Why are Today’s Employers so Bad at Hiring?
A few straightforward ways to improve hiring practices for a better applicant experience
I’ve recently re-entered the jobseeker’s market after six years on the lam and though I’m older and wiser and slightly less hire-able, I’ve managed to secure an amazing new position (more on that soon!). Before I forget the pain of the hiring process I wanted to capture a few obvious things that employers really should be doing as they look to hire the best of the best. As it turns out, a lot of businesses are terrible at hiring in 2019 and the obvious bears repeating! Here’s how to be better.
Step 1: Get the job posting right
The first step for any job seeker, other than getting in touch with close contacts who might have something available for them, is to scour the job boards. When a job is listed well, it stands out. Though few company listings check all these boxes the fruit of improvement here is pretty low hanging.
- Post the salary range: In my recent job-seeking experience when a salary range was not posted with the job description both the employer and I wasted at least an hour of our time to find our salary expectations were not aligned. When a range was listed upfront, we got to the productive conversation immediately. It seems silly not to do this in this day and age.
- Be decisive about remote work possibilities: A few positions I looked at were not marked remote-friendly but once I reached out through a personal connection the hiring manager said they would consider it. Cronyism/nepotism aside, businesses are missing out on candidates by not being forthcoming about this.
- Describe what the job will actually entail: Too many employers use job postings as an opportunity to write about the company instead of the job, as if an employer had walked into the kitchen, completely forgotten what they were doing there, and decided to grandstand about recipes. It’s confusing! Keep the long-winded “About” sections to the company website.
- Outline what success looks like: Without success criteria, you’re setting your new hire up to fail. It’s okay to not know specifics — you are hiring someone for their expertise after all — but you posted the job description. Why? What did you need help with? How will you know you’ve gotten that help? If stumped, try this thank you note exercise from Jared Spool.
- Don’t require a video application or anything else that reveals what candidates look or sound like. I get that you’re trying to save time but what you’re actually doing is throwing underrepresented groups under the bias bus. Better still would be to engage a third party that allows your company to do blind applications.
- Share the hiring process: It helps so much to know upfront how many interviews to expect and whether travel might be required. These are things you probably know upfront and by simply sharing them, not only can a candidate plan their interview approach, but they also get a sense of timelines along with an insight into how the company makes decisions.
Step 2: Don’t be a jerk during the interview
Remember: Most people looking for a new job have recently been through some sort of trauma, whether being let go or finding themselves unhappy in a current role, or something else in their life driving change. Job changes are one of life’s big stressors. As an employer, you can be sensitive and supportive to interviewees while at the same time accomplishing your own company’s objectives. It’s not that hard. A lot of what follows is basically just “be a nice person” but in business, we often forget how to do that, so…
Some best practices:
- Don’t demand free work, such as take-home tests or assignments or anything else you’re asking an applicant to create that they will not be able to reuse for another interview. Anything otherwise is deeply unfair. Finding a new job is hard and soul-sucking and time-intensive and you are not the only employer in the big wide sea; being respectful of this truth makes a business stand out.
- Don’t steal a candidate’s ideas: It is okay to learn something about your business from the hiring process, but occasionally I’ve run into a company that is more interested in learning how I accomplished something rather than hiring me to execute it. For example, a company might ask too many detailed questions about my experience working with one of their competitors, which doesn’t respect my current position as a vulnerable job-seeker. The conversation quickly feels lopsided. Candidates will appreciate employers who understand that they’re not planning on giving their work away for free.
- Lead the conversation: Remember, you invited the candidate to interview, what do you want to know? Candidates should have their own list of questions too, of course, but part of what this presumes is that if you are investing the time in talking to someone you will have read their résumé and googled their name and that a conversation of substance will ensue about the candidate’s experience and the business’ needs. Otherwise, both parties are wasting their time.
- Be realistic about timelines: How nice would it be to know how many other candidates a company is interviewing along with updated timelines for making a decision? If you plan to have a decision made in a couple of weeks great; if that changes, let the candidate know. This is all a measure of reliability, accountability, and communication.
- Be kind. Or at least polite. In my recent experience, it surprised me how many interviewers were guarded and not particularly kind, despite (or perhaps because of) the uneven power dynamic between interviewers and applicants. Not smiling or being accommodating to someone’s nervousness is such a weird power play. Remember, job interviews are terribly stressful — and maybe not for the reason you’d expect (that someone wants the job), but for external pressures (they gotta pay the rent, or need health insurance). It is possible to be kind and generous in conversation while still assessing someone’s skills and experience. It is possible to be both assertive and polite.
- Be sure to provide context for an upcoming interview, including who will be there and expected topics of discussion. Better still: provide feedback during the interview process. How is your candidate doing? Give them a chance to address feedback. The company I ended up accepting an offer from was the absolute best at this and it allowed me to prepare for interviews the way I would for any other meeting by orienting what I was saying to the experience of the people I was talking to.
Step 3: The follow-up
It’s remarkable what I learned about a company from what happened after speaking with them. I would search employees on Twitter to see what they were saying, the same way I’m sure employers found me. While you’re vetting candidates, of course, they are also vetting you.
- Don’t mock candidates online for anything in their application, mistakes included. One of the most egregious instances in my experience was a hiring manager who took to Twitter to deride candidates for misspelling the company name (Could it possibly be your own fault for having an unrecognizable brand or difficult-to-spell business name? Could candidates be wooed to your company mission, rather than being expected to know everything about you upfront?). I was glad to not take my application with them further. Applications and ensuing conversations and negotiations should always be treated as private.
- Do provide specific feedback after a rejection. If a rejected candidate reaches out for feedback after giving you over an hour of their time, do them the courtesy of being honest. Vague feedback only leaves room to wonder about what really happened in the boardroom where decisions were made, particularly in the case of marginalized candidates.
- Make haste with your thumbs up (or thumbs down). Waiting around to hear back from an interview is the absolute worst. Not only is it emotionally trying, the time spent waiting patiently can limit other opportunities and set candidates as far back as a month in their process. Candidates would rather receive a pointed rejection than nothing at all.
In my recent job hunting experience, I’ve noted how strange and inconsistent the hiring process has been at companies both big and small. Large companies tended to be abstract and impersonal with recruiters handling first impressions (often bad ones, from the candidate’s perspective), while smaller companies were higher-touch but made the graver personnel mistakes and wasted more time. On all sides there was room for improvement in the candidate experience and improvement here seems worthy of investment; whether you end up hiring a candidate or not, now they know you. And what they know of you determines whether they will recommend you as a service or to friends as a potential employer.
Do our industry a favor and reflect on your own hiring processes: How can you do better?