No One Writes to the Candidates

The title of this blog post is inspired by Colombian author and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novella No One Writes to the Colonel. In this famous novella, Garcia Marquez (who passed away last month, and is remembered as one of the greatest literary figures of modern times) narrates the story of a retired army colonel in a South American village who waits for his promised pension to arrive, but it never does. The colonel waits with hope, trying to make ends meet by selling a rooster his dead son has left him, but the pension never arrives, creating distress and leaving him dejected.

No One Writes to the Colonel may have its literary pathos to pull readers into the story, but it can also hold its ground as an apt metaphor for our industry and what candidates experience during the recruitment process. Ask any candidate engaged by an executive search firm about his or her experience of the recruitment process, and a large majority of them will complain of lost hope and about the ‘disappearing act’ that executive search firms do while processing the candidate’s application.

This seems to be a regular affair in our industry whether the candidate has submitted his or her application for the first time for a specific job, or after several rounds of interviews are over, or while the candidate has been shortlisted and expecting salary negotiations to happen, or even when the candidates is waiting for his or her offer letter. According to many candidates looking for jobs, the executive search firm they are engaged with suddenly ‘disappears’ from the ongoing relationship, leaving the candidate hanging.

This ‘disappearing act’ seems to be true for all sorts of job roles and positions – from junior levels to the very senior ones. Here are a few examples: Manoj, an IT graduate now working in the digital marketing space, vents his anger with, “Some executive search firm or the other will contact me based on the CV I’ve submitted in one of the internet job sites. But, after one or two interviews, they just don’t get back… not even to say that it was nice talking to you but the position has now been filled. I mean, they approached me, right?”

Sujata, a corporate communications manager in a well-known hotel chain says, “There is usually no repose on follow-ups or no follow-up call through the interview process. I will never get to know if my resume is suitable or unsuitable for the position. After a while, I’m left by myself to decide that they are not interested in continuing the relationship.” She adds that this phenomenon “is true not just for executive search firms, but also during direct recruitment by corporate firms.”

Dilip, a vice president with a reputed management consulting firm, sees it as a communication problem that ultimately may break up a good relationship between the executive search firm and the candidate… and may erode the executive search firm’s goodwill and reputation. He narrates typical scenarios which he feels are sad and unprofessional from his point of view:

“After the first telephonic interaction, the candidate is requested by the executive search firm to share his or her CV. After sharing the CV, no response comes from the executive search firm whatsoever. Most likely the CV may not fit the job opportunity as far as the executive search firm had envisaged, but it warrants a feedback to the candidate.

Often, a candidate will get calls from executive search firms who have not spent adequate time in reading and understanding the CV. However, they still call the candidate to discuss an opportunity… when, in reality, there is a big mismatch between the level/designation and/or skills-sets required for the position and job description.

Sometimes, when the CV is liked by the executive search firm, they send the CV to their client with the candidate’s consent. After that, they provide no feedback to the candidate for months together. Sometimes the delay takes place at the client’s end. But, even then, is it not the responsibility of the executive search firm to communicate the status of the application to the candidate? Most executive search firms don’t. They re-connect with only those candidates with whom their client wants to talk – and ignore the rest. This is simply bad business practice!

Something similar takes place when the candidate has gone through several rounds of interviews. Then, there is no response from the executive search firm or the client. The fault may lie with the client and its HR team. But, the executive search firm, who is in the middle of this three-party relationship, steering the recruitment process, should take upon itself the responsibility to maintain the connection between the client and the candidate. Unfortunately, they don’t think it is necessary or important to do so.”

This is, indeed, an unhappy situation. Communication is the essence of every relationship. It is critical to the recruitment process and the entire executive search industry. And yet, no one writes to the candidates to inform them on their applications. Candidates complain that they don’t get feedback from the executive search firms they are engaged with, or their prospective employers. No calls, no emails, not even a text message on their mobile phones. This silent treatment or the ‘disappearing act’ that we talked about earlier can be distressing for the most positive-minded candidate, leaving him or her dejected and crying foul against the executive search firm he or she was engaged with.

Is this simply bad business practice by the executive search firms that Dilip pointed out to us? And what Manoj and Sujata reiterated in their own words?

To get a check on the reality of the situation, we reflected upon this from our own experience and, to be fair to all executive search professionals, decided to speak (in confidence) to a few persons from executive search firms in India. Without fail, all executive search professionals said that it was a matter of time. Time is in short supply for people working in the executive search practice (and business) as, apart from the deluge of job applications from candidates which take time to process, the actual search and recruitment process is hard work and takes time.

Almost all of them said that, in their personal experience, they were guilty of failing to follow up or follow through with candidates their firm was engaged with some time or the other. In their personal capacities, they genuinely believed that candidates deserved feedback. They genuinely believed that candidates should not be kept hanging, wondering if their applications and CVs were successful in getting them the job, or not. Or, to be notified at what stage their applications were in so they could manage their expectations and/or other opportunities which may come their way.


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