A tale of social recruiting, employer branding and the candidate experience

Picture the scene. Its mid-December 2010. I’m happily minding my own until the mobile rings.  “We’ve seen your profile on LinkedIn,” an in-house recruiter explains, “and we’re wondering if you’d be interested in a new role we’re recruiting for in the UK?”


Now, in my opinion this company manage their employer brand extremely well. For me they’ve got the engagement piece nailed so when I was asked if I’d be interested in working for them, internally I’m screaming, “Hell yeah baby!” High-fives and chest-bumps all round.


Externally I remain calm. “I’m genuinely happily employed at the moment. I’m not on the market but your company is of real interest.  Please email me the details.”


The job description lands.  It’s a little sketchy but as I interpret it: Recruitment? Check; Learning and development? Check; Incorporating social media? Check; An exciting company / brand? Check. Again, internally I’m, “YEEE HAAA! When can I start?” *cue salivation and panting*


As a semi-passive candidate I could be quite candid regarding my requirements.  Firstly, I could be honest about the balance between my ambition / drive and a key value of being a family man. I have a strong work ethic but I cherish as much time with my young daughter and soon-to-be child as possible… Oh yeah and wife (had to say that. She just elbowed me in the ribs) – A message I continually repeated throughout their recruitment process.


Secondly, for me money is not a main deciding factor (I learnt this was a  fairly shallow existence in my agency days) but I do have a mortgage to pay and family to feed *cue violins*.  I wasn’t looking for an increase but I couldn’t afford a drop in income. Besides, I was happily employed and they had approached me. I broached this subject in the earlier rounds of interviews.  This approach can often be deemed as rather risky and / or crude but knowing the process that lay ahead I didn’t want anyone investing time only for things to fall down because of an incompatible offer. My intention was to lay all cards on the table so everyone knew where they stood from the off.  I was assured remuneration wouldn’t be an issue. They would offer what was necessary when they found the right candidate. After all, this was a new role so there wasn’t a UK benchmark.   “Excellent,” I thought, “game on.”


I successfully navigated my way through the following stages:



1.   Telephone interview with in-house recruiter.
2.   Telephone interview with potential boss.
3.   Face-to-face interview + presentation with potential boss.
4.   Telephone interview with bosses boss who was based abroad.


Still with me?


5.   Telephone interview with another overseas-based senior leader.
6.   Face-to-face + presentation with bosses boss + video conference to another senior leader based abroad.

7.   Face-to-face with team member I could be working with in their central London office.
8.   Provide inside leg measurements.
9.    Hand over my DNA swab.
10. Give blood and urine samples.


Okay you got me.  The last three steps didn’t occur but you can see they were thorough.  Some might argue too thorough.  Even though attempts were made to manage my expectations there comes a point where you think, “Come on guys. If you haven’t found what you’re looking for by now is one more interview going to make a big difference?”  I get the recruiting companies stance of, “this will really test if a candidate wants to work for us” but what about the candidate’s stance of, “If this company really want me they’d have made their decision by now.”


There’s a tipping point were the correlation between the volume of interviews conducted bares less relevance on the quality of candidate yield. I.e. if a candidate meets enough people someone is going to come along who disapproves. Add this knowledge to the self doubt that starts creeping in and you begin having other thoughts. “There’s something about me that’s bugging them.” And / or, “Do I want to join a company that may have a lack of confidence about my suitability for the role?”  Etc etc


It didn’t matter.  The employer brand had me hooked so I continued through the 6th… And the 7th… And then… Well… Then nothing really.  I was informed there could be a slight delay as structural changes in the organisation were taking place. A couple of days passed.  3 days. 4 days. 5 days. 10 days… 14 days!…


Many of us have been there right? When you’re waiting for interview feedback on an opportunity from a company you hold in such high regard it’s akin to being a teenager and waiting for the person you fancy the pants of off to call you back.  You’re looking at your phone constantly. Your heart jumps into your mouth every time it rings.  You find yourself pacing:


“Shall I call them?  Shan’t I call them?”

“Oh sod it, once won’t hurt”

“If I call will I look desperate?”

“No. I’ll look keen and committed”

*Pick up phone*

*Start dialling*

*Stop dialling*

*Thrown phone back down again*

“That’s it! They don’t want me! They can stick their job!”

“They must be busy. You can’t blame them. They’re probably interviewing hundreds of candidates”


I made a couple of calls and had some, “no update” updates with their recruiter (who I have to say was superb) and then finally, three weeks after my final interview the phone rang and it was the hiring manager. I grabbed for the phone, which had turned into a bar of soap.  A little bit of vomit entered my mouth (too much detail?). I composed myself and answered.


“Congratulations Ben. We’re delighted to be able to offer you the role….”


Containing my excitement… And the little bit of pee that nearly entered my under garments (again. Too much detail?) I pumped my fist in the air in quiet jubilation.


Looking back I regret reacting the way I did upon first hearing the offer. Remember my family values and genuine inability to take a step backwards in income?  Well, unfortunately this company didn’t.


I appreciate how my tone of disappointment and initial response of, ”Oh…..” may have been off putting for a future employer… I’m also guessing following this with an almost immediate, “And just how negotiable is that?” wasn’t too endearing either but I’d waited 3 weeks god damn it!  Within that time I’d mulled over every conceivable scenario in my head.  The last thing I needed was more time to think about it.


Whichever way you cut it I simply couldn’t afford to be £185 – £200 worse off a month. I also wasn’t happy about being deducted five days annual leave entitlement (which I saw as five less days family time).  Yes they tried to sweeten things with other elements to the package but it still wouldn’t have covered the extra travel expenses I would have incurred.  Besides, there was absolutely no guarantee I would have still been in situ by the time the carrot they were dangling came to fruition.


I’d dedicated over 15 hours preparing for, travelling to and participating in interviews and presentations.  They were very accommodating in terms of interview slots but I still invested annual leave (no I didn’t take sickies before you look at me accusingly) and travel expenses to the cause.  Take into account they approached me in the first place and I think it’s easy for all to see my commitment was unquestionable.


What this company were now dealing with was a candidate who had gone from complete employer-brand advocate to someone who was thoroughly disengaged.  Who was feeling he just hadn’t been heard even though he’d been constantly repeating certain messages of personal importance throughout.  The fact they weren’t prepared to negotiate only served to compound my paranoia they weren’t sure about making me the offer in the first place. Was this part of the reason I was made to wait so long? If so then why didn’t they simply call and talk it through? Where they waiting to see if someone better came along? The answers to these questions are irrelevant – the fact the experience was making me have them is what mattered.  There was a disconnect somewhere.


So the moral of this story? I’m sure there are many, from both a candidate’s and recruiter’s perspective but for me it epitomises the challenge of building a superb employer brand and maintaining it throughout every single step of a candidate’s recruitment journey.


And what of my opinion of the company now?  It’s still very positive.  Subsequent to this experience I attended an event they hosted and caught up with a few of the guys I’d met / talked to throughout the process.  As a company they still excite the pants off of me and I would encourage anyone to go and see them if they come-a-calling.  Keeping things in perspective I’m sure my case was an exception as opposed to the rule.  There have no doubt been many candidates who’ve enjoyed a seamless recruitment process and are now experiencing an amazing career with this innovative, pioneering company that continues to go from strength to strength. Would I consider working for them again? If the right opportunity came up then absolutely.  That’s the power of their employer brand.  I wouldn’t in the near future mind you as my circumstances have recently changed… but that’s a post for another time.


Have you experienced something similar? Do you think I was wrong and / or over sensitive? Or do you think I had every right to feel frustrated and disengaged? As always, comments, thoughts and opinions welcomed below.


Hungry for more?  Check me out at www.trecknowledgy.com - a blog about training and coaching through recruitment complexities, and please feel free to subscribe.  Follow on Twitter @TRecKnowledgy also.

Views: 244

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on July 20, 2011 at 6:00pm
I am totally with you... although I'm glad you still have a positive outlook on the company they did know way ahead of time that their offer was not going to be competitive... boo.
Comment by Ben on July 21, 2011 at 3:56am

Hi Amy.  Thanks for your comment.


I look at it like this.  What's the point of getting angry?  Yes they messed me around but I could have handled the offer negotiation better so I learnt and grew from the experience. At least they made me the offer! I can hold head up high and be proud of this fact.  I saw going through 7 interviews and being made an offer as quite an achievement.


Also, I hadn't been interviewed for nearly 5 years so it was great to blow those ol' cob webs off.  It could also be argued that the whole experience spurred me in to creating my blog and becoming more active on twitter and the digital social space as a whole.


All of this paid huge dividends when I was approached by another company later in the year regarding another role that had me "salivating and panting" and guess what?  I went through a seamless recruitment process with them, had the confidence to ace my interviews but also had the material to back up my statements of "passion" and "enthusiasm" for recruitment and social media.  This time, when they made me an offer, I accepted it and am extremely excited to be starting an amazing new role in August with another huge UK brand. Initially it will see me focusing on candidate attraction, engagement, employer branding and incorporating digital social communication. YAY!


Not bad for someone who was a semi-passive candidate huh? :o)

Comment by Mary Jo Roberts on July 21, 2011 at 2:10pm
Congrats and good luck Ben!
Comment by John Heffron on July 21, 2011 at 2:49pm
Loved reading your story and lessons learned!  I don't think I would have handled it any differently, "mistakes" and all.  At the end of the day you are going to be spending more time at work then you will with your family and you have to feel good about it.  Even at the best organizations if you are not making as much compensation as you need or feel you deserve, you are not going to feel valued and where does that leave you?  Think you made the right choice.  Who knows, maybe they will come back to you tomorrow or in 5 years and give you a better opportunity that you will make you happy.
Comment by Joseph P. Murphy on July 21, 2011 at 3:13pm

You made the correct decision. 

However, it is very evident that the company, in spite of its multiple-hurdle, long drawn out interview process, did not collect the information it needed to make an effective decision.

 Proof again that more contact does not mean more information.



Comment by Tony Palm on July 21, 2011 at 3:40pm

Great story, well crafted, and written with style; I enjoyed it, thanks!

Comment by Ben on July 21, 2011 at 5:15pm

Thanks everyone for all your comments, thoughts and opinions.


I Really appreciate you all taking the time out of your hectic schedules to read my ramblings :o)



Comment by John Comyn on July 22, 2011 at 3:29am
From a recruiter perspective I know what a "downer" it is when an offer comes and it is less than what was originally discussed. The global recession has opened the door wide open to companies exploiting candidates when it comes to money. ("you are lucky to have a job") You did good and hopefully the company will have learnt something from the experience. Not everyone is going to put up their BS!
Comment by Ben on July 22, 2011 at 4:09am

Hi John. Appreciate your comment. I don't know if it was a case as sinister as trying to exploit someone in the recession.  In this instance they approached me. It wasn't as if I had knocked on their door unemployed and with "cap in hand" (not sure if this a UK saying but I hope it translates across the pond).


I think it was more a case of it being a new role in the UK and not everyone in their hiring party was aligned with the process, procedures and timings etc - they should have sorted this out before they went to market.

Comment by Marianne Steen on July 24, 2011 at 5:46am
Hi Ben,
Really enjoyed reading your post. It is wo well-written and I recognize your story and the process. I am going through the same proces right now. And I have wondered too, how come it is so difficult to make a decision?

However, I think the companies are taken by surprise how difficult it is to reverse the proces from advertising > sorting > interviewing (Read: Filtering from 100 applicants to 5) to searching > finding one candidate > deciding and trustng that it is the RIGHT candidate.

Now, what I like is
1) These companies have the courage to try something new - so they stumble a bit - but they are learning.
2) As a candidate you can be straight forward and honest about what keeps you motivated (instead
3) Even if either partiy decide not to move forward, you still have a positive relation - both ways.

Personally I prefer a proces like the one you describe to the "old-school" job advert - job application proces. Okay - you didn't get the full package YOU wanted. That's part of the negotiating. And you are of course entitled to say No, thanks. It is very similar to the proces when you are looking for new business partners - first you find out if you can work together - then you negotiate price.

Thanks for sharing - I think your story is a fantastic example of how recruitment is evolving thank to social media.


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