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The William-Wallace Factor and Candidate Relationship Management

by Mark McMillan

This past weekend I met with a client that is going through a career transition. He updated me on his latest interview with a well-known sports apparel company. The company flew him in for a day of executive interviews. There was direct evidence that the company liked him. The CEO extended his interview by an hour and a founder texted him, congratulating him on a good performance. As of this past Saturday, it had been ten days since the interview — total radio silence. The recruiter hasn’t returned his calls and none of the executives have reached out. Now, my friend may not be the right candidate, but there is no excuse for this sort of treatment. It is bad business and it happens with regularity.

When I hear anecdotes about poor corporate recruiting behavior, I invariably share mine. Seven years ago, my girlfriend, “Mariana”, was searching for a entry level position in fashion design. She is Colombian and she came to the United States for her masters in textile and fashion design. Her goal upon graduation was to land a fashion job in Manhattan. In order to do that she needed to find an employer that would sponsor her work visa. There was a recession and it was the post 9/11 immigration era. The outlook was challenging.

To say Mariana’s job search was fraught is an understatement. Her parents had invested a large sum of money so that she might build a better future in the United States. And seven years ago, Colombia was a very difficult place to develop a career. Simply put, Mariana’s opportunities in Cali were a fraction of what they would be in the United States. This was a job search with real pressure.

A job search is never just about the candidate. Mariana’s job search was my job search. It was her parents job search. There were many tearful phone calls during that period where we were trying to encourage and support her. It was a roller coaster for all of us. In many ways, it is more anxious for the supporting cast because we couldn’t control anything. For every employment candidate there are always others emotionally tethered to the outcome.

Our hopes rose when Mariana landed an interview with the design group of a major retailer.1 They loved her portfolio and her first interview went so well that they asked her to come back for a second round. In preparation for the second interview they asked her to do a project. They presented her with a concept and asked her to develop some design drawings that they would review during the interview. As she always does, Mariana threw herself into it and spent hours completing her concept.

When Mariana reported on the proceedings of the second interview our collective hopes reached new heights. They appeared to love her project and the interviewers shifted the conversation to what it would be like for her to work at the company. They closed the interview setting the expectation that they would be getting back to her with offer details the following Tuesday.

The next Tuesday came and went and there was no call or email from the company. The recruiter did not respond to Mariana’s status inquiries. We never heard from the company again. She was devastated. They asked her to spend hours on a concept project and they didn’t have the courtesy to notify her of their decision?

The best way for me to communicate how I felt is for you to watch this YouTube clip:

That’s right, the company turned me into a “William Wallace.” Guess who are analogous to the English in this clip? I put on my righteous face paint and rallied my clan against the tyranny of the company. A William Wallace is a former customer that actively goes out of his/her way to bad mouth the company to friends, family, and anyone who will listen. This William Wallace factor is serious business. In my case, I spent easily over $500 a year at that company’s clothes. I didn’t set foot in any of their stores for almost four years and I still get angry about this story. I am still a William Wallace.

It is puzzling that companies invest millions in customer service and yet they don’t seem to hold recruiting in the same regard. It doesn’t occur to them that recruiting is a powder-keg of emotion. When someone has a bad customer service experience it is not personal, and there are usually not other activated stakeholders. In the recruiting exchange the company is evaluating the value of the person and the candidates stakeholders are tied to the outcome.

As consultants, our job is often to put corporate smelling salts under corporate noses. The model below is the variation that we use for consumer brand companies.

Of course, it is challenging to know exactly how many rejected candidate affiliates a company’s recruiting process produces. Furthermore, it is impossible to completely eliminate the William Wallaces. The name of the game is to reduce them based on good process, technology, and recruitment culture. The graph below expresses the revenue at stake:

Now in the talent acquisition game, there are many ROI calculations that are put forth to justify recruiting technology investment. I have certainly seen some ROI dimensions that are stronger than others. Some of the arguments can be pretty weak. The William-Wallace factor is not one of them. I encourage you to think about your own personal experience. I bet you have a story and I bet it still riles you up.

Are you curious to know if your candidate relationship management plan is sound? You should be. Newsflash. William Wallace just got a Twitter account.

1 Author’s note — When I first wrote this article I named the company. And I wanted to because they deserve to be torched. I know it is bad business but I still wanted to include the name. Those are my feelings after 7+ years and I never interacted with anyone at the company. Fortunately, my business partner has poise. But it is worth noting that I still carry that resentment towards that company.