Fair Hiring in Your Utility

Develop a transparent hiring process that makes job applicants feel like they’re treated fairly.

For many organizations, landing a highly sought-after job recruit is a cause for celebration, especially in today’s ultra-competitive employment market. But before you enjoy another round of congratulatory handshakes and backslaps, it might be best to curb your enthusiasm instead.

That advice comes from Brian Brazda, a partner at LEAN Human Capital (www.leanhumancapital.com), a nationwide talent-acquisition consulting firm. It’s not that Brazda is a killjoy, by any means. It’s just that from experience, he knows that at the same time many companies are employing a full-court press to successfully snare a top recruit, it’s also likely that they’re inadvertently damaging their chances of doing so again. The culprit? Unfair hiring processes that make snubbed job candidates angry and prompt them to bad-mouth your company or organization by word-of-mouth or via social media. Or boycott your products and/or services.

“We’re seeing data that if a hiring process isn’t fair, they (the rejected job candidates) won’t use your products or services, which can have a direct impact on business,” Brazda explains. “If all these candidates live and work in your community and feel it was a crappy hiring process, it directly impacts their buying decisions. There’s not a 100 percent correlation, but it’s large enough that organizational leaders see it impacting their businesses.

“Moreover, unhired candidates still might be qualified to fill another job in your organization,” he continues. “But if they feel they were treated unfairly, they’re unlikely to apply for future job openings — and also could tell well-qualified friends and family members to snub your company, too.”

This is not mere conjecture on Brazda’s part. Data from an ongoing LEAN Human Capital study of non-hired job applicants paints a grim picture: 39 percent agree that a company’s website was procedurally unfair; 57 percent agree they experienced procedural unfairness with recruiters; and 59 percent agree that they experienced procedural unfairness with hiring managers.

The waiting game

Where do most companies go wrong? Let’s start with rejection notices — or lack thereof. This is one of the biggest sore points for rejected applicants, Brazda says. For most applicants, the job-hunt journey goes something like this: Find a job opening. Apply for it. Don’t hear back from the company for months. Then finally receive a rejection notice by mail or email, long after the initial contact and/or interview. “Or they get no communication at all,” Brazda notes.

In a similar vein, others wind their way through the job-hiring process and actually get a personal interview — only to receive a rejection notice that doesn’t tell them why they were not selected. “You don’t need to go into detail or embarrass them,” Brazda advises. “But any kind of education is valuable. … We advocate that you just develop a way to communicate to folks who got that far. It’s important to create that touch point.”

Another hot-button topic for rejected applicants: timely notification. More often than not, applicants no doubt feel like an elephant bears children faster than companies send out thanks-but-no-thanks notices.

Most company officials probably recognize their hiring process is unfair; what may be less obvious is the negative impact of that inequity. As such, the crux of the matter is getting company officials to understand how unfair practices hurt the organization in the long run — as well as strategically determine the most cost-efficient way to fix the problem. “It’s fairly obvious to most companies if their process sucks for applicants, but the trick is identifying what parts to go after and fix,” Brazda points out. “And the answer is different for every organization — there’s no cookie-cutter solution.”

Some problems can be fixed easier than others, like quick notification for rejected applicants. “We think it should be done as quickly as possible,” Brazda says. “Some companies with best practices are doing it within a week, and we think it should occur within at least one week of making hiring decisions.

“We’re finding that companies that do it well are coming up with unique ways to communicate and educate (rejected) job applicants,” he adds. “More sophisticated organizations are investing in technology and software platforms that can automate a lot of this.”

One large Chicago-based health care provider developed a multipronged approach to making its hiring process more transparent, he notes. That company’s ultimate goal was to provide better communications that were more timely, adequately explained the next steps in the hiring process and so forth. To accomplish this, the company:

  • Implemented an applicant-tracking system that generates auto-emails with status updates for job candidates
  • Added a frequently asked questions page to the careers section of the company’s website, so candidates can learn more about the organization’s hiring process
  • Developed template letters to expedite the delivery of candidate notifications
  • Regularly updates the career page of the company’s website
  • Created a central recruitment email address that job candidates can use to email questions

Ask the right questions

Other problems may be more complicated to solve than just sending out notifications faster. But a carefully designed survey of rejected applicants can help pinpoint the weak links in your hiring chain — and point the way to solutions. But here, the key is to ask questions that create true insights into the problems, as opposed to questions that elicit answers with no usable information, Brazda says.

Brazda says LEAN Human Capital worked with a social scientist to develop survey tools that provide news-you-can-use answers. Here are a few examples from a LEAN Human Capital survey:

  • I was able to offer clarification or additional information about my candidacy
  • I was provided useful information regarding the next step of my candidacy
  • I was provided timely information regarding the next step of my candidacy   

“It is complicated because the process is complicated,” Brazda says in regard to rectifying the problem of unfair hiring processes. “But it’s all about prioritization. You need to gather data and understand where the weak points are in your process, then sit down and prioritize what you can do in the next couple days, weeks and years. It’s like eating an elephant — you chip away at a project plan in a very strategic and methodical way.”

The ultimate goal: Develop a transparent hiring process that makes job applicants feel like they’re treated fairly as they submit resumes and talk to hiring managers — and doesn’t spur them to scorch your company on social media if they don’t get the job, Brazda says. “You just want an equitable process that they can feel good about.”


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