I’ve worked for a few really great companies in my career, so I can say the following with confidence: great companies treat their employees well even before they become employees.
How do they do that? By having a great recruitment process in place.
Let me share a story with you about a company with a recruitment process that can very clearly use some help. (And if you make it all the way to the end, I’ll share an experience that is the polar opposite, and some easy questions you can ask yourself to make your own recruitment process much, much better.)
On Friday I began the process of applying for a senior marketing role with a relatively unknown company in an industry that (I think) is about to explode. Based on the job description and my experience, I’m qualified for the role, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring and see what happens.
First, I was asked to upload my resume to their website. Very standard, and easy enough.
Next, the company asked me to upload a cover letter. Except when I say, “asked”, I actually mean “demanded”; the little red star beside the “ask” clearly indicated this wasn’t a voluntary step in the process. Now, a lot of companies ask for cover letters, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing so… if the company will use the cover letter as part of the assessment process in some way. (FYI: if you indicate submitting a cover letter is optional and then throw out the applications of those who choose not to provide one because, “they just didn’t care enough about the opportunity”, that absolutely doesn’t count as using the cover letter as part of the assessment process in some way.) I’m sure there are recruiters out there who thoughtfully read every candidate cover letter submitted, comparing the experiences outlined in the paragraphs with the needs of the role as outlined and using the language and tone of the letter to ascertain fit. Those people probably exist, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing them because they’re likely not the type of people with a lot of free time on their hands. Personally, every time I’ve had to hire someone in my career, my focus has been on a candidate’s resume (not their cover letter)… and I don’t think I’ve actually ever spoken with a hiring manager who uses cover letters to make their hiring decisions. But all of that said, I was certainly willing to write a cover letter that showcased my experience and a little bit of my personality if that’s what the company wanted. “No problem,” I thought, “but I’ll come back to this step later. Let me skim through the rest of the web-form and see what else I’ll need to do as part of the application process.”
So that’s what I did. I noticed the next step was to complete eight questions which included items like how I had heard about the opportunity (LinkedIn!), if I had ever applied to the company before (Nope!), if I had ever worked for the company before (Nope again!), and if I was legally eligible to work in the country (Yes indeed!). Easy questions to answer, and no trouble at all from an applicant’s perspective. So far, so good… onward!
Then… the company wanted me to input the same information into the website that was contained in the resume I had just uploaded three steps earlier. The names and dates of a few previous employers had been correctly extracted from the document I had already provided, but not the titles or job duties that were included on my resume. Plus, the company was also asking for some additional information I seriously doubt is ever included on a professional resume these days: each previous employer’s phone number and complete mailing address (“Why,” I wondered, “were they planning to mail them each a letter?”), the last wage I earned at each company (there’s lots of literature out there as to why you shouldn’t ever provide this information, but even if a candidate is willing to do so at a later stage in the process, a company asking for the final wage any job other than the current or immediate last role is just plain silly), and “Immediate Supervisor and Title” (which is fine to request, although I think it’s much more appropriate to do so during the reference-check stage of the process as opposed to the initial-application part).
It should also be noted I was only given space to list my last three employers. Not “the three employers who provided you with the most relevant experience for the role to which you are applying”, the last three chronological companies who issued me a paycheck. In my case, where I currently serve as an Adjunct Marketing Professor at a university and operate my own consulting/writing company, I was only able to include one additional role; the company wouldn’t allow me to tell them about the roles I’ve held that were even more relevant to the job at hand unless I wanted to bend the chronological truth and cherry-pick which companies I listed on my application.
Then the company was asking about the schools I attended and the degrees/certifications I had obtained, information that could also be found on the resume I had already uploaded. Apparently, they also intended to send physical mail to my former schools, because I was asked to provide a complete mailing address for each. (Pop quiz: who can provide the complete mailing address of the university you attended without having to look it up? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) Also, one of my educational credentials is an online certificate from HBX | Harvard Business School; I wondered if they would prefer me to list Harvard’s physical campus (which I have never attended), or the website where I received my online instruction. Perhaps the physical address of where the HBX server was hosted would be a solid compromise.
Next the company wanted me to “describe any extracurricular activities, honors, awards, or professional affiliations that [I] wish to be considered in evaluating your application” but indicated that, “If preferred, [I] may exclude memberships and activities which indicate race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, marital status, family status, physical or mental disabilities, sex, sexual orientation or age.” Then they wanted to know what languages I spoke, which is a fair question except there weren’t any languages listed in the “qualifications required” section of the job description.
Are you bored with reading this list of requirements yet? Because you absolutely should be. I was.
And yet, we’re still not at the end. Not yet. Because the company also wanted me to provide three references (with complete contact information) and asked which of them the company was authorized to contact.
All of this information was required as part of the initial application process, the very first step required to even be considered for the role. Had I decided to provide all the information that was required, it easily would have taken me over an hour of my time. (And that’s only because I type very quickly, I’ve completed so many applications in my career that I know most of my career history information without having to reference my resume for exact dates and titles, and I have a bank of “base” cover letters ready to customize to specific applications.)
But I decided otherwise. Although LinkedIn indicates I’m a top applicant for this role based on my past experience, I decided not to proceed any further with my application.
I’ve never been called lazy or unmotivated, and my former colleagues will attest to the fact that I put in the work and produce great results. But I do have this thing about efficiency. More precisely, I have trouble accepting ill-conceived, inefficient processes that waste my time. And right or wrong, I believe if this company decided it was acceptable to make their application process this cumbersome for their job applicants, working there full-time would be an efficiency nightmare.
You: “Pullara, you’re being unreasonable! If you want to apply for a job, you need to provide whatever information the company wants you to provide… and you have to be happy about it!”Me: “Yes, that’s true if I want the job. But that process made me decide I didn’t.”
Companies who really respect their people start off by respecting the people who choose to apply for their open job postings. Great companies don’t treat candidates as if their time and efforts don’t matter. They understand that any great recruitment process is a two-way conversation, where the candidate is interviewing the company just as much as the company is interviewing the candidate, and they appreciate the efforts of people who choose to consider their company as a place they might like to work. And they certainly don’t waste the time and energy of applicants by asking them for irrelevant information via a poorly-designed website, especially if that information won’t be helpful in creating an interview shortlist.
Allow me to compare this experience to another application process with a company that consistently ranks at the very top of most “Best Places to Work” lists.
When you apply to Google, you do so via a very simple, very straightforward online application. If you’ve ever applied to a role there before, Google brings you to a page that states the following at the very top: “To save you time, we pre-filled this application using your last application.” To save me time — imagine that! Of course, you have the ability to make any edits you feel are necessary, but certain fields — like your education and work history — aren’t likely to change from one application to another.
If you haven’t applied to a role before, you’re asked to upload a resume, and then Google’s systems parse it appropriately. Yes, you’ll have to check things over to ensure everything was taken from your resume and put into the right boxes correctly, but that shouldn’t take very long at all; their systems are usually intelligent enough to accurately take what it needs from the document you provide to them.
What about a cover letter? At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a space where you can include something, but it’s preceded by the following message:
Cover letter/other notes (optional)We think your work speaks for itself, so there’s no need to write a cover letter
Translation: if you think writing something will help you, feel free to do so. But if you think your resume will speak for itself, you don’t have to bother. And we really won’t hold it against you.
Everything about the Google application screams, “We want to make things easy for you.” While I think my personal experience with the rest of their recruitment process is outside the scope of this post, I will say that when I was recruited to Google in 2015, the entire interview process was as candidate-friendly — if not more so — as the initial application. (Not “easy”, mind you, but absolutely candidate-friendly every step of the way.) And the result of that candidate-friendly process was that I was absolutely delighted by the company before I was ever given an offer; there really is a reason why Google is considered one of the best places in the world to work, and you can see it long before you ever become an employee.
If you have a less than ideal process for accepting job applications, here’s what you might want to ask yourself:
1) Am I asking candidates only for the information I really need to know in order to decide whether they should be selected for an interview? (If not, simply ask fewer questions!)
2) Is there any information that I need to know, but I can ask later only from those candidates who are going to be interviewed? (Asking for references during the initial application process is a good example; sure, you’re going to want to check references for the person to whom you eventually decide to make an offer… but that’s likely four or more steps away. For those who won’t make it that far, don’t ask them to waste time providing any information you won’t actually use.)
3) For the information I absolutely do need right away, am I making it easy for candidates to provide the information I request? (Asking candidates to upload resumes and then forcing them to retype all of the information it contains is a waste of time and energy. Invest in better system capabilities that can more accurately scrape a candidate’s resume to get you the information you need.)
4) Do I really need a cover letter? Really? Instead, can I ask the candidate to answer a short question like, “In 150 words or less, tell me something about yourself that most people would find impressive”? (A question like this gives you some good insight into how the candidate thinks and the tone/language the candidate chooses to use will give you a sense of their personality. Plus, you’re likely going to get answers that have been crafted just for you, even though it’ll take most candidates less time to provide a thoughtful and relevant response than it would for them to repurpose an existing cover letter.)
5) If I had to apply to this job myself, would I be happy about the process? (If not, why is this your process for those you’d like to join you at your organization?)
Great companies understand that applicants aren’t just hopeful job seekers, they’re also consumers who buy products and share their experiences with family and friends. And they understand that a poorly considered or terribly designed job application process can hurt not only their employment brand but also their future sales prospects.
Choose to be a great company. (Because why would you ever willingly choose the alternative?)
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