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Turning Job Applicants (Even the Ones You Don't Hire) into Brand Ambassadors

By: Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

 In a market with many more job seekers than open positions, too many corporate employers have lapsed into hiring practices that treat candidates with a general lack of respect. While that may not impact a company’s ability to fill current openings, long term it may tarnish its brand and have a negative effect on its future hiring opportunities.

Savvy companies with positive hiring practices can turn job seekers—even rejected applicants—into brand ambassadors. Just as smart brands have become increasingly aware of the power of word of mouth with consumers (especially in the era of social media) they have found word of mouth is just as powerful with potential employees.

What the research shows
Over the summer and fall of 2011, my team and I conducted both quantitative and qualitative research (an online survey as well as personal interviews) with job seekers regarding their experiences in the hiring process. Of those who had a negative experience, 78% of respondents said they would be “likely to discourage others from applying to that company in the future.”

Perhaps more surprising, 87% of respondents said that in situations where they were not hired but had a positive experience such as very personal or courteous treatment, they would be “likely to encourage others to apply to that company in the future.”

This research suggests that any company can become best in class by implementing easily achievable changes to the hiring process. The major takeaway of this research is that applicants want honesty, communication, and courtesy. Their primary advice to companies: Follow the Golden Rule (treat applicants as you would want to be treated).

For example, survey respondents said submitting a resume often felt as if it were going into a black hole; they never heard from the company and would like to have known something—even if the news was that they were not being seriously considered for the job.

Likewise, at the interview stage, respondents said they would prefer an interviewer be honest about the interviewee’s prospects, so they would not be holding out false hope of being hired. And 76% said their interest in working for the company would decrease if they were treated with a lack of courtesy.

However, the lost opportunity to create brand ambassadors may be greatest once the selection process has winnowed the pool of applicants to the most qualified candidates. If a company makes an unfavorable impression at this stage, they are doing so with candidates they felt were strong enough to consider hiring.

Making the shift
The solution to transforming your hiring practices into a competitive advantage is not complicated but it may require both tactical changes and a cultural shift in the company.

Tactical changes include developing systems and procedures for communication at three milestones:
1. When a resume or an application is received
2. When a resume or an application is either moved forward in the process or rejected
3. When the applicant isn’t selected following the interview

The communication should escalate in personal touch from the first milestone to the third. If an automatic response is used at any milestone, it should be limited to the first. A much better strategy is to have someone (an assistant or lower-level employee) respond with a short but friendly email. An assistant can handle milestone #2, but milestone #3 should be a phone call or email directly from the person who interviewed the candidate or the highest level HR staffer who brought the candidate in for an interview. The staffer should thank the candidate for the time he or she invested in the recruiting process.

As for the cultural shift, that requires an awakening to the importance of a positive hiring process. It also:

  • Helps the company magnetize top talent, now and in the future
  • Gives new hires a positive view of the company culture before their first day
  • Can turn even rejected candidates into advocates for the company (the aforementioned brand ambassadors)

It’s of major importance that top leadership visibly supports, even champions, the cultural change. Likewise, those in top management positions just below the C-level can be recruited to model the cultural change and to cascade that change to those they manage.

 How your organization will benefit

  • Creates advocates for your company, even from those candidates you reject
  • Defines the organization as a company that treats people well
  • Provides a positive word of mouth that can bring you more top talent
  • Sends social media messages that position the brand in a positive light
  • Sets the stage for higher engagement with new hires
  • Creates a halo effect with regard to being seen as a great place to work
  • Impacts not just potential hires, but also creating positive consumers of your brand

 

About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin is president and CEO of Tribe, an internal communications agency that works with national and global clients like UPS, Porsche, Target and Coca-Cola Beverages. She is the author of several books and blogs on employee engagement and professional performance at www.goodcompanyblog.com