Thursday, July 29, 2010

Treating Job Candidates Badly: Why It May Come Back to Haunt Employers

Everyone has a bad interview story. Mine is that on a hot summer day I took a subway, an (un-airconditioned) bus and walked five blocks in high heels and a suit to a job interview only to have the hiring manager tell me there wasn't a job available.

"I just wanted to know what a girl from Oklahoma thought she was doing applying for a job here," he told me.

He's lucky the girl from Oklahoma didn't leap across his desk and show him how we rope steers -- and then castrate them. (Although I've never done this personally, I felt I could find someone who could show him at a moment's notice.)

Eight days later I had a job with a prestigious employer. So, in my case, getting a job with a competitor was the best revenge.

But in this economy, some employers are taking bad treatment of job candidates to an art form. I decided to look into the issue for my Gannett/ column. (And perhaps loan my roping buddies to a few people.) Here's the story...

It isn’t a new story that hiring managers sometimes treat job candidates badly, but now there a twist in the dynamic – job candidates are getting a bit of revenge when they broadcast their poor treatment to millions of others via the Internet.

The result is that companies are seeing their carefully crafted public image come unhinged as insulted interviewees recount everything from unprofessionalism to discrimination – and the news is spreading far and wide to other job seekers and even company customers.

“Some companies really have tunnel vision, and they’re not considering that the job candidate isn’t just a job candidate, but also a customer and an influencer,” says Libby Sartain, a human resources adviser who has also worked for Southwest Airlines and Yahoo! Inc. “They’re not thinking about how a bad candidate experience sticks with you. You talk about it for a long time.”

Three years ago, Holly Meadows Baird, an interior designer, interviewed for a job where the hiring manager introduced her to the “girls” in the company. “I went to an all-girls school,” she says. “That comment was like nails on a chalkboard for me. Not to mention all these ‘girls’ were over 25-years-old.”

The situation deteriorated when the manager took a personal call about a home renovation project during Baird’s interview, using the back of her resume to take notes. “My only regret is that I didn’t walk out of the conference room right then,” she says.

Still, that bad interview experience wasn’t to be her last. A recent interview at what she considered a well-respected architecture firm in Nashville went off the tracks when she was kept cooling her heels an hour after a scheduled interview time. When she finally met with the hiring manager, he was “not present mentally” and “obviously was very distracted,” she says.

“It was a Friday afternoon, so I guess he was just very anxious to get out of there,” she says.

The interview ended when the hiring manager shook hands with her, and literally sprinted for the exit doors at a run.

“I was pretty disappointed at the way things turned out,” she says. “It made me much more cynical about the employer.”

Kevin Kahn, applying for a corporate sports sales executive position – work mostly done via the phone – says the company asked him to come in for a personal meeting after a phone interview. But when the hiring manager walked out to greet Kahn – attired in pressed jeans, shirt and sports-jacket – he was told that he didn’t need to stick around because his attire was “unprofessional.”

“At first I kind of laughed and said something like, ‘Are you serious?’ The receptionist who overheard it just had this dumbfounded expression on her face,” he recalls.

Kahn has since contacted a lawyer about what happened to investigate his legal options.

Sartain says unpleasant candidate experiences such as those mentioned here are partly the result of over-worked human resource departments who have “been cut to the bone” and are faced with sometimes thousands of applicants for every job. “These employers just have their hands full, and they’re not focusing on the candidate experience,” she says.

But candidates are. Fed up with poor treatment, they spread the word to others about the employer –whether it’s telling friends and family as Kahn and Baird did, or tweeting about their experience. Websites devoted to criticism of employers – including their hiring practices -- are thriving.

That’s why employer brand specialists like Sartain are warning companies they’ve got to improve their efforts or suffer the consequences . A damaged public image can impact everything from being able to recruit top talent to attracting customers, she says, especially since job candidates also may be customers – and they can easily spread their opinions online these days.

Baird says she believes employers will reap what they sow.

“Right now, there are so many well-qualified candidates that it’s an interviewers’ market and they can pick from the cream of the crop. They may not feel like they have to be as respectful of people,” Baird says. “But that kind of thing gets around. And, it’s all about relationships – they don’t think people will talk, but they will. They are.”

Have you ever been treated badly in an interview? What should companies be doing differently?



Anonymous said...

From employers who bring you in for 5 interviews then never get back to you with an answer to interviewers who bring you in and say "I just wanted to see how much someone like you would cost," I have seen it all. When I am interviewing people as a hiring manager, I WILL NOT be like that.

Anita said...

Dear Anonymous,
I think that's the great hope I have: That those who have been treated badly will do a better job once they move into those positions. And you'll be one of them! Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Hiring Managers: PLEASE don't close an interview by telling a candidate that you are moving them to the next phase and will be contacting them shortly to set up a second interview with other department heads, only to NEVER call or return the candidate's messages. This has happened to me four times. I'm fed up with the head games and psychological abuse!

Anita said...

The hiring managers may be honestly telling you the truth that they believe you're moving to the next phase -- then something may happen to change that fact. If that's the case, job candidates should be informed immediately, for sure!

Anonymous said...

I have interviews where managers say I gave related experience but not direct experience and can't hire you. Really? What are they complaining about? "Experince, Experience, Experience!!!" So somehow these people walked in with a silverspoon in their mouth or had the experience fairy hit them on the head eight times and poof they needed no training. Or nobody gave them a break they just fell from heaven and expect people to be like them. Sorry folks, I have a community college diploma is Business, University, owned a small business etc. And train and stop complaining. We are not mind readers nor are we just a face you can use as a verbal punching bag.