What Do You Owe Job Candidates?

Ask any job seeker and they’ll tell you that most employers don’t treat job candidates very well. Most have endless stories about employers who communicate poorly or not at all, advertise jobs that don’t match up with the reality of the work, and forget that candidates are evaluating the employer as much as the employer is evaluating them.

Employers may feel that they don’t have to pay much attention to the candidate experience; it’s a buyer’s market, after all. But this is short-sighted because your best candidates have options and will turn elsewhere. And it’s also pretty unkind to people who have expressed an interest in working for you.

Here are five things that every employer owes to the people applying to work for you.

1. Don’t misrepresent the work. Interviewers who make the job sound more glamorous than it really is or downplay less attractive aspects of the job—like long hours or a tyrannical boss—are guaranteeing they’ll end up with a resentful, unmotivated employee. Truth in advertising works to everyone’s advantage, because candidates who won’t thrive in the job or the culture can self-select out before they become disgruntled employees.

2. Don’t require an unreasonable investment of time up-front. More and more companies are switching to endlessly long online application forms. When candidates know there’s a good chance they won’t even get so much as an acknowledgment, it’s frustrating to spend an hour wrestling with an onerous application system simply to submit a resume.

3. Show the same consideration to a job candidate as you would to a customer. From last-minute cancellations without apology or acknowledgment of the inconvenience, to not paying attention in the interview, some employers act like their time is the only time that matters. Most candidates go to a lot of trouble to prepare for an interview—reading up on the company, taking time off work, and often traveling—and their time should be respected too.

4. Remember that interviews aren’t a one-way street. Interviews aren’t just about determining whether the company wants to hire the candidate. They’re also about the candidate figuring out if he or she even wants the job. Employers need to be open with information about the job, the company culture, and the manager, so job seekers can make informed decisions about whether the fit is right on their side too.

5. Send rejection notices. Most candidates put significant effort into preparing for a job interview—reading up on the company, practicing answers to interview questions, and thinking about how they could best offer something of value. They may take a day off work and spend time and money traveling to the interview. But when the interview is over, they often never hear from the employer again. It’s just not that hard to email a quick a form letter letting candidates know they’re no longer under consideration. Make sure your candidates get a response from you!

Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • Guest

    I also want to add: salary range on job postings.

    I think putting down a salary range would do everyone a favor for those involved.

    My alma mater and the federal government are the ones that I noticed
    that include salary range. And my alma mater is a private university,
    which says something.

    HR and the hiring manager(s) often know the salary range based on
    experience, so I think it is a bit silly for employers to be coy when it
    come to disclosing the salary range.

    My biggest pet peeve in looking at job postings is seeing a salary
    range posted as this: “salary commensurate with experience.” The reason
    why I hate this is because like I said, HR and the hiring manager(s)
    often know the salary range of the advertised position. And it calls a
    salary range for a reason – it is based on experience! So when a job
    seeker see a salary range, they would see the minimum and maximum of the
    position. They would not be left wondering if the salary range fit
    within one job seeker’s salary expectations when applying for jobs.

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    I agree with you. That said, people who won’t list salary ranges will tell you that it’s because everyone assumes they should be at the top of the range and then gets upset/disappointed when that’s not where their offer is. In other words, if you advertise that the job pays 50-65K, everyone thinks, “great, low to mid 60s, that’ll work for me.” And then if you offer them $52k because that’s where their experience puts them in your range, they’re disappointed and feel like they’re being undercut because, after all, they know you’re willing to pay up to $65k. Now, the good employer can explain how the scale works and why they fit where they do, in a way that the candidate finds convincing (which is the tricky part), but that’s at least part of the reason more of them don’t publicize it from the start.

    [Reply]

    Superactivated Reply:

    This is also true that if I a potential candidate is currently making $66k then that person would not bother applying for the job. Saves time for both parties the way I see it.

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Yeah, the problem is that some employers would be willing to pay more for the right candidate, but if they list a range, then those people won’t apply because they’ll think it won’t pay enough. So it’s tough to find the right balance. (I’m personally a big believer in talking salary up-front — just explaining here what employers who aren’t are thinking.)

    Tangoecho5 Reply:

    Well then why doesn’t the company put “salary starts at $50,000 plus depending on experience”?  Give the starting negotiating salary verses the range?

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Employers who won’t list salary will tell that they won’t do what you suggest because then they risk losing the guy who won’t consider anything below $65k and who’s good enough that they’d gladly pay him $65k, except he interprets “pay starts at $50k” as meaning that the employer won’t be able to do $65k. They don’t want that awesome guy to not apply.(I’m explaining other employers’ thinking here, not my own. I talk salary up-front because I don’t want to waste my time or theirs.)

  • Guest

    1. Don’t misrepresent the work. Now that I am part of the hiring process, I’m the one who goes in and tells the applicant what kind of work she is really going to be doing.  It annoys me when i hear my boss or another member of management just give the applicant the highlights.  We might like a candidate, but unless we talk specific details we can’t really get a good sense as to whether she is right for the job.  Everyone is potentially right for the job when you talk in generalities, but saying, “we expect you to be able to figure out how to make XYZ work with little guidance and not be afraid to get their hands dirty” is much different, in my opinion, than saying, “we need someone who works well on their own.”    

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Exactly!  Most people think of themselves as people who work well on their own, or are efficient, or whatever — it’s when you really talk about the nitty-gritty details that both sides start figuring out if it’s a fit or not.

    [Reply]

  • Anonymous

    I am trying to stay away from customer service/phone jobs.  I’ve had my share of those jobs and I simply can’t tolerate it anymore for my own sanity.  I took a job through a temp agency that was advertised as data entry.  Then a bomb was dropped on me a few months into working there that I would have to start making outbound phone calls.  Since I was a temp and it would not be a lot of phone calls I stayed.  Then I ended up getting hired on with the company I was temping for as a permanent employee.  I’ve been there a total of 3 years, including the time I was a temp.  Now they are really trying to force me into a position of making more phone calls where I could be on the phone half or all of the day.  I am not ok with this.  In my opinion it’s completely different than making a few phone calls a day.  

    I expressed to my boss that doing phone calls on more of a full time basis made me uncomfortable. (Not to mention there are other positions that require full time on the phones and if that’s what I wanted to do I would be doing it) Now she is trying to write me up for insubordination and threatening to fire me if I don’t comply.  Total over reaction, because first of all she asked how I would feel about taking this role moving forward, so I gave her an honest answer.  And secondly, I never flat our refused to do it.  My plan will obviously be to stick it out til I can find something else.  But now that she knows how I feel, I am being threatened with termination and there is serious pressure for me to just quit.  The name of my position is not exclusively data entry, but my department is referred to as data entry all the time and well that’s pretty much what we do.  But they are claiming we can be assigned other things as well.  This was not made clear to me in the beginning, and again, I feel I was tricked into having to do some light phone work when I first started.  So yes, I’m a very disgruntled employee right now.

    And also on this subject as far as employers not truthfully advertising…  I answered an ad for a job and went on an interview some months ago.  Again for data entry.  The minute the interview starts I’m told that the data entry was just a starting point and that they would expect me to quickly rise up to the next position and start dealing with clients!  That really made me mad because I felt that we just wasted each other’s time.  I don’t understand why employers do this. The truth will come out sooner or late and if it’s before the person is hired they can walk away.  Or if they are hired they will quit or be very disgruntled.

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    That’s really frustrating, Anonymous!  And she probably made it a little worse by presenting it as a choice at first instead of what it sounds like it really was (“the nature of this job is changing”).

    [Reply]

  • Tillie

    I like #1, only because we purposely try to scare candidates in the
    interview with ‘a day in the life’ rundown. The job requires a great
    deal of time management skills and prioritization, so we don’t want
    anyone to be surprised if they are hired, then are overwhelmed by the
    extent of the position.

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Yes!  There’s absolutely nothing to be gained by hiding anything about the job — the more truthful you can be in painting a picture of the work, the colleagues, and the culture, the better!

    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/MarieWiere Marie Wiere

    This is a great post Alison. In reference to your first point of not misrepresenting the work, I would also recommend that employers refrain from substantially increasing the qualifications beyond what was asked before the economy crashed. There seems to be a trend the last few years of hiring managers asking for higher qualifications than they themselves and others had at time of hire. The employer initially benefits by not having to train. Meanwhile the candidate quickly realizes they have come in at the top of the position and becomes disengaged; reacting as you described in the first point. 

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Yes — and there are also sometimes utterly silly requirements, like “10 years of experience” with a software that’s only been around for 5….

    [Reply]

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