Saturday, November 24, 2012

Interviews are not dating and why you shouldn't break up

I recently went through an interview process ending in not getting the job. I'm still convinced I could do it, and do it well, but it's not up to me. Fair enough. The recruiter at this company was one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to work with. His process was much more efficient and personal than I have ever experienced. This is not a light compliment since I've been in the consulting business for almost a decade and have been to more interviews than most will do in a lifetime. So why this blog post? This interviewer recently posted a question on twitter, paraphrased as: (I paraphrase to keep his identity anonymous)

"You are going to be rejected for the job, do you prefer email or phone to receive the bad news?"

This question got me thinking, as the only part of the interview process with him that I thought was not fantastic was the let-down. His question received a number of replies. Some preferred phone and others email. Some said either, as long as it's a timely response. I have my own preferences, but it seems this is a very personal thing.  What caught my attention was that many of the replies equated the interview let-down to a breakup after dating.

Interviews and dating may have a lot in common, you are both looking for the right fit, first impressions are critical, and it can get awkward when one party is more interested than other. But I think parting ways should be very different for dating vs interviews. While there are some feelings of desire at play durring the interview process, they are nowhere near the same as when dating. I am sure there are a few crazy stories out there, but I would argue that more than 99% of interviews ending in a rejection are handled in a reasonably professional way. The applicant either stops contact with the company or hopefully sends a thank you note/email. I think the number of applicants who show up at the company's doorstep drunk and crying at 2AM three days later is quite small. ;) 

So what does this mean for the recruiter? I think that the current approach of letting the applicant down gently and generically is an unnecessary and harmful protection mechanism. The recruiter is concerned about the 2AM drunk crier, and so uses the equivalent of 'It's not you, it's me, I need some time' etc. Like dating, the relationship ends and both parties move on. But at what cost? What about those few (and rare) couples who manage to break up and stay friends? They retain a lot of value from the relationship. I would argue that this value can be retained in a recruiter-applicant relationship much more frequently. And there is a lot of value to retain here, as the chances are high the applicant will end up working for a partner/client/competitor. So what is needed to 'stay friends'? A well handled let-down is the start. 

A generic email to the applicant saying something like "We really like you but have chosen to go forward with another candidate" is just lame. Be honest. Most of us applicants are big girls and boys and can take the truth. Tell us what part of the job you think we can't do or just don't have enough experience for. Or tell us that you just don't see the fit in the company. We may disagree but that's short term. Yes, you may have to deal with an extra email stating our case, but so what? Maybe you will change your mind. And if not, so be it. It may seem safer and easier to use a white lie, but realize that it's not that hard to see if you really did hire a new candidate. (LinkedIn Insights, Job posting still open on your corp. site) The applicant knowing they were lied to can't have a positive effect.

Show the applicant some respect and you will keep an open channel. You may even want to connect on LinkedIn and keep in touch. There was energy invested by both parties, don't just throw that away. Don't destroy the trust and respect you created during the interview process.

If you are a recruiter I would challenge you to try being more open and honest with your rejections. Try it out with a few applicants where you think it might not create stress or conflict. I would bet that you start making some valuable connections and perhaps even a few new friends.

Update: I actually received the above mentioned response and assumed it was a lie, as the job role was still open on the company's website for some time. So I challenged the recruiter and while he did say it was an easy out, it was actually not a lie as they hired someone but were looking for one more. Goes to show, don't assume anything. I thought I learned that lesson a long time ago.... My apologies to that particular recruiter.

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