Grow Your Business: Humanize Hiring

Job seeking words

Organizations should humanize hiring and promote themselves at the same time.

When headhunters lop off your head, bad things happen to you: high stress levels, shredded self-esteem, loss of appetite, overeating and drinking, lack of sleep, autoimmune maladies, etc.

Of course, you might be among the fortunate folk who have up-to-date skills and experience that attract offers meant to entice you to leave your current employer. For the great  unwashed, however, the job-hunting and hiring process is too often brutal. It doesn’t have to be this way.


If you’ve searched for employment lately, you surely know the drill. The Internet is filled with advice to job seekers about how to insert specific keywords that will attract attention from electronic search engines that scan the thousands of résumés submitted each day. If the algorithm scores your résumé highly, a human being might spend 30 seconds looking at your credentials list. Otherwise, into the slush pile you go.

Or you might fill out an online application on a company’s website or an Internet job board. Be sure to put the right information into the correct boxes and check off all of the skills listed in the job description. A single omission or attempt to explain something might doom your chances. And where do you put such an explanation anyway? Always remember that your cover letter, should you be allowed to submit one, will be read only if the rest of your application scores highly.

Despite all, if you make it to an interview, you’ll have a chance to make your case, right? Not necessarily. Last week, I attended a presentation by a headhunter who advises large corporations and federal agencies on how to interview candidates. He recommended controlling the interview completely by asking the same questions of all candidates and assigning a numerical score to each answer. No exceptions.

I get it. Headhunters, recruiters, human resource officers, and hiring managers all cite the impossibility of sifting through hundreds or thousands of applications manually. Without electronic screening, they wouldn’t be able to reach hiring decisions within a reasonable time. And without scoring applications and interviews, they would be unable to maintain objectivity and fairness.

Question: Is objectivity an important value in hiring? At all? If so, how does objectivity survive all of the networking and personal referrals that lead to most actual hires? What really counts in this process?

Girl anxiously chewing pencil in front of laptop

Torture by Silence

Communication with job applicants, if it occurs at all, remains inhumane. You know the drill: press “Send” on your electronic application, receive a brief acknowledgement of having successfully submitted your application, and then . . . silence. Nothing. Not even crickets. I call this torture by silence.

Even after an interview, you will usually wait days, weeks, for any feedback. I once checked with the hiring officer following what I considered to be a successful interview only to be told, “We hired someone else last month. I’m sorry if we failed to notify you.” (Please note the conditional apology.)

Most but not all of my experience with hiring has been on both sides of the table in academia. Hiring procedures in colleges and universities are notoriously drawn out. Searches for senior administrators and faculty routinely take 6 to 9 months, sometimes longer. Search committees often conduct more than one interview per candidate. For very senior positions, an outside consulting firm is added to the layer. Even with all of that attention, each candidate’s status remains trapped in a black hole. Although businesses and other organizations might not take as long to make a decision, their record of communication with applicants is also abysmal. Most apparently forget that the hiring process is another marketing opportunity. Research has long shown that a person who has a negative experience will tell many more people about it than about a positive experience. Do organizations really want to burnish their negative image?

Lucy and Snoopy in advice booths

How to Humanize Hiring

About ten years ago, I published the following suggestions about how to humanize hiring procedures in academia. I think they still apply for most organizations.

  • Acknowledge having received every application. Most organizations do this, but not in a personal or friendly way.
  • Provide every applicant with contact information for a person within the organization to whom questions or problems can be directed. (I can hear the howls of protest: “We can’t afford that!” Baloney. Corporations are making record profits; universities typically waste enough money to cover the extra cost of complying. Find the resources.)
  • The hiring officer should personally inform every unsuccessful finalist of the results of the search and offer to discuss it if necessary. This chore should not be delegated to some subordinate.
  • Notify every unsuccessful applicant of his or her fate immediately after that decision has been reached even if the search has not been completed. No more torture by silence.
  • Provide constructive feedback regarding an improved résumé, application letter, skill set, references, etc., for finalists who request it; suggestions need not be lengthy or detailed, but they can help dispel the suspicion of discrimination. (Organizational lawyers might object to this offer, but research in the health professions field has shown that clients who are treated respectfully are less likely to sue.)
  • End all forms of illegal discrimination (let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that it does not occur).
  • Do not discriminate against the unemployed or persons who have recent gaps in their employment record (there can be good, private reasons for both, and neither automatically justifies the inference that their skills are not up to date).
  • Eliminate demeaning “interview” questions such as, “Why do you want this job?” or “Tell us about your 2 best strengths and your 2 worst weaknesses.” It would be better to outline a problem or challenge actually facing your organization and ask an applicant how he/she might approach it.
  • Do not presume that an “overqualified” applicant will become a disgruntled employee; such a person might be quite grateful for the position (otherwise, why would he/she have applied?).
  • Above all, ensure that you and your team treat every applicant with the same courtesy, dignity, respect, and considerateness that you would like were you, instead, the one applying for a position with your organization.
Respect: To get it, you must give it

Nearly everyone complains about the lack of information, unaccountability, anonymity, and  the ego-crushing nature of the hiring process. As a society, we can do better, and we should. If you have other suggestions to humanize hiring, please share.

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