things employers forget in the hiring process

In a tight job market like this one, it’s easy for employers to forget that they still need to be careful about the way they treat job candidates. If they’re not, they risk losing great candidates, alienating potential customers, and even starting their new hires out on the wrong foot.

Here are 10 things many employers forget when they’re hiring.

1. Interviews aren’t a one-way street. Interviews aren’t just about determining whether the company wants to hire the candidate. They’re also about the candidate figuring out if he or she even wants the job. Don’t treat the process like a one-way interrogation.

2. Job postings shouldn’t read like an internal processes manual. Job postings are marketing tools that are supposed to get the right candidates excited about the role. But most job postings are filled with “bureaucratese” that takes all the life out of the role. Some are filled with so much jargon that they’re incomprehensible to anyone outside the organization.

3. The best candidates have options. This won’t be the only job that your strongest candidates are considering. If you make them go through seven interviews, or treat them poorly, or drag your feet when making a decision, you risk losing them to another offer.

4. The goal of the hiring process is to make the best hires, not to make HR’s job easier. There’s nothing wrong with making your recruiting system more efficient, but be sure you’re not doing it at the expense of your candidates’ experience. For instance, requiring candidates to submit their Social Security numbers with their initial application is an invasion of privacy that isn’t justified by the small amount of time it might save HR down the road.

5. Employees start learning about your culture during the hiring process, not on their first day. By the time your new hire starts, he or she will have already picked up messages about “how we do things here.” If you move quickly, are responsive, and do what you say you’re going to do by when you say you’ll do it, you’re sending important signals about your culture to your eventual new hire. On the other hand, if you’re do these things, your new hire will assume that disorganization is a hallmark of the culture.

6. Candidates will scrutinize your rejection notice, so be careful what you say. Getting rejected is an emotional experience for most people, and many rejected candidates will search the language of your rejection notice for hidden meaning. So don’t imply that rejected candidates didn’t meet your qualifications when in fact you simply had more qualified candidates than you could interview. And don’t say you’ll be in touch about future opportunities if you really won’t be.

7. You may lose your best candidates by making the hurdles to apply too high. More and more companies are switching to endlessly long online application forms that are often riddled with technical problems. If candidates have to spend an hour wrestling with an onerous application system simply to submit a resume, your best candidates with options may just not bother.

8. It takes only seconds to send an automated response to candidates who didn’t get the job. Many companies never bother to notify candidates that they’re no longer under consideration, even after candidates have taken time off work to interview or 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.

9. Truth in advertising pays off down the road. Making the job sound more glamorous than it really is or downplaying less attractive aspects of the job – like long hours or a tyrannical boss – guarantees that you’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.

10. Your candidates are human beings, just like you, your sister, your dad, or your best friend. Treat them with dignity and respect, and be considerate of their time and appreciative of their interest.

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

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    I loved number 9 – truth in advertising. Just be honest about what the job is – and don’t worry about what you think the candidate wants to hear. That’s how you get a good fit.

    It’s good to keep in mind that a negative to one person may be a positive, or irrelevant, to another – the same goes for “perks.”

    I’ve had interviews where they went on and on about the insurance benefits, even after I told them I don’t care as I have insurance through my husband. Selling point to someone else, totally irrelevant to me. Same for working from home or vacation time, nice – but not in my evaluation matrix – but they may be huge perks for someone else.

    Salary and career trajectory? Off street parking? How are metrics determined? Bonus plan? C level support for IT initiatives? Degree of autonomy? The answers to those questions will tell me whether or not I can be successful in that company.

    Boils down to communication on both sides.

    1. Christine*

      “I loved number 9 – truth in advertising. Just be honest about what the job is – and don’t worry about what you think the candidate wants to hear. That’s how you get a good fit.”

      Exactly. Or even in the initial interview is fine. I had an interview 10 years ago with a nonprofit, and they came right out and warned me that the job was mostly data entry, despite that I was a college graduate. I said that it was fine, that I was willing to start somewhere. Yeah I ended up hating the job lol, but I still appreciated the honesty.

    1. Eleanor Malloy*

      That’s the first thing I thought of, too.

      Even though I’m friendly with the HR people at my company, I still have little respect for HR as a whole. They’re all about themselves and the procedural rules they make up.

  2. Jamie*

    #7 – hurdles to apply. This isn’t exactly applicable, as you were referring to the online application process – but another huge hurdle employers throw up there is being coy about the salary range.

    If I can’t tell whether or not the position is in the correct salary ballpark early in the process I won’t pursue, because there are other employers who are hiring who are more open.

    Particularly in IT, you cannot tell from a title what the range will be. A system admin at one company could command a certain salary, but the same title at another could be unrecognizable both in position and compensation. I’m not going to waste my time interviewing for jobs which could be completely outside of my acceptable salary range.

    Maybe if I were out of work and getting desperate – but not otherwise. It’s another way employers inadvertently chase off candidates with options.

    1. Anonymous*

      Thanks for bringing this up. This is the same problem people face when applying for jobs in the non-profit sector. A “Coordinator” position may pay $11/hour at one organization and $60,000/annually at another. It can be very difficult to tell.

    2. Harry*

      Good one! Some companies treat the salary as if it is some holy grail! I know of some companies that try hard to withhold disclosing the salary range to its own employees!

  3. Christine*

    Regarding #2, about job postings – Could you possibly clarify this one? I have my own beef about job postings, but I’m not sure if it’s similar to what you’re saying.

    What I find is that the language can be vague. Rather than giving specific examples of what you’d like the candidate to be able to handle (e.g. interacting with executive-level staff, writing clear proposals, etc), job ads are riddled with such phrases as “must be a good problem-solver” or “must have solid communication skills”. Without context, I cannot translate that into what I can bring to your organization. I’ll admit that this could just be a result of my shamefully limited work experience, but still! I would imagine new graduates and career-changes have the same issue.

    1. Jamie*

      I think some of the vague statements are a kind of code. Similar to how in real estate ads cozy = tiny, needs updating = may not have a roof, etc.

      Must be a good problem-solver = you won’t be micromanaged

      Solid communication skills = know how to use spell check and the basic fundamentals of grammar aren’t lost on you. Someone who won’t embarrass the company with illiterate emails.

      A couple of others I think are important:

      Good people skills = ability to work inter departmentally effectively, without anyone wanting to key your car.

      Team player = inability to notice when you’ve been doing the lion’s share of the work. Also, you consider 16 hours a normal work day.

      Good computer skills = the ability to double click the icon to pull up Word without calling IT.

      Willingness to be on-call = you never turn your phone off. Ever. You will respond to work related emails on Christmas day and while in labor. You will excuse yourself at your nephews baptism to remote into the server to troubleshoot a locked file.

      Internally driven = You will follow up on projects until your fingertips bleed from incessant update emails. Your boss asks you to do something and you’ve not only already done it, but documented it, analyzed it, and added it to your metrics.

      Analytical = you love spreadsheets, unlike others who see them and curl up in to the fetal position and cry like babies with colic. Ability to publish data/results without regard to who will be embarrassed by a faulty showing. Physically incapable of making a purchase without a CBA and ROI report.

      1. Natalie*

        Your translation of “good computer skills” made me laugh. As someone not in IT, I’ve recently learned that my average computer skills translate as “excellent” to most office managers. I’ll be sunk if anyone shows them Let Me Google That For You.

        1. KayDay*

          I once endeared my self to senior executive during my internship because I showed him how to attache a document to an email without asking his exec assistant to do it. This was in 2007. I now translate “good computer skills” as “adding attachments to emails.”

    2. Anonymous*

      I honestly find the “less sophisticated” job postings the best, i.e. postings clearly written by the hiring manager and based on the actual job, with specific responsibilities that the person will have. Some job descriptions are clearly based off of a master job description template and basically tell you about what the title is plus some nice sounding business jargon.

      Other times, postings are clearly modeled on the federal government style of writing job postings (why on earth would anyone copy that?!) They spend about 5 paragraphs going on about the office environment, how much the person would have to lift (E.g. works in a well-lit, standard office environment. The position requires sitting at a desk for 7 – 8 hours per day, the incumbent must be able to lift boxes not to exceed 20 pounds), the employers ability to make reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and legalese details about the non-discrimination policy, but then never mention what type of experience is required or whether or not a masters’ degree is required. ugh!

      1. Nethwen*

        This reminds me of one library job ad, full of government-style phrasing, that said the librarian would frequently be required to kneel and crawl and occasionally be required to stand and sit. I think this was a proof reading error, but I got a good laugh out of it.

        1. Eleanor Malloy*

          No, I think that’s really what they meant. Have you ever seen where they keep the archives?

      2. Anonymous*

        I hate the job descriptions for federal jobs! I applied for a few over the summer and I had to re-read each one to make sure I was understanding the position what I was applying to. It only makes sense if you’re a government employee with all the talk about grades of employee and such.

  4. Victim of #9*

    Truth in advertising is definitely important. I got sold a bushel of rotten apples in my current job and now I’m miserable, working well below my skill level, and searching for another job after just a few months.

    The job description made the job sound awesome and right in line with my career path (after I deciphered it because it definitley suffered from #2) and what was presented at my interview(s) is totally different than what I’m doing. Nothing on the job description even applies anymore.

    So yeah. Had they given me the real job description up front, I would have turned down the interview from the start (I was recruited).

  5. Anon*

    I definitely experienced #3, or something similar.

    Afew months ago I had a decent interview for my first post-college job. The next day I went back to browsing job listings and saw the position I had just interviewed for had been re-listed–after my interview! I immediately began applying for more jobs, assuming that my interview had not gone as well as I had thought. A few weeks after the interview the first employer began contacting my references, and the same week I got an interview for Job #2. Job #2 unofficially offered me the position after the interview (a gamble, I know!), and Job #1 called later that day. This was incredibly unexpected, and I asked Job #1 for a few days to consider the offer. They seemed shocked that I didn’t accept on the spot. The next day–a Saturday–they called and rescinded the offer, even though I told them that I had chosen to accept it. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end as I am now at Job #2 and I absolutely love it.

    It was definitely frustrating when prospective employers seemed upset to hear that I had applied to other jobs. They were not considering me exclusively for the position, so it is fairly unreasonable to expect that I will spend weeks waiting to hear back from them without looking for other jobs!

  6. nyxalinth*


    This. Times one thousand. Especially in this economy, there’s no excuse for being dishonest, nor a need. I have seen so many ads for Customer Service that actually turned out to be outbound sales. Come on, why lie about it?

  7. Nathan A.*

    It serves so much good to be forthright about the job title and description. If it’s collections, say it’s collections. If it’s outbound sales with paying 10/hr, say that is what it is. If you need a paper pusher, say you need a paper pusher. If you need a data miner, say you need a data miner.

    Ambiguity is making this painful from both sides (as the job seeker and as the HR rep screen applications).

  8. Suzanne*

    Great thoughts! I loved #4 (creeps me out to put my SS# on an application that I have no clue as to who is reading it), #6 & #8 (I’m still singing the praises of a job that turned me down because the director actually CALLED me to tell me! What is wrong with this world when a potential employee is excited to get a personal rejection?) and #7 (I have spent untold hours filling out online applications, several of which disappeared as I submitted or refused to let me upload my resume in any form whatsoever, all the while career counselors galore tell me to spend time volunteering, which I don’t have time to do because I’m wrestling with onlin applications).

    Finally, I appreciated #10 because I do think, far, far too often, employers forget that we employees are humans and that once on board, we are not simply a drain on the profits, but are helping the business succeed.

  9. Mike C.*

    First off, thanks for pointing out that requiring a Social Security Number for the initial resume submission is a terrible invasion of privacy. It is and job seekers have no way of knowing where that application is going or who is going to read it or how it’s going to be disposed of. Having all of that personal information in one place is identity theft waiting to happen in the hands of a lazy or incompetent HR department.

    As to the lack of communication, I can’t believe how rude some companies are. A few months ago I had two different interviews with a company that they knew I had to drive a good ways for. They went well and I even met the owner of the company. I’ve never heard from them since. Sure, I have a great job now but for goodness sake, if you ask me to show up in a suit for multiple interviews, you owe me a call. Email at the very least, but a call would have been nice.

  10. Erica B*

    This day in age, I cringe when anyone asks for my SSN.. but back when I was in college it was my student ID, my DL #, and I gave it out without a problem.. I was oblivious. Not anymore.

    I think these are all true, and all hiring peeps should be refreshed! I think that also they should be put through a practice interview as the interviewee at a different company.. get a taste of their own medicine..

    (I also spotted a typo in #5 “On the other hand, if you’re do these things, ” where “you’re do” doesn’t agree) *gasp* quick fix it Allison.. I will blame your pain drugs on this. How are you feeling?

  11. Kelly O*

    Regarding #1, I think both job seekers and employers forget that one – there is so much information out that leads to the assumption that the job seeker wants that job badly for whatever reason. Never mind you might walk into someone’s office and realize five minutes into the conversation that it’s not going to work. Both sides have power to wield in the process.

    #5 actually goes along with that too – every interaction you have with a potential employee will provide their real introduction to your company. That includes everything from the job description (which falls in #2 – don’t give me the federal laundry list please) to your initial email contact, phone contact, your office or wherever we have the interview, and every other communication or lack thereof afterward.

    You are the face of your employer to that potential employee. If it works out, you’re the first person they know on the job. If it doesn’t work out, their impressions of your company are based on your actions. That person might not be the right fit, but their friend, fellow volunteer or church member, other mom in the play group, whatever, that might be the person you want. And if your initial candidate has negative things to say about the experience, you might lose that person.

    Which kind of goes back to #1 again – they’re really all intertwined.

    1. Anon in the UK*

      And they might do what an acquaintance of mine did. She interviewed with Company A, who were very rude and dismissive towards her. She subsequently got a job at Company B, in a purchasing role.

      Company A had sold a lot of products to Company B in previous years. While my acquaintance still orders their product if it is better than its competitor, or the same standard but cheaper, Company A found their business fell off quite sharply.

  12. Natalie*

    I agree, for employers who are recruiting on a large scale every year there are clever ways of using technology to personalise responses but to automate them so everyone gets an immediate answer.

    You can create a system where you can tick on a database if candidates are a no, yes or maybe. The database will strip out the name of the candidate and then send them the appropriate response immediately.

    Also, have you heard of parsing technology? A lot of corporates are now offering candidates a CV creation tool, which then creates a standard CV template and helps to offer a greater candidate experience.

    I recently went to a conference where the head of learning & development for the Savoy Hotel in London had over 25,000 applications in three months. You have to get smart online.

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