What Great Job Candidates Don’t Tell You

As an executive coach I’ve worked with passive and active job seekers as they navigated corporate interview processes. Over time I’ve noticed factors that impact a candidate’s decisions but only get shared with family and friends. It’s a shame that this feedback never gets back to recruiters because it provides a great window into how candidate values are shifting and how that impacts the way we hire. 

Here’s what your candidates are really saying.

1. I’m not interested in being promoted

Every hiring manager wants to bring on talented employees who are destined to be future organizational leaders. A large part of the interview process exists to determine if the candidate has the ability and desire to build a long, successful career within the company. Usually this means that we are looking for ambitious people who are hungry to climb the corporate ladder all of the way to hallowed halls of the C-Suite.

More and more I find that my experienced Type-A clients are less interested in being promoted. Some of them have struggled with work-life balance long enough to be wary of the additional sacrifices required by increased responsibility. Others have worked in close proximity to senior leadership and are unwilling to engage in the political warfare that often comes with bigger roles. Regardless of the reasons, these highly qualified candidates will be loyal and impactful contributors to your organization even if they never change pay grades.

What You Can Do: Talk to candidates about the breadth and variety of experiences and benefits that employees can receive from the company, not just career tracks.

2. Your standard vacation policy is insulting

I fear that this insight is not going to win me many friends in the HR space. No one can deny the importance of clear and consistent employment policies, vacation time included. However, many companies have policies that haven’t been updated since the Stone Age. A standard two-week vacation policy is a quaint remnant of a time before smart phones killed the 40-hour workweek.

These days an experienced hire is usually coming in with significantly more vacation time from her last job.  While you may see vacation as an easy point to negotiate, your candidate feels insulted. The company expects her to take on challenging assignments, be willing to work long hours, deliver on aggressive goals and countless other tasks, yet she doesn’t merit more than the standard vacation allotment? Even after a successful negotiation, you leave her concerned that the company tried to take advantage of her. That’s not a great way to begin a new relationship.

What You Can Do: While it may be trendy for some high-tech companies, most organizations are not ready to implement unlimited vacation time. Consider moving to a Paid-Time-Off (PTO) allotment that pools sick, vacation and personal days into a sizeable bucket. Otherwise, confirm existing vacation days at the same time as current salary so that offer letters reflect more realistic terms.  

3. Your commitment to diversity is assessed starting with the interview

Look at any company’s recruiting page and you will likely see a statement about their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Candidates hope this is more than just lip service. Diverse candidates and even people who would traditionally be identified as non-diverse are looking for environments that support them bringing their whole selves to work.

Candidates for whom diversity factors into their employment decisions look beyond a company’s website or list of employee resource groups. They talk about the entire interview experience. They pay attention to your receptionists and security guards in the lobby. As they are escorted to their meeting rooms, they notice the people that they pass in the hallways. And it goes without saying that the members of your recruiting and interview teams are scrutinized. If you wait until after the offer to start introducing the candidate to diversity programs, you are already too late to make a first impression.

What You Can Do: When you walk into work tomorrow, try to put yourself in a candidate’s shoes. What assumptions would you make about the organization just by observing the people around you? Does that image match the culture that the talent acquisition team wants candidates to have? Also, you may consider rethinking how recruiting teams and interview schedules are selected to give candidates a better sense of the organization.

4.  Interviewer behavior is used to validate what candidates have been told about culture

Today the best candidates have access to an unprecedented amount of information about your company. Between online career forums, social media and your organization’s efforts to build an employer brand, every interviewee walks in with preconceived notions about what it’s like to be an employee.

But many people are skeptical of what they hear before walking in the building, both good and bad. Even the answers to normal questions that candidates ask to assess culture are taken with a grain of salt. They’re aware that interviewers are hesitant to share the ugly truths. A much better gauge is the way that your interviewers behave throughout the interview process.

Statements about the importance of collaboration are overshadowed by confrontational interview styles. Strong adherence to behavioral interview questions (“Tell me about a time when you …”) may indicate that the organization is too focused on past performance to be as innovative as it claims. The way that interviewers and colleagues interact as the candidate is moved between meetings will test the rumor that you have a friendly or fun environment. When your reputation conflicts with the candidate’s experience during the interview, assume that his perception is your reality. 

What You Can Do: Remember that interviews are also part of employer branding. Even rejected candidates walk away as strong advocates for the company when the interview experience is well-designed. Make recruiting teams and interviewers aware of the impact of their behaviors and provide them with resources to effectively represent the culture.

You’re probably swamped with open positions and a stack of resumes. You barely have enough time to sleep let alone make changes to your interview process. But coaches get to see the unfiltered reactions when a company gets the experience right. These are the things that can convince a comfortable passive candidate to honestly consider making a move. And more importantly, these are the practices that set you apart from the other organizations that are wooing your most desirable candidates. It is worth the effort. A little investment in redesign may greatly improve your ROI in the end.

Also read:

Make Candidates An Offer They Can’t Refuse

Charm Candidates With An Irresistible Company Culture