Old School Hiring Practices Facing Scrutiny and Backlash in a Job Seeker’s Market

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! There are more job openings than candidates.

I don’t think all people in hiring positions have gotten the memo – it’s a job seeker’s market. I say this because for three years now, I have been tracking and capturing gripes of job seekers (as well as recruiters, human resources professionals, and hiring managers.)

The power has shifted, and qualified job seekers are in a position to demand that a few irksome practices be abolished in favor of you wooing them into accepting your position. In a few cases, the law is even in their favor, as more legislation is passed at the local level prohibiting employers to play games with job seekers.

If we apply the trickle-down theory (not the economic theory) of adoption to hiring best practices, there are going to be early adopters, those who are watching and following the early adopters to see if new practices succeed, those who will only jump on the bandwagon after most others, and those who insist on bucking anything new.

Traditionally, this theory purports that cost is a factor for products, which does apply somewhat to practices, since new employees require training when a company updates standard procedures to adopt new best practices. More recent revisions of this theory take a closer look at motive to adopt anything new. Herein lies a mystery. All companies need talent of some kind or another.

Look at how long it took employers, even early adopters, to jump on the candidate experience initiative. User experience (UX) has been a web interface design focus and official term for nearly 25 years. Customer experience and guest experience have been evaluated and improved in retail and entertainment since the dawn of the industries, but didn’t adopt the Xx acronym until the mid 2010s, and the x can connote a purely digital experience. Patient experience has been measured since the 1980s.

In 2005, talent management thought leader, Kevin Wheeler, introduced the Candidate Bill of Rights initiative. Five years later, the term “candidate experience” was coined and within a couple years, several entities started recognizing companies who provided exemplary candidate experience.

What took employers so long to focus on the experience of candidates? The motive wasn’t there as long as they were in the position of power.

Though candidates have the power, not all employers got the memo, so if you are a candidate and you stand your ground on any of these practices, just know that you could risk an offer with employers who are on a slower adoption curve.

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The following are hiring’s most hideous, harmful practices of which job seekers and their advocates are becoming more vocal and less intolerant about:

  1. Not being transparent about budgeted salary

Job seekers have traditionally been advised to not be the first to bring up salary to avoid being categorized as money-motivated, which could also contribute to the candidate being a flight risk, apt to leave their job at the drop of a better offer. Now we know – employees who stay loyal tend to be paid less than professionals who change employers. This is backwards, yes. Companies, in essence, are losing money by having to replace people they lose with people who will expect more compensation when they could have just offered better pay raises and growth opportunities. Retaining employees costs less than vacancies, re-allocating resources to backfill positions, and paying to onboard and train new employees, and that’s not even taking into account lost productivity while new employees ramp up.

Not being upfront about budgeted salary also doesn’t make sense from a time standpoint. If you have 5 qualified candidates, but only 2 would accept your offer, why invest time in interviewing all 5?

Now that the power is in the job seeker’s hands, it’s the companies who choose to withhold budgeted salary who risk being perceived as wanting to get as much as they can for as little as possible, while C-suite employees enjoy 7-figure compensation and bonuses.

Also, don’t undervalue talents’ time. If they are currently employed, it requires them to take time off of work to interview. If they aren’t employed, their time is their money. They don’t actually have time (or energy or emotions) to invest in opportunities that are not going to help them meet their lifestyle needs.

Don’t jerk job seekers around. When a requisition for a position is approved, it is approved with a budget. Negotiating, at its best for long-term mutual benefit, is supposed to achieve a win-win. We’ve seen how win-lose negotiating eventually backfires.

  1. Asking about perceived weaknesses

I personally like this question, but I have seen/heard certain thought leaders encourage candidates to avoid it because it’s a trick to get candidates to disqualify themselves. As a recruiter, I asked it, but not for that reason. In fact, to preach that the only reason this question exists is to get candidates to shoot themselves in the foot is plain old inaccurate. It has a more noble intention, though I also recognize that the means can be achieved through more conscious questioning.

The intention when I asked this question was to gauge self-awareness, accountability, and coachability. All of these are requirements of being employable.

However, I am in Marcus Buckingham’s camp of focusing more on identifying and applying strengths vs. developing weaknesses as a sound career management strategy. All strengths can be liabilities, however, if unchecked. It can take real world experience to test how to balance strengths, and in doing so, there is trial and error. It’s the error – the acknowledgement of the cause/effect relationship between something done too extremely or too deficiently, and the future correction, that leads to growth and development. Also, as we become we wiser and realize that there are a multitude of things we don’t know that we don’t know, we start to better recognize knowledge and skill gaps.

Questions to identify such moments don’t have to be so entrapping. You can achieve the same result by asking two behavioral questions – one that deals with soft skills and one that addresses hard skills.

A. “Tell me about a time when you identified a knowledge or skill gap. How did you become aware, how did you fill it, and what impact did that have?”

B. “Tell me about a time when you identified an area of growth. How did you become aware, what did you do to develop in that area, and what impact did that have?”

  1. Demanding salary history; asking for W2s

Unfortunately, I worked for a firm that had a policy to require salary history and request W2s to validate a candidate’s most recent salary. It went against my values. As someone who had been chronically underpaid (until I learned and applied negotiating skills with my own boss), I did not feel that a person’s past salary should have any influence whatsoever on their future salary (and the training that my company sponsored in 2004/2005 confirmed this.) Still, it was our policy. This, among other policy and cultural changes, were the impetus for my own disengagement.

Perpetuating low pay keeps marginalized groups marginalized. This policy is anti-equality and sustains gender and race wage gaps. This is why many municipalities and states have passed laws prohibiting employers from requesting salary history.

  1. Ghosting/Blacklisting

The majority of job seeker gripes revolve around spending time pursuing open positions, filling out online applications, doing due diligence as advised, and then getting nothing – zero response – from a company. Even an automated confirmation of receipt would be reassuring to some level, according to job seekers. However, once a candidate is in the system, they expect an update of some kind. Newer applicant tracking systems build in candidate updates and make it quite simple to blast out when no more applications are being accepted, when first round candidate interviews are being scheduled, and when the position is formally closed with an accepted offer. Not all employers have such sophisticated ATSs, however the early adopters and those that have followed them do. The companies lagging behind are sending a message that they are not focused on candidate experience.

One of my most viral LinkedIn posts to date is about recruiter blacklisting. Some have mistaken this post as an endorsement for this policy, but it was really intended to make job seekers aware of things that they do to burn bridges with recruiter, and how the small world of recruiting can mean a mistake with one recruiter may restrict your ability to work with other recruiters as well.

It happens, and to be clear, I am not condoning it. It, too, is illegal in certain states and municipalities.

However, when a bad reference comes back or a candidate abuses a client or no-shows, their file gets marked accordingly. Many readers who commented rightly pointed out that some recruiters are on a power trip, and can be vengeful in limiting someone’s future opportunity because of a bad experience that perhaps that recruiter even precipitated.

Yes. There are recruiters who have become a bit too accustomed to judging candidates as worthy or not worthy of working with them. These are the recruiters who need a wake up call. Just as ATSs allow recruiters to keep notes on which candidates have misbehaved, there are several recruiter rating sites out there now, and their brand is sure to be tarnished by acting from ego. Karma is a b*tch.

  1. Automated rejections to candidates who have interviewed

This is a bit like breaking up over text. When two or more people have invested time getting acquainted face-to-face, an automated response just seems shallow and dismissive. Some of these candidates could be your second choice, and you might want to tap their shoulder in the future should your #1 reject the offer, not work out, or move up quickly. Any of the candidates you’ve personally met are potentially in a position to promote or tarnish your employment brand. Have you read Glassdoor lately?

I get that you can’t give a personal response to hundreds of candidates who apply, but if you’ve had under 20 people interview, (and, really, if you’ve had over 10 without an offer, there’s a flaw in sourcing and/or qualifying) it is reasonable to expect that you can let them know they are no longer being considered, even if you use a template – at a minimum.

  1. Not giving accurate feedback and updates

If someone takes the time to come out to meet you and your team, take a moment to give them real, individualized feedback and updates. A phone call is preferred, but I have had the experience, as I’m sure any recruiter who tried to make it a policy to provide feedback, of someone swearing that they would take feedback professionally, take it personally, and dismiss the feedback as wrong, or even discriminatory. There are liabilities in providing feedback, even when the reason for rejecting a candidate is on the up and up.

However, if your hiring practices have been thoroughly audited (have they?), and you are sure that bias is not influencing hiring, I’m certain that you can provide a legitimate reason for a candidate not being considered, or even being forthright about something that puts them at a competitive disadvantage or advantage.

Do you think there are legitimate reasons to NOT let a candidate know that they are one of three finalists? What this information does is help the candidate understand that, even if they feel that they are a shoo-in, their efforts to find their next opportunity need to continue.

Don’t let a candidate believe that a job is theirs to lose so that they cease other opportunity development while you continue to vet other candidates.

  1. 4-month long hiring cycles

At the executive level, especially in this day and age, leaders need to be scrutinized to a certain degree. The stakes are high, and there are potentially many stakeholders. It is understandable that the hiring process can be delayed for due diligence and because getting busy executive leaders and/or directors to arrive at a consensus can be a time-consuming process.

However, we all know that the pace of change is accelerating and even at the executive level, decision-making needs to be expedited.

At an even lower level, four months is just excessive. Top talent who make things happen and innovate will perceive a long hiring cycle as a systemic sign of slow progress. If you have justifications for such a long hiring process (such as clearances or thorough background checks), it would be best if you clarified this from the beginning.

  1. Passing over people for employment gaps

When I finally landed after a 10-month unemployment period induced by 9/11, I found myself expected to disqualify technical candidates who had been unemployed for 6 months or longer. This client request was based on the implication that tech talent who had not been actively working for 6+ months somehow lost their touch, grew stale, or had skills that are now obsolete.

This was 18 years ago, and things weren’t changing that fast! This was a huge conflict for me, and one that made me rethink my own career choice.

Fast forward to the great recession, and layoffs touched more people than ever. Hard-working, talented, valuable, qualified employees were out on the streets, not just those you could assume were dead weight – which is a bias, if you hadn’t recognized this.

There are some who never financially recovered from that, 10 years later! Add to being laid off any kind of personal or health challenges and you have people who are now perpetually in debt.

Anyone can be the casualty of poor leadership in any economy.

  1. Requiring 3 references from past supervisors

Even 14 years ago when I was recruiting, many of the companies we recruited for and from instituted “no reference” policies. Apparently, many employers had been sued for defamation, among other things. The best some of them can do is verify work history and maybe be coerced into affirming or denying that they would hire them again in the future.

Here in the pharma-rich Greater Philadelphia area, pharma professionals, among others, are unable to provide references because their company adopted this policy. Does that make them unemployable? No.

Reference checking is and has been a hiring best practice based on the theory that past behavior is the best predictor for future behavior, as is the behavioral interviewing methodology.

Has this theory been proven, though? Is it infallible? Are references the only or best way to validate performance?

There are two sides to every story, and then there’s the truth. Hearing someone else’s version of a story does not help you arrive at truth, necessarily. In fact, it can raise caution flags where there needn’t be any.

My previous firm’s policy required three reference checks. Every time I butted up against a challenge, I had to validate the challenge in order to circumvent the policy and move forward with a candidate, or I was told to find new candidates. This was an unnecessary hurdle to finding the right candidate.

I’ve also learned that, not only can references be biased, but they can also can be faked or pressured.

I admit, I check references for people I hire for my company, even subcontractors, but it’s not a witch hunt. It’s a way for me to learn how to inspire their best work and what projects I might want to outsource to someone else. I don’t require a certain amount and most of the time, if they have impressive, specific LinkedIn recommendations, that is good enough validation.

As a recruiter, sometimes the validation a reference provided was used verbatim in my candidate presentation to a client, so they do have value, but should not be required to consider a candidate. Special circumstances and changing corporate policies have to be considered.

  1. Using the term “overqualified”

I admit, I have defended this term as a justifiable reason to reject candidates. It’s true that from experience, some employers have learned that hiring an experienced person to do a job below their abilities has resulted in that person disengaging, growing frustrated by not being able to apply their knowledge, jumping ship at better offers more in alignment with level and pay, and resentment toward younger managers who feel threatened.

A hiring manager will not trust a candidate’s word over their own experience, but this can still signal a bias.

The problem is that the term “overqualified” has become synonymous with age discrimination. You can’t detach that meaning once it’s there.

The pressures of decision-making authority and staff supervision can lead to burn out, family issues, and even health complications. For many legitimate reasons, some people choose to sacrifice income for better quality of life. Get a candidate’s why – always.

If there are ethical, logistical, or cultural reasons why you won’t offer an experienced candidate a position, explain them explicitly.

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These are just 10 of many trends that are shifting as companies become more aware of the need to be attractive to top talent in order to survive the next few years.

Epic Careering wants to make sure that more of the opportunities that are available for today’s and tomorrow’s talent are with conscious companies with conscious leaders who are nurturing a conscious culture.

If you know or work for a company that has a future at risk, that is losing top talent to competitors, or that is behind the curve in adopting consistent conscious hiring and leadership practices, nominate them anonymously. Provide their name, your reason, and any contact information that will help us get through to a decision-maker.

Bob Dylan The Times They Are A Changin’ 1964

TV Movie, The Times They are a Changing’ (1964) Directed by: Daryl Duke Starring: Bob Dylan

Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a 13-year-old leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where some of her students won the 2018 national competition, were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award. 

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