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Donkin on Work - Recruitment

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 absurdities.

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 text messaging.

“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 says.

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 decisions.

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 encounter.

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 personal contact.

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 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

Another web site,, 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 £70.

See also: Career advice for young people

©2006 Richard Donkin - all rights reserved