Everyone knows communication is key. Why is it so bad in the recruitment process?

Photo: Omar Lopez

This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn

On the car ride to day care this morning, my four-year-old daughter asked me what I was doing at work today. This has been a new question she has deployed for the last few days in an effort to understand how I spend my time while she’s at school.

“I’m going on my computer and will write letters to my friends,” I told her. “You know how at school your teacher tells you that everyone has a job? Sometimes you’re the line leader and sometimes you hand out snacks. I help grown-ups find jobs.”

“How can the mailman carry all those letters?” she asked, focused on the first part of my response.

“They are electronic letters. I send them from my computer to my friends’ computers,” I said.

“But how can the mailman carry those letters?” she replied. She got to know Bob, our regular mail carrier, during the pandemic. It stuck with her.

“He doesn’t. The letters go directly from my computer to their computer using the internet.” I then proceeded to try and explain the internet to my daughter. The invisible network that brings her Dora the Explorer in the mornings is tough to grasp. We arrived at daycare before I successfully disentangled the electronic versus physical mail knot we had in front of us.

The conversation underscored an observation I’ve had for a long time. My daughter’s confusion about how and when I communicate with my friends at work is shared by many of the candidates I work with. Everyone knows that communication is key. Why is it so bad in the recruitment process?

There are individual recruiters I know that have strong candidate communication practices. They are the exception. Here’s why and what we can do about it.

The Overwhelming Scale

One significant factor contributing to communication breakdowns in the recruitment process is the sheer scale at which many recruiters and organizations operate. I’m currently working with DoSomething.org to find their next Chief Operating Officer. We’ve had over 1,000 candidate apply for the role. That’s a lot of folks to update. With searches having hundreds, sometimes thousands, of candidates to manage, it becomes nearly impossible for recruiters to maintain a personal connection with each applicant. Consequently, candidates may feel like they are just another number, leading to miscommunications and misunderstandings throughout the hiring process.

Inefficient Communication Systems

Recruiters and organizations typically rely on applicant tracking systems (ATS) and email to manage the hiring process. While these tools can help streamline certain aspects of recruitment, they often fail to systematize process updates effectively. Candidates may be left in the dark about their application status, causing frustration and disappointment.

Applicant tracking systems may lack customization options and sometimes prioritize efficiency over effective communication. As a result, candidates receive impersonal, automated messages that leave them feeling disconnected from the hiring process. That’s if things go well. In too many cases, candidates don’t hear anything at all.

The Fear of Seeming Overeager

Candidates are often hesitant to actively ask for updates on their application status, fearing that they may come across as overly eager or pestering. This reluctance further exacerbates the communication gap between recruiters and applicants.

On the other hand, recruiters and organizations tend to prioritize communication with the most qualified candidates, leaving others in the process with little to no information. This selective communication approach reinforces the divide between candidates and contributes to the overall lack of transparency in the recruitment process.

Communication: Let’s do Better

To address the communication challenges in the recruitment process, we must:

  • As recruiters, be more transparent about the scale at which we operate: When applying for a role, candidates rarely have insight into how many people are in the process. LinkedIn started including the number of people that have applied to a role on their platform. This kind of information is really helpful.
No alt text provided for this image
  • Maximize communication tools: As recruiters, we can maximize the features on applicant tracking systems that prioritize communication and customization, ensuring that candidates feel connected and informed throughout the process.
  • Encourage open dialogue: As recruiters, we should make it clear when candidates will be getting updates on their status. Those updates should be on specific days (e.g., I’ll update you next Tuesday, March 28), not broad ranges like, “in the next couple of weeks.” Leverage tools like FollowUpThen to automate reminders for when to reach out to candidates. Consider sending a “non-update update” email like I first saw Michelle Kedem use, where the message is “there is no update right now.” Also, you can help to create a culture where candidates feel comfortable asking for updates without fear of judgment. Likewise, candidates should ask for specificity on the process and timeline throughout the search. I’ve been in your shoes, refreshing my emails in hopes of getting an update on a job that I’m excited about. Knowing when to look out for an update can reduce that stress.

Are you a recruiter that has strong candidate communication tips? Share them! As a candidate, have you found any approaches to communicating with you particularly helpful? I’d love to hear them.

I’m now off to write letters to my friends.

Omar Lopez, Senior Talent Consultant

Email Omar

Connect with Omar on LinkedIn