There has always been deluge of advice asking employers to treat their candidates like customers. In order to make a great candidate want to work at your company, you need to cater to their needs, make sure they feel special and offer them things like benefits, perks, and higher pay that your competitors don’t. It’s sound advice, for the most part, but as it turns out, following the “treat candidates like customers” point of view doesn’t always work.
The Candidate is Not Always Right
The thinking behind the customer/candidate comparison can make employers treat candidates better, but it doesn’t hold up 100%. As Gerry Crispin notes (@GerryCrispin), there’s no selection process for customers:
“If [companies chose their customers], employers would quickly find themselves facing a landslide of litigation, most likely a class action suit since this approach would more or less send a sign to consumers that 'we reserve the right not to serve you,' and there’s a pretty pervasive precedent showing that this is, in fact, almost never the case. So, from a compliance standpoint alone, the comparison of job candidates and customers seems like a stretch."
"...the comparison of job candidates and customers seems like a stretch," @GerryCrispin
Customers have more freedom to shop wherever they want, and companies must make every effort possible in order to get their business. If they don’t, they’re losing money. By comparison, not getting a candidate because someone else gave them a better offer isn’t the end of the world (though it’s still not a good thing). Even in a candidate-driven market, employers don’t have to fall over themselves in order to get every candidate’s “business.” There are also limited spots at companies of every size, whereas in most cases, companies can appeal to an unlimited stream of customers.
A Medical Comparison
It isn’t so much that you shouldn’t treat candidates like customers, but that you should rethink the approach. When you think about it, candidates looking to get a job are most like medical customers. In both cases, there may be some competition for where they can go, but most of the time, they cannot forego the product altogether, whether it’s healthcare or a job. They are also both prone to emergency “purchases," such as when someone suffers a life-threatening injury or has been fired from their job and needs to find a new one before rent’s due.
It isn't that you shouldn't treat candidates like customers, but that you should rethink the approach.
When you think about it this way, the priority shouldn’t be on making the candidate feel special, happy, or having a “fun” interviewing process, but rather one that gets results. In the medical industry, for example, there’s been an issue of companies focusing on patient satisfaction over actual care — a problematic approach. Employers shouldn’t forget about the offer itself when focusing on how they’re offering it.
So if candidates aren’t always directly comparable to customers, what should employers do? They should focus on providing a better candidate experience, to be sure, but they should also focus on making sure the carrot at the end of the stick is worth what it took to get there. Candidates don’t hold the same mindset that customers do, and often, they’re looking for a specific type of job that caters to their skills and employers should make the job as clear as possible to candidates. For example, you don’t want to refer someone looking to heal a head injury to an orthodontist.
There’s a point where trying to appeal too broadly to as many “customers” as possible ends up backfiring. By focusing on the actual benefits of the job and not pampering them while they’re still candidates and not employees, employers can avoid setting candidates up for failure by selling them jobs they may not want, and focus on filling jobs quickly without leading to poor or unqualified hires and instead find the right candidates.
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As the head of a department in the midst of a sustained period of rapid growth, Sara has spent hundreds of hours interviewing, hiring, onboarding and assessing employees and candidates. She is passionate about sharing the best practices she has learned from both successes and failures in talent acquisition and management.