Job seekers want feedback that many employers aren't giving

Valerie Jones
Valerie Jones runs a small nonprofit in Stillwater. She communicates with job candidates at every step of the application process, to alleviate their anxiety and to save herself the time of fielding calls from people wondering where their applications stand.
MPR Photo/Annie Baxter

Many unemployed people crave feedback from employers who turn them down for jobs. But most applicants get only a rejection form letter, if they receive any communication at all. Hiring professionals say companies are trying to do a better job responding to job applicants. But many remain overwhelmed by the flood of candidates knocking on their door.

John Hagerman of Wayzata was one of those unemployed workers looking for feedback a few years ago, when, he says, he applied for more than 200 jobs. He would spend hours researching potential employers and crafting cover letters.

But Hagerman says many companies never acknowledged his job applications, or they'd send a generic form letter, politely turning him down.

"They don't want to get sued if they say the wrong thing, so they would make as absolutely bland and generic statement they possibly could, essentially saying nothing to me, and in no great hurry to do it," he said.

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Hagerman landed a job more than a year ago as a marketing manager for a nonprofit called Worldwide Village. But the emotional scars of his job hunt still sting. His worst experience came after scoring an extensive interview at one company, where he met with hiring managers for three hours.

"My wife will tell you I came home all excited," he recalled. "I said, 'I think I nailed this one. This was good. What they want me to do fits perfectly with my skill sets and my experience.'"

John Hagerman
John Hagerman applied for a few hundred jobs when he was unemployed a couple of years ago. Most companies never bothered to send a note saying he didn't get the position. A handful sent form letters.
MPR Photo/Annie Baxter

But then Hagerman never heard from the company again.

"I called, I left messages, I sent emails. And had zero response of any kind," he said.

He found that response ironic since the company wanted him to help them to improve their customer service. "I couldn't believe it. I said, why'd I bother?"

Ann Costello, an executive recruiter with Venteon Finance, said: "There are some some big-name companies out there that have a reputation for having a horrible interview process. And sometimes the bigger the company, the worse it is."

Costello works with several Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota, helping them fill accounting and finance positions. And when possible, she tries to get them to improve their hiring practices.

"I've counseled organizations -- who maybe indicate to a candidate they're going to bring a candidate in for an interview and then change their mind -- about the impact on the marketplace. Some pay attention and some don't," she said.

Costello says some companies just don't have the resources to communicate more with applicants. But others are trying to send rejection letters more promptly -- or make the language of the letters less cold.

In this case, good manners are good business. The overall goal is to spiff up their brands as employers so that they can attract top talent.

But even small organizations are brand-conscious. That's the case at the nonprofit Community Thread in Stillwater. Valerie Jones, the executive driector, says she's making it a priority to treat job applicants well.

"It's a privilege to be chosen as a potential employer, so I think it's really important. My philosophy is about compassion and respect," said Jones.

Jones acknowledges every application she receives, apprises the candidates of her hiring timeline and emails to let them know whether they will be interviewed. Once she makes a hire, she contacts all applicants to announce that the position has been filled.

"It does take a little bit of time, but I've found that to spend a little bit of time doing it right saves me time in the long run. So I'm not interrupted if someone has a question of 'Where are you at in the process?'" she said.

Jones communicates even with the most unqualified candidates, which likely sets her apart, said Costello, the recruiter. Even though Costello is in favor of communication, she questions why Jones would spend her time corresponding with applicants who don't meet the minimum job requirements.

"You get to a point where you don't think you need to get back to those people because they're applying for a job they're clearly not qualified for," Costello said.

Costello said in her experience, a lot of the talented people laid off in the recession are now working. So a growing share of job seekers responding to ads are unqualified. If that's the case, employers may have less incentive to let job applicants down easy.

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