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Awarding Companies for Engaging Candidates

October 4, 2012

It's one of the most common questions from job seekers today, particularly because so much of the application process happens online: Why has my application fallen into a black hole?

The Talent Board, a San Francisco-based not-for-profit founded by talent management experts to improve the job candidate experience, wanted to analyze that question. In 2011, the TalentBoard released its first set of Candidate Experience Awards, recognizing companies with model recruiting programs, and the board is in the process of selecting a second set of winners for 2012.

Elaine Orler, a co-founder of the Talent Board who is also president of Talent Function Group, a San Diego-based software advisory company, has helped implement recruitment software for large corporations since 1993. While she sees the many benefits of the software, she also worries that many companies aren't using the systems properly, thus tossing out or turning off a large group of qualified candidates.

By evaluating how employers engage with candidates during the employment application process, the Talent Board hopes to provide a road map for companies looking to make important changes. Nearly 60 companies participated in the first round of research, with 24 agreeing to have their job candidates surveyed by the Talent Board.

After more than 11,000 candidate surveys, what was the most glaring problem identified? One-third of responding companies did not communicate to unqualified candidates as a standard practice. In fact, only 10 percent of firms said they responded to every candidate.

"Candidates' No. 1 complaint in over 8,500 comments in the 2011 survey was the lack of communication on their status," the Talent Board reported in a white paper releasing its survey results. "They desired to be told early and often whether or not they were being considered."

Among the candidate responses was this comment from an anonymous job seeker: "This process was terrible. I had to follow up numerous times before anyone even called back. And when I finally did get someone, no one would explain to me if I was accepted for the position. I now have a major senior role with a company that knows how to treat their employees, and you can be sure that every graduate I speak with knows about my terrible experience with the other company."

Companies that recognize the impact of such a negative process on the company's reputation are clearly a step ahead in the search for the best employees, Orler says.

One of the model companies identified by the Talent Board was Sage Software Inc., an Irvine, California-based company that publishes a candidate commitment on its career pages. "At Sage, we believe our employees are our most valuable asset. That's why our candidate commitment is designed to provide an experience that stands apart while meeting our guiding principles of simplicity, agility, innovation, trust and integrity."

The company has an online application that takes less than two minutes to complete, recognizing that candidates "hate long, involved applications that feel like they are designed to weed out," the Talent Board reports. The company also commits to a screening process of 20 days and allows candidates to check their application status online.

Another Talent Board award winner, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, based in Richland, Washington, has a pledge to applicants, which promises candidates a user-friendly system to apply for jobs, a quick response to questions about the position and a timely decision-making process. In essence, the pledge treats the applicant like a customer, which is a smart business practice, the Talent Board reports.

Gerry Crispin, a human resources consultant who co-founded the Talent Board with Orler and oversees the Candidate Experience Awards, says timely notifications to job candidates are critical. Companies that allow their recruitment software programs to collect thousands of résumés without ever informing candidates of their status in the process are sorely misguided, he says.

"When people use software poorly and don't take the time and energy to use it well, suddenly they wake up and say, 'Look at all these people we've ticked off,' " Crispin says. "Those people will no longer come back to the company over and over and apply for other positions."

Meg McSherry Breslin is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

Workforce Management, October 2012, p. 34 -- Subscribe Now!