Computer says no

shutterstock_128473394Excuse me a little self indulgence, but my wife is currently job hunting. After three years of being self-employed successfully making and selling her own jewellery followed by a couple of years doing part time voluntary work, she is looking for paid part-time employment again.

Last week she saw a shop assistant role advertised with a local outlet of very well known national chain of stores whose CEO has a high profile and is known for his philanthropy (no, it’s not the Mad Butcher!). Look closely – there is a clue.

She applied online as requested and received a very prompt response from the company “Recruitment Team” (no name was given, no personalisation) saying that she was going to the next stage of the recruitment process which involved an online test. A link was supplied.

I have talked in the past about testing and how this should be done and in what circumstances. Once upon a time companies like SHL had, and strictly imposed, very high standards on test administrators (I know, I did all their training way back when and it took weeks).

This particular test was an SHL-hosted test. She was told it was an assessment of her sales and customer service qualities, and was about further assessing her suitability for the role.  She was nervous. She’s never had to do one of these before. But of course like most job applicants she did as instructed. Recruitment Team simply told her to make sure she was uninterrupted because clearly they wanted her to perform at her best and had only her best interests at heart.

She took the test. She told me she had been very honest “and they probably won’t like that.” I reassured her that personality based tests like this are designed to identify inconsistent and dishonest answers and that she had nothing to worry about. Someone would discuss the results with her and they would have a conversation about her suitability for the role.

Two days later she heard back from Recruitment Team (still no name) with what was clearly an automated response (there was no punctuation, spacing all over the place, again no contact details and it was sent on a Saturday) telling her that unfortunately she had not met their (unidentified) “very firm benchmarks in place for our criteria.”

She was gutted. So I told her to ask for feedback from her friend Recruitment Team about what the benchmarks were that she had apparently not met so she could learn from this in her future job applications. They hadn’t offered any feedback of course but I assured her she was entitled to know.

Recruitment Team was very prompt again to give him/her their due credit, but still no name and still no real explanation. Without answering the questions they attached a copy of her personal “development report” provided by the third party provider. This was the standard computer generated personality profile.

When I read it I can see why my wife did not get an interview. What I can’t see is any passing resemblance to the woman I have been married to for 25 years! The report is divided into three sections and provides feedback on her sales drive, customer focus and sales focus.  I have always been of the view a profile report is the start of the conversation NOT the ultimate truth. Anyone with a knowledge of these tests will tell you that. Some of her “developmental feedback points” included nuggets like:

  • Dress appropriately and in accordance with company policy
  • Do not complain in front of customers
  • Respond with warmth and willingness to all customers
  • Make eye contact
  • Give customers your full attention

And there were many more equally cutting and inappropriate comments about someone nobody at the company or test provider had spoken to or met. But clearly candidate care doesn’t extend to those rejected by a computer-generated report.

At no stage has anyone from the company spoken to her as part of the process or offered to speak to her about her test results. I find this staggering given the tone of the report. If they are relying on this to recruit sales assistant staff into their stores it’s a wonder they manage to recruit anyone. Oh, and in none of the entirely online communications has she EVER been provided with a name or a contact number or personal email address at the company.

It doesn’t get any more impersonal than that! Ironically their stores are currently emblazened with the legend “we’re for love.”

Their company careers website is another exercise in faceless facile futility. The careers page says they are about “using the human touch and dedication to our craft” but again there are no names or faces of Recruitment Team to welcome you and no real information.

So excuse me a little message to whoever owns/leads the HR/recruitment strategy at this company. If you were working for me your days would be numbered. Is that really the best you can do?

Would you treat your customers like this? No, of course not. But don’t you realize that most if not all of these faceless applicants ARE your customers. If you can’t make the link between your sales and employment brands you are missing the most fundamental point. Ask yourself what “experience” has she and countless others had of your company? Put yourself in their shoes. Own the experience. Good recruiters and HR professionals do that. They don’t hide behind anonymity.

If your recruitment strategy consists of nothing more than sticking an ad on Seek you get what you deserve. Sadly, many companies with strong brands fall into this trap. There is no shortage of talent for roles like this one in New Zealand. What there is perhaps is a real shortage of recruitment and HR talent who can actually identify it.

13 thoughts on “Computer says no

  1. perrytimms says:

    We hear it time and again Richard, employer brand now as critical as consumer brand. This is poor and I suspect the philanthropic CEO may not even know this is the process being deployed here. I would hope they’d be more generous to people than some lame automated process as you’ve described.

    Send them a copy of Joy Inc, by Richard Sheridan after a pro-to-pro conversation with you.

    I hope Mrs W has a better experience elsewhere and isn’t hampered by this shoddy experience.

    Candidate experience like this is telling about any company and just not good enough.

    A vivid description here and a warning to any HR team contemplating de-personalising, testing and automating their processes ever more. It HAS to be a human, understandable and personalised experience else the best people – pass the test or not – aren’t going to touch them with a barge pole.

  2. Rachel K says:

    Honestly Richard – that’s a horrific experience. I doubt that they are getting the right people through to the next stage by having such a 1D recruitment strategy. All the best to your wife for securing a position with a company that will recognise her talent.

  3. hrmannz says:

    Thanks for your comments. I think the biggest surprise/disappointment for me is the sheer lack of the human touch and/or wanting to engage with the candidate. I thought those days were long gone but apparently not.

  4. Sarah Mannion says:

    Wow – thanks for sharing – very disappointing and a great example of how an EVP does not line up with all interactions….

  5. George says:

    errrrrr, sorry, but this is par for course behaviour from internal recruiters – which is what happens when you put ex agency recruiters into internal roles, you get people who only want to deal with people they can place and no service to those who don’t meet the grade, or, you have to read between the lines a little more
    Unless companies bite the bullet and embrace a “full service” attitude and put peoples names and numbers on ads, and then survey those who DO NOT get the job to see how the unsuccessful view their company, nothing will change
    But then again I don’t suppose there is any measurement on that , and therefore no need to do it – but it is the elephant in the room in a candidate short market!

    1. hrmannz says:

      Interesting point George. It would be great if companies actively sought feedback from unsuccessful candidates about their experience as a measure of the quality of their process. As you say, that’s a massive elephant in the recruitment room. I would also say though, that I have worked with a lot of ex-agency recruiters who have been brilliant at candidate care once freed from the bounds of BD. But you either get it or you don’t I guess.

    2. Myles says:

      They are good points you raise George however I disagree with it being isolated to internal recruiters.

      I am personally seeking a role at the moment and have been looking for a while. I can honestly say that I have had more interviews from going directly to internal recruiters compared to going through external recruitment agencies.

      It has been my experience that customer service in the industry full stop is severely lacking at the moment. The general feeling you get when dealing with an external recruitment agency is that you are just another number on their books.

  6. Inhouse ex Agency says:

    I wholeheartedly disagree with George’s comment.
    I have no idea how many hours are in his day or his work week but most of us in-house recruiters have to cope with a 45-50 hour week. There simply isn’t the time to get back to everyone with a personal message. We often have hundreds of applicants for a role, multiply that by 10 to 15 roles and you start seeing that just getting back to people with a personal touch would be a full time job. At least with a bog standard reply it shows that the candidate’s application has been received, evaluated and in some cases screened out.

    Now, clearly the experience that Mrs Hrmannz has gone through is ridiculous. But that’s more down to an initial screening component that removes the human interaction and goes straight for psychometric testing. Any decent recruiter will shy away from SHL’s, never mind as an initial screening point. We recruiters are very good at screening people, it’s what we do. Whether that be from CVs or from phone screens or face to face interviews, we are actually very good at working out what makes people tick, what are their competencies and whether they would be a fit for the organisation.

    Also George, we internal recruiters represent our company, our brand. In a day and age where employment branding is becoming more of a key component in attracting talent and less of a buzzword we want to give the candidate the best experience possible. However, only one candidate will ultimately be successful and unless we employ someone whose sole responsibility is to contact candidates personally (a luxury we, like most companies, can’t afford to do) then the vast majority of unsuccessful applicants will receive a standard ‘thank you but no thank you’ email.

    1. hrmannz says:

      Good points Inhouse. Applicant screening is a part of the process where you can add tremendous value as well as create a good experience. Technology is not always the great enabler or streamliner it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes you just need the personal touch.

  7. Inhouse ex Agency says:

    Technology helps us from a bulk response perspective and unfortunately, given the range of candidates we get, that’s often all we can do. I don’t think there is a completely foolproof way of ensuring that the candidate always has a good experience but I know that most companies are continuously looking at ways to improve.

    In our case, every single application is reviewed and assessed by one of the recruitment team and then the whole application is reviewed by the hiring manager.

    In your wife’s case, it would seem that this wasn’t the case and I’d question the processes that they have in place.

  8. Jon Masaga says:

    Not a very good experience for your wife! Hopefully she has had better luck since then!

    I work in the banking industry and these days, candidates applying for new roles have to complete psychometric testing & the results determine whether you get an interview or not.

    Too much emphasis is placed on the test results & as you said, it should only act as a starting point for a conversation only!

    My partner was in a similar situation & the only reason she made it through to the next stage was her persistence (kept following up for updates, etc). And, even though her test results wasn’t what they would normally go for, she got the job in the end, over all the other candidates that actually met their criteria in the psychometric tests!!

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