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Job Applicants Are Customers Too
Business Journal

Job Applicants Are Customers Too

It’s crucial for companies to engage prospective employees like they would their most valued clients

by Bryant Ott, Nikki Blacksmith, and Ken Royal

The customer is always right. Companies across industries expend plenty of resources to live up to this adage, hoping to cement a positive customer experience for their clients and engage customers with their brand. These differing organizations also share one group of customers in common, no matter what services they sell or products they market: prospective employees.

QUOTE: More than 70% of job seekers...

But are these customers, the job applicants, receiving the same levels of service and respect companies usually reserve for their clients and members of target markets? According to a recent Gallup Panel survey, all too often the answer is no. In fact, half of job applicants who mention specific frustrations say these aggravations give them pause when considering the possibility of working for these prospective employers.

The survey asked a targeted sample of job seekers a series of questions about various aspects of their search for employment, including the parts of the process they deem most frustrating. The sample consisted of those who are currently unemployed and seeking a job as well as those who are currently employed full time or part time and have searched for employment in the past six months. These prospective candidates shared their frustrations about their interactions with possible employers, aggravations that can lead job seekers to form negative opinions about these organizations and their brands.

Emotional issues

Applying for a new job is a daunting task to say the least. The logistics of a job search can be overwhelming, especially when a prospective employer is choosing from a pool of applicants that is much larger in number than is needed to fill the open position.

The emotional issues can also take their toll, as applicants are put in the position of waiting to know if they are considered good enough by the hiring company's standards. "Nobody showed interest in me despite the fact I have twenty-four years of experience in my field," one job seeker said. "The lack of interest in me caused depressed feelings and hopelessness."

Maybe the 28% of seekers who said they did not find any parts of the job search frustrating knew to expect a difficult road, or maybe their search was ultimately successful. More than 7 in 10 respondents did not have as easy a time with the process, however.

When asked to share their opinions regarding their recent employment search, more than 70% of job seekers gave feedback detailing at least one frustrating aspect of the process. Specifically, when asked the open-ended question, "Thinking of all the job application processes you went through, what parts did you find most frustrating?" prospective employees named everything from age discrimination to not being able to get in touch with managers.

Job applicants were most likely to mention frustrations regarding the lack of communication prospective employers demonstrated. Whether it was the wait for the results of their application; the length of time between applying, being interviewed, and being hired; or not hearing from the hiring organization at all, 22% of respondents cited a lack of communication as the most aggravating aspect of their job search.

One respondent said the most frustrating part of the process was "when you interview or even just apply, and you don't hear from anyone in the organization for a long time or ever. Couldn't they at least e-mail or send a postcard or a thank-you note for sending in your application, or maybe give you a call and say they are still considering you or that they have made another choice? Something would be nice." Other job applicants mentioned feeling that the hiring companies are dishonest when dealing with the rejection process, and that employers are explicitly lying when they say they will call and then never pick up the phone.

Similar percentages of prospective employees also cite the details of the application (17%) and interviewing (16%) processes as the main frustrations they experienced during their job search. One job seeker specifically said it is hard to cut through the clutter and barriers to screen applicants out when trying to get your foot in the door, while others mentioned applying for jobs online and getting their applications into the right peoples' hands as their main sources of frustrations. These frustrations with applying online are likely to be more prevalent as Internet-based application systems become more common.

As for the interview process, respondents mention the aggravation associated with the sheer number of interviews and the length of the meetings. But job seekers' disappointments run deeper than just the time they invest. Some mention hiring managers who did not seem interested in applicants' answers during a job interview, while others specifically reference a lack of respect hiring managers and interviewers exhibited.

"I was amazed at the lack of respect shown during the interview process," one respondent said. "It amazed me because this was a clear indication as to how I would be treated as an employee."

What your company can do

Gallup asked the 72% of job seekers who shared the most frustrating aspect of their job search a follow-up question to gauge the impact it had on their opinion of the organization. Half of these prospective employees said the frustrations they mentioned made them question whether they wanted to work for the company. Thus, the frustrations of applicants are making it more difficult for companies to hire the talent they need.

QUOTE: Applicants' relationships with prospective employers...

Applicants' relationships with prospective employers don't stop once the interview process is complete or after they receive a note indicating that the company has already filled the position. An organization's poor treatment of its job applicants is akin to failed customer service, and it can have a negative impact on the likelihood of a prospective employee -- hired or not -- to recommend the company as a place to try to work.

So, what steps can companies, including your own, take to ensure these customers, the job applicants, will still hold the organization in high regard?

Start by caring about prospective employees as much as you do about your customers and current associates. One applicant said he or she had "interviews where the interviewer put down the things I was proud of, treated them as if they were unimportant, and belittled my accomplishments."

Never in the application process should someone from the hiring company put down an applicant or make the job seeker feel in any way that the organization does not care about them, regardless of whether they are a good fit. It takes effort and a certain amount of faith to apply for a position, and companies should not treat their applicants disrespectfully or thoughtlessly. This should not be any different from the levels of respect companies show their customers.

Value applicants' questions and concerns. Some organizations would say that because of the sheer volume of applicants and the resources needed for the process, there is simply not enough time to answer the inquiries they receive from prospective employees. But what if those organizations treated their customers the same way?

If companies failed to respond to individuals' concerns or questions about their brand or products, they would face detrimental consequences such as lost sales and a negative reputation in terms of customer service. So, if an organization doesn't give applicants similar levels of time and respect as compared with customers and existing employees, what is the company losing in terms of talent?

Make specific process changes to your hiring practices to convey respect and care for potential employees. Applicants crave communication from potential employers about the status of their job search, and organizations could eliminate much of job seekers' frustrations by increasing the amount of real-time feedback they receive about their applications.

Even if they don't get the job, job seekers' survey responses indicate they would appreciate honest feedback telling them exactly where they are in the application process, whether that means contacting applicants every two weeks or after every step in the process to let them know the status of their search.

Organizations can also craft clearer communications with their potential employees. Companies can train hiring managers and recruiters to interview applicants in ways that make them feel the company respects their opinions and questions, while demonstrating and explaining the positive aspects of working for their organization. Applicants select the company at which they want to work just as companies look for the best applicants to fill their positions.

And just as companies study their customer service behaviors and patterns, so too should they invest time and resources into measuring applicants' experiences during the job search process. This research can provide detailed feedback with which companies can improve their application and interviewing processes.

For example, numerous applicants said the entire job search process takes too much time. Using detailed research, companies can figure out what steps in the process they can expedite. Speeding up the hiring process will not only fill the company's positions faster, but also provide more timely feedback to prospective employees regarding where they stand in the hiring process -- a win-win situation. Another way of improving through measurement is to determine which hiring managers are turning applicants away or frustrating them, then training these managers to apply better interview techniques.

Avoiding a negative reputation

Showing job seekers a general level of respect and spending time to answer their questions doesn't mean prospective employees will always give glowing reviews of the hiring organization. Applicants who don't receive job offers are often bitter toward the companies that don't hire them, and there is a chance that these feelings will subsist regardless of how much effort the employer puts into the hiring process. (Although, according to the research, those seekers who received job offers were as likely as those who didn't to cite frustrations with the process.)

However, companies can avoid negative reputations and losing applicants' positive opinions and recommendations about the company's service by creating a positive applicant experience that values prospective employees in much the same way as current or prospective customers. In a job market where recommendations and referrals help fill so many positions, companies would be well suited to take the steps necessary to ensure positive experiences from specialized customers, such as job applicants, regardless of whether they get the job.

Results are based on an online survey conducted with a targeted U.S. sample of 1,376 adults aged 18 and over who were seeking a job. The data were collected between August 28 and September 16, 2007. To participate in this survey, participants had to be looking for a full-time or part-time job within the past six months. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2.7 percentage points.

Bryant Ott is a writer and editor at Gallup.
Nikki Blacksmith is a former Lead Researcher, Workplace Practice, for Gallup.
Ken Royal is a Client Service Director at Gallup.

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