Earlier this month, an executive managing editor at Business Insider wrote an opinion piece stating that, for her, no thank-you email after an interview means no job offer.
The post ignited conversation on Twitter, with former job seekers and managers alike noting the unfairness and impracticality of basing hiring choices on polite gestures, and the editor has since clarified her position. The thank-you note debate, however, is rooted in a bigger problem in talent acquisition: Many in the hiring seat write the rules as they go, yet expect candidates to have read their rule book.
"[H]iring managers might think they need innovative people, so they will invent their own rules like, ‘I would never hire anyone who showed up in a suit,’ or ‘I would never hire anyone over 40,’ as a rough proxy for what they really need," Daniel Chait, CEO of Greenhouse told HR Dive via email. "Employers who hire this way are excluding people unfairly, and hurting themselves as well, as they’re basing decisions off their own subjective opinion rather than the candidate’s real qualifications."
Without clear-cut hiring procedures and criteria for applicants, talent pros and hiring managers can fall into these proxy traps, assessing a candidate’s character based on arbitrary markers of politeness and professionalism.
"If ‘thank-you note sending’ is a proxy, what is it really a proxy for? It could mean you are looking for a candidate who is highly detail-oriented, good at following up, etc." Chait continued. "From there, hiring managers should set up a selection process based on that criteria to more effectively and closely screen for those traits."
Formalized procedures and explicitly outlined job requirements can help hiring managers, though HR should train them to hew to the former and focus on the latter. They also can train interviewers to glean better insights into a candidate’s qualities with the questions they ask, according to Laura Hamill, chief people officer of employee experience software company Limeade.
"Strive for behavioral interviews and ask for real examples or reactions to hypothetical situations," she wrote in an email to HR Dive. "At Limeade, we assign each interviewer a company value to drill into, and add a ‘culture keeper’ to the interview loop that’s solely focused on a candidate’s alignment with our culture, values and mission."
A uniform process and a focus on organizational fit also can lessen bias on the part of the interviewer, Chait said. At some point in their lifetime, a candidate might have learned that interviewers like a thank-you note or printed copies of a resume or for candidates to wear a blazer — or they may not have. But that experience should not disqualify a candidate with the right skills, experience or interest in an organization, he said.
Hard disagree. And it'll discriminate against candidates from backgrounds where they don't get this kind of job search training, which has nothing to do with skills & ability to excel on the job. I like thank-you notes but making them a requirement is a terrible practice— Ask a Manager (@AskAManager) April 6, 2019
Organizations can’t discount power imbalances in the hiring process either, according to Hamill, and talent pros can look at the dynamic from both points of view. On one hand, employers have struggled to hire and retain qualified workers in recent years, and HR experts have learned to prioritize candidate experience. Rather than giving first consideration to the most deferential candidates, interviewers might instead show their gratitude to potential hires — whether or not they are selected — to widen their talent pipeline.
"Let’s remember, companies are wooing candidates at least as much as the other way around," Chait said. "Social media and sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn are giving candidates a platform to review their interview experiences. Hiring managers need to be even more cognizant of their interview approach to ensure every candidate walks away with a positive impression of the company."
I never got a response from BI after a phone interview and a 4-hour writing test.— Peter Hess (@PeterNHess) April 7, 2019
While it might seem like talent holds all the cards during periods of low unemployment, hiring managers should remember that an interview can mean sacrifice for candidates, Hamill noted. During the hiring process, candidates may use a PTO or sick day to swing an in-person interview or spend time that could be used for paid work completing personality tests, applications or skills assessments.
"[You] should be grateful that they’re investing the time and we should act that way," Hamill said. "This is a person’s life. Sometimes we’re a little flippant about this, but it’s a really big decision for them. You need to answer their questions, be really honest, and give realistic job previews."