Social recruiting, employer branding and the candidate experience

Picture the scene. Its mid-December 2010. I’m happily minding my own until the mobile rings.  “We’ve seen your profile on LinkedIn,” an in-house recruiter explains, “and we’re wondering if you’d be interested in a new role we’re recruiting for in the UK?”

Now, at the time my opinion was that this company managed their employer brand extremely well. For me they had the engagement piece nailed so when I was asked if I’d be interested in working for them, internally I’m screaming, “Hell yeah baby!” High-fives and chest-bumps all round.

Externally I remain calm. “I’m genuinely happily employed at the moment (which I was). I’m not on the market but your company is of real interest.  Please email me the details.”

The job description lands.  It’s a little sketchy but as I interpreted it at the time: Recruitment/Employment? Check; Learning and development? Check; Incorporating social media? Check; An exciting company / brand? Check. Again, internally I’m, “YEEE HAAA! When can I start?” *cue salivation and panting*

As someone who’d been approached, and with nothing to lose, I remember being quite candid regarding my requirements.  Firstly, I could be honest about the balance between my ambition / drive and a key value of being a family man. I have a strong work ethic but I cherish as much time with my young family as possible… Oh yeah and wife (had to say that. She just elbowed me in the ribs) – A message I continually repeated throughout their recruitment process.

Secondly, for me money wasn’t (and still isn’t I hasten to add) a main deciding factor (I learnt this was a  fairly shallow existence in my recruitment consultancy days) but I had a mortgage to pay and family to feed *cue violins*.  I wasn’t looking for an increase but I couldn’t afford a drop in income either. Besides, I was happily employed and they had approached me. I broached this subject in the earlier rounds of interviews.  This approach can often be deemed as rather risky and / or crude but knowing the process that lay ahead I didn’t want anyone investing time only for things to fall down because of an incompatible offer. My intention was to lay all cards on the table so everyone knew where they stood from the off.  I was assured remuneration wouldn’t be an issue. They would offer what was necessary when they found the right candidate. After all, this was a new role back then so there wasn’t a UK benchmark.   “Excellent,” I thought, “game on.”

I successfully navigated my way through the following stages:

1.   Telephone interview with in-house recruiter.

2.   Telephone interview with potential boss.
3.   Face-to-face interview + presentation with potential boss.
4.   Telephone interview with bosses boss who was based abroad.

Still with me?

5.   Telephone interview with another overseas-based senior leader.
6.   Face-to-face + presentation with bosses boss + video conference to another senior leader based abroad.
7.   Face-to-face with team member I could be working with in their central London office.
8.   Provide inside leg measurements.
9.    Hand over my DNA swab.
10. Give blood and urine samples.

Okay you got me.  The last three steps didn’t happen but you can see they were thorough.  Some might argue too thorough.  There comes a point where you think, “Come on guys. If you haven’t found what you’re looking for by now is one more interview going to make a big difference?”  I got the recruiting companies stance of, “this will really test if a candidate wants to work for us” but what about the candidate’s stance of, “If this company really want me they’d have made their decision by now.”

There’s a tipping point were the correlation between the volume of interviews conducted bares less relevance on the quality of candidate yield. I.e. if a candidate meets enough people someone is going to come along who disapproves. Add this knowledge to the self doubt that starts creeping in and you begin having other thoughts. “There’s something about me that’s bugging them.” / “Do I want to join a company that may have a lack of confidence about my suitability for the role?”  Etc etc

It didn’t matter.  Their employer brand had me hooked so I continued through the 6th… And the 7th… And then… Well… Then nothing really.  I was informed there could be a slight delay as structural changes in the organisation were taking place. A couple of days passed.  3 days. 4 days. 5 days. 10 days… 14 days!…

Many of us have been there right? When you’re waiting for interview feedback on an opportunity you’re busting with exciting about it’s like being a teenager waiting for “that” person  to call.  You’re looking at your phone constantly. Your heart jumps into your mouth every time it rings.  You find yourself pacing:

“Shall I call them?  Shan’t I call them?”

“Oh sod it, once won’t hurt”

“If I call will I look desperate?”

“No. I’ll look keen and committed”

*Pick up phone*

*Start dialling*

*Stop dialling*

*Thrown phone back down again*

“That’s it! They don’t want me! They can stick their job!”

“They must be busy. You can’t blame them. They’re probably interviewing hundreds of candidates”

I made a couple of calls and had some, “no update” updates with their recruiter  and then finally, three weeks after my final interview the phone rang and it was the hiring manager. I grabbed for the phone, which had turned into a bar of soap.  A little bit of vomit entered my mouth (too much detail?). I composed myself and answered.

“Congratulations Ben. We’re delighted to be able to offer you the role….”

Containing my excitement… And the little bit of pee that nearly entered my under garments (again. Too much detail?) I pumped my fist in the air in quiet jubilation.

Looking back I regret reacting the way I did upon first hearing the offer. Remember my family values and genuine inability to take a step backwards in income?  Well, unfortunately this company didn’t.

I appreciate how my tone of disappointment and initial response of, ”Oh…..” may have been off putting for a future employer… I’m also guessing following this with an almost immediate, “And just how negotiable is that?” wasn’t too endearing either but I’d waited 3 weeks god damn it!  Within that time I’d mulled over every conceivable scenario in my head.  The last thing I needed was more time to think about it.

Whichever way you cut it I simply couldn’t afford to be approx £200 worse-off a month. I also wasn’t happy about being deducted five days holiday entitlement (which I saw as less family time).  Yes they tried to sweeten things with other elements to the package but it still wouldn’t have covered the extra travel expenses I would have incurred.  Besides, there was no guarantee I would have still been in situ by the time the carrot they were dangling came to fruition.

I’d dedicated over 15 hours preparing for, travelling to and participating in interviews and presentations.  They were very accommodating in terms of interview slots but I still invested annual leave (not sickies before you look at me accusingly) and travel expenses to the cause.  Take into account they approached me in the first place and I think you can see my commitment was unquestionable.

What this company were now dealing with was a candidate who had gone from complete employer-brand advocate to someone who was thoroughly disengaged.  Who was feeling he just hadn’t been heard even though he’d been constantly repeating certain messages of personal importance throughout.  The fact they weren’t prepared to negotiate only served to compound my paranoia they weren’t sure about making me the offer in the first place. Was this part of the reason I was made to wait so long? If so then why didn’t they simply call and talk it through? Where they waiting to see if someone better came along? The answers to these questions are irrelevant – the fact the experience was making me have them is what mattered.  There was a disconnect somewhere.

So the moral of this story? I’m sure there are many, from both a candidate’s and recruiter’s perspective but for me it epitomises the challenge of building a superb “employer brand” and maintaining it throughout every single step of a candidate’s recruitment journey.

Shortly after this experience I was approached by my current employer.  I’ll share how that role came about in the near future… If you’re lucky ;-)

Have you experienced something similar? Do you think I was wrong and / or over sensitive? Or do you think I had every right to feel frustrated and disengaged? As always, comments, thoughts and opinions welcomed below.

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  1. [...] a discussion for another time).  I wasn’t active in the market but if you read my post – A tale of social recruitment… – you’ll know I was approached at the end of 2010 with another opportunity, which I ended up [...]

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