It happened again last week. We brought in a candidate for a senior marketing position that pays very well. The candidate showed up, met with our personnel office for about an hour and then just said, “No thanks,” and left. This was a good candidate. But it’s the third that has ended the interview process before ever getting to me. I’m going to get my team together to figure out, are we doing something wrong when hiring? Or are job applicants just not what they used to be? By the way, I’m the Marketing V.P. and the job reports to me.

Nick’s Reply

Would your company send a customer service representative to close a big deal with an important new client? Of course not. You’d send your top salesperson, perhaps along with a company executive and maybe even an engineer from the team that builds the product you’re selling.

When hiring, impress candidates immediately

So, why do you send a $60,000-a-year personnel clerk to interview a top candidate when hiring to fill a $150,000-a-year job? (I’m guessing at these salaries.) It’s not so much the difference in pay that should signal a huge risk to you; it’s the irrelevance of the discussion that would ensue. What does a personnel clerk (even a smart, well intentioned one) have to say to a busy marketing expert who wants to talk shop? (Or, imagine an engineer, a computer programmer, a heavy equipment operator, or a specialized mechanic.)

Is this really how you want to establish your first important contact with a desirable job candidate? Don’t send in the clowns!

Every day, leading-edge companies send clerks to impress leading-edge candidates in screening interviews. (Your candidates seem impressed, all right — but not favorably!) These clerks must then wait to get on the hiring manager’s agenda to “present” the candidate — while the candidate cools their heels. Guess what? Such candidates don’t wait. They smell bureaucracy and walk away because they have other good options.

When hiring, put your managers in the game from the start.

If your management team is too busy to get personally involved in the recruiting and hiring process, your company will lose the very candidates it wants most: the best ones. Even in a slow economy, the best candidates are in demand, and while you’re trying to put them through your administrative process, a headhunter like me will steal them.

No matter how you identify the candidates you want to pursue, never let anyone make first contact except the manager who would hire them — in this case, you. It tells the candidate you’re serious. It puts you ahead of other employers who send in the clowns first.

Make the candidate feel as important as the job you want them to fill.

Never allow hiring to be represented as an administrative process. This turns good candidates right off. No one wants to think they were invited for an interview because the personnel department dragged their resume out of a heap. The candidate wants to know that something specific triggered the company’s interest. Preferably, a manager — not a process — stimulated this encounter. Make recruitment personal, make it important, make it a carefully orchestrated courtship designed to make the candidate feel special. You get one chance to create a first impression. Send in the hiring manager!

Deliver value to the candidate.

I give similar advice to job hunters: The very first time they talk with the hiring manager, they must offer something useful that proves their value. Why do some employers think they can do any less when they are recruiting a candidate? You are not filling a job; you’re trying to change someone’s life. Make sure it’s for the better.

Never forget that you initiated this courtship. Don’t just make your meeting informative; make it intriguing and satisfying. (If it’s appropriate, plan a meal in the executive dining room or at a good restaurant.) Show the candidate, in your first encounter, how your technology, your products and your other employees will impact their life. Show what they stand to gain from working with you. If the value isn’t there in that first meeting, the candidate won’t be back for a second meeting — or, as in this case, they’ll just walk out.

Too often, companies relegate hiring to the personnel department, where candidates are to be scrubbed before they can be presented to management. Imagine trying that with a sales prospect.

You already know that one of the two most important people to your business is the customer. Now, start acting like the job candidate is the other.

Name 3 things you could do better when hiring, if you’re a hiring manager. If you’re a job seeker, name 3 things employers could do that would make a meaningful difference to you when considering a job offer. For everyone: What should employers STOP doing to improve their hiring process?

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  1. Right on in every regard. I remember one job interview in particular. The hiring authority, my manager to be, had written across the top right of my resume, “Yes!” And he made sure that I saw it.

  2. It seems employers deign to even deal with candidates.

    Think about it.

    1. Upload resume into ATS.
    2. ATS does crummy job parsing info from the resume so applicant has to complete it or correct it.
    3. Complete questions about gender, military service, disabilities, etc.
    4. Upload cover letter that no one reads or cares about.
    5. Email comes to candidate’s inbox to take stupid tests.
    6. Get rejected in 24 hours.
    7. If selected, rounds of interviews where candidate answers the same old tired interview questions.
    8. No one contacts candidate after interview to let them know what’s happening.
    9. Rinse, repeat.

    • Don’t forget:

      10: Get on job sites, industry social media, talk shows everywhere and whine like a baby about how you can’t find candidates, there are no good candidates, the employee market is SOOO tight, we can’t compete, it’s not fair (on ad nauseum).

    • One job I applied for I was rejected in less than 2 hours!!! I’m wondering if the company is still in business.

  3. So true
    See Nick’s comments on taking COMTROLL of the interviews.

  4. Let’s finish the story:

    11. Employer writes screed about how “nobody wants to work anymore.”

  5. @Dee

    Whatever number we wind up with:

    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein

  6. It is my opinion that the Human Reprogramming Dept. should stay out of the hiring process until the end of the interview, especially when the candidate would be making more money than they are.

    HR, being a mass-processing and human-manipulating machine in the interests of the owners and shareholders, is ill-qualified to attract top-notch candidates who will contribute to the company’s bottom line instead of becoming a human “resource” wallowing in the quagmire of socially Dilbertized cubicle farms.

  7. Delbert is always spot on correct. As is Nick.

  8. AMEN! Mic drop, Nick. Thank you for speaking truth to employers and leaders as well as job seekers. It’s a relationship that has become much too one-sided since I entered the workforce 35 years ago, and needs to be reciprocal. I tire of seeing job seekers (especially younger people) being disrespected during the job search and interview process, then blamed for why orgs can’t “find” or “retain” good talent. Most aren’t lazy or “entitled”, they just have good boundaries and reasonable expectations for how we should be treated.

  9. Excellent advice! I wish more employers decided to take a look at their own hiring practices instead of blaming “lazy workers”.

    Years ago, someone here commented that HR isn’t an acronym for Human Resources but for Hiring Roadblock, perhaps it was Nick. Nonetheless, I think it is apt. HR should only be involved once a hire has been made, so HR can make sure the new employee gets paid, taxes are deducted, benefits accrue. Otherwise, unless the job vacancy is in HR, they should stay out of the way.

    I wonder how the Letter Writer would react if s/he were treated the way the candidate was if s/he were applying for a job. I bet the LW would feel disrespected, and that having an HR clerk doing the vetting means the company isn’t serious about hiring.

    The solution is simple, as Nick outlined in his answer. I wonder if the LW will take Nick’s advice and change the process, or if s/he will let HR run the show.

    Nick, I hope the LW follows up with you in due time, and that you’ll let us know.

  10. Your problem is exactly as you stated it.

    “The candidate showed up, met with our personnel office for _about_an_hour_ [emphasis mine] and then just said, “No thanks,” and left.”

    I’ve been in that position before. I’ve had people not in the IT department peppering me with technical questions for 30 minutes that I knew had been downloaded from an online test site. When I tried to engage them further by asking how that scenario applied in their infrastructure or ask how would they determine that an alternative solution would be more appropriate for their environment, I get the dreaded “we’ll get to that later”. That’s when I know I’m stuck in a used car sales pitch instead of an IT interview. Trying to apply sunk-cost fallacy to your hiring practices is a losing bet. In the eyes of your candidate, it shows contempt for their time even before you have hired them.

    What on Earth did the personnel office talk to them about for _about_an_hour_? (good grief!)

    Give your personnel office 15 minutes to vet the candidate and make the decision to bring you in immediately after. You might want to give the candidate a heads up as well what the timeline for the interview process will look like.

  11. I think we may have to agree to disagree here.

    The first person a candidate should see coming in the door is YOU Mr./Ms. hiring manager.

    Not security.

    Not a chirpy receptionist with “they said you’d like to fill out these forms”.

    Please, for the love of all that is holy or revered by any religion on this world or any other, especially not the HR people.

    You. The hiring manager. And you should be the decision maker. As in: Today you can say ‘yes’. No “second rounds”, no “committee “, no “the founder and CEO will be back from Coachella next week”.

    HR should only be brought into the conversation after the offer, the negotiation, the acceptance, the handshake and it is time to fill out the W-4, W-9, I-9 and issue an ID badge.

  12. @L.T.

    I agree that HR has no business in the hiring process/decision. HR is supposed to do as you mentioned, “HR should only be brought into the conversation after the offer. . .”

  13. I wish I could be a fly on the wall and hear what’s being said that causes people to say no in these initial interviews!

    I’ve only done this once, many years ago, when I could see the job wasn’t a good fit. This was actually in an interview with the hiring manager.I told him at the end of the interview “Thanks for your time, but I’m afraid this isn’t a good fit.” I don’t remember now what I picked up on. I was employed, so I could do that because I wasn’t desperate.

    I could write a book on my experiences with HR interviews. Let’s see…one time, many years ago, when we were still using paper applications, I left the previous salary field blank. The recruiter saw this as we were walking to her office, and turned around and said “We can’t go forward with the interview unless you give me a number.” If I hadn’t been unemployed, I would have walked then and there. And I did get the job, but my experiences at that company were…well, not good.

    And there was the time when a internal recruiter told me she was looking for someone who would stay in the job for a year(!). (It’s amazing what people will say to you in interviews if you’re a good listener.) I didn’t get the job, which was probably just as well.

    And the time I went through 4 rounds of interviews, and I’m pretty sure the company had no actual intention of hiring anyone. I found out later that the company was notorious for doing this. I wonder how they got any productive work done?

    I’m sorry, I can’t come up with the 3 things employers could do. I’d say the one big thing to do would be show some respect to your applicants. Don’t make applications and interviews a degrading experience. That leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, and you may get a bad reputation for it.

    And get back to applicants, especially if you’ve actually interviewed them. Even if the answer is “no.”

  14. Long time reader. I was compelled to comment for the first time because I feel SEEN. I remember literally saying once to the nice HR lady interviewing me that “Well, I’m not sure how you want me to answer the question, since you don’t have any context for the answer I’d give you.” The rote questions she asked indicated to me she didn’t grasp the details on the resume.

    I was expecting to talk shop, to go in depth on the projects I’d done and what I could do, but it was like talking to a brick wall because she had no idea what any of the terms meant. I’m telling her of site redesigns, content management system migrations, and taxonomy architecture, and she’s asking if I know how to use MS Word. For a web position! That’s when I realized she was just doing a checklist.

    Then there was the other interview where I braked to a halt and asked, “I’m curious what you saw on my resume that prompted you to call me?” Because, again, the HR person was asking questions that made no sense, and couldn’t respond sensibly to any question I asked about the job.

    Please, LW, take Nick’s advice. Please. I basically check out when I’m being asked dumb questions, and when it’s clear that the person is basically a drone who is treating the interview like busywork. Candidates want to make a pitch for why they’d be great for the role, but they may as well be talking to your golden retriever. There’s literally nothing in it for them to go through that.

  15. Amen!!! I want to throw a shoe at this Marketing manager. Shame on him/her for allowing HR clerks to interfere with the hiring process. I spent three torturous years(during COVID) trying to find work in my career. I dealt with some of the most inept HR clerks around.

    My current job, the process was totally different. I spoke to the manager I would work with. I didn’t deal with HR; the process took all of two weeks in February, my first day was March 1, 2022. I was in shock, I literally cried. When will managers get it through their thick skulls it is THEIR responsibility to hire, not HR!!!

  16. I applied for a position, was interviewed within a week, met with the team and hiring manager and was offered the job in a couple of days. No HR person contacted me until after I met with the hiring manager who told HR to make the offer. The HR person contacted me with the information I needed for onboarding.

    In the meantime, I was contacted about another job. However, when I met with the recruiter, she proceeded to criticize my resume because I did not have the information listed as she thought I should. She dissed one of my positions she thought was not relevant for the position. She told me an intern or HR clerk scans resumes and that person makes the decision as to who is interviewed and who is not, so I needed to adjust my resume for that person. By the way, I do tweak my resume when I apply for positions. I could not believe what I heard. Why would a company leave an important decision as hiring to an intern or clerk about who to interview. What on earth would they know about the job to make a decisions about that?! According to this recruiter, this is done frequently.

    Then, companies wonder why they have problems finding good people. There may be many people who apply for a position, but, if a company is fortunate 2-3 of them may fit the requirements. One HR person said they had well over 100 applications submitted. They found a few people to interview for the position. No one showed up for the scheduled interviews. They had to start over.