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Is honesty the best policy?

This is a post I wrote in December for the Candidate Experience Matters blog. As I continue on the job search journey, this post takes on even more relevance for me.

One of the hottest topics when it comes to improving the candidate experience (follow #candexp on Twitter for more) is what to say to an unsuccessful candidate when they don’t get the job. Assuming that something gets said to them after it’s determined they aren’t right for the job. For some of my thoughts on this see my blog post on our website here.

Michael Mercer, Ph.D writes about his personal rejection experience and how full disclosure might not be the best policy. Obviously, this is the biggest part of the debate. Even constructive feedback can be viewed very negatively in the fragile mindset of someone who has spent much time searching for work. I’ve been there. You never know how many times the candidate has been told they’re not right for a job. Of course, this is not necessarily the concern of the company, they just want the right people for their jobs.

I really started thinking about this after a recent trip to Houston for  the Rice Alliance IT and Web Forum 9 conference. My wife just happened to be in Houston the whole week for work as well so our two sons were in tow. We decided to take them to see Santa at the mall near our hotel. Unfortunately, we arrived just when Santa left to take an hour break to feed his reindeer.

A half hour into Santa’s well timed break, I became a little stir crazy so I decided to go do a little window shopping. I walked passed a kiosk when a young lady literally jumped in front of me waving a white rectangle of what turned out to be a facial soap sample. I never, ever stop to listen to these sales pitches, but honestly I thought it was a cheese sample and I was hungry. The Pepperidge Farm kiosk was right next door so you can understand my confusion.

She went on to talk about the virtues of their soap for me and after taking a quick glance at my ring, asked if I’d bought Christmas gifts for my wife yet. I stopped her after a few minutes of her well rehearsed pitch and told here I needed to get back to my family. As I was walking away she said, “don’t you care about your skin”? I could have ignored the comment and just kept walking. In hindsight I probably should have.

However, being the curious person I am, I turned around and asked what was wrong with my skin? She went on to explain that as an ageing man (at 41, ouch!) the blemishes on my face, if left uncared for, would only get worse. She continued by asking if I’d thought about doing something about my rosacea. This is where I regretted asking the question. She was only being honest and selling the products as she’d been taught, but those comments hit home. Because they were true. I politely excused myself to rejoin my family which was still waiting for Santa’s return, taking the samples with me of course.

I know this is not a story about the best way to let a candidate know they didn’t get the job, but I learned an important lesson about not asking the question if you can’t handle the answer. It’s also an example of how, as a recruiter (the kiosk salesperson in this case) being blatantly honest when asked “why” is a risk.

I’m a big fan of letting unsuccessful candidates know they didn’t get the job, but the extent of the reason given is open to debate. What do you do as a company? Is complete transparency ever the best solution? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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One comment on “Is honesty the best policy?

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