About customer journeys and HR processes

Wooing customers and scaring off applicants - can that work?

To avoid getting into hot water, I'll start this article with a disclaimer: I am explicitly not referring to all companies here. And fortunately, the number of those who should not feel addressed is growing continuously. However, if you've talked to job applicants or were lately job hunting yourself, I think you'll agree: There are still many companies, surprisingly also very renowned ones, whose application processes are so inferior that I want to address this phenomenon today. With this in mind, anyone who feels addressed by this article has only themselves to blame, while everyone else can relax and follow what I have to say at.

The customer-journey-versus-application-process-phenomenon

The question is: Why is it that in one and the same company there is a marketing function that woos its customers, thinks every step in its customer journey from the customer’s point of view and tries to make the sales process as simple as possible, while on the other hand the HR department hardly seems to think about applicants (some don't even answer them!) and aligns all processes almost exclusively to its own needs? Before I go into the reasons and my view of what the implications are for identity, sustainability and, yes, future readiness, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of shortcomings of points I keep hearing:

  • An applicant receives no response, not even a standard letter.
  • Reasons for rejections in the form of standard letters are often (and demonstrably) not correct.
  • An applicant waits not days but weeks for feedback.
  • There is no predefined process as to which and how many rounds of interviews to expect.
  • Applicants (e.g. university graduates) are «invited» to unpaid case studies.
  • Interns (e.g. at law firms, media companies) are often simply cheap labour.
  • Motivation and talent can be skyrocketing high, the point experience remains a must criterion
    (I'm talking here about the cycle no job -> no experience -> no job -> no experience -> ...).
  • The algorithms in the initial selection by artificial intelligence are nonsensical
    («meet all skills» means that a world champion in 8 out of 10 points does not meet the conditions).
  • Entire resumes need to be typed into proprietary systems or uploaded and corrected/adjusted using stone-age software.
  • ...

If that is too general, here are three specific examples that I can back up in writing:

  1. The standard Noreply- email response of an energy company in a matter of seconds after submission of the application:
    - We try to get back to you within 2-3 weeks if we are interested in your profile.
    - 30 days without a response means that probably another applicant has been considered.
    - Not receiving a response should not prevent you from applying for another position with us.
    Nothing after that...
  2. An external recruiter contacts a C-level director, who is invited to the CEO of the recruiting (Swiss) company after a successful initial interview. After the CEO-meeting, there is no response, neither from the recruiter nor from the company.
  3. One of the «big four» consulting firms sends a rejection letter because the applicant «could not be considered despite excellent qualifications due to the large number of other high qualified applicants». And barely a week later, exactly the same position is advertised again.

Such companies ignore the fact that these are people whose interest is so strong that they are interested in working for them and that they may have spent hours preparing the entire application package. Appreciation looks different.

Why do even reputable companies do this?

Of course, the comparison between applicants and customers is misleading because the market forces are completely different. In marketing, the power lies with the customer («the customer is king»), many competitors vie for every customer with the same or similar products or services. In HR, it's the other way around, here recruiters and recruiting managers are the «kings», and the many applicants are vying for a single position to be filled.

Globalization and digitalization have multiplied the size of the labour market almost exponentially, especially for lucrative management positions. Until about 20 years ago, most job markets were still regionally limited. Today, anyone looking at applicant profiles on LinkedIn job listings will see that several hundred applicants from all kinds of countries quickly apply for interesting offers. This means two things:

  • For HR departments, the selection process has become much more demanding. Most large companies have automated the initial selection, i.e., «artificial intelligence» does the initial selection (and in the best case also already writes the rejection letter). And for those who remain, HR no longer has much time for screening each candidate.
  • The same is true for applicants: it has become more challenging, but exponentially more than for HR teams. On LinkedIn, there is kind of a whole industry of consultants helping applicants how to tackle the challenge and how to stand out from the crowd.

I don't know if it's true or not, but the following points have come to my attention: As an applicant, for algorithm reasons, you should absolutely click on all the required skills, regardless of whether you meet them or not, otherwise you will already fail the robot hurdle. Then, it is important to have the right keywords in your CV. Because if they are missing (or if they are described with the wrong words), the «artificial intelligence» is not impressed. And this: a recruiter decides after a few seconds (less than half a minute in total) whether an application goes to the yes or the no side. Creativity is required. No one, at least not in the first phase, reads a resume in its entirety. As I said, I don't know if this is true, but if it is, then the initial selection process degenerates into a kind of «game» in which only those who know these mechanisms and have the chutzpah to circumvent them have a good chance. Everyone else is left out.   

What does this have to do with sustainability and future readiness?

By definition, sustainability has three dimensions: People, environment and business. And it's like this: Success in one area cannot compensate for failure in another. That's why I talk about «real» sustainability when a solution encompasses all 3 dimensions. And my call on sustainability is: businesses must be genuinely and intrinsically sustainable (more on that here).  

The question arises: How credible and sustainable is it when a company treats the human being «applicant» arrogantly and without empathy in the recruiting process and at the same time presents the human being «customer» or the human being «university graduate» with a people-friendly corporate culture in employer branding? My experience tells me that a corporate culture is either people-friendly or not. And if it is, then it is in all areas and situations, regardless of whether it is internally towards the employees, when it is a question of resolving a shortcoming, or externally towards customers, suppliers, authorities or indeed applicants. Then recruitment processes are respectful because it is in line with the  company’s DNA and not just when market forces demand it.  

A selectively different approach will be unmasked sooner or later. Let's take the above example of the «big four» consulting firm: If 150 applicants applied for this job and received the same, obviously untruthful rejection and saw the subsequent new advertisement, then there are potentially 150 people who distrust precisely this «big four» consultant in case of a subsequent customer role.

Do we have an employer or employee market?

About market forces. Where are we today? Do we have an employer- or an employee market? Many companies complain about a shortage of skilled workers. That's surely true for certain industries, occupational groups and regions. And yes, after COVID, the labour market is not what it was before COVID. But that we are already today in an overall labour market, I think is a rumour. Aren't the recruitment processes described above an indication that this is not (yet) the case. Personally, I rather believe that we are at the beginning of this development and that it is yet to happen. According to the Future of Jobs Report 2023 from the World Economic Forum, it is so that

  • local skills shortages, the difficulty of attracting talent, and the regulatory framework are the main obstacles to business transformation.
  • Investing in on-the-job training, accelerating automation, and transitioning existing staff from diminishing to increasing roles are the most important workforce strategies companies are pursuing.

And, to be honest, I'm looking forward to this development. Globalization has led to almost decades of employer markets. If the trend is now turning and employers are having to look again more at internal training and more creative and improved recruiting processes, I think it's a necessary and healthy development. In 1990, when I entered the job market as a bachelor's in business administration, there was a true employee market. Back then, as a graduate student, we could place a small ad and 20-30 companies would respond. That time will not come back, because globalization and digitalization have put us into a different situation. But the signs are good that the world of work in the digital age can be shaped on an equal footing (here is my assessment of «New Work» in all its facets).

And also here, it is about future readiness. If you would like to learn more about how I, as a Global Strategist and Sparring Partner, make companies fit for the future and ensure true sustainability - for the business, the people and the planet - then connect with me on LinkedIn or book a complimentary discovery call.

PS Let the future be your guide - the best in life is yet to come.