by Jim Gibson

I wonder what executives think when they read the annual pronouncements of the “best places to work”.

It’s been said that perception is reality. This is especially true with client satisfaction, employee loyalty, and a company’s image.

Just as a favorable image is critical for winning new clients, the same can be said for attracting talent. Assuming a search consultant specializes in the client’s niche, he or she will most likely have a good idea of the company’s image, as well as those of its competitors. If not, its image will become clear to the consultant early in the search.

During our pre-search discovery process with a new client, we routinely ask about company image. The answer almost always seems to be a variation of “I think it’s good. If you hear something to the contrary, I’d like to know.”

So how exactly does a company manage its image? The same way it builds employee loyalty. Image and loyalty are closely related. While not exactly cause and effect, you rarely find one without the other.

Products, market, clients, and even compensation are important but not critical to image or employee loyalty. How employees and potential employees are treated is what truly makes the difference. And this begins with the courtship.

Taking a good hard look at a company’s hiring process will give its executives insight into how they probably treat employees. How they treat a candidate is often an accurate reflection of attitude and company culture. It sets the tone for the relationship with that person, and nobody believes this more than that prospective employee.

What company leader hasn’t said at least once, “Our employees are our greatest asset?” Yet, ironically, many senior managers inadvertently hide that sentiment when dealing with candidates. They are missing a great marketing opportunity in the hiring process.

Attracting top talent is in some ways like sales. This multi-step process, usually involving several players, should have momentum building at each step, leading to a deal as the climax. When the deal is struck, all parties should be excited about the outcome and satisfied with the process.

Handled well, rejected candidates should be sent away with care and compassion. The treatment of rejected candidates throughout the entire evaluation process should leave them impressed with the company, disappointed at not being selected, and determined to get back in, should the opportunity afford itself.

Handled poorly, rejected candidates will go away with a negative impression and possibly bitter feelings. When bitter feelings arise, they’re rarely due to not being selected; they’re usually due to being treated poorly. As most executives know about customers, but some rarely consider in terms of candidates, someone dissatisfied will tell more people than someone satisfied. Additionally, a poor process can even steal some good will from the selected candidate.

To take full advantage of this marketing opportunity, it may help to augment the hiring process with the following:

  1. Have a process, take it seriously, and commit to it. Decide whether the effort will be driven by an executive, a line manager, an administrative manager, an HR representative, or an internal recruiter. Fully support that person’s effort with time and attention. A good hiring process can be efficient and not require a lot of executive time, but it will require some.
  2. Beyond the internal driver, decide whether to engage an outside resource, either a contingency recruiter or a retained search consultant. The type to use is usually dictated by the level of the position. Director and above are often retained, while searches below Director are usually contingency. Sales can go either way, depending on compensation and desired experience. Support that person or firm as well.
  3. Develop a thoughtful position profile and an objective set of candidate evaluation criteria. Make sure each person involved in candidate evaluations completely understands the position and these documents and is committed to them.
  4. Share the hiring process with interested candidates and set their expectations.
  5. Insist on objective evaluations and meaningful feedback from all team members. Vague, subjective feedback should be unacceptable.
  6. Provide timely, meaningful, and detailed feedback on all candidate submissions and interviews. Forty-eight hours is a good guideline.
  7. When making an offer, resist any temptation to low-ball on compensation. One of our clients likes to offer slightly more cash than expected. This goes a long way toward sealing the deal and creating good will, which may be called upon as soon as that candidate is presented with an enticing counter-offer.
  8. From beginning to end, give the unmistakable impression that the company has its act together.

Most of us have looked for jobs at least once, if not several times. Thinking back to both good and bad experiences will guide one well. Following the spirit, if not the letter, of these suggestions will result in shorter searches, better hiring results, and easier subsequent hires due to the image that already has begun to be built.

If evaluating a company’s hiring process is analogous to looking in the mirror, then doing so with absolute honesty is like turning up the fluorescent lights over the mirror. As executives look closely, they should smile if they like what they see. If they don’t like what they see, they should smile anyway because they’ve taken an important step toward improving the company.


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