A Better Way to Court Candidates

Job candidates are more likely than ever to abandon employers during the hiring process. A communication plan can help you woo the talent your organization needs.

An article recently made the rounds about a strange hiring predicament: A new employee who showed up for work on day one turned out to be a completely different person than the one who interviewed for the position. It’s hard to know how much to trust the story—no names are given, and it doesn’t seem to be a widespread phenomenon. But the article’s virality says something in itself. We’re a little suspicious about what recruiting and hiring look like now. It’s always been rather impersonal, distancing the candidate and the employer. Interviewing via Zoom can only exacerbate that feeling.

Some recent research from Gallup suggests that such feelings of disconnection have intensified. A 2021 Indeed survey found that 28 percent of job candidates became unresponsive to an employer—”ghosted” it—during 2020, a spike from 18 percent in 2019. And the ghosting goes both ways: According to the survey, 77 percent of candidates said a prospective employer vaporized on them since the pandemic started. 

It’s telling that the survey uses online-dating lingo—hiring talent, after all, is a kind of courtship. You’re looking for common ground, enthusiasm, an ability to communicate, and honesty. Early on, the relationship can be fragile; a misstep can easily be misinterpreted as disrespect. 

What does it feel like to be recruited by your organization?

All the more reason for leaders doing the hiring to double down on communication and try to understand where candidates are coming from, says Gallup Chief Human Resources Officer Matt Mosser. “What does it feel like to be recruited by your organization?” he writes. “An inspiring and memorable candidate experience creates passionate brand advocates—even if the process doesn’t end in employment. On the other hand, a subpar candidate experience will make your brand vulnerable to ghosting.”

People abandon an interaction with a potential employer or candidate for all sorts of reasons, of course. People find a better fit or a better salary. But if the reason for the disconnect isn’t clear, that can be problematic for the candidate and employer alike. More than half of candidates say they’ve faced consequences for ghosting, and their concern isn’t misplaced: 93 percent of employers in the Indeed survey say they keep track of who’s ghosted them.

So now is a good time to have protocols for how you’ll engage with candidates throughout the process, even if you don’t wind up hiring them. Regular communication is central to that, says Mosser.

“Set clear expectations for candidates on what they will experience in your hiring process,” he writes. “Frequent updates for applicants and internal accountability for response times are essential.… Don’t go more than 48 hours without a touch point.” 

(By the by, this kind of expectations-setting isn’t a bad idea for your board or even rank-and-file members. People want to feel heard. Association leaders have a vested interest in keeping their volunteer leaders focused on high-level strategic issues, not the kind of you-never-listen-to-me concerns that lead to—extending the metaphor—breakups.)

This process doesn’t need to be complex or onerous. Quite the opposite: Mosser suggests that streamlining should be a goal, making communication more important than paperwork and a maze of steps to get to the interview phase. Remove the red tape, and instead create an environment where candidates feel wanted.

“Whether in person or virtual, the interview should be an elevated experience that makes candidates feel seen, heard, and fully attended to—like they belong in your culture,” he writes.

Even if a candidate doesn’t work out, it’s still a good practice. People talk: They share what they experienced in your recruitment process, and people you hire will tell others about how you welcome new employees. Without a process that’s inviting, the talent you want most can vanish.

And in that case, to reverse a dating cliche, it’s not them—it’s you.

(fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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