Treating Job Applicants Well Isn’t Just Good Manners, It’s Good Business

By Alice Diamond

As a career counselor, I often hear stories from clients about interviewing at organizations where they are told, “We will get back to you next week” and never hear anything further. For example, a computer programmer was flown across the country for a day of interviews and was never contacted about the outcome of the search. A financial services manager had multiple interviews over several days, but never received any communication afterward. A candidate for a human services position had a telephone interview, followed by an in-person interview. At the end of the last interview, the clinical supervisor said, “We will get back to within two weeks.” But no communication was received until six weeks later.


These stories are so common that I believe many employers have no sense of the potential negative impact of hiring practices on their business. It is ironic that the same organizations that spend huge dollars on marketing, public relations, and corporate communications seem oblivious to the free publicity (positive and negative) that job applicants provide.


With the explosion of social media and websites like Glassdoor.com, feedback from candidates’ experiences travels quickly. While companies may not care if a candidate has a negative impression of their organization, they may forget the power of networking. That applicant who the employer never got back to may be close friends with the software engineer who knows the obscure programming language required in a position that employer is eager to fill.


Even if this isn’t the case, is that human resources assistant potentially a client or a future stockholder? Married to a future client? Often people apply for jobs because they are acquainted with the company’s product or service. When an organization treats a job applicant poorly, the experience may have a negative impact on a current or future customer.


For job seekers, hearing nothing after a reasonable amount of time after an interview increases anxiety and concern. Most candidates will, of course, be disappointed if they do not get an offer. While the sense of rejection upon hearing they did not get the position is difficult, the sense of being deceived by an employer who promises a decision by a specific date and then does not deliver on that promise is even worse.


For many candidates, the feelings of helplessness and discouragement that result from such an experience hinders their job search, and affects their overall sense of competence and well-being. Some of these discouraged candidates can either slow down or take a break from job searching. Their feelings of self-efficacy and sense of the workplace as a valued and worthwhile enterprise may be diminished. What can career counselors and those serving as career development professionals inside organizations do? As individuals who work with organizational clients – from employees to HR managers – we can provide information, guidance and support at many levels.


First, when we interact with hiring representatives, we can offer HR personnel the “view from the other side of the desk” and share constructive feedback that can help organizations improve their hiring practices.


  • We can have a conversation with hiring personnel within the HR department and share the interview experience from the candidate’s perspective.


  • We can educate hiring representatives on the lengthy preparation candidates go through, as well as their high hopes of establishing a connection with potential employers.


Beyond the interview, we can offer some suggestions on best practices for follow up with all candidates.


  • If more than two to three weeks have passed since final interviews were conducted, employers should contact all candidates to let them know they are still under consideration.


  • If the employer gave a specific date but the process is not complete, simply communicate with candidates that the search process is continuing. Hearing that a decision has not been made is preferable to hearing nothing at all.


  • If the organization is using an online applicant system, suggest setting up automated emails that keep candidates informed.


When we, as career development professionals, can share this perspective with our colleagues in human resources, it can benefit both individuals and organizations.


When we are counseling or coaching individuals who are in job-seeking mode and seeking to get an interview with a particular organization, we can help these potential candidates to better understand the interviewing and hiring process within organizations.

  • For example, many candidates do not realize that it is often impossible to know the specific date for completion of a search, especially given all the steps that are part of the hiring process.


  • Helping candidates to understand the steps involved in the hiring process can ease some anxiety, including: interviewing, deciding on finalists, conducting reference checks, making the final decision, communicating with human resources to get a salary offer, making an offer to the first choice candidate, hearing back from the candidate after an adequate time to make a decision, negotiations with that candidate about salary and other issues, hearing back from the first candidate who decides not to take the position, moving on the second candidate, etc.


  • We can also help candidates become more proactive in their communications with the organizations they are pursuing. If the candidate has not heard anything about the outcome of a search, we can advise them to contact the organization to check on the status of the search process.


Candidates will remember if they were treated poorly during the search process, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that those individuals may become lifelong negative public relations representatives for an organization’s product, service, or mission. Treating candidates well is not just ethical, it’s also good business. Career development professionals have the opportunity to contribute to improved hiring practices and also to support our clients during their job search process.


Alice Diamond

Alice Diamond serves as Associate Dean for Career and Community Service at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Alice served as Interim Dean of Student Affairs from 2002 to 2004 and previously was Director of the Career Resource Center. Prior to working at Lesley, she served as Director of Career Planning at Wells College in Aurora, New York. Alice holds an M.S. in Organizational Behavior from Cornell University, an M.A. in Human Development from Bryn Mawr College, and a B.A. from Colgate University. She can be reached at adiamond@lesley.edu.


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Benjamin Neeley   on Saturday 12/01/2012 at 04:04 PM

This is a great article and I couldn't agree more. I managed a corporate recruiting department for a number of years prior to returning to graduate school to pursue career counseling. I made it a priority to set up systems and processes for notifying applicants of where they were in the process. Besides being good business practice, it is also the right thing to do as a human being. I can't tell you how many applicants thanked me for putting forth this effort. If your organization uses an applicant tracking system, it is easy to set up template e-mails to notify individuals of their status. We had about 7 or 8 different e-mail templates we could use depending on candidate disposition. All it took was two or three clicks to thank unqualified applicants for their interest, and keep candidates in the interviewing process informed of their status. I was proud of these procedures, because, like so many of us, I know what it feels like to not hear back from an organization following an application or, worse yet, an interview. The real challenge may be convincing upper-level management of the importance of implementing these follow-up procedures. I certainly heard once or twice "why are you spending time communicating with unqualified applicants?" This article outlines some great arguments. On a side note, I just joined the NCDA and am happy to be here! Great article!

Tia Torch   on Monday 12/03/2012 at 12:50 PM

I work with adults with disabilities and although my clients are those that are competatively placed, they tell me what they have gone through when they meet the employer. Some of the clients disclose others do not but many of the stories are the same.
I find it deplorable that the people who are interviewing have such poor professional behavior, I often tell my clients good thing they found out about the culture at the business and gives them thought as to whether they would want to work in such an environment.

Brian Pillsbury   on Sunday 01/20/2013 at 10:17 AM

Great article. While many employers are conscientious re: how applicants are treated, there are several others who steamroll applicants. I've often been struck by the hypocrisy that can occur in some hiring situations. Employers expect candidates to be available, responsive, polite, etc., yet they don't always return the favor. A colleague of mine always reminds us that part of our job when employing people is to make the candidate want to work for us. I have definitely been on the other side where I didn't feel welcome or valued at all during the process. Incidentally, Alice, I'd love to follow you on twitter. I didn't see an account for you, though.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.