The Candidate Experience: Turning Candidates into Brand Ambassadors

Usually I like to write for job seekers and career navigators. Today’s post is meant for the recruiter’s perspective, but touches on an issue that job seekers have been complaining about since the beginning of time – and rightfully so. This post originally appeared on TheLadders RectuitBlog. See the original post here.

As recruiters, we have it hammered into our heads that we need to create customer satisfaction for our clients – the hiring managers. This is the same whether you’re in-house or in an agency. It’s about providing a great experience for the client and ensuring not only that the right person gets the job, but that the client is happy with the overall process. But there’s another factor; another customer that needs to be considered, and one that’s all too often overlooked. And that is the candidate. There are two main reasons that it’s important to provide a great candidate experience.

  1. As recruiters, our network of great talent is one of our biggest keys to success. If you want good candidates to work with you again and to keep taking your calls, you’d better treat them right.
  2. These candidates aren’t only candidates. They’re also people. People who know people. And people who know people are the luckiest…never mind. Well, you’ve probably heard the adage that it’s human nature to tell 1 person about a good experience and 10 people about a bad one. You see where I’m going here. You want your candidates to have a good feeling about the hiring company both as a potential employer and as a potential provider of the company’s core product.

So how do you create a good candidate experience? It’s simpler than you might think, and most of it comes down to communication.

  1. Respond in a timely fashion, at every step of the process. If a submitted resume isn’t a good fit, send an email. If you’ve interviewed someone and they haven’t been selected to move on, pick up the phone and let them know. If you do want to keep someone moving forward in the process, keep them in the loop. Don’t disappear for a few weeks and then expect your candidate to drop everything and show up for an interview the next day. Candidates know that they might not get the job. They’re prepared for that and they usually handle rejection well. What they don’t know how to handle is just not knowing where they stand.
  2. Be nice. If it’s an email, a phone call, or an in-person conversation – a smile goes a long way. Make the candidate feel welcome and like you want to talk with him/her – not like you’re interrupting your life to make time for a conversation. Remember that candidates are interviewing you and judging you as a representative of the company, and that in-demand candidates usually have other options. Don’t turn off what could be a great hire by forgetting your manners.
  3. Offer feedback. This isn’t appropriate for every candidate, but for those who have progressed reasonably far in your interview process and then are rejected it’s a great gesture to offer some information as to why they weren’t selected. Maybe it’s as simple as “you were a great candidate it was a very tough choice, but the hiring manager just felt that the other candidate was a better culture fit.” Or maybe it’s a bit more direct, “In the future, you might want to rethink your strategy of sending a singing telegram as a thank-you note.” Whatever it is, this very simple effort is sure to score big points on the candidate experience scale.

There’s been a lot of talk about the candidate experience, and we all know the basics. So why does a good candidate experience seem so hard to deliver? Many recruiters will chalk it up to a lack of time, and this is a legitimate obstacle. But it’s not one that we can’t overcome. There are plenty of ways to automate early-stage rejection emails. And once you have a candidate in the mix, it’s just a matter of setting your priorities.

So today, take a minute to get back to a candidate that you’ve been putting off. Give him or her some information that you think would be welcome. In return, you’ll be creating a solid member of your talent community – and a brand ambassador for your company.

Comments? Something to add? Vent about a bad recruiter experience? I’d love to hear your feedback below.


How Pushy Should My Thank-You Note Be?

A reader writes:

I interviewed for a job with a company I used to work for. I know many people still at the company & am friends with the VP who interviewed me. Yesterday she emailed saying I did not have the typical experience that they’re looking for and thus the higher-ups in corporate would not accept my candidacy.

 Question: Should I write her a letter/email explaining why I am better than some average candidate just because their resume has the traditional boxes checked off? Or does that seem desperate somehow?


In typical HR fashion, I’m going to say “it depends.”

On one hand, it’s natural and expected to follow up an interview with a concise pitch for why you’re interested in, and perfect for, the job. That said, you’ve already received feedback that you won’t be seriously considered for the role. Whether you should continue to make a play for the job depends largely on your relationship with the VP who interviewed you. If you think she’s a fan of yours and might go to bat for you given the right information and tools then you should definitely give it a shot. Maybe she just needs to see the indisputable facts and arguments for why you’re the perfect fit for the job – all spelled out before her. If you think this is the case, do it. Write that note and make your case.

If, on the other hand, the VP isn’t likely to make the case for you with the rest of the management team, it’s a different story. If she either isn’t necessarily a huge fan and won’t stick her neck out for you, or if she just doesn’t have the sway or decision making power to influence the original assessment of your candidacy, then it’s probably a waste of time to try to re-sell yourself after being initially rejected for the role. If this is the case, a well-crafted thank you note would be a better option. One that lets her know how you appreciate being considered initially even if you are an “out of the box” candidate, and expressing an interest in exploring other appropriate jobs with the company. 

If she’s a fan of yours, it can’t hurt to make one more effort to see if she’ll stick up for you with the bigwigs. If you don’t think she can or will affect any kind of change of opinion when it comes to you, it can come off as a bit out of line, if not desperate.  So I can’t tell you what to do with this one, but if your relationship with this VP is one that you want to continue to nurture then let that be your guide on what to do. Put yourself in her shoes and figure out what you’d want if your situations were reversed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Would you try to re-sell yourself or would you write it off as a done deal? Please leave comments below.

Don’t Phone In Your Next Phone Interview

You know that feeling when you walk into a great restaurant and you get the first whiff of intermingling smells coming from the kitchen and from the plates of various satisfied diners? You know how hungry that can make you, how it makes you want to dive into a big plate of whatever even before you’ve seen or tasted the food for yourself? Now switch gears with me and come to a darker place. The greasy spoon that you went into because it was the only thing open at 3 in the morning. That unique and unmistakable mix of smoke, week-old bacon grease, cleaning products and cheap perfume that made you turn right around and walk out even though you hadn’t eaten in days.

In both of these situations you’re making a decision about the food even though you haven’t seen or tasted it. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes! It’s the same decision that recruiters and hiring managers are making about job candidates after a phone interview. They’re deciding whether you have the right skills and are the right fit for the job, sight unseen. They’ll either be hungry for more, or they’ll be reaching for the Pepto, and it’s all up to you which one it is.

Since the internet has made it ridiculously easy for job seekers to find and apply to jobs, and as job seekers are getting more and more savvy about finding ways to get their resumes seen, companies are increasingly relying on phone interviews to try to shrink the field of qualified candidates into a manageable number. This means that if you’re looking for a job, the likelihood that you’ll have to impress someone over the phone is pretty high. And the last thing you want to do is to not be ready.

Luckily for you, phone interviews offer you, the candidate, some real advantages that in-person interviews don’t. Namely, you get to have your notes, talking points, and cheat sheets out in the open and you can refer to them as much as you want to. It’s like an open-book test in school. You have no excuse not to ace this. Here are the main points you’ll need to make sure you have covered.

  1. Make sure your interview is scheduled for a time that you’ll be able to talk. This means that you won’t have to rush back to work, pick up your aunt, walk the dog, or anything else. If the conversation goes over its allotted time, that’s a good thing. Don’t be the one who has to end the call.
  2. Arrange to be in a good place to take the call. This could be your bedroom, a conference room, your car, or anywhere else that you can be alone and that’s quiet. It should not be the local coffee shop, the bus, or walking down the street. Avoid places with loud people, barking dogs, sirens, or other distractions.
  3. Put together your list of talking points. Do this by going over your resume and writing out the specific accomplishments or highlights that you want to talk about. Write an outline of your story of how you achieved 150% of quota, how you reduced costs by 30%, how you single-handedly saved your company from ruin. Having this cheat sheet will keep you from having to remember details on the spot, and will give you a list of topics that you should be able to use to answer a multitude of interview questions.
  4. Write out your answers to those questions you know you’ll hear: What are your weaknesses? When did you have a challenge at work that you had to overcome? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? When I say to write them out, I mean bullet points or outline form – don’t write a full script or else you’ll find yourself reading from it. You want to be prepared, but you still want to sound fresh, not like you’re reading the words off of a page.
  5. Print out a copy of your resume, so that you can refer to it. If you’re asked about anything specific that’s on it, it’s helpful to be able to actually see what your interviewer is talking about.
  6. CHARGE YOUR CELL PHONE. Of course if you can use a land-line, that’s preferable (much lower chance for dropped calls, bad signal, etc.) but many times mobile is your only option.

And now you’ve prepared. When the time rolls around for your phone interview, treat it like any other interview. Dress nicely (even though nobody will see you), pre-caffeinate if you need to (don’t eat or drinking during the interview – they can hear that), arrive 5 minutes early (so that you can get settled and lay out your materials), and mentally prepare. I’ve always found it helpful to stand during phone interviews – it can help you convey more energy in your voice than if you were relaxing in a chair. And the last thing to remember for your phone interview is to SMILE. Yes, you may feel like an idiot smiling to nobody. But it will come across in your voice – you’ll sound more pleasant and more engaging if you have a smile on your face. It’s a proven fact. I think.

Keep in mind that if you follow these steps you may not move on to an in-person interview or whatever the next round is. No matter how prepared you are you could still let nerves get the best of you, or you could just not be the right person for the job. But the more prepared you are, the easier it will get, and the better you’ll be positioned to really nail it. If you nail the phone interview, you come off smelling great. And the better you smell, the hungrier that potential employer will be to dig in. So be the feast, people. Be the feast.

Bon appetít.

Know When to Fold ‘Em – Admitting That You’re Not Getting the Job

Recruiters love a job seeker with energy and passion. Really, we do. I personally love to see someone with a fire and a drive for the job, for the company, and for his or her career. This energy manifests itself in many ways throughout the interview process. It can come across in a great and well thought out resume filled with exactly the skills, experience and accomplishments outlined in the job description. It can come across in a perfectly written cover letter that offers a hint of personality but doesn’t try too hard. It can be found in an initial phone conversation, when the candidate genuinely sounds thrilled to hear from me but still maintains professionalism. It’s present during the interview process when a candidate takes the time to listen to what I’m really asking and offers up thoughtful, intelligent, and insightful responses. It drives the candidate to ask real and probing questions about the position and the company rather than asking about company culture. It’s there in all of the candidate’s follow-up – energy in the voice-mails, character and professionalism in the emails, personality in the hand-written notes.

But for all of this passion, drive, energy, and near-perfection, sometimes you just don’t get the job. And one of the most difficult parts of the job search can be coming to terms with the fact that it’s not happening. After all, you wouldn’t have applied to the job if you didn’t think you were a great match for it. And throughout the interview process, it seemed like you and that job were meant for each other, didn’t it? And HR, the hiring manager and the big boss all seemed to really love you, right?

It’s so easy for everyone involved to get carried away during an interview process. You start imagining yourself in the job, and your interviewers may have genuinely thought that you were great. But this is no guarantee of anything. You don’t know how many people they’ve seen, and you don’t know how they felt about the other people they interviewed. The danger, and I’ve certainly gotten caught up in this myself, is thinking that you’re home free. Until you have an offer in your hand, you have to believe the odds are that you’re not getting the job. And do you want to know something? It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not your fault for not being a good enough candidate. It’s not the recruiter’s fault for not getting to understand your skills and experience deeply enough. It’s not the hiring manager’s fault for making unimaginative hiring decisions. It just happens. And if you’re in a serious job search, it’s probably going to happen more than once.

That doesn’t make it any less frustrating or any less discouraging. It’s a mini-trauma every time you don’t get a job (and the trauma can be magnified by recruiters who don’t give you information in a timely fashion, thus unwittingly leading you on.) But it doesn’t have to be a tragedy. First of all, you need to know that it wasn’t you. If you made it through HR to the hiring manager it means you weren’t a bad candidate. It means that you had the basic qualifications and culture fit, and it’s likely that the hiring manager just “clicked” better with someone else. And it’s not the company’s fault. The people involved made what they felt was the best hiring decision for the company and the department – there was no malice, and just because you think you were the best one for the job doesn’t mean that you were. The blame game doesn’t help – it just gives you an excuse to wallow in pity and victimization rather than getting on with your life (which is what you need to do).

So instead of blaming, take the time you need to recover – take a day off from your search if you need to and go the beach, watch some TV, chase a few butterflies, whatever you need to do in order to unwind and refresh. Then realize that it’s for the best that you didn’t get that job – it means that it wouldn’t have worked out and that something better for you is right around the corner. Now go get back on that horse and do it all over again. Because one of these times it’s going to happen, and it’s going to be worth the wait.

The Questions You Need to Ask in an Interview

We all know that when you’re interviewing for a job, it’s all about the answers you give. Right?

If that was true, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Sure, answering questions that show your experience, knowledge and general ability to string two sentences together back-to-back is an important part of the interview process. But don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking it’s the only part that matters. Toward the end of almost every interview there comes a time when the interviewer will look at you and say “So, do you have any questions for me?” While there are many right answers to this question, there is only one wrong one (hint: it starts with n and rhymes with dough.)

The floor has been opened up to you for questions – this is your time to shine! So why do so many people fail at the very moment when they should be soaring? Simple preparation. Putting the time and energy into coming up with some compelling questions will pay dividends. Knowing this, what kinds of questions should you be asking? How can you ensure that you’re standing out and that you sound like the smart, hungry, savvy professional you know you are? Fear not, friends, for I have put together some questions that are guaranteed to not make you look like an idiot (and some that are guaranteed to do the opposite). These aren’t the only questions you should be asking, and they aren’t even questions that you should necessarily be asking at every interview. But they are some ideas to get your brain working. The questions I like best are the ones that put you squarely into the position in the interviewer’s mind. Instead of asking about benefits or making small-talk about how the interviewer came to the company (which isn’t a horrible question, by the way), create a solid image in the mind of the interviewer of you in the job. Here are some questions that do just that.

  • Day one, what is the most important project/task that you would have me tackle? What’s the most urgent fire that needs putting out?
  • What do you think would be my biggest hurdle in handling this task?
  • Six months into my time here, what has to have happened for you to know you made the right decision in hiring me?

On the other hand, if you find that you really don’t want the job after all and want to make sure you don’t get called in for the next round, here are some great questions to help you achieve your objective.

  • So what are the hours here? Will I need to put in a lot of overtime?
  • I’m looking to keep my stress level down. This isn’t a high-pressure environment, is it?
  • Are there any hot chicks/guys that work here? I’m single, you know.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any stretch. There are so many great questions you can use to place yourself in the job and to create the image of you and the hiring manager working together.  And there are even more questions that you can use to ensure that you lose the job. Another solid line of questions would be around specific news about the company. Check your potential employer’s website, Google the company name for any press releases or articles. If there’s been a major announcement, launch, or change recently you want to make sure you know about it before you walk in the door. And you want to make sure you ask about its impact on the company and/or your function.

By positioning yourself as committed, curious, and genuinely engaged, you can help to create the impression you want to make in an interview. And since your questions will usually be at the end of the meeting, this is your chance to end things on your terms. You get to shape the last impression that your interviewer walks away with. So what are you going to do with this opportunity? Are you going to run with it and be the star that you know you can be, or are you going to say “Nope. I think we pretty much covered everything already.”

It’s up to you.

How to Stand Out (the Right Way) at a Job Fair

For years, I held onto the notion that job fairs were a complete waste of time for everyone involved. For job seekers it was a waste because you get to meet a bunch of companies that you probably don’t want to work for, and have to suffer through your “elevator pitch” and your whole dog-and-pony show for each one. Then as a reward for your efforts you get to go home with more company-logo pens and flash drives than you know what to do with, never to hear from anyone again.

For employers, job fairs were a chance to meet candidates who were either not qualified for anything, or at least not qualified for anything you were hiring, and who probably don’t know what they’re looking for and are generally clueless about how to get a job in the first place – I mean, why else would they be at a job fair in the first place?

Yes, to me job fairs were something that companies felt obligated to attend and that job seekers felt were a legitimate way to feel like they were taking action on their job searches.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I did some real thinking about the few job fairs that I’ve attended as an employer/recruiter, and what I’ve discovered is that if I thought they were a waste of time I wouldn’t have been there in the first place. I’m sure that there are some that are still a complete waste of time and energy for everyone involved, but I’ve gotten some great candidates from job fairs.

What made them so great? What allowed the good ones to stand out from the crowd? It’s actually pretty simple. So job seeker, here are some things you can do to ensure that you’re making a good impression at a job fair. Be warned in advance, this isn’t rocket science.

  1. Dress appropriately. This doesn’t always mean a suit, and it never means a suit that looks like you borrowed it from your mom or dad (splurge on a good tailor – it’s so worth it). It means know the field. If it’s a general job fair, a suit never hurts. But if it’s for a more casual industry such as technology, you can still look nice. Don’t look like you just rolled out of bed. And don’t smell like the bar from last night.
  2. Focus your efforts. I’ve seen job seekers go from table to table at a job fair, talking to all kinds of companies that are all looking for something different. Do yourself a favor and skip the ones that aren’t right for you. Not looking for an overly corporate environment? Stay away from the big banks. Want to work at a startup company? Just talk to the startups. Each time you give your pitch to a new table, you lose some energy and enthusiasm. Don’t waste it on the companies you don’t really want. Save it for when you want to be your best self.
  3. Know what you want to say. Have your pitch rehearsed and ready to go. Be able to talk what you do and what you’re looking for quickly and effectively. Know what you want to ask (hint: it’s more along the lines of “as an employer, what differentiates you from Competitor X” than “So, um, what do you guys do?”) This isn’t an interview, it’s an in-person cover letter.
  4. Bring your resume. You’d be shocked by how many people don’t do this. Shocked.
  5. Follow up, but not too much. Recruiters at job fairs are inundated with faces and names, and generally will be pretty judicious about giving their contact information/business cards out. If you get someone’s email address or phone number, it probably means they wouldn’t mind hearing from you. Once, or twice at the outside. Before you call or email, make sure you’ve gone through the appropriate steps with the company. Check out their job openings on the corporate site, apply through the right channels, and THEN you can contact whomever you met at the job fair, let them know you’ve applied and thank them for their time at the event. If they were truly interested, they’ll remember you and will get back to you. If they don’t get back to you after 1 or 2 communications, they were never that into you in the first place.

Job fairs can be great tools in your job search arsenal. But like any tool, they’re only as effective as their user. Following these basic but often overlooked tips can help you to make sure you don’t get lost in the crowd at your next job fair. So before you head out to your next one, just do yourself a favor and think for a minute. Recruiters remember the best and the worst, and forget most of the middle. So think about whether, and how, you want to be remembered.

Taking My Own Advice – The Job Search, Part 2

In the last installment of this piece I told you about all the things I had gotten wrong in my job search. As I said, it was a learning experience. Thankfully, however, I wasn’t wrong about everything. There were a few things that I had right.

What I knew I knew:

  1. One resume isn’t enough. True. Over the course of my job search, I had and used no fewer than 7 different versions of my resume. There were some that highlighted different aspects of my work (recruiting, management, digital experience, etc.) as appropriate to each company and job that I applied to. There were some that omitted certain unrelated job experience. There were purely chronological resumes and those in which I lumped together like experiences. Why do all this? One thing that I know for sure is that most hiring managers and recruiters don’t use a lot of imagination in their resume screening. They’re looking for almost spot-on experience and if they don’t see it in 30 seconds they’ll move on to the next resume. I got calls to interview based on each of the 7 versions, so I’m pretty sure I was on the right track.
  2. Not every job is the right job. True. As I mentioned earlier, I applied to about 25 positions throughout my job search. Perhaps a more important number is the jobs I didn’t apply to. I can’t say exactly, but I’d put the number of jobs that I decided not to pursue at close to 100. Why did I leave 100 seemingly appropriately leveled HR/Recruitment jobs on the table? Because they just weren’t right. They were jobs that were in industries I didn’t want to join, in companies that I had heard not-so-great things about, or just job descriptions that looked like they weren’t any fun. Managing a job search is a serious undertaking already – there’s no need to add to the workload by pursuing jobs you don’t even want. Besides, as a recruiter there’s nothing I hate more than calling a candidate who applied and that candidate saying “Wait, what job was that again?” That’s clearly someone who applied to too many positions. I don’t ever want to be that guy.
  3. There’s no such thing as too prepared. Interviews can be great if you let them be great. Know how to make that happen? Know everything you want to say and everything you want to ask. Have your talking points down to an art. A great achievement? No problem. A time you overcame an obstacle? Got it. Disagreement with a boss and how it was handled? Ready. Why I want to work for this company in this job? You betcha. In the dozens of interviews I had with several companies, I was almost never hit with a question I wasn’t ready to answer. It’s all about preparation. And it’s not enough to have your script memorized – you have to anticipate their script as well. Study that job description and customize your talking points to what they’re looking for. Does that job description stress project work? Get some good project stories together. Is it a management position? Be ready to talk about some times your management skills were challenged. A job description is so much more than just a job description; it’s a preview of the interview. The tone and the content can give you spectacular insight into what’s going to be asked of you once you’re sitting at that table. Don’t forget to use this valuable tool.

At the end of the day, I know I was one of the lucky ones. Not everyone has as much success or finds a great opportunity as quickly as I did. But as I’ve maintained since I can remember, half of luck is being lucky. The other half, you make for yourself.

Going forward, I’ve identified a new challenge that I’m excited to face. When I’m doling out advice or tips for getting a job, it’s easy to rely on the same answers I’ve been giving for years. They’re second nature to a point, and usually founded in some kind of experience. Now that I’m fresh out of my own career transition, however, it’s time to take another look at what I’m saying. Before I answer a question I need to make sure I still believe that my answer is true. Because there are some guns that I’m sticking to, and some that I’m turning in. And if I can keep them straight (which I’m pretty sure I can) then I know I can be a better recruiter, a better adviser, and a better coach than I’ve ever been. So thanks, life, for handing out those lemons. The lemonade really hit the spot.

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