Before we get to the science part, here’s a joke I heard the other day that made me cringe:
Question: What’s the difference between a used car salesman and a recruiter?
Answer: At least the used car salesman knows they’re lying.
Wow. People really don’t like recruiters. The bad news? It’s that science backs them up.
Early this year I did a survey of recruiters. One of the questions was “what one thing is lacking from our industry?” The No. 1 result was one word — “gratitude.”
Most of the public would roll their eyes. If recruiters want gratitude, all they have to do is learn to call people back and stop standing in the way of the good jobs!
I know - it’s not rational to assume that we have some magic pot of jobs, but what if they have a point? After all - the math of recruiting is clear— at the end of the process, most people will believe they had a bad experience with a recruiter.
I’m serious about this. You’re a smart reader. I’m not trying to trick you. The above statements are not going to suddenly end with some cheerleading suggesting that recruiting is secretly the noblest of professions.
The hard truth is that the majority of job seekers will remember bad experiences with recruiters. This doesn’t mean they had a bad experience. It does mean they “remember” a bad experience. This is due to a psychological quirk first proposed by Barbara Frederickson and Daniel Kahneman called “the Peak-End Rule.”
The best explanation of the peak-end rule is to imagine yourself on a seven-day vacation in Italy with your best friends. The first six days are the best of your life! On the seventh day, your plans are canceled because of rain, and a taxi cab driver rips you off for $200.
When you return home, how do you describe the trip?
This is who we are. This is what we do. We remember the most emotional experience in a sequence of events, and then we remember the end. The end influences the impression of everything that came before.
People focus on outcomes.
So let’s talk about recruiting.
As you know all too well, there are a number of people at the end of a hiring process who are not happy. They talk about wasted time, incompetent recruiters, and stupid or cheap companies. What about the person who got the job offer? They remember you as being pretty OK. If you’re really lucky, they even thanked you. How can the same recruiter get different ratings? The candidates had different outcomes.
Recruiters talk to far more people who don’t get a job than who do get a job. Even for the exceptionally gifted ones, most people with an opinion of us are going to dislike us over the course of our career.
The only time this isn’t true is when we recruit in a very small niche where there’s time to give extraordinary customer service to a very small group of candidates (and, charge an exceptionally large fee for their services to the client).
I’ve been a recruiter for almost 20 years, and in that time, I’ve disappointed far more people than I’ve helped. That’s the nature of our profession. My job is to pick people on the playground, and that always means someone is picked last.
Time to stop peddling false hope
I’m not convinced we are forever doomed to be disliked. My experience with smaller pools of candidates proves that you can improve the hiring experience. It is possible to have candidates who didn’t get a job offer leave with a positive impression.
There are two things we have to do.
First, we have to stop pretending that every candidate is the most wonderful, incredible, amazing person to ever walk the earth. We use way too many exclamation points when scheduling interviews, and that makes the disappointment much worse if they don’t get the job.
Being professional instead of giddy lessens the impact of not getting the job, but it doesn’t solve the peak-end problem. To fix that, we might have to do the unthinkable — limit the number of people who apply to a job.
Executives often brag that they only the top 1-2% of people who apply. This is not a positive thing. It is wasted time for everyone involved. It’s a symptom of mindlessly clicking “apply now.”
If we want to improve our industry reputation, we have to learn how to limit the number of applications so that recruiters have time to give every candidate we do want to speak with our time.