What Signals Are You Sending Job Candidates?

Sep 28, 2012
9 Min Read

When you’re interviewing new staff members, you probably think a lot about the little signals you get concerning candidates’ responsiveness, work ethic, enthusiasm, and other elements of what they’d be like to work with. But do you also consider what signals you’re sending to them?

Job candidates pick up signals from every element of your hiring process – from how you write the job description to how you negotiate salary. And these signals matter, because they’ll influence whether the best candidates decide to accept your job offers and how they approach your culture when they start work.

Here are 10 areas where you might be inadvertently sending signals you don’t intend to job seekers.

1. Does your job posting paint a clear picture of what the job is and who you’re looking for?  Too many job ads are dreadfully dull, full of dense verbiage, and even semi-incomprehensible, as if they were written to satisfy some internal processes manual rather than attract the right candidates. When you’re looking for a new hire, a job posting is your marketing document! Don’t make your best candidates wade through heavy jargon and overused buzzwords to try to figure out what the job is all about. After all, most managers can talk enthusiastically and compellingly about the roles they’re hiring for – so make sure that life makes it into the job posting too.

2. Does your application system make it easy for good candidates to apply, or is it convoluted and unwieldy? Online application systems increasingly frustrate candidates: They require them to type in each portion of their resume in tiny chunks, they make candidates choose from pre-set answers that often don’t provide an accurate option; and they regularly generate inexplicable and unfixable error messages. Do you really want a top candidate – who usually has options – to give up trying to apply when they can’t easily get your system to accept an application?

3. Do you keep your word? Things often don’t go according to plan when you’re hiring. You expect you’ll start interviews mid-month but they get delayed for two weeks. You think you’ll make a decision by next week, but then a stakeholder goes out of town, a budget freezes, or an emergency project sidetracks you. But if you don’t update candidates as timelines change, you risk looking flaky and unreliable. Reasonable candidates do understand that things change – but if you don’t let them know that what you told them last week is no longer accurate and instead leave them hanging, you risk them thinking you’re not on your game – which can drive off the people you most want to hire.

4. How quickly do you move? Most people want to work somewhere that can move quickly and make decisions. While you shouldn’t hire people before you’re convinced they’re the right fit, you also don’t want to let your hiring process drag on for months and months.

5. Do you show respect for candidates’ time? If a candidate arrives a half hour late for an interview, that's typically a huge strike against her – and often a deal-breaker. But all too often, employers make candidates wait long past an interview's scheduled time, cancel at the last minute, or never even call for pre-scheduled phone interviews. And then to make matters even worse, they often don’t apologize or acknowledge the inconvenience. Smart candidates will wonder how an employer who treats outsiders this way will treat employees.

6. Are you friendly or are your interviews hostile interrogations? Unless the position requires the ability to perform in a hostile or high-pressure situation, you’re better off being welcoming and trying to put candidates at ease. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t probe as much as you need to in order to identify the right hire, but you can do it while remaining warm and friendly. After all, most candidates will be thinking about whether they’d like to work with you or not. You don’t want to make an offer and have it turned down because you scared the person off.

7. How organized are you? You might not think a lot about how your interviews are scheduled, but candidates do. It’s a big deal to them if they’re asked to rush in for an interview with only a few hours of notice, or if you reschedule over and over, or if you cancel the morning of the meeting. And they’ll wonder if this reflects a disorganized, chaotic culture.

8. Are you willing to explain why the position is open, its potential downsides, and other “sensitive” information? If you’re honest not just about the upsides of a job, but also about the downsides, and if you’re willing to discuss what may have gone wrong in the past, thoughtful candidates will appreciate your candor. After all, they know every job has downsides, and they’ll be glad to be given the ability to make an honest decision about fit. And candidates who sense that they’re not getting the whole story will resent that you’re asking them to take a job without candid discussion about what they’d be signing up for.

9. Do you play games about salary, or are you straightforward about it? If you approach salary negotiations like a game where the object is to get the candidate for the lowest possible price, you’ll create an adversarial dynamic – which isn’t the relationship that you want to have with your new hire. If you make it clear that you want to pay a fair salary that will keep a great hire happy, candidates will generally respond with fairness and candor in kind.

10. Are you enthusiastic about introducing candidates to other employees, or do you seem to want to keep them from talking to other people? Consider the red flag you’re sending if you seem to want to isolate candidates from their potential coworkers. So resist any impulses to control who candidates interact with, and go out of your way to introduce your finalists to their prospective coworkers – it’s a reassuring sign that you’re not hiding a team of miserable people in the back room.


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