What If Companies Treated Job Applicants Like Customers?

Customer-management software has the potential to change the way companies treat job candidates, keeping them informed and engaged at each step in the process. So why doesn’t anyone use it?


When a customer picks up the phone to call the help desk at Hewlett-Packard, several things happen that let HP deliver the appropriate answer to the caller.

Software called a Customer Relationship Management system displays the customer’s profile to the operator who can see, for instance, that the caller works for a company that just purchased a $1.5 million data-storage solution or that he’s just bought a $150 laptop for his son in college. The CRM system lets HP route the call to the right assistance and provide the appropriate level of support. It also lets the company know when the customer might be ready for an upgrade or more products. It is a cornerstone of modern customer service and sales.

The experience for job applicants at most U.S. companies is nearly 180 degrees from this level of customer service. Job seekers call it the resume “black hole”: They submit their resumes and never hear back from the company. They call and write e-mails repeatedly but get no response. They may even progress through the process to several rounds of interviews, only to be left in the dark when the company decides not to hire them.

So why is that customers are treated so well and applicants, so poorly?

The technology is there, but the incentive is not, said several recruiters and software experts who spoke to Ladders. Few companies see happy applicants as a business imperative and can’t justify the expense of adding CRM capabilities to the process.


Recruiters and hiring managers are halfway there, said David A. Earle, lead researcher at Staffing.org, an analyst firm that measures recruiting trends, practices and sourcing. Most companies already use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to manage and track job candidates. An ATS provides a profile of candidates, copies of their resumes and cover letters; references; and their experience with the company — interviews, jobs applied for and more. It will also match candidates to certain job openings.

CRM capabilities would extend the ATS to set engagement standards, such as deadlines to respond to applicants, alerts when a job has been filled or the applicant is disqualified so a recruiter can send a response, and automatic suggestions for future job listings.

“Merging CRM with applicant tracking systems lets you approach staffing in the same way you would a sales territory,” Earle said. “It lets you lay out your brand and presence and become like flypaper for candidates who touch the system – which improves the quality of hiring by more effectively selecting among the available candidates.”

So far there are very few companies either willing or interested in the cost and complexity of enhancing their hiring with CRM, Earle admitted, although Staffing.org and other research entities promote it as the next major improvement in hiring.

It would certainly address the major weakness of electronic hiring processes by giving both recruiters and human-resources professionals the tools to find the right candidates for the right jobs, said Lindsay Olson, a partner and recruiter at Paradigm Staffing, a recruiting company that specializes in marketing and PR positions.

HR managers and recruiters don’t have the time to invest in follow-up alerts, let alone more high-touch approaches, no matter how effective they might be in the long run, she said. And automation of the process has hurt more than it has helped, Earle said.

“Computerization was supposed to have solved a lot of problems in the hiring market, but what it did was actually create a whole other set of problems because the number of candidates is vastly greater, but the ability to parse that information effectively is not,” Earle said. “Tens of millions of applications create a sea of information, but the picture doesn’t become clearer when you need it to; it remains just a sea of information, which leaves companies just as frustrated as candidates.”

The current buyer’s market exacerbates the problem, said Kate Lukach, director of marketing for SelectMinds, which develops software that companies use to create their own social networks. Because they have plenty of candidates to choose from, they feel no need to please the applicant.

Companies such as J.P. Morgan, IBM and Deloitte have all created social networks that resemble LinkedIn or Facebook, Lukach said, but are limited to current employees and alumni and are designed to help drive new business and new hires from former employees back to the company.

Being able to filter a sea of applicants to a pool of qualified candidates not only makes HR’s job easier and cheaper, it ultimately improves the quality and speed of the hiring process, Earle said.

“We think it’s going to be a key differentiating factor as the economy turns around, especially for second-, third- or fourth-tier companies that will be able to use that responsive approach to hire the most talented candidates away from the larger companies,” Earle said.