Turning the Tables: Searches from the Candidates' View

by Sherry Heuser

As a committee member or hiring manager bogged down in a seemingly-endless search process, it can be easy to forget that the numerous documents you receive and review from applicants actually represent individuals—professional colleagues who are eager to share their skills and experience with your organization. You are exhausted, having to fit additional tasks into your already packed schedule, filling the duties of the vacant position as well as your own.  You want an employee in place as quickly as possible and are working hard to remain objective.
Losing perspective of the applicants’ viewpoint, however, can be costly to your organization.  Your interactions with them during the search process speak volumes about the corporate culture, the respect given employees, and the relationship between board and staff…in summary, the experience they would have as your employee.
An organization that presents itself poorly to applicants can ruin existing and potential relationships, and interactions that respect applicants can strengthen the organization’s standing in the community and result in a more successful search.
Feedback solicited from colleagues about their experiences in their own recent professional transitions demonstrates how a hiring organization can manage its image through these interactions.  Many of the strategies may seem like common sense, but a reminder of their value is always helpful.
Activities the hiring organization undertook that helped the applicant understand the role and organization, and feel positively about the employment opportunity included:

  • Providing a clear outline of the process and hiring timeline presented early in the search
  • Following-up on next steps, additional appointments and the applicant’s status in a regular and timely manner
  • Ensuring friendly, helpful individuals make the appointments and send updates
  • Demonstrating consideration of the applicant’s time, current professional role, and genuine interest
  • Engaging in sincere and honest conversation about organizational goals, needs and opportunities
  • Encouraging appropriate staff and board member engagement and participation in the process
  • Offering an opportunity to meet other staff/Board members and to visit and tour the offices to get a feel for the work environment
  • Presenting a written offer of employment that includes information about benefits and the organizational plan
  • Demonstrating respect for applicant’s professional interests, goals and needs in the offer negotiations

 Activities that were less-than-helpful for the applicant, and diminished their perception of the organization included:

  • Not providing feedback or updates throughout the process, even by email
  • Poorly communicating an offer—over the phone with little information and no written follow-up or a vaguely written letter
  • Being unable or unwilling to answer questions or provide concrete information about benefits or the organization
  • Hearing predominantly negative comments or receiving only scripted feedback about the organization from current employees.
  • Not allowing opportunities for the applicant to learn about the culture, overall staff personality, and job demands prior to asking for a decision

Employees choose their employers as much as the reverse.  The impression a potential employee has of your organization can impact their willingness to accept your offer, their consideration to donate to you, and their communication with friends and colleagues about their experience.  Use the search process to your benefit, beyond the focus on hiring the right person for the role.

The Bottom Line:The way organizations treat applicants during a search impacts the quality of the search and reflects the way they treat employees.  Respect your candidates and they will respect you, even if you do not offer them a job.

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