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Time for Candidate Advocacy?

Kevin Wheeler

Do you have any idea what candidates or even just interested job seekers say to their friends and family about your organization and its service level to them?

I find that few organizations have ever systematically asked for or collected feedback from candidates — whether successful or not at getting a job. Even fewer have sought feedback from those who have just browsed the recruiting website or submitted a resume. Those of you who have asked know that what is said is not very nice.

In fact, if we were to run a nationwide poll about what job seekers and candidates think about us, I think it would amount to an indictment of our profession.

An overwhelming number of candidates never get any follow up on their resume at all beyond, in some cases, an email response or postcard verifying receipt. Those who complete online questionnaires, and even those who take tests, never get any indication of whether they are acceptable or not. Job descriptions often fail to differentiate one candidate from another, and there is frequently a very loose match between the successful candidate and the job requirements.

The bottom line is that we treat candidates with smugness and snobbery. We could get away with this when there were an abundance of qualified and available people for every job, but that time has gone. Talent is scare and will get scarcer over the next decade. Turnover is about to boom and retirements will start rising.

We can no longer use the excuses that resume volume makes it impossible to respond to everyone or that there is no time for gathering feedback. What is required is a reframing of how we do what we do.

I have written many articles about how technology, wisely used, can reduce the number of resumes submitted, improve candidate quality through more focused marketing and screening, and assist in communicating regularly. But even this may not be enough.

The newest focus in customer service is the trend to act as an advocate for the customer. A recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review (Winter 2004) focuses on how customer advocacy is being implemented by a number of large American firms, including General Motors and Qwest Communications International. Both of these companies have developed websites that contain interactive tools that help a potential customer decide which car to buy or which telephone service package makes the most sense.

In the General Motors model, the customer enters data about his needs, budget, life style and so forth. The software searches multiple websites and then makes recommendations on which cars or trucks to buy — even those of General Motor's competitors.

For those of us involved with recruiting, there are a number of ways we could leverage technology to build candidate satisfaction and make candidate advocacy part of what we do. Here are three ideas on how this might be implemented.

1.Basic processes. We need to put in place: (a) a guarantee to respond to every candidate within a certain time frame, (b) online screening and assessment that provide feedback to the candidate, (c) processes to gather feedback and comments from candidates that include random phone calls to job seekers, rejected candidates, and new hires, and (d) periodic follow-up communications to candidates on their status. By putting these steps in place we at least develop a floor of customer service that should create basic customer satisfaction.

2.Candidate communities. We need a candidate relationship model that allows us to develop active communities of candidates that have passed our screens and with whom we stay in touch frequently and meaningfully. How to build these communities and the benefits they bring is the subject of many of my previous articles. Doing this will ensure that we have delighted candidates and happier and better informed new hires.

3.Candidate advocacy. With these steps in place we can begin to implement the candidate advocacy model. This model would provide job seekers and candidates with online interactive tools that would allow them to enter information about themselves, integrate that information with data from assessments or tests they may have already taken, and then recommend specific jobs or types of jobs. In the beginning, these recommendations might be across departments or functions within our own company. Later this could be expanded to include jobs other companies have that are the same or similar. While this sounds self-defeating, the number of people you eventually interview and hire will most likely stay about the same or increase some. Secondary benefits are also important. The General Motors and Qwest advocacy process have been successful in improving customer trust and in boosting the image and reputation of the firms with customers.

While not every organization can afford to include competitors in the process, most organizations could include complementary industries, strategic business partners, or even customer organizations.

Candidates are frustrated and more difficult than ever to find and convince to work for us. Trust and relationship-building are essential. Organizations that implement this level of candidate support may not always win the candidate, but they will always win their respect. Just as one customer who is dissatisfied tells at least three other people about her dissatisfaction, so can the dissatisfied candidate influence many others with their opinions about you and your recruiting process.

This basic set of processes can give you a competitive edge, improve your image and brand, and drive higher quality candidates to your website.


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