Calling Companies on their Poop

If you’ve recently found yourself in the market for a new job, after many years of gainful employment, I’ve got two words for you.  BRACE YOURSELF.  Because you’re going to encounter a bevy of bad behavior out there from various organizations — at least compared to the standards we’ve come to expect from years past!

If your experience is a typical one, you’ll not only run into a frustrating brick wall of non-communication in various institutions, but the “bait and switch” and “hurry up and wait” behavior is likely to drive you a bit bonkers on occasion, as well.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that everybody agrees the current hiring system is broken.  Or highly dysfunctional and inefficient, at the very least.  But who is to blame for this reality?  Are individual hiring managers the culprits?  Recruiters?  Employment attorneys?  The system at large?

Perhaps we should we all just turn the other cheek and “hate the game, not the player” (so to speak) in those cases when a company’s hiring process comes across as not quite as humane or courteous as we might wish.  But in some of the more abusive cases, does it ever make sense for a fed-up job hunter to take action, stand up for themselves, and aggressively call a company on their…stuff?

I’ve seen a few cases where this has come to pass.  A year or two ago, I had one client (I forget who, exactly) tell me that she experienced such rude, arrogant treatment from a junior recruiter that she pulled her name out of consideration, e-mailed the CEO of the company, and informed him that “In case you don’t realize how your HR department is treating people, I wanted you to know, as the leader of the organization, that you’re NEVER going to attract the caliber of talent you’re seeking if you don’t change your hiring process.”

And even more recently, an acquaintance of mine locked horns with a company that was consistently e-mailing him about an opening that matched his skill sets, but would then never respond when he e-mailed his materials in for consideration. Here’s his first attempt at trying to gain clarification from them:

“Dear XYZ Company: My name is Bill and you’ve kindly been sending me job notifications for the same positions for the last couple of months.  I’ve duly applied for a couple of those opportunities for which I’m qualified, gotten no response, and then received yet another notification for the exact same role.  Just so you’re aware, I worked quite successfully in a joint business development role with your company, some years ago, in my former association with Acme Consulting.  In fact, I was Acme’s most successful business person in the history of the company.  I enjoyed working with the senior people in your organization, and probably would enjoy doing so again, to our mutual benefit, I believe.  If only you would actually follow-up on my applications.  Cheers & regards.”

When this initial letter generated zero response, he received yet another solicitation for the same job, so he escalated things a bit further.  Here’s the description he sent me of the next go-round:

“Hi Matt: The farce continues!  I called the company’s regional office in Seattle today and politely requested a general email mailbox address to post a comment about their careers website.  I was put in touch with somebody in their recruiting department named ‘George’.  I said ‘George, can you please provide me with an email address to send a complaint to about your jobs website?’  George then responded with some defensive remarks along the lines of ‘what do you want that for?’ and ‘how do we know who you are?’ and ‘we can”t just hand out email addresses to everybody who asks.’  My rebuttal?  ‘Funny you should say that, George, since you’ve repeatedly e-mailed me unsolicited advertisements asking me to apply for positions, and then, even when I go to the trouble to apply, you continue to send me the exact same solicitations.  So I’m simply looking for a working website — or somebody who actually has a clue as to what it takes for a qualified candidate to get considered at your company.”

What do you think?  Is such behavior reasonable on the part of a “jilted” candidate?  Or does it represent a complete waste of time and effort, whereby a job seeker would end burning bridges and throwing even more precious energy down a rathole?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a conclusive ending yet to the story above and whether this person’s actions will lead anywhere productive, but it got me to wondering whether anybody else out there has tried confronting a company directly about their bad hiring practices, if they employ (ha ha) them.  Has anybody taken their case up the food chain to a company’s shareholders or senior executive team?  Or threatened to boycott their products?  Or exposed a company’s unprofessional practices publicly, using social media tools and such?

P.S.  On the bright side, there are more and more HR leaders stepping up and trying to reverse some of the nasty, short-sighted, and unproductive practices out there.  One such thought leader?  John Hagen, a top former HR executive at Nordstrom and Via International, among other places.  John and a consortium of other noteworthy corporate leaders just launched a blog called People Thoughts that is seeking to educate companies about the folly of slash-and-burn hiring practices.  Check out his inaugural article here and consider sending him a note of moral support, if you agree with him…


12 Responses to “Calling Companies on their Poop”

  1. This sounds all too familiar to me, unfortunately.
    I have no sympathy for these companies not being able to find qualified employees – we’re right here in front of their noses! It demonstrates the pathetic ability to reason that will do nothing more than keep us in this economic pit we’re in way longer than we should be. In my opinion, those companies that can’t see this don’t deserve to exist in our economy. And they won’t.
    I (along with several colleagues) have adopted an approach similar to Brian’s. Those companies that dish out this type of rude response to any of us get on our version of a “black list.” While it may seem to do little to solve our overall situation, it does provide some immediate gratification and proof that those of still “on the outside” still have a voice.

  2. Dave: More good thoughts — thanks for sharing — and I agree that incentives/motivation are a big part of the problem here, just as they are with most things in life. In one sense, the hiring process out there can’t be too “bad” from the standpoint of most organizations or they’d change the way they go about it. And I totally agree that a lot depends on which lens you’re looking at the situation through, since most job hunters, however frustrated, truly can’t emphasize or appreciate the challenges a recruiter has to go through every day to find talent — and deal with a massive onslaught of eager candidates. So I’ll just speak for myself here. My goal with this post wasn’t to cast blame on the recruiting community, in general, but to empower job hunters to speak up — and take action — if they are on the receiving end of some truly rude, unprofessional, or egregious behavior. By standing up from time to time, in this manner, perhaps they’ll change the incentive system by creating some “pain” (where none really seems to exist now) for those companies that treat people poorly in the hiring process. And this pain, ideally, will cause some of the bad apples to change their ways, when their boss or their CEO comes breathing down their neck, wondering why they’re alienating some top potential candidates. So I’m not trying to make a moral judgment here, since there are obviously far worse sins in life than engaging in poor recruiting practices. But if it truly is just a game all about leverage and motivation, a few ticked off job hunters pulling the right levers might be able to make a difference…

  3. Matt:

    Any action which does not meet expectations set by the hiring firm is probably hurting them. Does that mean that actions perceived by the people applying for the roles which aren’t in keeping with their desires are bad? No.

    In noodling the other posts on here, it’s clear to me that none of these folks have worked on the other side as a recruiter. For example, most job ads are not written principally written to attract the right candidate, they are written to prevent a lawsuit.

    Then, this morning I bumped into a post titled, ‘The Overreliance Myth v. Incentive Systems’,, in which the author posits that we should not blame financial modelling for the problems coming out of Wall Street, but rather, we should focus on the incentive systems being used. We should look at what the Recruiting and HR functions are being incented to do, as opposed to how we think they ought to work from the outside.

    HR & Recruiting are in the midst of a transformation. Should it be a surprise that most CEOs don’t value HR in a strategic sense, and then we hear from candidates that Recruiting functions, which usually report into HR, are not doing a good job? Strategic sense = money (revenue, profits, costs). I’ll bet the VPs of Sales, Marketing, or Software Engineering at these firms are making between 1.5x to 2x more than the VP of HR for their base salary. And that does not include bonuses.

    I feel these people’s pain, I really do. Everyone has to go look for a job, and it’s mostly no fun. My advice to them is to overlook the slights, the perceived problems and keep charging ahead. You never can tell when something you thought was a complete waste turned out to be the best opportunity ever. Hang in there!

  4. Matt,
    Thanks for the acknowledgement and link. As usual your comments are on the money and so timely. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

    This blog isn’t about me, you or any specific person or company. This is about an entire industry and the business processes making it acceptable to treat candidates (potential or existing customers) in a negative and/or unresponsive way. Dave’s comment regarding budgets is just the tip of the problem reinforcing the idea that simply because there are limited budget dollars it’s OK to treat any person like, to coin your phrase, “poop”.

    Today’s modern technology and systems allow almost every company and HR/Recruiting/Recruiter to easily or automatically generate a “Thank You”. The use of simple copy and paste pre-approved canned responses can be used for those that needing the right words for a “Thank You”, follow up or follow through. We all know everyone is busy, overworked and under budgeted. How those budget dollars are used to positively affect the department and company image should be the challenge and not be the excuse.

    Is there any company, brick and mortar or internet based, who does not have a process for solving problems or complaints when dealing with customers or the public? Companies learn and flourish by positively handling and solving complaints. Most successful companies gauge their success on the reduction of those complaints. Calling companies, recruiters and HR on their short comings would, in any other business function, simply be called a customer complaint. How many times has anyone seen a section on a career, HR or recruitment site directing where to lodge a complaint?

    Why Not? Do they not want to improve their service? Do they not want to know? Does anyone even know they have problems? They do. Just ask anyone involved in the looking aspect of the employment process. Just go to “Glass Door” and read what’s being said. Ask any active or passive seeker whose experiences are quite literally unbelievable, and there are millions of stories. Some excel in their employee/recruitment/people service, but, sadly, far too few.

    Why would an HR department, Recruiter or company not want a positive image? Why would they not want to be the best and be recognized as the best, or at least try? An all out effort by everyone concerned will have an impact, but not for everyone. It never will.

    Jade, I see this as a choice. Fix it or try to fix it. Let everyone know there is a problem. No one is happy being treated as non-existent or second class. Be more vocal but also be constructive. It would be foolish to keep pounding on the same door. However, when they don’t know someone’s pounding I think it’s all right to let them know about it. We can all see the results of not speaking up. It says we accept that conduct…it’s OK…it’s not personal.

    I have picked this battle carefully, not just with my profession and its impact on people, but a company’s reputation and their bottom line. Like Matt, I and our group, offer mirrors and solutions. A united voice is priceless when it can positively impact the well being of people, employers and companies. Help us spread the word. Restore the sanity. It will work!

    Thanks in advance for all your support.
    John Hagen

  5. Like Santa, I’m keeping a list of who is ‘nice’ and ‘naughty’ in regards to a company’s communication (or lack thereof) in their recruiting practices. Since I’m looking at senior/strategic roles managing a company’s IT environment, I’ve been attracted to opportunities offered by both producers and consumers of IT products and services. After I land my next great position, my growing list of companies will become my preferred and black-listed vendors list based on my impressions of a company through their HR personnel and hiring managers. I will certainly question the customer service and support commitment of any/every company that chooses not to communicate and respect candidates in their recruiting practices.

  6. Matt,
    I would consul your associate and fellow blog readers to make sure they pick their battles wisely. Yes, there are some out there that are slogging out poor practices, but this is job hunt. They don’t call it a hunt for nothing. If you don’t care for the employment practices, I suggest you do your research and find out if the HR behavior is reflective of the company as well. If so, move on. Don’t keep pounding on the door of a den of wolves demanding good behavior. As I have told many in my life, “if a thunderhead rolls into the room, expect thunder, lightening and rain, not sunshine.”

  7. It’s not only external recruiters who behave poorly, but it also happens when trying to transfer internally to another position. I recently applied to two different internal positions, and never received any reply. Was I aggressive and calling the HR Department about these jobs? NO – because I have learned that my organization doesn’t value people who are pro-active in general and who demonstrate talent and desire to move ahead. [Why am I still employed there – “it’s the economy, stupid!”]

    So, after six weeks of silence, I called HR to see what happened to my two applications. One was filled almost immediately with someone else – meaning an internal ringer was hired that the manager wanted to give the job to. For the second job I was told – “Oh yes, we do have your application and reviewed it, but we decided to bring someone in from outside with ‘more DIRECT experience.'”

    Mind you, I have more educational qualifications than the external hire, and I am an internal applicant that by this employer’s policy was supposed to receive first review over the external applications – but nevertheless, I was treated as rudely and dismissively as if I was one of thousands of external resumes sent in for an advertised position.

    You’ve got to be wondering what sage advice the HR recruiter gave me….”Just keep looking on the job board and applying and something will eventually come up.”

    Back to the external applicant method – I thought the networking method of being referred for a position was going to resolve my career search difficulties. After months of careful networking, I was lucky enough to get a partner at a large accounting firm to refer me to their HR department for review. An HR recruiter contacted me via email and asked me to e-mail my resume. I complied with this request, and within 20 minutes I received a reply e-mail saying that they had no jobs open that I was qualified for. A website search of their hiring site displayed literally HUNDREDS of open jobs, many of which I did match the educational and experience requirements for, nevertheless this single recruiter managed to determine in about 20 minutes or less that I was of no use to this employer. Do I think this recruiter actually reviewed my resume? NO. Did the partner referral to HR help? NO

    What is a job seeker left to do these days to obtain an interview and offer for a job where you can contribute to the employer’s bottom line and find career satisfaction in that your skills and experience are being well used? It’s truly mystifying…

  8. I recently applied to a large firm using their own proprietary application site and was treated quite rudely when I had a question regarding one of their job requirements. The first response from them was to re-read the job description they posted. Obviously the JD didn’t have the answer I was looking for so I emailed them again with a more straight-forward tone and was told that “the requirements for the job should be clearly stated in the job description.” It seems like they didn’t want to spend the time to answer my question directly and kept referring me to a piece of paper that didn’t have the answer. I thought HR was supposed to provide a guiding light for the wayward applicant. I know first impressions only happen once, but I can’t believe they would be so off-putting on the first go around.

    Should I not ask questions to the hiring dept that require actual answers?

  9. Richarcd McLeland-Wieser August 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Yes, there are abuses perpetrated by HR departments. But let us not paint all recruiters with such a broad stroke. Back in January a recruiter with a national media company responded to my application. She arranged an interview with the hiring manager, then another with the Regional VP. Though one of two finalists I was not hired. In June she contacted about another job. Again I was a finalist but not hired.

    Last week I sent a mail blast asking 700 industry VP and C-level managers to introduce me to somebody who may need my services. A copy also went to her. She even responded to that promising to pass my name on.

  10. Dave: Good point, since no question about it, many job hunters would quickly label ANY hiring process “bad” that doesn’t end up with them getting selected. Or they may fail to realize that, if roles were reversed, they, too, would be forced to make very quick, superficial judgments about individuals based on the sheer number of applications and resumes that get submitted these days. To me, though, the line gets crossed when employers lose control of the process, mislead candidates, waste their time, fail to communicate regularly, and/or treat applicants in a rude or arrogant way. While such things aren’t illegal, they do represent a “bad” process to me and a candidate who experiences this type of treatment has every right to call the company on the carpet for this unprofessional behavior and hold them accountable for it. Agree? Disagree?

  11. Matt, thought-provoking post.

    What do you mean by ‘bad hiring practices’? It’s easy for most anyone to come up with examples which illustrate that they’ve been mistreated in the hiring process. But what is bad and what is good?

    Put it this way, if any given candidate were running a recruiting function on a tight budget, how would they run the show? And, let’s face it, they ARE running a recruiting function on a tight budget, as they are recruiting their next employer.

  12. Matt, where is the civility? I blame the corporate leadership who treat their employees like expense rather than assets. Human capital, what does that mean? During times of economic stress, the reality just comes closer to the surface. We can do better. Do companies forget who buys their goods and services?

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