Talent Acquisition

Friendly Fire Kills Candidates Quickest

There is little more frustrating for an in-house recruiter than doing all the legwork for a key vacancy, and doing it well, only to see the hopes and dreams of everyone begin to evaporate as a couple of top-notch candidates bail after the initial interview. Frustration later morphs into depression when the remaining great-fit candidate declines to pick up the decent offer just made to them.

Some organisations go through that experience a number of times. The pressure to fill the vacancy mounts, causing the danger of irrational decision-making to loom. Lowering the bar or upping the package are common responses, but these assume that the problem is an external one – either the person-spec is too demanding and / or the salary package is just not attractive enough. Sadly, these are unlikely to be the problem and a closer look is needed, instead of a knee-jerk reaction.

Review your processes

Whilst your overall advertising and selection processes are probably proven, well-oiled and sound, it’s always worth a quick check to ensure that candidates aren’t being over-sold and misled. Take care to go back through communication trails. Reading these afresh can sometimes identify warning signs that weren’t obvious at the time.

Gather feedback

If you can’t identify the cause of the problem, you’re very unlikely to find a meaningful solution to it, so firstly try for hard evidence. Ex candidates may be reluctant to provide genuine feedback, but they may feel guilty and obligated, so a friendly off-the-record verbal chat will get you considerably further than a more formal request or conversation. Consider the quality and reliability of anything provided.
If you’re using external recruiters, check to see if they can shed any light. Recruiters can feel partly responsible, defensive even, so consider carefully whether any reasons are sensibly evidence-backed or just ‘helpfully’ intuition-based. Both can be valuable, but beware the difference before acting hastily.

Look at the candidate experience

If a candidate walks away unexpectedly, and without reason, it’s something they’ve experienced that’s prompted them take that decision. it’s therefore odds-on that friendly fire from your own side is what’s shooting them down. Promises are easy to make, so pragmatic candidates wonder: how sound is the company; are the job-challenges actually worth-while and is the line-manager professional?

Candidates judge for themselves whether they’re being shown a beautiful beach where working life is a potential career-building opportunity or whether the horizon’s grey skies and tsunami of problems more likely indicate the presence of quicksands ahead. The good news is, if the source of the problem is at your end, you have the power to do something about it.

When good candidates are scarce, they tend to be very aware that selection today is not just a two-way street, it’s a whole eight-lane motorway, so if solid candidates have applied, it’s a sure pointer that the package and prospects aren’t the root of the problem. The following are based on real examples of feedback from candidates.

  • Culture– Sofas, pool tables and exercise equipment look great, until they’re covered in an inch of dust, suggesting that no one has the time, or permission, to use them during working hours.
  • Flexibility– It’s a major attraction, unless it appears that everyone works from 7.00 am till 8.00 pm every day in order to keep their jobs or get ahead. Social media can be such a grass.
  • Respect– Visiting candidates will clearly get respectful attention, but if they see subordinates, PAs, receptionists or cleaners being spoken to imperiously or treated poorly, it speaks volumes about the underlying quality of management.
  • Growth– Exciting technologies might point to a stellar growth opportunity, but if everyone is fire-fighting on interview day, that growth may be judged as just too optimistic.
  • Vision– Whilst that beautiful painting of the company’s vision appears alluring as it stands at the end of a lively cocktail bar showing some ankle or muscle, candidates sober up quickly when they find the company is already on its third pivot.
  • Dynamic team– If people are slumped at their desks and struggle to raise themselves for a prospective team-mate, the candidate will wonder whether giving blood is less of a six-monthly occurrence and more of an everyday event.
  • Communication– Unplanned changes to the recruitment and selection process, or endless delays to interviews, meetings and decisions, speaks volumes about the organisation.
  • The line manager– The line manager’s comments, behavior and perceived organizational ability count more than any other factor. Candidates want to know whether their career can catch a boost from a go-getter, they don’t want to end up feasting at their leisure on a dead duck.

Honesty and integrity are key to managing a candidate’s experience. With so many people involved in a recruitment and selection process, it’s almost impossible to consistently maintain lies. Whatever the problems, being open about them, and presenting the real challenges, saves everyone’s time. If the line manager is a complete git, don’t hide it, be honest and sell it as a plus. You might have to work hard at the presentation of that information, but there must be a plus, otherwise why do you employ them?

Candidates who know the reality they’re facing join more positively, work harder, stay longer and deliver better results. Ensure that, on interview day, their expectations are met, or even exceeded. Reality is not what you and your team present to them, it’s what they actually see, hear and feel for themselves.

About the author: Jon Gregory an experienced management consultant, re-organisation specialist and recruitment professional. He currently works with both organisations and individuals, helping to get the right people working effectively in the right jobs.. He’s also the editor of

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