Home Compliance Can We Talk About Silence From Employers in the Job-Hunting Process?

Can We Talk About Silence From Employers in the Job-Hunting Process?

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CCI columnist and compliance author Mary Shirley addresses an often-overlooked scenario in the hiring process: companies going silent or declining to respond to candidate requests for updates.

There are many ways in which today’s recruitment process is broken, and because respect and dignity in the hiring process is dear to my heart, it’s a system I like to opine on and urge meaningful change for the most vulnerable in the process — the candidates. 

I know that oftentimes, organizations don’t like to reveal to remaining candidates that they’ve made an offer to someone else and are waiting out what happens. Or maybe they don’t want to provide a status update to candidates that a promising new person has entered the scene midway through the process after multiple existing candidates are several interview rounds in and the timeline is unexpectedly dragged out. This is because historically it has been considered judicious to not let any candidate know that they might not be the preferred one just in case an offer to a favored candidate falls through and they need to make another offer and the second choice is apparently none the wiser.

This might be a bit controversial, but I think the age-old practice of just not saying anything after an undue period of time passes in a hiring process is really ridiculous, if for no other reason than the people applying for your job aren’t stupid. They know something is up: Things have been ticking along, they ask for an update after two or three weeks pass and there is silence in response. This uncomfortable lack of contact adds to the impression that the candidate has about whether the culture of the organization is for them — and I would hazard to say that, for most people, an apparent ghosting counts against the company.

We value transparency and integrity as compliance professionals, right? So I would implore organizations to consider that respect and dignity in the hiring process extends to providing some kind of update as to what’s going on after there has been no activity for the majority of candidates for a while (perhaps due to decision maker illness, company hiring freeze, etc.) and consider the extent to which it is appropriate to provide a substantive update. I would suggest in the cases where there is a hiring freeze and the role will not be filled in the foreseeable future, it makes sense to give a full update so that candidates have certainty and can move on.

This is even more important if you have suggested to the candidate that they are going to get an offer or be moved on to the next interview round and something has changed since then. It’s true that this doesn’t rise to the level of legality, but the right thing to do is be upfront about the change in circumstances. Best practice is to not make any such indications unless you’re absolutely sure they are about to happen.

If an offer has been extended and you’re negotiating with another individual, I would suggest that best practice should be to thank the inquiring candidate for the message as soon as you see it and advise that you expect to be in touch again shortly. This is far more preferable than deliberately avoiding response until paperwork is signed. Perhaps most controversially, I would suggest that it may not be the end of the world to confirm for a candidate that an offer has been extended to someone else. In situations where someone is reaching out for an update because they’ve received an offer already but want to know if they’ve still got a shot with another company for a job they like more, I consider it cruel to string them along and not provide an update to help them make that important decision. Sure, that offer might fall through, but is the risk worth holding onto someone just to be safe?

In the past I was in the running for a role in which I had agreed to relocate if I took the job. The interview process had stretched to about five months by this point and my lease was up for renewal with no end to the hiring process in sight and no word from the company for a few weeks. I reached out to ask if I could get an update, and the general counsel neglected to respond. People put their lives in employers’ hands when they apply for roles in so many ways. I don’t think enough consideration is given to the level of power and authority hiring managers wield.

Just because we’ve always done something a certain way and believed it to be in our sole interests when hiring, we don’t have to keep up this archaic, disingenuous practice. We can and should do better, taking into account all involved, not just the company.

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