Interview questions and structured interviewing
Username: Password:

Treat Candidates with the Carbon Rule

Peter Weddles

There are some fundamental rules of life that you just don't break. We've all heard of the Golden Rule, of course, and increasingly there's even been chatter about a Platinum Rule. For the field of recruiting, however, I think the pre-eminent guide to enduring success is something I call the Carbon Rule. It's very simple: Candidates are carbon-based beings called people, and we should treat them that way.

What does that actually mean? I think the Carbon Rule requires that we treat our candidates to behavior that acknowledges and compensates a bit for their condition. Anyone who's ever been in the job market-and who amongst us hasn't-knows what a humbling, even overwhelming experience that can be. Looking for a job is a process of purposely exposing ourselves to the one thing most of us would rather avoid: critical evaluation. While we can certainly ignore this reality, I think recruiters do better (and are better) when they strive to counterbalance it. In essence, we should try to shape our behavior to recognize and celebrate the value of candidates as people. Whether it's the way we design our Web-sites, the way we write our recruitment ads, the way we contact prospects once they've been sourced or the way we arrange for their visits to our facilities and interview them, I think there are five hallmarks to the kind of treatment candidates deserve and we should provide. They are the five pillars of the Carbon Rule.

The metaphor du jour is to see our work as the operation of a supply chain. It's not. Despite what the bozos in the Purchasing Department may think, we do not rack 'em, stack 'em and pack 'em into jobs. Candidates are not cogs; they are cognitive creatures. They think. And for that reason, they deserve to be fully informed about the openings for which they are being considered and continuously informed about their competitive position in the selection process. Said another way, our job postings should be more than a classified ad or a bureaucratic position description, and our candidate management systems should provide more than a logistics platform for storing resumes and scheduling interviews. Sure our first responsibility is to our employer, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do whatever we can to help candidates make the right decisions and take the right actions to find work that will be meaningful and rewarding for them.

Candidates rightly view themselves as individuals who belong to a discrete profession, craft or trade. They are not generic workers; they are sales professionals or engineers, clinical scientists or java programmers. Therefore, when we ignore those differences in our email and other communications and in the content on our corporate and staffing firm sites, we signal that we don't see candidates as uniquely talented beings, but rather as interchangeable bodies in seats. The best recruiting messages, therefore, speak to each recipient on a personal level. They are targeted, relevant and informative. They are read by thousands or even tens of thousands of people, and each person feels as if the message was crafted just for them. They give the individual candidate a persuasive reason to invest some of their limited time to read and, more importantly, seriously consider what we are saying about our organization and its opportunities. That kind of mass one-to-one communication used to be extraordinarily expensive; with today's technology, it's more a matter of caring enough to do it.

Very few recruiters are ever purposely discourteous to candidates. However, our machines-especially our applicant tracking systems and Web-sites-often are. They force people to fill out application forms that require hours to complete or they suck up resumes and never acknowledge them. And, if they do communicate with candidates, the message that's sent has all of the emotional connection of ... well, of a machine. Some of us think we're too busy to address this problem. I think adding a little of the oil of human kindness to the process is a part of our job. When we treat candidates as fellow members of the workforce and not as supplicants for work, we send a powerful message about our priorities and our culture. In today's labor market, an organization's employment brand isn't what it says, but rather what it does and how it does it. Every interaction that occurs with a candidate during the recruiting process-whether that interaction involves some system or a hiring manager, our company Web-site or the receptionist in the HR Department, the resume database or a recruiter-must be polite, thoughtful and, to the maximum extent possible, pleasant.

If you've ever been ignored when you tried to get service in a store, you know what it's like to be disrespected. When sales people can't bother to pay you the time of day or answer your questions, they make it very clear how little they think of you. The same is true when we fail to thank candidates for visiting our organization or to pay attention to them during the visit. For some candidates, of course, that visit will be to an actual facility, and there, everyone-recruiters, interviewers and receptionists alike-must be informed, prepared and engaged. For others, the visit will be to our organization's Web-site. In other words, that site isn't, as it's often described, the front door to our employer; for people on the Web, it is our employer. Hence, we must design the experience provided on the site to treat each individual as a welcomed guest and worthy candidate. Since that perspective is conveyed implicitly as well as explicitly, we must pay careful attention both to what we say-in our subject matter and choice of words-and to what we suggest or imply-in our pictures and tone.

Some say we should treat candidates as customers; the rationale being that we are trying to "sell" them on our organization's value proposition as an employer. It just makes good business sense, they opine, to treat candidates to the same special consideration we reserve for the consumers of our organization's products and services. While well intentioned, however, such a view also has an unintended consequence: it establishes a buyer-seller paradigm-a transactional interaction between recruiter and candidate-that all too often puts off the person we are trying to recruit. Why? Because the pressure to close the "sale" transforms recruiting from its historical reliance on relationship building to a mechanical process of making a deal with a stranger. A better alternative, I think, is to see candidates as colleagues. That perspective makes more sense for at least two reasons. First, candidates are, in fact, our colleagues in the workforce. And second, if they join or our organization, they will, in fact, be our colleagues on-the-job, as well.

The Carbon Rule and its five hallmarks aren't meant to be yet another "best practice" in our profession. While it does encourage certain behaviors, its real purpose is simply to get us to pause and think about what we are doing when we reach out to and interact with others during our day-to-day recruiting. Despite all of our advanced technology and sophisticated stratagems, notwithstanding all of our complex sourcing techniques and computerized data manipulations, at the end of the day, ours is a profession that is centered on people, and we must, as a consequence, shape our actions to that high standard.


Finding Candidates

Interviewing Basics

Interviewing Best Practices

Laws & Documentation

Line Manager / Recruiting Partnership


Pre-Planning & Retention

Reading the Candidate

Recruiting Basics

Recruiting Best Practices

Useful Links