiting to hear an answer – any answer – and end up waiting and waiting, long after a decision has been made. This is about simple respect and courtesy; it just doesn’t take that long to email a form letter.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 13 comments… read them below }

  1. Michael*

    This is one of the biggest breaches of ethical behavior I see in business. Our common fascination of vouyerism has taken on olympian status. I have often wondered how a credit check willl contribute to work performance. I asked a economic professor of mine, and he laughed-not finding a cogent answer to the question.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      NJ either is about to or just did outlaw using credit checks in hiring, unless there’s a clearly job-related reason. I’ll be interested to see if more states follow their lead. I agree it’s out of hand.

      1. Natalie*

        In cases where credit has zero to do with ability to do the job, it seems particularly cruel to me. Presumably someone with bad credit needs employment to get back on their feet.

  2. Helen*

    I recently was asked by a recruiter from a specialist firm whether I would be willing to have my CV put forward for a job, to which I replied ‘Oh heck no’.

    The recruiter asked why not, to which I informed her that when I last applied for a job there in ’08, the interviewer was late to the meeting, was brusque in the extreme, and expressed some doubt as to whether I had really gained my professional qualifications when I said I had and with distinction as my CV said. (This would have been a silly lie since pass lists are available from the institute going back several years).

    The recruiter informed me that I was not the first person to have told her that, and that she and her colleagues were debating the best way of telling the company that many of the people they were now hoping to recruit had been put off by their rudeness.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Exactly why this eventually hurts companies in the end. Good people have options, and some day they may exercise those options against the company that treated them badly.

      And your recruiter should stop agonizing about how to tell them. It sounds like this: “We’ve been running into a number of candidates who aren’t willing to interview because they report they were treated poorly in the past. (Fill in specifics here.) It’s probably worth looking at how these practices might be changed, because we’re definitely seeing good candidates refuse to consider an interview as a result.”

  3. Anonymous*

    Helen –

    I agree with your response to your recruiter. I wish I would have run down a list of issues with my recruiter that I recently had during a phone interview. It was most awkward experience I’ve ever had. The interviewer was 10 minutes late, was unprepared, mispronounced my name & never asked questions regarding my qualifications. Needless to say, the company decided to pass on me.

    I also wished my recruiter would have asked me questions regarding my experience with the two phone interviews I was given.

    Alison, how should job seekers advise their recruiters about bad interviewer behavior by prospective clients without burning bridges?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Realistically, I’d say to allow some room for mistakes on their side — for instance, I wouldn’t complain about them being 10 minutes late or mispronouncing your name. But if I were the recruiter, I would be interested in knowing that the interviewer was unprepared and didn’t even ask about your qualifications. Just make sure that you mention it in a neutral tone — you don’t want to sound angry or bitter. So for instance: “I’m not sure if you like getting feedback on these interviews or not, but Joe sounded pretty unprepared for our interview and actually didn’t ask me any questions about my experience at all. I figured it might be something useful for you to know, in case it impacts how you prep candidates for him in the future.” Or something like that.

  4. Richard*

    I have been on many interviews only to find out the recruiter does not even have a job signed up yet. I am later told we were waiting for the final signature that never happened. What ever became of people on the hiring side being up front with people in need of work?
    The shoe may someday be on the other foot?

  5. Pingback: The number one resource job seekers should pay attention to: human resources | Allison Jones

  6. Robert*

    The only thing I would add to your article is that employers should be required, when they state on a job description, that applicants must have a specific degree or a specific number of years or type of experience, how that degree or experience is necessary for success at that specific job, and that it’s not just being used a weed-out mechanism for arbitrary reasons. I came across dozens of jobs that I could have been great at that I wouldn’t even be considered for because I did not meet the draconian education and experience requirements. Sometimes I applied anyway, with a cover letter that explicitly stated why what I did in the past makes me worthy of at least an interview, just to make a point.

    Currently, as part of my graduate studies, I am examining the feasibility of conducting a research study where I measure the amount of unemployment and underemployment of college graduates is caused by this arbitrary hiring process. The hiring process, combined with the fact that companies don’t actually hire enough staff because they don’t to pay them, I believe has a lot to do with why so many so many people are either out of work, or doing work they are overqualified for.

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