Thursday, September 17, 2009

Respond to Job Seekers

With this tanker economy, there's been no shortage of articles and anecdotes about the shabby treatment doled out to job seekers - like here in Terry Frost's blog and this NY Times piece.

There is increased, and valid, criticism about the lack of communication with job seekers, even final stage candidates. I know it can be absolutely overwhelming to find and navigate a candidate through interviewing and onboarding. Responding to every applicant that floods your email on top of that seems undoable. Especially, at a startup where there is more to do than fits in a day - usually without a dedicated HR rep. As we open a new position here at my company I want to do better.

Here are a few strategies I suggest to help:

#1 Add some additional tasks to the job posting, and make it clear you'll only respond to applicants who respond to your additional requests. For example, ask applicants to name their favorite product in your line and why. Perhaps it's just asking them for the last book they read and loved? These additional, and non-traditional, requests can give you clear insight into an applicant's personality. More importantly, they serve as an immediate screening tool to gauge genuine interest. Seekers spamming their resume widely and blindly stand out like a sore thumb - as not being specifically 'into' your opportunity.

You can also use the posting to notify applicants that it might be as long as a week or two before they hear from you while you receive and screen folks.

#2 Be strategic in your posting location. For many positions, craigslist or careerbuilder will bring a barrage of nongermane candidates. Start instead by posting on focused job boards, hopefully yielding more qualified applicants, and fewer of them. For example, if you are looking for a QA Manager, start with devBistro or QAjobs. I also like to narrow down the field with industry specific sites, like CenterNetworks. Startuply should produce applicants more likely to be prepared for a start-up. Most of these niche job boards are free or extremely affordable (read $10).

#3 Develop an applicant triage. Keep the process moving along.

* The 'No' Pile: For those that are clearly don't fit your specifications, log them in a 'no' folder right away. I once had someone with only 1 year gravedigging experience apply for an embedded Linux developer spot. Schedule 30 minutes on your calendar to shoot these people a nice template email informing them it wasn't a match this time.

* The 'Maybe' Pile: If you don't move them to the 'no' pile with a quick hiring panel pow-wow then shoot them a template email asking them to hang on until 'x' date a couple weeks out. Tell them you have numerous candidates and your hiring team needs time to receive all applications and get together to review them.

* The 'Ohh looks good' Pile: Communicate regularly and personally with these folks and let them know where you are in the process. In fact, get to know them and how they react to the real challenges your team faces in the process. If there are too many in this group to correspond with easily, you need to transition more of them to the 'maybe' or 'no' pile. When someone drops from consideration, do your best to tell them why.

There are free open source Applicant Tracking Systems out there. OpenCATS might do the trick by helping you store applicant info and see where you are in the communication process. You can use a spreadsheet or even manila folders.

We can do this. Leaving job seekers in the lurch is not only unprofessional, but it severs a potentially powerful network of future friends, contributors, partners, and customers. I've built relationships with rejected candidates, one who later referred a perfect match for an open position and another who turned into a major customer. If someone applies to your company, it's likely they have related interests and connections you don't want to lose. Communicating with applicants is representative of your company as a whole - it's basic branding, and its basic courtesy.


  1. Thanks for the mention of OpenCATS! Always looking for more requirements/more feature requests etc so that we can develop a kick-ass free alternative to the commercial ATS's out there!

    RussH (OpenCATS)

  2. Great tips. very well-written, keyword-oriented and incredibly useful. its really interesting to many readers. I really appreciate this, thanks

    open source applicant tracking software free