The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

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Rejected Applicants and External Brand

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Say you are Google.  You have a few hundred thousand people sending you applications and resumes on a weekly basis.  Therefore, you have to reject a few hundred thousand people on a weekly basis.  Even is this is the nice postcard that says “thanks, we’ll keep you on file for 6 months” everyone realizes this is as good as “no.”  Here’s the problem.  You have a hundred thousand people a week that are probably customers (convert this to 5 million people a year – but my numbers are made up), and you’d like them to continue to be happy customers.  How do you keep them happy customers when you’ve told them they are not good enough to work for you?

Perhaps the only thing is to reject kindly.”  Bringing back the Google example, there has been more than one applicant who came away from interviews at Google with the distinct impression that Google thought they were simply not “smart” enough.  Indeed, people who have accepted positions there have verified that “smart” is a very important and leading quality for any candidate.  This sense from rejected applicants that they don’t make the cut could really harm Google in the long run.  At some point, they won’t be the trendy company to work for (think Microsoft), and public opinion and how they have treated large masses of people will matter.

For once, I don’t have an opinion on the answer – so I’m asking the readership.  Is anyone out there thinking about this problem?  What are some of the tactics people have tried?

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6 responses to “Rejected Applicants and External Brand”

  1. Jonathan Winter Avatar

    Yes we’ve thought about this a lot. There is great potential, in marketing terms, especially for organisations who (as you say) have an overlap between “applicants” and “potential customers”.

    So far the best initiative we have taken is to provide organisations with helpful career tools like these, which they make freely available:

    These have proven very popular. But there is much more that could be done! And we are working on a new career tool that could be provided specifically to rejected candidates, to help them feel good about their strengths. Everyone has strengths – it’s often just a question of “fit” with the culture and requirements of the organisation. So I totally agree it is counterproductive to make 000s of people feel bad about themselves as a result of expressing an interest in a large organisation.

    Like you, I’d be interested to hear other ideas and any initiatives that have been taken.

  2. Steve Mitchell Avatar
    Steve Mitchell

    Google may gain some credibility with candidates if they referred the best of the rejected individuals on to other companies. The individual s may get smarter with the experience and definitely be more willing to use Google of come back later again as an applicant. This type of consortia to share talent is not unheard of — AT&T tried it with an initiative called the Talent Alliance.

  3. Matt Cooper Avatar

    Unfortunately the “thanks, we have you in our circular file” email is a higher bar than most companies reach. Our research from a few years ago showed that over 94% of candidates that apply online never hear ANYTHING back from the hiring company, and the remaining 6% receive the “we’ll let you know” response that leaves everyone in limbo.

    With the ubiquity of applicant tracking systems as the first step in the recruiting process, it’s become easier to send automated responses to candidates. Surprisingly, many companies still don’t use this automation to send any message back to the candidate. As a result, the “black hole” perception of online applications is well deserved.

    Unfortunately, when a message is delivered, it’s typically cold and ambiguous. Telling a candidate that you received the information isn’t much more helpful than a “thanks for applying” screen at the end of an online application. There is no follow up and closure in either case.

    I’ll use Accolo as a self-serving example of how the long-term relationships with candidates can be better managed. Accolo serves as the internal recruiting function for our clients, typically small to mid-sized companies that want a more robust hiring infrastructure than they could normally build or afford on their own. Because we work with hundreds of companies, we are very aware that every candidate could be a candidate for another position or a potential customer, investor, partner or more.

    It is impossible to apply for an Accolo-supported job and not receive follow and closure. No matter what stage you reach in the process — online application to final interview — you will always hear back from us. We leverage our technology to ensure that every candidate is contacted, either personally from the Hiring Consultant working on the job or via email directly from our team. If a candidate responds to the email, someone from our team reads it and responds appropriately.

    More important is our messaging. We don’t tell candidates they are not a fit, or they did not meet a minimum set of qualifications. There are many candidates that could be qualified for a job and very successful over the long run, but in the end there is only one that is most qualified. Our messaging tells the applicant that there were other candidates that were a better fit for the position, and should the situation change, we will be in touch. We all know that the recruiting process is an inexact science, and the needs and qualifications can change overnight with hiring manager preferences, strategic business shifts or changes in the broader economic client. The candidate that was not quite right yesterday may be perfect tomorrow. The shift in messaging may be subtle, but it conveys the realities of how hiring really works and is respectful of every candidate’s achievements.

    Do we get nothing but sunshine in response to our emails or personal communications? No. There will always be candidates that are frustrated, angry, or otherwise unhappy. When we get a particularly nasty email in response to our updates, we make a phone call. It’s amazing how often I’ve heard — “Oh, I didn’t think anyone would actually read that.” They may not be any happier with the outcome of their application, but at least they know we are listening. It would be easy to delete that email, but that frustrated candidate may be a client one day. On the flip side of the coin, we get hundreds of emails every month thanking us for giving an update, even though it was not the response they hoped for.

    No system is perfect, but we think we have a pretty good track record of building relationships with our clients — both hiring managers and candidates. Accolo’s network of professionals grows at about 80% per year, strong evidence that what we are building lasting connections. We are proud of how we treat all stakeholders, and if I can provide any more information to you or your readers please let me know.

    Best regards,

    Matt Cooper
    VP – Strategy & Operations

  4. Brian McIntyre Avatar
    Brian McIntyre

    When you go to use/buy Google services do you think “They rejected me so I’ll go elsewhere” or “They’re full of really smart people – their stuff must be good”?

    I think that after you’ve been rejected, assuming it wasn’t done in an insulting way you get over it. When it comes time to decide whether to use a Google product or a alternative your main thought is about getting the best product there and then.

  5. Brian De Groodt Avatar
    Brian De Groodt

    Previous comments above are excellent thoughts. I’ll add that a company like Google that may very well be burning through thousands of qualified-for-other-roles candidates, as well as potential customers, could make great use of the collective power locked up in their résumé brain trust.

    The thought of a “parting gift” program that sends a signal of inclusion, while still allowing Google to adhere to hiring preferences, seems to be a potentially valuable option. Perhaps something along the lines of the Junior G-Man program made famous by Melvin Purvis (post FBI). Google already has a marketing effort called “Friends of Google” that is mostly about marketing already released services to “insiders.” What about including candidates which don’t make it to the hired stage into a special development and delivery ecosystem where they are given an opportunity to assist in solving the next great challenges Google faces? A candidate still under consideration (as they always should be) gets invited into a special portal at a predetermined point in the hiring process (post first interview through offer rejected, etc) and essentially gets to compete for points—and by definition greater internal attention at Google.

    Perhaps it’s an insurance policy against bad interviewers rejecting good candidates as well. Maybe it’s a chance for other hiring managers to see the work of candidates they may not otherwise have a chance to see. Especially since one can safely assume candidates in the NEW Jr. G-Man program (Jr. Google Man or Woman) will likely gravitate towards responding to Google challenges that are of interest to them and suited for their skill set. This could be built up into a point system or a monthly prize, etc.

    Nobody wants to go through a time-consuming application process and the spotlight of an interview process at a company filled with the brightest minds in the world and not make it. Surely they’ve talked to friends and family about their chance at Google and everyone’s watching to see if they make it in—or not. Coming up empty isn’t a great story to have to tell the circle of friends and family, so it quickly becomes Google’s fault. Including the candidate into the Jr. G-Man Program gives everyone a chance to continue to grow their comfort for one another, solve some pressing issues potentially efficiently (cost and time) and potentially benefits all constituencies. Perhaps greatly.

    The obvious issues of copyright, ownership of solutions, etc all would have to be addressed, but with a couple of billion cash in the bank, these are easily addressed.

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