Bad Habits: Frustrating behaviors of Recruiters and Hiring Managers

Jun 24
Offended Business Woman

I have read hundreds, if not thousands of articles, blogs, Tweets and blurbs advising candidates how to succeed in the selection process.  After a while it all sounds the same.  I rarely see advice for hiring managers and recruiters, and when I do it’s usually coming from other hiring managers and recruiters.  Which is fine, but it does make me wonder:  Do they have any idea what it’s like to be a candidate on today’s market?

If you are currently sourcing a candidate to fulfill a role in your organization, consider the view from the other side of the table and examine these common sins committed by recruiters and hiring managers.


Being late for a phone interview


“I’ve been waiting for ages.”

Five minutes late is understandable, ten minutes late with a valid explanation is pushing it.  Sadly, more times than I care to say interviewers have been 30, 40 minutes late or more calling me.  Candidates are always told to be on time, even early—though not too early.  In short, be respectful of the interviewer’s time.  I completely agree.  My time is valuable, too.  And if you fail to recognize that, it tells me some things about your workplace and whether or not I will be a valued member of your organization.


Sending me long, awkward forms to fill out which amount to recreating my resume (this includes, perhaps especially, Applicant Tracking Systems)

Look.  I get it.  The Internet has changed the hiring process both for the better and the worse.  I understand that you are deluged with applicants and that many of their resumes are just…awful.  I understand that you have hundreds if not thousands of applications to process and doing so is tedious.


The solution is not to force thousands of candidates to adhere to your specific format.  Whether you’ve built your own web application or aligned your company with an ATS like SuccessFactors, iCIMS or Taleo, if every employer is using a slightly different format (and virtually all of them are), it is unbelievably draining for a candidate.  If I’m applying to ten different jobs, and I have to fill out ten different web applications that are each 10-20 pages in length, by about the third application it becomes very difficult to take this process seriously.  Some recruiters advise candidates to bypass your ATS for exactly this reason.  And doesn’t that defeat the purpose for you, seeking to collect trackable, measurable data for analysis?

H&M really really requires fields with two asterisks.

Courtesy of Because these fields are really, really required.

I’m not against using an ATS, but the ATS must be virtually painless for both applicant and recruiter.  The best Applicant Tracking Systems work with LinkedIn, importing a candidate’s full professional profile into the format the employer needs.  All the candidate has to do is click the button and authorize the LinkedIn app.  This, of course, only works in their favor if they have a solid LinkedIn profile—but that’s on them.

Bottom line:  The onus is on me to create a solid CV and a polished LinkedIn profile.  The onus is on you, as a hiring entity, to leverage technology, make the most of my products and extract the information you need to make the next decision.  Forcing me to redo my work—your way—is not the best way to set the tone for our future relationship.



Asking really awful questions

Yay!  We successfully navigated the black hole of online application systems and scheduled an interview.  Now you launch into a scripted interview dialogue with questions like the ones indicated below, and you are losing me fast.

What’s your biggest weakness?

Put yourself in your candidate’s shoes.  There is no right way to answer this question.  Any answer they give you will sound and feel awkward and likely be full of rainbows and sunshine and unicorns and lollipops.

Can you give me an example of a conflict you’ve experienced in the workplace and tell me how you handled it?

Clashes happen in the workplace and are not inherently a bad thing.  Conflict is simply a difference that prevents agreement (Merriam Webster), and it’s a necessary part of a healthy work environment.

But let’s be honest with one another.  You’re not asking me about conflict in the ethereal sense of the word.  What you’re really asking is “Tell me about a time you didn’t get along with someone, and how you fixed that problem.”

I can understand why that kind of insight would be valuable to you, but the answers you get are not going to achieve your objective.  You will either get a well-rehearsed, scripted response in which the candidate paints themselves in the best possible light using some bland example of conflict, or you will catch them off-guard and their mind will immediately fly to the most painful conflict in their past.  They will stammer through a response forcing you to relive that terrible memory with them, and leave you with the impression they are deeply uncomfortable with conflict.  This is not an indicator of how this person resolves differences on a day to day basis, and that’s what you really want to know.

 Why do you want to work here?

I haven’t decided that I do want to work here yet.  I applied for this position because I feel I am qualified for the job and it aligns with my career goals.  If I can have those needs met by another organization, then I may not want to work here.


Not offering the benefit of the doubt about a candidate’s past (within reason)


Sad boy in shirt and jeans

“They said it was going on my Permanent Record.”

People make mistakes.  I have seen so many friends and colleagues derailed, marginalized in the hiring process, because they were fired in the past, or downsized one too many times, been unemployed for too long or even have an arrest record.  If you’re filling a job in a school or a doctor’s office and the individual is a registered sex offender, that’s relevant.  If someone was arrested for a DUI in college, got laid off two different times during the same economic slump, or was fired once because of personality conflicts in that particular office…you need to be prepared to give that person another chance.  Offer them a clean slate, a chance to prove themselves as worthy.  Here’s why.

When your hiring process deliberately discriminates on those points, you put candidates in a position where they have to choose between being honest and transparent, or getting hired.  After being rejected by a hundred different employers on these grounds, some of them will lie to get the job.  And if you ever find out, you will have the audacity to be mad at them for doing so no matter how spectacular an employee they turn out to be.

Worse, if you eliminate any candidate with the slightest blemish on their record you’re cutting off a big portion of the talent pool.  Someone who may have been drowning in a dysfunctional environment at a prior job may be the perfect candidate for your organization.  You lose out on that opportunity if you automatically disqualify them.


Failing to leave time in the Interview (or some other opportunity) for me to ask questions

I always have a list of questions when I come to an interview.  I don’t intend to ask all of them; I’ll gauge that as our conversation progresses.  But I expect to have the chance to ask some questions of my own.  Don’t deny your candidates this opportunity.  Their questions, and your answers, will help you learn about one another so everyone can make a more informed decision.


Being unprepared for the questions I have

If I get to my questions, and you blow them off or cannot articulate a thoughtful response, I get the impression you lack a vision for your organization, that you fail to see problems on your horizon, that you haven’t set goals and don’t have milestones mapped out to reach them.  All of those are red flags for me.  The last thing I want to do is board a ship adrift with a captain asleep at the wheel.


Forgetting that I’m interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing me

You ask why I want to work for your organization?  Why don’t you tell me why I should want to.  This is a critical component in the hiring process to ensure you find someone who is the right cultural fit for your team.  You can hire someone with all the right skills, loads of experience, professional qualifications…and if that person is not the right culture fit, it will fail.


“This interview is making me ________.”

When I interview as a candidate, I’m trying to build a rapport with you not only so you will like me and offer me lots of money, but also (and more importantly) to figure out if I can work with you.  I’m asking myself “How would it be for me to communicate and collaborate with this person on a daily basis?  Will they respect me?  Will they value my contributions?”

You are not looking for someone who will simply fill a vacancy, you are looking for someone who will stretch it, innovate with it, collaborate and bring a positive force into your workplace.  And the person you hire is looking for a job that will challenge them, excite them, and make them happy.  A place where they will feel valued.  If all they need is a paycheck, your company will work as well as any other, and they won’t be as engaged in the process.  Never forget this is a two way street.


Failing to give me closure, keep me informed of the process or failing to deliver on your promises for the next step

Candidates deserve closure.  Some organizations will interview the same person for the same role multiple times over multiple months—then drop off the planet without a word.  If the interviewer promises a response or input on the next step within 7 days, they owe it to the candidate to keep their word.  You would not tolerate a candidate or an employee making promises they don’t keep, so why do interviewers get away with this behavior?

Whether it’s a promised response in a particular time-frame, a simple yes or no on whether or not the candidate is still being considered, a heads up that the position is not going to be filled at this time for some other reason, your candidates deserve the respect of getting closure.


To Employers

All of this comes down to empathy.  Give respect for the candidate and value for their time and energy.  If you can’t have empathy for the candidate’s experience, why should they believe they will be valued and appreciated once hired?

Allow these bad habits to creep into your hiring process and the very best candidates will move on without you, seeking a mutually fulfilling environment elsewhere.  You’ll be left with the people most desperate for the job.  And occasionally you’ll get lucky and find a good egg through that process.  More likely you’ll get the candidate who doesn’t value themselves enough to expect mutual respect, and that is not going to be a high performer in your organization.


To Candidates

If you’re currently seeking work and dismayed by a dehumanizing recruitment process, raise your expectations and show them you’re worth it.  If they don’t meet you halfway, thank them graciously for their time and move along.  Don’t ever settle.  There are other jobs and plenty of ways to earn a living.  You have to prove your value to get the job, but they also need to prove to you that they deserve to have you.

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