Are You A Forgettable Job Candidate? Here’s How To Fix That
We were interviewing fifteen or twenty candidates a day at U.S. Robotics during the years of crazy growth. I got good at remembering people through tiny cues — George Smith is the guy who worked on the space shuttle, and Alison Banks is the lady who started her career working in banks and who’s now a tech project manager. I scribbled notes in the margin of each resume so I’d keep each candidate firmly in mind, but let me tell you, it’s not easy.
Someone would make a suggestion like “Why don’t we take a picture of each applicant and staple the picture to the resume, so that when we sit down on Friday to talk about the candidates, we know who’s who?” and then immediately someone else would say “That’s practically illegal! Race and gender and ethnicity can’t be part of the hiring decision!”
Well guess what, Bucko: we already met each of these people. If race, gender or ethnicity were going to be relevant to any manager’s decision, those attributes have already been made plain!
We all need to get a lot more human and less dweeby about human topics at work, starting with the way people get hired. It would have been a great thing for those job candidates back in nineties if indeed we had been able to keep a photo or some way to bring each person back to mind right in front of us. But we didn’t, and we saw a lot of people.
It turns out that you can have a brilliant job interview and still be forgotten by the time your hiring manager sits down to make the hiring decision. How can that be?’ you ask. Here’s how. People are human, and that means they’re fallible.
Let’s imagine that you and your should-be-next-boss are wrapping up a tremendous interview conversation around eleven o’clock in the morning. Your manager, Todd, walks you to the revolving door at the front of the facility and off you go, whistling your way back the job you hate and can’t wait to get out of.
“Todd is a chiller,” you say to yourself. “I think this could be a fantastic job for me.”
Todd turns away from the revolving door as he heads back to his office, but his boss, Natalie, is walking out of the ladies room at that very moment and spots him.
“Todd,” she says, “You’re just the person I wanted to see!”
Natalie talks to Todd in the hallway for five minutes about a project plan. After that, Todd’s assistant Gretchen grabs him and pulls him into a boring-ass design review where Todd’s brain leaves the room and focuses on his to-do list so that Todd doesn’t fall asleep.
Somebody is on the ball enough to order lunch for the people in the design review meeting, but they order sub sandwiches and after eating one of them Todd is about to fall asleep.
After the design review, Todd finally gets back to his office and who’s there but another job candidate. By the time Todd makes it home to his wife Brenda and their children Mitch (six years old), Clara (four) and Brett (eight months) how much of Todd’s recollection of your wonderful meeting this morning is still intact?
That’s a big problem for you as a job-seeker. Hiring managers simply forget.
It happened to us. I got a call around three in the afternoon from a hiring manager who said “I’m ready to make an offer.”
“Great news!” I said. “I thought the candidate roster for your opening was spectacular.”
“Which candidates did you especially like?” the manager asked me.
“Stephen Douglas was my top candidate,” I said, “followed by Nat Jones, not a close second but I think Nat could do the job. It’s just that Stephen had the right experience, the right attitude toward the opportunity and tremendous communication skills. He’d be a huge asset.”
“I feel the same way but reversing the two names,” said the manager. “I want to make Nat Jones an offer, and if he doesn’t accept it, we’ll make the offer to Stephen Douglas.”
“Sounds great,” I said. I wrote the offer letter.
I called Nat on the phone. He was beyond excited. He wasn’t working, and he wanted to start the new job right away. I invited him to orientation the very next Monday morning.
I called Stephen Douglas and explained that while we agreed he was a tremendous candidate, this wasn’t exactly the right job. We were hiring like crazy, so I could say “Stephen, if you’re game, I’d love to introduce you to some other managers. We have five or six opportunities that could be a great fit for you.”
Stephen had been my top candidate anyway. I had a personal interest in getting him into the company and keeping him excited about us even though my message began with a “no thanks” decision. He was very gracious about it.
“I’m a bit surprised, but I know that these things are never straight-line decisions,” said Stephen. I asked him which of our open positions he might be interested in, and there were two. “I’m going to talk with both of those managers today,” I said. “I’ll try to get back to you this afternoon.”
It so happened that one of the hiring managers wanted to see Stephen on Monday morning, so I called Stephen back and we set up that appointment.
Monday morning came and I was in theatrical mode at the orientation session, welcoming the newcomers and answering their questions. We had a tradition that hiring managers would stop in and say hi to the group — their own incoming newbies and the others going to different departments — and the manager who had hired Nat Jones was one of the folks who visited us that day.
He did a great job not showing the shock on his face when he looked around the room at the class of ten or twelve newcomers and didn’t see the face he was looking for.
At the first break, the manager yanked me out of the room into the hallway.
“Oh my God,” he said, “Now I see. Nat Jones, in the orientation room, was not the guy I wanted to hire. I wanted to hire the other guy, Stephen Douglas.”
“As it turns out, Stephen is here in the building,” I said. “He’s interviewing right now with Allan in System Engineering.”
“DAMN!” said the manager.
He’d had his perfect candidate sitting right in front of him, and a simple brain slip got him to let that candidate slip through his fingers. There was nothing to be done. We couldn’t rescind the offer to Nat Jones, a qualified candidate, on the basis that all of us had too many windows open on our mental desktops. “Don’t stress,” I said. “Nat is going to do a great job for you. Everything happens for a reason.”
The manager learned a tough lesson that day, and so did I. You can’t be too careful when dealing with groups of people and making decisions fast and on the fly. Stephen Douglas ended up accepting the second position he had interviewed for. Our company’s policy required newcomers to stay in their first job for one year before transferring to a new position, so the original manager who’d spotted Stephen Douglas couldn’t snag Stephen even though he desperately wanted to.
As a job candidate, you must stay top of mind for your hiring manager and take nothing for granted in the human-memory department. You can actually say your name at the end of the interview. Say “Jack, it’s been great to meet you, and just as a reminder, I’m Stephen Douglas and I’ll be very much looking forward to our next conversation.”
Send an email thank-you as soon as you get home, and if there’s a switched-on HR person in the mix copy the same email thank-you to him or her.
Send another handwritten notecard reminding the hiring manager of the topics you and s/he spoke about. Your biggest problem on the job search trail may not be the disgusting Black Hole recruiting system or corporate apathy. It may be that an overbooked, overstressed human being simply hit his or her mental wall and forgot you.
On the other end of the spectrum, at the entry level, my seventeen-year-old son applied for a job at a national retail store. It was a regular cashier/stock-type job. He felt great about the interview, but he never heard back. My husband and I encouraged him to check with the store, but he was too proud or embarrassed.
“If they don’t want me, to hell with them,” he said. Six months later after much prodding we finally got him to make another inquiry at the same store.
The store manager called him the same day. “I lost your application,” she said. “We wanted to hire you six months ago! We kept hoping you’d call us back.”
Without the paper application the manager had no way to contact my son. The same thing could happen to you in a white-collar job situation. Call a hiring manager back if you don’t hear anything. Don’t assume they’ve passed you over. If they have made a “no thanks” decision, let them tell you straight up.
It’s a new day, and the human element in business is coming to the fore — and not a moment too soon!