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Like so many others in Alberta, being unemployed was not what I had planned for in 2016. However, this past February, during round three of layoffs at my previous organization, my name showed up on the list.  While I probably shouldn’t have been surprised based on the economic climate of the oil and gas industry, I was still shocked.

After my exit, I spent the next few weeks walking around in a daze.  I told myself, I was just on an extended vacation and that my old life would quickly resume. Reality finally did set in, and I had no choice but to pick myself up, lick my wounds and start the process to move on. 

As a recruiter, I’ve looked at thousands of cover letters, resumes and conducted far too many interviews to count. I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what I thought I needed to do to find a job, despite the challenge of looking for a talent acquisition role in a down economy. But this is the first time I’ve been unemployed since my very first job, stocking shelves at a shoe store when I was 12 years old (and I know that I’m dating myself, but that was more than 25 years ago!).  I’ve been fortunate over the years that jobs have always found me. Despite how prepared I thought I was, based on my experience from sitting on the other end of the interview table, I’ve come to realize how different the job seeker’s perspective truly is. 

In my previous talent acquisition roles, I had always felt like I had done my best to ensure a great candidate experience, however with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think I truly understood the candidate experience, nor did I truly comprehend how my actions as a recruiter impacted candidates.

Well, I’m making up for lost time now that I’m experiencing what it feels like to be on the job search roller coaster, including such things as: 

  • Seeing job postings you’re excited about and never get an interview.
  • Being interviewed for a job you believe you’re perfect for and find out you are the runner up.
  • Reaching out to people through LinkedIn to ask for feedback or advice, and never getting a response.
  • Meeting people in your network for coffee and having to reassure them, with a smile, that you’re doing okay and are optimistic that a new job is around the corner, even if that’s not how you feel that day.
  • Telling people you’re enjoying your newfound free time, even if there is nothing you’d rather more than to hear your alarm go off at 5:30am to go to work.
  • Looking at your closet full of work clothes and thinking about how so much time as passed since you last wore them.

Despite all this, I’m absolutely positive this experience will ultimately make me a better recruiter.  

I’ve spent the last few weeks considering my experience so far as a candidate rather than the recruiter, and have put together a list of four lessons I’ve learned that I will carry with me to my next role so I’ll be ready to step up my talent acquisition game!

Lesson #1 – Keeping a job posting open when you’re almost at offer is not fair to candidates.

Applying for jobs is incredibly time consuming.  I know that’s stating the obvious, but on average, I would say its taken me about six hours to research the company, reach into my network to find out whom my cover letter should be addressed to, customize my cover letter based on the job posting, connect with anyone I know who works at that organization or a competitor to learn more about that company and apply through the applicant tracking system.  Twice (that I know of) I have gone through all of this effort, followed up with a contact at the company, only to find out that despite the job still being posting on their corporate career site and on LinkedIn, the position was already at the offer stage. All that work for nothing!

Lesson – Respect candidates’ time.
 If you’ve shortlisted your candidates and are already interviewing, close the posting if you’re no longer considering any new applications.

Lesson #2 – Call when you say you’re going to call.

I had a great second interview for a position I was very excited about and spent hours preparing for.  At the interview, they said they’d make a decision and get back to me by Monday.  I sent a thank you email reinforcing my interesting in the position and felt confident.  Over the weekend, I counted down the hours to find out my fate on Monday.  Monday at 5pm, still no call.  Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday pass.  On Friday, I follow-up.  They reply with apologies and say they will call me later that day.  No call on Friday.  The weekend passes again.  Monday passes. Tuesday, I follow-up.  They apologize but say again that they will call me later that day.  No call.  Wednesday passes.  On Thursday I follow up and bluntly ask if they are still considering me for this position (not a best practice, I can assure you!).  I get a call less than five minutes later telling me that they had offered the role to someone else the previous week, who had accepted the offer, and that they had been too busy to call me to let me know.

I know you may be saying to yourself that this is just one example, but in that same week, a friend, who was also laid off, had nearly the identical situation happen as well.  Different recruiter, company and industry.

Lesson – No recruiter will say declining candidates is their favourite task, but candidates put a considerable amount of time and effort into preparing for interviews, not to mention the emotional impact of waiting to learn whether they will receive a job offer, and they need closure regardless of the outcome. 

Its critical to treat them with respect and call when you say you’re going to call.
 If you don’t have an answer when you’ve committed to follow-up, reach out to them to tell them just that. But not calling when you make a commitment to do so, is neither a great candidate experience or a great reflection on you and on your organization.

Lesson #3 – If you want to get the best from your candidate, it matters where and when you interview them.

There was a position that I applied to back in the spring that I really, really, really wanted.  I knew someone at this organization that I respected and had admired this organization for quite some time.  I had a great phone interview with the recruiter, and was offered an interview with the manager and HR Director.  The only problem was that I was about to board a cruise ship with my family and was going to be away the week they wanted to interview.  Even with having explained my situation asking if the interview could occur when I was in the United States before or after the cruise so I could have more control over ensuring a quality phone line and quiet location, the recruiter insisted the interview be done within the a three day window when I would be on the ship. Evidently, they needed to get back to an internal candidate who was also being considered for the role. 

So, trying to be flexible, I did everything I possibly could to make it happen. I arranged the interview to be on a day we were in St. Thomas at port and purchased an international phone plan.  I spent the morning snorkeling with my family, and went back to the ship early in the afternoon, excited for my interview.  I had spent hours preparing, anticipating questions and practicing my answers. 

They called me for the interview, we exchanged pleasantries, and that’s when it all started to go wrong. 

The cruise director started to make regular, and very long, announcements over the intercom system, making it incredibly hard to hear my interviewers.  Some kids, who were probably hopped up on too much free ice cream, kept running down the halls knocking on every cabin door.  And finally, the phone connection was awful! While my interviewers could hear me perfectly, I had a terrible echo on my end, so everything I said, I heard three times in my ear. 

Despite my best effort to focus on the task at hand, I knew I was not putting my best foot forward and this interview was quickly turning disastrous.  As I heard my answers coming out of my mouth (and then two more times with the echo), I felt the opportunity was slipping away and no big surprise, the position was offered to their internal candidate.  Had the interview occurred three days earlier, before I left, or three days later, after I had returned, I’d like to think that the result could have been different. 

Lesson – Set your candidates up for success in their interview.
 You’ll allow them to put their best foot forward so you truly know whether they are a fit for the role. This also ensures they get a great experience interviewing with your organization, whether they are offered the job or not. Otherwise you could be missing out on a great candidate and not realize it.

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Lesson #4 – Watch your words, especially when you’re multitasking.

I was recently declined for a position that I was confident I’d be a great fit for.  For the interview process, I had a 45-minute call with my contact to learn about the role and the organization, a pre-screen video interview, and a great two-hour in-person interview.  I left the interview feeling incredibly confident. 

When I got ‘the call’, they told me I didn’t have enough experience in one particular area compared to the other candidate (absolutely fair feedback), and the manager said with respect to the area I do have the most experience in,  “I could really teach anyone to do that”. 

That comment hit me like a bullet.  In one instant and with eight little words, it felt like the work that I was incredibly proud of and passionate about, had no value.  I was speechless.  It took me a few minutes to gain some perspective to realize that this was one person’s opinion, and not to take it too personally. I choose to believe that he wasn’t intentionally trying to insult me or make me feel like my experience wasn’t valuable, and have concluded that he was probably busy at his desk and that he spoke those words without regard to the message that they were sending. Regardless of that, I will never forget the impact those words had on me.

Lesson – When you’re busy (you’re getting a text message on your mobile device, email is coming in fast and furious, or someone is standing at your desk) be present in the moment when you are talking to a candidate.

Your words matter more than you realize.
And while you may not remember them the second you hang up the phone to move on to the next item on your to-do list, your candidate will not soon forget them.

While this period of transition has been challenging, I’m incredibly fortunate that I have an amazing network of people who are cheering for me.  People who meet me for coffee, who introduce me to their network, who advocate for me, who send me job postings and who email me just to say hello. They remind me every day that my current situation will not last forever and that there is an amazing role for me in the near future. Sending you all a huge thank you for being by my side on this journey….you know who you are!

But for now, I spend my time enjoying the summer and looking for my next opportunity and will keep learning everything I can today, in order to make me the best recruiter I can be, tomorrow.

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