A job application is a date – not an adoption


There appears to be a perception among recruitment agents and certain of their corporate clients, that candidates are akin to orphans – scrubbed up and wearing their best clothes, with orders to smile and speak politely to the interviewer in the hope that they may be chosen to be adopted into the wonderful company to which they have applied. Questions are to be encouraged – but only in so far as to show enthusiasm and interest in the role.

It never seems to occur to these recruiters or their clients, that the application process is a two-way street, more akin to a date than an adoption – that just as the client is assessing the candidate and trying to decide whether they have the necessary skills for the role, and whether they would be a good fit for the company, so, too, is the candidate trying to determine whether the job really is the right direction for their career, and whether they will enjoy working for, or alongside, the interviewer.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been invited for an interview for a job, put on my best suit, gone to the interview, gone through the whole friendly smile / firm handshake / confident walkthrough of my experience / question-and-answer session, and left with an overall feeling that the interview has gone really well – only to be told that the interviewer has decided I’m not quite right for the position. Very little further explanation is ever given, and the recruitment agent, in passing on the bad news, is generally desperate to end the conversation and move on. You weren’t picked – get over it – next!

But what about when it’s the other way round? Then, it seems, it’s a completely different story. On a few occasions in the past, and again very recently, I have found myself invited for an interview which, while on the face of it has gone fairly well, has led me to decide that the job is not quite what I’m looking for. But oh, the drama, when it transpires the interviewer really liked me and wants me to return for a second interview – or even offer me the job.

Trying to explain to a recruitment agent that no matter how much the interviewer liked me, it doesn’t change the fact that the job is not what I’m looking for and therefore I don’t wish to waste any more of either my time or the client’s, is incredibly frustrating.

I have had this experience probably three or four times in the past, and every single time, the agent has tried to convince me to continue with the application regardless.

Every single time, they have tried to convince me that I must have misunderstood the job, it really is completely along the lines of what I’m looking for, and even if it’s not, if I just take it, there will always be an opportunity in the future to move into a different role within the company that may be more along the lines of what I’m looking for.

And every single time, when I’ve insisted that I know my own mind, and that I don’t wish to continue with the application, I have been pressed to speak directly to the client to explain my reasoning.

This is an outrageous request.

It would be all very well if the same request was made to clients, to explain directly to candidates why they have not been chosen for a second interview, or why they have not been offered a role.

But that never happens.

A client is barely expected to give any reason whatsoever for not choosing a candidate – they can simply state that the candidate is not suitable, or that another candidate was deemed to have more relevant experience, and that is that.

For a recruitment agent to question the client’s decision, to say “Oh, are you sure you don’t want to see this candidate again, she may not have the right experience right now, but she’s a really great person who really wants the job, and with time and training she could be perfect”, would be met with stony disapproval, and probably would lead to the agent being fired.   The agent would never dream of then asking the client to explain their decision directly to the candidate.

So why can’t candidates be shown the same respect? Why can’t recruiters – and clients – accept that a candidate may be just as interested in finding the right job, as the client is in finding the right candidate? Clients turn down candidates all the time because they simply don’t feel they are “the right fit” – in other words, they just don’t like them. Why does it never occur to recruiters that the same could happen in reverse and that the candidate may not wish to explain their reasons for turning down the position?

On this most recent occasion, I actually had got on well with the interviewer and I agreed to explain my reasoning directly to her, and all it took was a 5-minute telephone conversation for her to agree that yes, my assessment of the role is correct, and it is not what I’m looking for. But it shouldn’t have been necessary.

Companies have a big enough problem with attracting the right candidates for positions – too often (and I know I have done this myself in the past) a candidate will be too eager to please, and will gloss over concerns they may have about the role, in their desperation to just get the job and make of it what they can. In my experience, this never works out well. On the very few occasions in the past where I have accepted a job despite reservations, I have always found I hated the job.

If a candidate has a strong enough feeling, after an interview, that a job is not for them, then trying to talk them into continuing with the application, or questioning their decision, is a recipe for disaster.   And asking them to explain their decision to the client is just wrong.

Recruiters – next time a candidate tells you they don’t wish to continue with a job application, remember it’s a date, not an adoption. He may think the date went perfectly – she was just as hot in person as in her online profile, she laughed at all his jokes and was happy to split the bill – but if she felt it was a perfectly pleasant evening but ultimately underwhelming, she’s not going to want to go out again. Begging her to change her mind is just not cool.



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