How to Attract Top Talent? Avoid These Hiring Pitfalls

Craft a candidate experience that keeps potential employees engaged from start to finish.

Even in a tough economy, finding skilled workers can be difficult. In any economic environment, though, human resources professionals, hiring managers and the companies they work for need to ensure that the application, interview and hiring process is appealing, professional and geared toward selling the company and position to potential candidates. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. What are some job candidate turnoffs that may be hindering your hiring success?

Brad Owens, host of the podcast “Small Business Hiring” and retention expert at HRCoaching.com, shares a laundry list of turnoffs:

  • Their job description is a skill set wish list and not a description of why someone would want to work for them.

  • They make candidates jump through hoops and quizzes before speaking to them.

  • They wait too long to contact applicants.

  • They don’t keep applicants updated on where they stand in an interview process.

  • They don’t speak honestly about interview feedback.

  • They don’t allow enough time for candidates to ask questions.

You could likely add to this list. The turnoffs are widespread and can seriously hinder companies’ abilities to attract and retain top talent.

Today’s job seekers are well aware of the value they bring and the competition in the market for top talent, says Stu Coleman, partner at recruiting firm WinterWyman, with headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts. Opportunities abound and if a hiring team waits too long to make a decision, makes the hiring process difficult or fails to impress the candidate during the hiring process, “they’ll drop you like a bad habit and move on to the next company that treats them like a valuable asset,” he says.

The bottom line: When you treat candidates right, they will want to work with you, Coleman says. Let’s take a look at other common hiring turnoffs from application through onboarding and how to avoid them.

The application process

The application process is a company’s first opportunity to engage or disappoint potential job candidates. There are a wide range of things that can go awry and many opportunities for turning off potential applicants.

• Incomplete, misleading or confusing information about the job:

Should you or shouldn’t you include the salary range in your position description and advertising? Opinions differ, but think about it this way. Do you want to spend valuable company time interviewing candidates whose salary expectations are outside of your budget? Probably not. Providing a salary range will help ensure you are able to negotiate an accepted offer later.

Benefits also are an important part of the total compensation package. Your website is a good place to share benefit information, making it easy for candidates to get a sense of the total value of working for your company.

Here’s another interesting barrier between you and potential candidates that you may not have given any consideration: your job titles. As a Jan. 11 article by Fast Company contributor Lydia Dishman points out, job titles like “ninjas, rock stars and geniuses” may be a trend, but they’re not likely to show up in search results for serious candidates looking for jobs that match their backgrounds, skills and experiences. Even such seemingly innocuous variations of titles (like “customer success manager” instead of “customer service manager”) could hinder your ability to attract relevant candidates. The best advice — stick to the commonly used terms and titles for the position. If in doubt about what types of titles job seekers are searching for, tools like Google’s Keyword Planner can help.

The information you share about the job and your company is an important first step in attracting top talent. Think about it as a form of marketing: You want to put your best foot forward in ways that appeal to the needs and interests of potential candidates.

• Online application challenges:

One of the biggest turnoffs for job applicants can be a cumbersome application process. Many companies accept applications electronically, which can be convenient for candidates, but many of these processes also are time-consuming and frustrating to navigate. That leads to abandonment. In fact, Ira Wolfe, president of Allentown, Pennsylvania-based Success Performance Solutions and author of “Recruiting in the Age of Googlization,” says the abandonment rate can be as high as 95%. “Initial applications need to be no more than 15 to 20 fields, mobile-friendly and take less than five minutes to complete,” he recommends.

Don’t throw up roadblocks to make it difficult for interested candidates to engage with you.

• Follow up:

Aside from online application processes that can be cumbersome and off-putting, Wolfe also points to “the HR black hole” as a major candidate turnoff. “Candidates live in a world where with one click they can purchase almost anything they want and receive updates from the time it is packed to when it was delivered at their doorstep,” he says. “But, when they apply for a job, the application often slips into the HR black hole. It could be weeks, months or never until they get a response.”

The interview

The interview is a critical juncture in the process of wooing potential candidates. Unfortunately, companies often fail to properly “meet and greet” candidates in a way that makes them feel special and welcome.

“From the minute they open the front door of your office, the interview process begins,” Coleman says. “What does it say to a candidate when no one seems to be expecting them? Immediately they feel like an imposition instead of a welcomed and wanted guest.”

Make sure front office and reception staff know candidates will be coming in for interviews and instruct reception staff on ways to help make the candidates feel welcomed. This might include such things as providing them with a special space to park, greeting them at the door, offering them coffee or some other beverage, not making them wait too long to be ushered into the room where the interview will take place, etc.

Take steps to ensure that the interview proceeds like a friendly conversation and not an aggressive inquisition. Your goal is to entice, not intimidate, candidates.

While the interview obviously will entail a question-and-answer session with company representatives asking the questions and candidates responding, offering an opportunity for candidates to ask questions is important. Company representatives need to be forthcoming here. Transparency is key, says Tracy Timm, a career coach and human capital adviser in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“In my experience, candidates are turned off by any lack of transparency,” she says. “Conversely, companies seem to be afraid of communicating too much with candidates, as they might be ‘giving something away.’ This is to their detriment because the minute companies seem secretive or their processes aren’t clear or well-communicated, the candidates get nervous.”

Don’t mislead candidates about what the job or the company is really like. Realistic job previews are an important best practice — for both candidates and the company. After all, you don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture of what the job entails or what the culture is like only to lead to disappointment later after the employee finds that the job isn’t as expected.

Some of the things that candidates are likely to be most concerned about but may be afraid to ask include:

  • How much autonomy will they have on the job?

  • What are the approval processes like?

  • Will there be flexibility in their work schedules?

  • Where will they physically be located?

  • What is the dress code?

“Top performers will expect detailed information and full transparency with respect to the mission and vision of the role and the organization,” says Andrea Nellestyn, a career growth expert for Peak Sales Recruiting in Ottawa, Canada. This includes an understanding of the mission and vision of the role and the company, what success in the position will look like, and how their work will contribute to the overall success of the organization. Candidates also are interested in career paths and opportunities for career growth.

Transparency in terms of the timeline for the process also is critical to candidates, says Karilyn Dearie, hiring manager and career expert for CV Genius in Middlesex, England. “It is especially important to give your candidates a timeline — and stick to it,” Dearie says. “After the interview, tell them explicitly when you’ll have a response or when you will be in touch. This will ease their mind and keep you front and center on their job hunt radar during that period of time.” Be very clear about what you’re looking for, how the candidate aligns with that vision and what the next steps in the hiring process will be, Dearie advises.

Making the decision

Don’t drop the ball after the interview, leaving candidates dangling and anxious for information about how they did, next steps and a timeline for making a decision. These are all important issues for candidates.

“If an organization is able to locate and attract their ideal candidate for a particular role, it is absolutely critical to maintain constant contact with those candidates throughout the interview and hiring process,” Nellestyn says. Top candidates want to feel courted. Candidates will be easily lost if a high level of communication and transparency is not maintained, she says.

Another big turnoff for candidates, especially those who have been part of what can be a long and often intimidating process, is not knowing why they didn’t get an offer.

Many HR professionals and companies have a fear about communicating the reasons behind their choice of another candidate, says Jessica Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of Callahan, Florida-based Great Resumes Fast and a former hiring manager, noting that very few employers will let the candidates who didn’t get the offer know why. Yet, she says, so many candidates who really want this information may feel “dejected and hopeless because they’re not receiving the valuable feedback they need to grow and improve.”

Hernandez’s advice: “I strongly recommend that companies make it a regular practice to contact candidates who were not chosen and share one or two reasons behind their choice to move forward with someone else. It can provide the candidate with closure and with empowering information that can help them strengthen their presentation with other employers.”

Onboarding

It takes a lot of time, effort and collaboration to get to the “accepted offer” phase. But this isn’t the time to kick back and ease up on the hiring process. What happens after the offer is accepted and during those first few days and weeks on the job sets the stage for how the relationship will develop over time.

Onboarding — the process of introducing the employee to the new job, company and colleagues — is a critical part of the hiring process and not one to be taken lightly. Hanover, Maryland-based Allegis Group’s research indicates that, of candidates surveyed, 54% were “somewhat” or “very likely” to leave an organization based on a poor onboarding experience. When it comes to readiness for a new hire’s first day — from introductions to facility tours — more than 70% of hiring managers say they “always” cover these activities, while only 23% to 50% of the candidates “agree.”

It’s about building relationships

As Christina Van Buskirk, search consultant and founder of Janeiro Talent, points out, recruitment should not be considered a transaction, but a process. “Developing a superb candidate experience takes time, just as it takes time to build any reputation or relationship,” she says. “Recruiting done right is not just about getting in touch quickly with the right people; it’s about staying in touch and building relationships.”

You never know when your path may cross again with an applicant who didn’t make the cut this time. When it does, you want that candidate to have a positive impression of the company and the entire hiring process. That’s why communication and follow-up, from application through regrets, is so critical. Van Buskirk recommends crafting a candidate experience that keeps prospective employees engaged from beginning to end, even if they don’t get an interview or a job.

“As in any relationship, communication and honesty are key. Perhaps a talented individual isn’t the right fit for the role you have now, but there is potential in the future,” Van Buskirk says. “Let them know what’s happening internally. They will respect you, and when the time is right, they’ll still be happy to consider opportunities with your team.”

If you’re not already motivated to take a critical look at your hiring process and the potential turnoffs you may be delivering to candidates, here’s another statistic to keep in mind: According to Allegis’ research, 56% of candidates surveyed are “somewhat” or “very likely” to discourage others from applying if they had a poor hiring experience. On the flip side, 81% say they would encourage others if the process was a positive one.

Why leave your recruitment, hiring and onboarding processes to chance? Take steps now to remove the barriers that could be negatively impacting your employer brand — and your future hiring opportunities.

By Lin Grensing-Pophal