I had an experience with a company and a recruiter recently that I wanted to share with you as a sort of “cautionary tale” about When Recruiting Goes Horribly Wrong.
I’m not going to name any names in this post. I’m not going to point fingers. We’re all moving on from this, and everyone involved knows that some major screw-ups happened. I’m also going to be leaving out a bunch of information that compounds the seriousness of what happened, because it would make it too easy to identify the company.
Still, there are some things we can learn from this.
I left my job at Apple in Fall 2017; one of the main reasons was that I was really interested in pursuing a role in management. I really like working with people, and I think I would make a good engineering manager. However, as a remote employee at Apple, it was almost a guarantee that I would never be anything more than a leaf node in the Apple organizational chart.
After some shopping around, I ended up at Snap and was their first hire for their new R&D office in Utah. My hope was that the anticipated growth rate of this new office would provide for some managerial opportunities. Sadly, this did not develop at all how I expected, and I left Snap towards the end of September.
About late August/early September, I had heard from a friend of mine that his employer was looking for a new “Mobile Manager” to oversee their small Android and iOS teams. This sounded just like what I was looking for! I expressed my interest, even before a job opening was publicly posted. After a couple weeks of informal back-and-forth, I ended up having lunch with that company’s Director of Engineering (September 26th).
We had a great time talking about all sorts of things, but especially about the position. Afterwards, I stopped by the office and dropped off a thank-you gift and note to the director, expressing my gratitude for the time spent together, the confidence that I could help them out, and the hope that we would keep talking.
I expected that I would hear soon from a recruiter for the company. No official job opening had been posted yet, so I waited and kept chatting to my friend about the position.
A month later (October 19th or 20th), the job posting went up and I applied immediately.
I waited some more.
By the end of October, I did some research, figured out who the recruiter would be for that position, sent him a connection invite on LinkedIn, and also sent him an email saying “I had a great time meeting your Director of Engineering at lunch; here’s my resumé; I’m still very interested.”
Finally, a week later, I got an email back from the recruiter. It said they were excited by my application, and would I be interested in coming in for a short one-hour interview? I promptly responded and we set up a time for later that week.
About 2 hours later, I got another email from the recruiter saying that since I’d already met with the Director, the interview was unnecessary. The recruiter cancelled the meeting. He told me he’d follow up and would “be in touch soon”.
That was the last I heard from them.
Over the next couple of weeks, I kept asking my friend asking for information and status updates. I’d hear stories about the recruiter. I expressed my frustration to my friend, which I know he conveyed internally.
On December 3rd, I got a text from another friend of mine. He told me, in confidence, that he was leaving his current employer and had accepted a new position. I congratulated him and asked him what job offer he had accepted.
It was the position I’d been pursuing for three months.
My friend was under the impression that the company had passed over me. He had only applied because he thought I was no longer in the running for the job.
Shocked, I texted my friend at the company and asked “why didn’t you tell me?” He responded that they had a policy where they were explicitly told to not talk to people about recruiting processes; that he wanted to tell me, but could not; that he had told people internally many times to follow up with me.
After our chat, he talked to some people internally, and very soon I got two emails from the company: an apology from the recruiter, and an invitation from their head of HR to meet, which we did a couple days later.
I should have been more pro-active in haranguing the recruiter about next steps. I have my own reasons for why I didn’t, but I acknowledge that allowing that much time to pass was my failing.
The company failed in allowing this recruiter to be a single point of failure for the entire recruiting process. In my discussion with the head of HR and my friend at this company, I got the sense, over and over again, that the buck literally stopped with that recruiter.
This company’s policy prohibiting employees from even mentioning recruiting status to candidates and friends is needlessly extreme. It puts enormous pressure on friendships that span the different sides of the hiring process, endangering relations and creating feelings of hurt and betrayal. Policies that exist to protect the company legally remove the very empathy and humanity from the hiring process that are required to determine good fits.
Communication is the fabric of society. When communication breaks down, so does community. A recruiter’s purpose is to create community, so they must be excellent at communication. From grammar to communication frequency, the recruiter sets the tone and temperament of your company’s hiring face.
Once a company has contacted a candidate about a position, no more than a single business day should pass between subsequent contacts. Update the candidate regularly, if not daily, about what the recruiter is doing for that candidate. The candidate should clearly understand what the next steps are and how long they will take. When a process takes more than a single business day, then the recruiter can say “This will take n days; I will contact you in n days to update you on how things are going”. That recruiter must contact that person immediately when that period has elapsed. Going silent on an in-progress candidate is inexcusable. A week without contact should be considered extreme; going for months (like I did) without contact beggars belief and is inexcusable.
I hope you will learn from my mistakes. When you see an opportunity you want, pursue it. Remember that there are human beings on every side. The policies and decisions you adopt affect everyone. There is no substitute for communication: from the candidate to the company, and from the recruiter to the candidate.