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Candidates Today Still "Running the Gauntlet" to Get Hired


5/2/2012 2:42:58 PM

Candidates Today Still By Skip Freeman, "Headhunter" Hiring Secrets

In addition to what I learn and experience each and every business day about the current job market through my own executive recruiting firm, as a professional “headhunter,” I also keep my eyes wide open and my ears to the ground to keep abreast of current hiring trends and experiences in the broader market.

While some things definitely are improving across the broader job market, many candidates today still are having to “run the gauntlet,” by being subjected to such things as an unusually high number of job interviews—even for entry level positions—and unnecessarily long wait times before any hiring decision is made.

"Running the Gauntlet"

An article I spotted recently on a major online news site serves to illustrate my point.

A woman in Alabama began interviewing last fall with a small business in Birmingham for a human resources manager position. She said that she had certainly expected to have at least two or three interviews before being seriously considered for the position. In fact, she ended up going through TEN interviews—and still ended up not getting the position! To put it mildly, this woman said she was both surprised and thoroughly disappointed by the experience.

“I really believe they (the hiring company) could have—should have—made a decision earlier in the process,” she is quoted as saying in the article.

I wish I could say that this woman’s job hunting experience is very unique in today’s job market, but honestly, it isn’t, although ten interviews is bordering on the ridiculous, even by today’s standards. Just four or five years ago (and depending upon the position being sought) the typical candidate could expect to have to go through, say, two to three interviews before being considered a “finalist” for an open position. Today, of course, that is no longer true, and, in many cases, the interview/final decision process can indeed be, or at least seem to be, all but endless.

Why Job Candidates Have to "Run the Gauntlet"

The obvious question at this point would be, Why? Why are job candidates today being made to literally “run the gauntlet,” in order to be considered for a position, virtually any position? Actually, there are TWO primary reasons.

First, even though the overall jobless rate is coming down somewhat, unemployment remains quite high by traditional standards and virtually any available position can—and often does—receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications. As a result, some hiring managers and/or human resources professionals feel that they can certainly take all the time they need (or want) to make a hiring decision. They feel that they remain very much “in the driver’s seat,” and for the most part, unfortunately, they are correct. That means they will make hiring decisions when they are ready and not one second sooner, regardless of how dehumanizing and demeaning the process may be perceived by candidates.

Second, many hiring managers and/or human resources professionals today simply aren’t up to the sometimes complex tasks involved in the hiring process, e.g., finely honed interviewing skills, the ability to thoroughly understand and appreciate the genuine hiring needs of the companies they represent, etc. And there actually is a legitimate reason for this situation.

During the Great Recession, with overall hiring down considerably, human resources professionals themselves, as well as some highly compensated hiring managers, oftentimes faced the axe—and many of them got it! Some of the “survivors” therefore remain extremely cautious and quite hesitant to make a hiring mistake that could end up costing them their jobs, or they simply no longer feel it is safe to trust their own judgment. Plus, because of across-the-board budget cuts at many companies in recent years, significant numbers of hiring managers and human resources professionals have received little or no real training on how to hire, how to effectively interview candidates, etc., The end result: Better to make no hiring decision—or at least to make no hasty hiring decisions—than to make a bad hiring decision and end up being tossed out the door themselves.

Both Candidates and Hiring Companies Adversely Affected

Ironically, where this issue is concerned, the knife tends to cut both ways: Not only against job candidates, but also, against companies which, because of increased/increasing business demands, desperately need to hire top-notch candidates—now!—in order to stay competitive. Let me elaborate.

Some hiring companies, with genuine, immediate hiring needs are letting top-notch candidates, many of whom have multiple job offers already on the table, simply walk out the door because they (the hiring companies) are either unwilling or unable to make a quick—or even relatively quick!—hiring decision!

Real story. I recently had two candidates, both of whom were very-highly-sought-after, very-well- qualified candidates who had branded themselves as the crème dela crème of today’s job candidates. My client company had interviewed both candidates a number of times (not ten times, though!) and was very impressed with both of them. An offer seemed imminent.

Then, one week passed after the candidates’ “final” interviews, and soon we were well into the second week. Still no word from my client company—despite my having sent numerous emails and left numerous voice mail messages. Finally, I was able to reach the HR professional who was trying to fill the positions on the telephone and I advised her that, if a hiring decision wasn’t made soon, the company risked losing these top-notch candidates to competitors (both candidates had pending offers from other companies at the time). This is the response I got from the HR representative:

“Well, if your candidates can’t wait for us to make a hiring decision, and if they have other offers, tell them to go ahead and take one of those other positions. We’re not going to be rushed into making any hiring decision.”

Shortsighted? Self-defeating on the part of the hiring company? Without question. Both candidates, by the way, opted to go with competitors of the hiring companies, and my client company’s competitors were able to add two exceptionally skilled, highly qualified and very talented employees to their payrolls—all because my client company was not going to be “rushed” into making a hiring decision! (Up to that point the entire process had occupied about two months of my time, as well as the time of the candidates I presented.)

No Apparent End in Sight for Job Candidates

As a professional “headhunter” do I get frustrated and discouraged whenever I have to deal with arrogant and/or fearful hiring managers and/or human resources professionals? Of course I do! No one, including me, likes to spend considerable time, effort and energy on any project only to come up empty-handed in the end. (Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of hiring managers and human resources professionals I have worked with over the years do not fall into this category!) That being said, however, I am fully aware that my frustration and discouragement pales considerably in comparison to that felt by some of today’s job candidates who are subjected to the “running the gauntlet” syndrome to find a new job.

I wish I could tell you that things are going to get much better for job candidates in the near future, that we will soon return to “the good old days,” when hiring decisions were made in a more timely fashion. Sadly, I don’t see that as being the case at all. Until the number of available positions outweigh the number of available, qualified candidates to fill them, I am afraid not much is going to change in this regard.

None of this means, however, that today’s job seekers should get ready to “surrender the flag”! Those candidates who continue to do those things that will indelibly brand them as being among “the best of the best” will still prosper, even in today’s brutal job market. (Consider, for example, the two candidates I mentioned above. Neither candidate was a loser in the “games” my client played during the hiring process. Rather, it was the company that ended up losing!)

Make sure you are—or become!—this type of high-quality, much-sought-after candidate and you, too, can expect to prosper, even in a job market as chaotic and unparalleled as today’s.

About the Author

Skip Freeman is the author of "Headhunter' Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed... Forever!" and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.

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