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The Utter Necessity - and Awesomeness - of Responsiveness

Whenever people would ask me why I was good at recruiting, the first word that came to my mind was: Responsiveness.

In a world where organizations more often than not seem to think it's okay to completely ignore job applicants (or those inquiring about volunteer opportunities), I've often been called the one who walks to the beat of her own drum. Why? Because I don't believe that a job should be left incomplete. And with that, it means Every.Single.Applicant is responded to. Period. And not weeks or months later, but within two business days - at the very longest, and from that point on, a verbal or written promise from me that they will NOT be forgotten. And I stick to that. Because my word is my reputation.

Yet the vital nature of responsiveness to customer / candidate experience is left out of the discussion time and again. So much so that people are trained to accept it. So much so that when I have responded on the same day to applicants we would NOT be moving forward with, I've occasionally received accusations of sending out auto-declines and not looking at the applications, because they can't believe someone would have looked at their application so quickly. They laugh when I reach out to them personally to explain that no, I just care about quick response times and here are reasons XYZ that we're not moving forward with their candidacy...and they tell me how rare it is, then thank me.

Many places not only think that it's unnecessary to respond - or make excuses for why they can't - but they also have the audacity to brag about their supposed transparency and state on their 'Careers' site or in their auto-reply to applications that they will ONLY respond to those who are selected for interview. Wow. Just - wow. They literally state that if they don't want to interview you, they don't owe you the basic courtesy of letting you know you were not selected...much less give you the opportunity to find out why.

And it's tragic, because by these exact behaviors, job applicants are taught early on in their careers that hiring teams - and HR in particular - are not to be trusted. That they are not important. That their sole job is to impress, rather than build a mutually beneficial relationship. That if they are responded to it should be perceived as flattery, rather than merely a standard business practice. The nightmare stories about being in the 'black hole of recruiting'? Not a myth. Not even close.

I've been on both sides throughout my career, and never ONCE has a recruiting, human resources, or hiring manager stressed the importance of Candidate Experience and how wildly important it is to walk the talk as a business and treat applicants as you would treat any other customer. Some will talk about how to please the hiring manager - rather than partner with them - as a lot of organizations fail to see the valuable business partnership of recruiting with hiring managers and instead condescend to the Recruiter as some type of underling...while simultaneously doing nothing to disprove the myth that recruiters are making the hiring decisions (example: most companies expect a refund from staffing agencies when the person they, the company, hired decides to resign or is terminated). But none have communicated expectations as to how quickly a Recruiter is responding to an incoming application, or how quickly a Hiring Manager is to get back to a Recruiter who's received their resume to let them know if they want to move forward. And the tragedy is, this is how a company loses out on great candidates...not to mention customers.

In 'A Conversation on Candidate Experience', I share excerpts from when I was interviewed about the topic of why how we treat people is paramount to our success in business, and with that comes responsiveness. Think about how many companies have a "Contact Us" page - yet how few actually respond to those who use that page to reach out. I've heard a lot of business owners actually admit they 'don't check that account' and with that, show incredible apathy towards prospective customers who might be trying to reach them. When my husband was recently exploring his options in the town we are moving to, he reached out to six companies, five through their website's Contact page. Three responded within two hours to him, and two asked him to interview on the spot. A fourth wrote back but paid no attention to what he'd written and simply demanded his pay expectations and asked him to regurgitate what he'd already provided. The fifth never responded, and ironically, when we stopped by their shop during a visit last week? They were as equally disinterested in responding to customers. As a side note, the sixth company was a traditional online application, where he received the auto-acknowledgment of his application...and then did not hear from anyone for 3 weeks. The most unfortunate thing about this? They did not apologize for ignoring his application for so long. Sadly, this furthers the "you should be lucky to work for us" mentality that many companies do, justifying their lack of responsiveness.

I've heard a lot of companies say they are "just so overwhelmed" with applications and use that as an excuse for their non-responsiveness. However, it's simply a lie. Why? Any company who uses an online application system, also known as an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), knows that this is not true, because every ATS allows for templates, and to look at a list of applicants, click "Select All", and send the decline template. Or for that matter, a "we haven't forgotten about you" template. Or use a "we're in the final interviews so we're not scheduling any more right now, but still accepting applications in case this person doesn't work out so hang tight" template. Not hard. Create a template, and use it.

Everyone knows that if your business phone rings, you pick it up, right? If a customer comes to the register, you ring them up, right? So why is it that so many companies are not treating their applicants as customers...yet hypocritically claiming how much they value their people?

HR Bartender discusses the data around this topic in depth in her post, Successful Recruitment Means Being Responsive to Candidate Schedules. "After a week, 35% of applicants have a negative impression of the organization because it took so long to schedule an interview. After two weeks, 61% would disengage with the organization. This data is consistent across ages, genders, and positions...48% of candidates would be less likely to recommend or engage with an employer in the future, based on frustrating interview scheduling experience, rising to 64% with more senior roles."

Having been a coach for over a decade while recruiting for over two decades, I've also had to empower my candidates to evaluate their employers based not just on the job or the salary, but how they are treated during the recruiting/interview process. Are they treated with respect? Is their time as valuable as everyone else on the team? Do you feel like they are just as concerned about you as you are about them? Do they walk the talk?

Being responsive pays off in so many ways. Don't know how to improve your responsiveness? Talk to people in your profession who get stuff done faster, and find out what their organizational skills are that allow them to get through their work more quickly. Do they process information more quickly? Do they prioritize incoming emails and applicants differently? What does the workplace culture value...and what does it ignore?

In an article for Inc., Eric Holtzclaw discusses the necessity of responsiveness to business success and how it trickles down to define the organization. "I determine the companies that I choose to work with based on the responsiveness of the owners...I know that if the owners are not responsive, they are not truly interested in making a change. I also know that their lack of responsiveness will be pervasive through the organization--employees follow what leadership does." Note: he also talks about simple ways to go through email, for those who still have not figured out how to manage those communications.

And here's the thing: your responsiveness and an overall caring about the candidate experience? It can pay off in so many ways. I've had multiple coaching clients who were former candidates - including ones who did NOT get the job. A designer, for example, said "When I was looking to update my resume and brush up on some of my interviewing skills I thought of Aimee. She had been a recruiter on a job I had applied for late last year. Although that job didn’t pan out, I was so impressed with the way Aimee had conducted the interview process that I sought her out." A relationship was built...because I was responsive to her, and made sure she felt valued, even though she wasn't ultimately selected for the job.

I've seen it over and over again as well when the recruiter such as myself has been responsive..but the hiring manager has not. I worked with a client a few years back who had completed final interviews with several highly qualified candidates with stellar references and weeks went by without a hiring decision. It was wildly embarrassing for me, but made the employer look even worse. I understood completely when two of the three finalists dropped out because of the hiring manager who showed that he really did not care at all about the people who wanted to work for him. Because I'd been in touch with them, my own brand was not tarnished as a recruiter, but it definitely turned me away from accepting further work with them, because I could not align myself with a company that unapologetically mistreated job applicants.

The same thing goes for nonprofits and unpaid labor! One of the biggest problems I've seen as a longtime community participant is the level of disorganization by those leading volunteer coordination, with non-responsiveness being at the top of the list. I've walked away from a number of nonprofits (both as a volunteer and as a donor) because of a lack of responsiveness, paired with a refusal to listen to the feedback from the people who help these paid staff continue to get paid while asking people to give their time and money. Just this morning I received an email from someone who I'd reached out to in the spring about volunteering and who'd said they'd get back to me right away to schedule a time...but took her five months to respond...and without any kind of apology! I couldn't help but laugh out loud, as it was clear that the organization did not value volunteers..and shared this feedback with her.

The Balance discusses how ghosting candidates can destroy your reputation. I've had enough of companies complaining that they cannot find candidates when they are often the ones doing the ghosting, treating job applicants as peons, and assuming that applicants will take whatever crumbs they toss their way. As that obviously could lead to another post on pandemic hiring, I'll leave it at that for now. In the meantime? Respond. Not in a couple weeks but today.

In other words? Give a shit.

NOTE: Here are a few more resources from my blog that addresses responsiveness as one of the key elements of a successful recruitment...and overall business strategy:

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