So, what should companies do to ensure they are displaying professional courtesy with applicants?
Acknowledge all applicants. This seems like common sense, but is often not followed. All applicants should receive a “thank you” for applying to your firm. This sends a professional, positive message letting them know that you received their materials and appreciate the fact that they took the time to apply to your firm. It can be a short note via e-mail or a letter. What’s important is that it is sent in a timely manner.
Be honest about the application process. It is important to let applicants know what is involved in the process itself. You’re trying to pick the best applicant, not the one who can find their way through a maze. Let them know what is to be expected at each stage of the process (e.g., completing an application form, getting letters of reference, being interviewed by several people, completing assessment tools, etc.).
Inform applicants about the results of the process. There is nothing more aggravating to applicants than when employers say they will get back to them and don’t. Even an e-mail back to a candidate about the process would be helpful.
Walk the talk. As one reader pointed out to me, some companies, such as charities or nonprofits, are happy to take our financial contributions, yet are not nearly as responsive when we apply to them for jobs. All of a sudden, they forgot how to communicate.
Make sure your hiring staff members are well trained, polite and professional. As an employer, you may think you have great recruiters, but it is important to periodically get feedback from applicants. Remember, recruiters serve as ambassadors to your firm. I’ve heard many highly qualified job seekers who are excited to work for a firm but get very turned off by recruiters who are not well trained in the art of interviewing, are uninformed about the firm, or treat the applicants with a total lack of respect or professionalism (e.g., not showing up for interviews, not being prepared for interviews, asking illegal questions).
Don’t abuse applicants’ time and talents. In this economy, some applicants have been willing to work for no pay or little pay just to get experience with a particular firm. There is nothing wrong with this practice; just make sure you are not taking advantage of the job seeker. I’ve heard great stories about how some individuals were able to turn these “volunteer” activities into paying jobs, and I’ve heard other stories about how some firms exploited people during these tough times. I’ve also heard examples of how some companies have told an applicant to relocate for a job, but after moving their entire family they were told the job no longer existed.
Professional courtesy is a two-way street. Just as you expect applicants to treat you with respect and professionalism, your firm should do the same with them. Just because the economy is to the employer’s benefit today doesn’t mean it’s OK to treat applicants disrespectfully. Treating applicants with common courtesy and professionalism is just the right thing to do — and remember, they are not only your applicants, but also your potential customers.
Joyce E.A. Russell is director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.