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Are You Inadvertently Turning Off Job Candidates?

A man sitting in an office chair looking at his phone.

​The recruitment and hiring process can be long, stressful and labor-intensive. At every step, from initial inquiry to offer, there are opportunities to both delight and dismay candidates.

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The Application Process

Completing an application can be a major turnoff if candidates are forced to deal with clunky interfaces and application portals that are difficult to navigate and require too much information. Since candidates also are increasingly likely to use mobile devices to engage with potential employers, it's critical that your application process translates well to the mobile environment. One easy way to determine if your process is a turnoff is to look at your website analytics to see what percentage of potential applicants abandon the process midway before getting to the "submit application" point—the same concept retailers use when analyzing their "abandoned shopping cart" statistics.

In addition, too many pre-interview steps will turn off job seekers, said Daniel Solo, president and head of client engagement at Second Line Advisors, a New York City-based executive search firm specializing in filling senior positions in the financial services industry. Those steps include requests for various documentation, online personality or cultural-fit assessments, and phone interviews with internal recruiters after prescreening interviews with external recruiters. "People are less willing to go through these hoops if they've already gone through a cumbersome application process and without truly knowing if it's really worth it or not," he said.

The Interview

One common way that hiring managers and HR staff may turn off candidates is by overplaying the "I hold the power" card during interviews. "Sometimes it's easy to put on your tough negotiator face when interviewing candidates," said Ryan Naylor, founder and president of, a recruitment-marketing software company in Phoenix. But, he added, "your demeanor should be welcoming and friendly throughout the process, because how is the candidate to know whether the tough negotiator will become the understanding, supportive co-worker or manager after he or she is hired?"

Unprofessional behavior by interviewers also can be a major turnoff, said Jeff Magnuson, a marketing and brand consultant in Hackensack, N.J. "Any employee who is interviewing a candidate should be on time to the interview and should be prepared to have a discussion based on the resume that he or she read beforehand," he said.


Even after the interview, employers can make a bad impression.

"Ghosting" candidates—simply never following up—"is, by far, the biggest infraction that really needs to come to an end," Magnuson said. Companies fail to recognize the brand damage they may be causing by failing to follow up with candidates to let them know that they are no longer being considered, he said. Not only is it likely that the candidate may not consider your company in the future, but they're also very likely to spread the word among their own network.

Research Backs Candidates' Perspectives

If there are discrepancies between interviewers about the job's duties, that can also be a big turnoff, said Nysha King, media relations lead with MRINetwork, a recruitment firm headquartered in Philadelphia, which just released its 2018 reputation management study identifying common applicant turnoffs.

Don't Overlook …

Your existing brand. Suzanne Wertheim, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Worthwhile Research & Consulting, which provides language-oriented research services and consulting around diversity and inclusion, points out that all company communications create candidate impressions. "A big turnoff for many candidates is language and imagery that suggest that the company won't welcome them," she said. "For example, I've seen job ads for tech positions that say, 'We're looking for some guys who...' or use only masculine pronouns. There go your female applicants. Or the company website only shows white people, or the candidate is only interviewed by white people." If your company's communication materials don't convey a sense of inclusiveness, potential candidates may question whether the company is a place where they can thrive, she added.  

Your existing employees. Sarah McVanel, president, founder and chief recognition officer with coaching, training and consulting firm Greatness Magnified in Ontario, Canada, said that "when we fail to make the job process easy, transparent and welcoming for our existing top talent, it sends a message to them that they are less valued or worthy than external candidates. Not only may we lose them, but certainly they are less likely to give discretionary effort or put up their hand for stretch opportunities."

Your time-to-hire. It's a common lament, but one that is being addressed by far too few organizations: a long hiring process. With top candidates in short supply, you can't risk losing out on top talent because of a process that's too drawn out. Really good candidates probably have other opportunities, and they will pursue them.

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