October 2007 – Candidate relationship management
During my early years at secondary school I went through
a phase of reading Mad magazine, a US-based satirical publication
that usually featured a smirking gap-toothed adolescent
on the cover. I don’t think I knew what satire was
at the time but I could understand the way it focused on
In one of its comic strips the police were having difficulty
catching traffic offenders since their marked patrol cars
were easily identified. So they switched to plain cars,
provoking all the other motorists to paint large spots on
their cars in response.
Absurd, yes, but there was something of an exaggerated
truth in this commentary, recognising that any change has
an impact on behaviours, often with unintended consequences.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in dealing with new technology.
When candidate sifting software first became available
to recruiters it was hailed as a technological breakthrough,
taking the exhaustive process of sorting job applications
online where key-word searching could streamline candidate
selection, advancing the most likely individuals to the
next stage and rejecting the rest.
One unintended consequence, however, can be to create a
disaffected group of people among those who feel they have
been rejected out of hand. As Ian Ruddy, head of people
services at O2, the mobile telephone network and broadband
provider, pointed out last week, those same people could
be part of a company’s customer base.
“We want people who approach O2 for a job to feel
good about the experience whether or not they end up working
for us,” he says. For this reason the company has
started augmenting its general recruitment process with
“I’ve noticed that when people receive a text
message they always seem to smile. I think it has something
to do with the personal nature of the message,” he
The business of candidate relationship management, employing
many of the techniques used in managing customer relations,
is growing in sophistication. Some candidate response software
now will deliberately delay a rejection note so that a candidate
might believe that an application has been subjected to
greater deliberation than is actually the case. A speedy
return-of-email rejection is regarded as bad form, even
if sifting software is capable of making almost instant
Another problem with the ubiquity of online applications
is that they can encourage candidates to be less discriminating,
firing off multiple applications simply because it is much
easier to do so over the internet.
It is as if the world of “volume recruiting”
– as it is known among human resources departments
- has become something of a promiscuous society that is
promoting little more than the shallow experience of a casual
In this kind of atmosphere there can be faults on both
sides. Some companies know they can expect a proportion
of recruits to walk off the job within the first week of
starting work. This is wasteful and costly recruiting, fuelling
cynicism on each side of the transaction.
“It’s important that organisations are honest
about the employment experience. They should tell people
how it is, warts and all,” says Robert Peasnell, managing
director of Barkers, a candidate response management agency.
Ian Ruddy says he is trying to build at O2 – a company
that expects to receive more than 30,000 online job applications
this year - the kind of experience he feels when he shops
at John Lewis, the department store. “Even if I don’t
buy anything there I feel I have been handled well by the
staff and it makes me want to go back. If we can engender
that kind of experience among people who consider working
for us it will make a difference to how we are perceived
in the marketplace,” he says.
We were talking at a round table event that included on-line
recruiters and job board executives. I wondered aloud if
there was any merit today in sending an old-fashioned letter
of application for a job. There was a mixed reaction but
the consensus was that letter-writing can help people stand
out from the crowd.
“Any application that is tailored to a specific role,
giving recruiters more information about an individual is
going to be perceived as useful,” says Mr Ruddy.
If companies are trying to personalise their responses
to candidates, however artificially, there is nothing to
stop a candidate personalising a job search. I would not
recommend a speculative letter to an unnamed individual,
but if you have tracked down the identity of a recruiting
manager it couldn’t do much harm to instigate some
In this age of software systems, personal relationships
remain important. Besides, this is one way to find out what
a company is really like. The unsung responses of executives
in these situations can have a bearing on reputations. As
Mr Peasnell points out, “Depending on their experience,
a potential job candidate can be an advocate or an assassin.”
This is why companies need to be mindful about the sort
of things that are discussed on web sites such as Vault.com
where responses to staff surveys describe the work experience
at a range of companies.
One of the richest candidate experiences can be provided
by assessment centres. It is more than 30 years since I
was rejected as an Army officer candidate yet the whole
selection experience was so rigorous that it left me with
an enduringly positive impression about officer recruitment.
A new book, A Practical Guide to Assessment Centres and
Selection Methods,* points out the extent to which some
candidates are preparing themselves for job selection. Job
seeking airline pilots, cabin crew and potential flight
trainees, for example, can tap in to the information and
rumour network on forums at www.pprune.org.
Another web site, www.willflyforfood.cc, provides pilots
with detailed interview advice and other practical information
needed in job seeking.
With such valuable information readily available on the
web it should not be surprising to hear that some applicants
and interviewers today will conduct a Google search on an
individual or organisation before an interview. If you have
not yet “Googled” yourself I would urge you
to do so, including a quick visit to Google images.
Those with common names can probably exempt themselves.
Otherwise they may well regret the time they were photographed
at the freshers’ ball wearing a pair of underpants
on their head. That, perhaps, is forgivable. But if the
party was just the other week and the prospective employer
one of the more sober institutions, you might have some
explaining to do.
In the same way, as an employer, you may need to explain
the 10 per cent redundancies last year, the forthcoming
bonus cuts, or an embarrassing sexual discrimination case
that made the tabloids. Our skeletons no longer live in
cupboards. They’re dancing in the streets.
*A Practical Guide to Assessment Centres and Selection
Methods, by Ian Taylor, is published by Kogan Page, price
See also: Career
advice for young people