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: 237

Comment by Marianne Steen on July 24, 2011 at 5:49am
Sorry, I didn't finish this sentence: Ad 2) (instead of inventing motivations you believe the company wants to hear, as you often have to do, when you are applying for a job)
Comment by Deborah J. Boyd on July 25, 2011 at 11:10am
I find myself wondering where the World Economy is headed. What I find increasingly frustrating is that some of the people who are full time dedicated recruiters for businesses do not really understand that much about the company they work for. It is a little hard to explain but it is sort of like being a business manager for a group of PhD Scientists. You have no idea what they are talking about but you know what they need in their office when they come to work each day. I tend to specialize in IT placements and I see some recruiters as paying too much attention to brand names on resumes and not understanding the specifics of achievements by candidates. I have had similar experience with colleges. If the company recruiter has never heard of the college they discount the candidate rather than ask me or the candidate for more information about the college. Perhaps what I am seeing is simply the attitude that employers control the market right now.
Comment by Ian Alexander on July 25, 2011 at 12:16pm
New positions more often than not turn out to be time wasters in my experience.  Much of the time, I find I become fodder for understanding what the hiring team wants, i.e. "they'll know it when they see it."  That's why I typically do what you did which is be very clear up front about what it will take to get me out of my current gig.  I applaud your inclination to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I believe you do so at the expensive of your most compelling point:  Bad candidate experiences like this kill employer brands.  Period.  They may mean well, but brands are promises that must be fulfilled with each interaction.  Employers need to walk the walk.  I believe the best employer brands will be the ones who learn how to audit and measure their performance effectively. So far, too many rely on their intentions and programs and too few rely on measurement and data collection.
Comment by Ben on July 27, 2011 at 2:30pm

Thank you everyone for your recent comments.


Ian, it's a strange one because the common advise is to never discuss remuneration from the off. I've never really agreed with this.  As with most things its HOW you broach the subject.  I don't know many people who can afford to work for a company they love but take a significant drop in income (especially in todays economy). So why not say, "look guys I'm currently on £X / $Y and can't afford to take a drop. I just need to understand we're on the same page on this one so we don't end up wasting each others time. As this can often be a deal breaker for many people (even though many never openly admit it) why not get it out the way in the early stages - Even recently i saw a reputable online source giving advise to the effect of, "don't discuss package until after your interviews" - What? Never? Maybe its me but this just seems like stupid advise. If there is a killer part of the process have it at the beginning.  It's like having a test candidates MUST pass at the end of your interview process. So you're going to have several interview etc over a period of X weeks only to say, "ah, you screwed your test i'm afraid. sorry but all that time everyone invested was for nothing. Shame really. We could have prevented that if we just put that test at the beginning of the process".


As I said, loving the comments from y'all. What do others think?

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on July 27, 2011 at 2:47pm
Ben - I believe I saw that same normally reputable online source giving that same God awful advice.  If a candidate isn't willing to discuss at least ballpark comp ranges we will NOT get past the phone screen.  Just won't happen.  My company is not always the most competitive on comp, though I feel there are other rewards.  If we can't afford you, I'd like to know that up front and not waste anyone's time.  Conversely, if you can illustrate why you're worth that 5-10K over our range, then help me sell you to my manager.
Comment by Ben on July 27, 2011 at 2:49pm
Well said Amy. Totally agree.


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