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Keeping Candidates in the Loop

Kevin Wheeler

Candidates have become frustrated over the past few years. They send in resumes and never hear from the organization. They fill out the online form and get an instant email saying their qualifications will be reviewed. No one ever says when, or by whom. Bill Smith, a recent job applicant at a major San Francisco Bay Area company, told me this: "You know, if this company treated its customers half as badly as they have treated me, they would be out of business. I met all the criteria for the position they described on the website, followed all their administrative guidelines, and after three weeks I have heard absolutely nothing!"

Candidates often never learn if the position was already filled when they applied or whether they were qualified or not. No one calls. No one knows anything when they call. This is known as the "black hole" where resumes and candidates often end up.

As the economy recovers and candidates regain the upper hand in selecting organizations, we will have to learn how to respond to candidates and how to communicate with them in a much more sophisticated and fulfilling way. Carefully planning and setting up lines of candidate communication is an important part of effective 21st-century recruiting.

It's true that the volume of resumes most organizations receive has overwhelmed the 20th-century recruiting tools and processes available to recruiters, but that is not an answer to these candidates. What we need is to better use the communication tools we already have and start experimenting with new ones.

Here are seven tips on how to put in place a better candidate communication process.

1. Define the goals that you or your staff will aim for. These can be modest at first and get increasingly challenging as you develop processes and tools. One goal might be to let the candidate know whether the position is filled or not and whether they meet the minimum criteria for further consideration within 48 hours. A second might be to ask a candidate to come to your recruiting website and complete a short assessment or engage in some other online activity. A third might be to inform all applicants when a final short list of candidates has been completed and when the position is filled.

2. Use email as the primary communication tool. You can set up batch emails that go to specific groups or types of candidates and keep them informed about progress and the group's status. While these may seem to be unnecessary, every communication to the candidate increases his or her awareness of your organization.

3. If candidates are not going to be moving forward in the process, let them know as soon as you can. This is just being courteous. Of course, you may find out later that the candidate is going to be interviewed or called back, but you can let them know about that possibility upfront. What does keeping that information secret really do for you? I suggest it actually increases frustration and encourages the candidate to continue looking.

4. If you decide that a candidate is going to be interviewed, call or email them and let them know again as soon as you can. Even if the interview is not going to take place for several days or weeks, make sure the candidate is aware of your interest. Offer to let them call you or communicate with instant messaging or email. I like to make personal instant messaging available to the top candidates. This is powerful and impresses them with your commitment to them. I also recommend providing your mobile telephone number or some other way for them to contact you by voice easily.

5. If you end up not making an offer to a candidate who has been through the interview process, let them know why in as much depth as you can without giving away proprietary or confidential information. If the candidate is qualified and a good fit for your organization, offer to let him or her join your talent community. This can, at first, be a simple listserv where you offer information about the company and let candidates engage in online conversations with hiring managers, recruiters, and even with other candidates.

6. Explore the use of social networking tools such as LinkedIn or Spoke. These offer a way for you to link candidates to yourself and to each other. Over time, these connections can be melded into a powerful candidate sourcing tool that any recruiter in your organization could potentially use.

7. Add a chat room to expand the ways candidates can get information about your organization and share ideas with one another. The U.S. Army has done a great job at developing this capability on their GoArmy website. Federated Department Stores has also put in place a very effective asynchronous discussion board on their Retailology website. This provides a monthly theme that candidates discuss by posting their thoughts and comments. Old discussions are archived so that candidates can look over earlier conversations. Chat rooms also provide your organization with information on what candidates are concerned about and what topics and issues are dominant in the conversations.

The rules of candidate communication are straightforward:

* Treat candidates as you would want to be treated yourself.
* Provide all candidates with immediate and accurate information about their status.
* Give them as much feedback about their qualifications and skills as you can in the context of the position they are interested in.
* Keep them informed and up-to-date on their status. Provide ways for them to learn about your organization and to connect to others.

Robust candidate communication is critical to building and maintaining an employment brand and a vibrant talent pool.


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