Contracts — Good for Companies, Bad for Customers?

We are receiving inquiries from frustrated customers who would like to switch applicant tracking vendors but would have to buy out the months they have left on their current contracts and face the possibility of losing all of their applicant data. Their dissatisfaction usually comes from the lack of customer service and support they were promised rather than the functionality of the system. One small company is actually entering into litigation to cancel their current contract and have the stiff penalty for canceling waived.

My guess is the software service companies who lock you into long term contracts are interested in keeping your business while they try to keep up with the ever-changing, enhanced technology and outstanding service of their competitors. If they don’t live up to the expectations they promised—no worries—they charge you a penalty for leaving and get paid anyway! Whatever their logic, you’re stuck with an inferior product or service. Whatever happened to integrity, reputation, and genuine concern for the customer and solving their problems? Call me old fashion, but I hate the thought that the ease of technology has replaced a solid work ethic and reliability.

As a National Account Manager, I’m proud of the customer service ApplicantStack promises and delivers without the need to lock our customers into a contract in return for their loyalty. In fact, we are so confident in our ability to promptly respond to customer needs and fix a problem when something goes wrong, we don’t have any contract at all. You can actually subscribe to our service on a monthly basis, with no penalty for cancellation. If we don’t deliver or can no longer satisfy your needs, you can not only cancel but easily download all of your data and take it with you at any time. Now that’s confidence!

Customers evaluating web-based applicant tracking services should be weary of signing a “long-term” contract. In this unsettled economy, how can companies predict what their revenue or needs will be one or two years down the road. If you’re being offered a discount or some other perks for committing long term, I suggest you know what happens to the contract when the vendor doesn’t hold up their side of the agreement or if your company downsizes or is bought by a bigger company that has their own service. Stiff penalties, expensive legal battles and the challenge of starting all over, will give you little flexibility and will have a negative impact on your business.

What are Applicants Saying About Your Company?

As a company, I’m sure you are working hard to create positive relationships with all of your customers. We all know how important it is for future business and possible referrals. You might even be making a huge investment by engaging a public relations or marketing firm to assist with your market positioning. Did you ever consider that your applicants are customers too?

Are you giving applicants the same respect and creating a positive experience for them during your application and interview process?

According to a recent Gallup Panel Survey, too often the answer was no. In fact, half of job applicants who mention specific frustrations say these aggravations give them pause when considering the possibility of working for these prospective employers.

The survey asked a targeted sample of job seekers a series of questions about various aspects of their search for employment, including the parts of the process they deem most frustrating. The sample consisted of those who are currently unemployed and seeking a job as well as those who are currently employed full time or part time and have searched for employment in the past six months. These prospective candidates shared their frustrations about their interactions with possible employers, aggravations that can lead job seekers to form negative opinions about these organizations and their brands.

If you’ve searched for a new job recently, you know that the task can be overwhelming—especially in an employer’s market, where there is an abundance of applicants applying for the same job. Results of a bad job search or continuous poor interviews can actually destroy an applicant’s confidence and cause feelings of despair. If you examine your current communications with interested applicants or candidate’s you’ve actually interviewed, can you confidently say your company is creating a positive image and building positive relationships with your applicants? Do they wait months to hear back from you, if at all? Do you send them a response when they initially apply and let them know the next steps in your process? Do you let them know early on in the process when they don’t meet your minimum requirements so they aren’t holding on to false hopes that they are being considered? What do you think these applicants are saying about you to their colleagues and other professionals in the market?

One simple solution to building a more positive image with applicants is to improve your communication and follow up. It takes so little time and can go a long way to create good will and enhance your reputation as an employer of choice or a great place to work. The most common reason we don’t communicate enough with our applicants is we’re just too busy to respond promptly to everyone who applies or interviews with our company, especially if we don’t consider them appropriate prospects.

A good applicant tracking system can totally automate the process for you eliminating the lack of time and limited resource challenges all recruiters face during their hiring process. Ideally, you can create email templates in your system and trigger them to be sent at certain critical stages of your process — when an application is received or rejected, requests for available dates and times for phone screens and interviews, or a request for more information. Keeping your applicant informed about where they are in your process will eliminate telephone inquiries, which you definitely don’t have time for, and will create a much more positive experience for your applicants. Remember, applicants are customers too and they’re impression of you as an employer can either enhance or hurt your reputation.

How to Better Engage Hiring Managers in your Recruiting Process

One of the most common challenges I hear from the HR professionals I talk with is how to better engage their hiring managers in the recruiting process. The hiring manager is one of the most important stakeholders in the recruiting process, but they are often the hardest to effectively engage in the process. It really isn’t that surprising, since most hiring managers are primarily focused on the operations of their unit and often don’t have a great deal of time to devote to recruiting.

Here are some tips on how to better engage your hiring managers in the recruiting process.

Collaborate with Managers up-front to determine good initial screening questions and criteria

Especially in today’s economy the chances are good that you will receive a flood of applicants to any job you post online. In many processes the recruiter screens the initial applicants and only passes the top candidates on to the manager for feedback. In order to find the best candidates and make sure top candidates don’t slip through the cracks, you should set up some good screening questions and criteria for the recruiter to use.

Some questions can be pulled directly from the job posting you created, which you carefully composed such that it attracted the right type of candidate. For example:

  • Do you have a Bachelors degree?
  • How many years experience do you have in direct sales?
  • Are you willing to travel up to 50%?

Other questions may require deeper analysis and a discussion with the manager about what makes an ideal candidate or who has succeeded in this role in the past. For example:

  • What do you like most about being a salesperson?
  • Please describe your home office equipment and environment (i.e. for a telecommute position)
  • Describe a recent time when you had to respond to a customer issue and what steps you took to solve the problem.

These questions can be asked during an initial phone screen or interview. But many Applicant Tracking Systems are able to streamline the process by asking applicants to answer these questions during their online application. For example, with our ApplicantStack system the recruiter is able to create any number of screening questions to pre-screen job applicants, and even score the responses automatically and “knock-out” applicants who are unqualified.

Make it easy for Managers to review candidates

A few years ago I was the manager at a company that used an Applicant Tracking System to streamline their recruiting process. Everything worked great – recruiters posted jobs online, applicants applied and were pre-screened and scored, and everything was stored in a central database which both the recruiter and manager could access.

The problem was when it came time for me to go in and review applicants to my job, it was so cumbersome that the process would grind to a halt. Each person I had to review took 5-10 clicks to get to their information, the system was sluggish and unresponsive, and it was difficult to submit and view feedback on the candidate. I remember wishing for the “good old days” when I would just get a paper resume on my desk!

Managers are busy just like the rest of us and if you don’t make the review process simple and quick they won’t use it, or it will delay your time to hire.

Here are some questions to ask to make sure your review process is easy for managers to use:

  • How many people will the manager need to review? Will they be receiving every single applicant to your job or only the top candidates that the recruiter sends them?
  • If managers will only be reviewing top candidates, how easy is it for the manager to find and view their information? How many clicks does it take before they are viewing the candidate’s resume. How many clicks to move to the next resume to review?
  • How easy is it for the candidate to submit feedback on a candidate, and view the feedback of others?
  • Does the process require the manager to login to your recruiting system to view candidates, or are you able to send them resumes through email to collect reviews? Many managers don’t want to memorize another login to another system and would greatly prefer to receive candidates via email.

Collect better feedback through forms and questionnaires

Many applicant review processes consist of the recruiter emailing a resume to a manager with the single question “What do you think?” While there’s nothing wrong with this simple approach, there are advantages to collecting more structured feedback from managers through a questionnaire or form.

When you ask somebody what they think of a particular movie, you’ll likely get back a black-or-white answer like “it was great!” or “it was awful”. But if you ask them to rate a movie on a scale of 1-5 on some key criteria (story, acting, music, costumes, etc) you’ll get a much richer review and separation between other movies they may have reviewed.

The same applies to reviewing candidates. When you ask a manager to answer structured questions and provide numeric rating on a candidate, you’ll force them to think broadly about the candidate and not just provide their first-impression.

Ideally if you are going to use manager review forms and questionnaires in your process, you will want to streamline the collection of the data with online questionnaires, ideally in an Applicant Tracking System. And once again, it needs to be easy for the manager to complete the questionnaire or they won’t use it.

In our ApplicantStack system, you can create Manager Feedback Questionnaires and have them asked directly on the page where the manager views the candidate’s resume and other information. For a more information and examples see Faith Bliga’s previous post on Manager Feedback and Interview Evaluations.

Support different levels of involvement from your managers

Finally, every manager will have his or her own style and will likely want a different level of involvement in the recruiting process. Some managers are very “hands-off” and just want the recruiter to find a good candidate for their department with the least amount of work on their part. Others are very “hands-on” and want to see every single candidate that comes in and decide themselves which ones meet the initial qualifications.

As such, you should keep in mind that whatever process you put in place should be flexible enough to accommodate the requests of different hiring managers. For a manager who wants to delegate to the recruiting group, you should be able to send them only top-candidates, already pre-screened, for them to interview. For a manager who wants to be more involved, you should be able to set it up so that person can see all applicants and see everything that’s happening in the system.

If you are implementing an Applicant Tracking System, make sure it has flexible workflow support to allow you to implement these types of different processes efficiently.

How an Applicant Tracking System can help you Prescreen Candidates

Frustrated by reading a lot of resumes of unqualified candidates? Is narrowing your qualified applicant pool taking up most of your recruiting time? How can you efficiently prescreen the candidates? You want to know how to recruit efficiently!

You are not alone! Most of the prospective customers I talk to ask if our applicant tracking system can assist with prescreening applicants.

It’s no surprise that as an employer in today’s job market, with relatively scarce jobs and large numbers of available candidates, you are inundated with applicants who don’t meet your requirements. You may have to sift through hundreds of resumes to find qualified candidates for a job.

While the applicant’s cover letter may include a well-crafted overview of their most relevant work experience and their resume may reflect the skills, experience and buzz words listed in your job posting — anyone can look good on paper!

So if the candidate has represented themselves pretty well on paper, your next step is probably going to be a telephone screen. This stage in your process can take days just to connect by telephone or email delaying your process and adding additional expense to your company. Now on top of everything else, you’ve got a frustrated hiring manager!

Why not consider an automated step before you ever get to the prescreening methods mentioned above? During the application process, online prescreening questions can be used to filter through unqualified job seekers, enabling employers to spend their time looking at a short list of the most qualified candidates. If executed properly, prescreening can save recruiters and hiring managers as much as 30% to 50% of their time.

If you’re fortunate enough to have chosen an applicant tracking system that has this functionality, you can develop a list of questions that include the “must have” experience for the job. They can be yes/no, multiple choice, or text answers that can actually be scored. You can give value to different answers and even add knockout scores!

Customer feedback about the ApplicantStack pre-screening feature includes comments like:

  • “Eliminates undesirable or unqualified applicants”
  • “Dramatically reduced our time to hire”
  • “Allows our recruiting staff and hiring managers to spend their time focusing on the most qualified candidates”
  • “Reduced our cost of hiring by eliminating extra hours spent conducting phone and personal interviews, using costly assessment tools and doing unnecessary background checks”
  • “We were able to communicate more quickly with applicants who didn’t meet minimum qualifications, reducing phone calls to check on their status”
  • “Reduces legal liability because all applicants for the same position are asked the same prescreening questions”

Don’t ignore this valuable feature of your applicant tracking system. Once you get comfortable with creating appropriate questions and scoring the answers, you will be amazed at the benefits!

The Difference between Configuration and Customization

Interested in the SaaS model for a new Applicant Tracking System? The difference between configuration and customization can add thousands of dollars to what you thought you would pay!

As a purchaser and user of applicant tracking software, I learned the hard way that many people use the terms configuration and customization interchangeably. To us users and usually non-technical people, the terms often mean the same thing. However, software developers– those creative people behind the scenes who are developing these helpful recruiting tools– think of them quite differently. So I’m writing today to try to clear up the difference and help you avoid a major mistake when choosing an applicant tracking system.

SaaS (Software as a service) is becoming very popular because “technically” speaking it is a software delivery model in which software and its associated data are hosted centrally (typically in the (Internet) cloud) and are accessed by users using a thin client, normally using a web browser over the Internet.

Okay, so to us non-technical users, this simply means that the SaaS model is a web-based solution that only requires an internet browser to use and requires little or no internal IT support. The system and data are securely stored on the SaaS vendor’s server.

If the SaaS vendor describes their system as “configurable” they typically mean that the software is complete and that we only need to fine tune it for our specific needs. We can change the behavior of a feature by pressing a few buttons. The benefits of the configurable system are:

  • The application is hosted centrally, so new releases can be put in place without requiring customers to physically install new software.
  • The application configurations can be tested and corrected faster.
  • The solution provider has access to user behavior within the application (usually via web analytics), making it easier to identify areas of improvement.

After all, that’s what we all want, right?

On the other hand, “customization” technically means that the product is only half way done or incomplete, which will require secondary development to meet our needs. Writing new code by a software developer typically equates to added expense and a lot more time. The cost of a professional developer and the time it takes to test the new code can often add up to spending considerably more money and taking a lot longer to implement. Additional changes to the customized system will continue to add to the cost of the system.

My advice is read the fine print, ask the right questions and get clarification on the whether the system you are interested in is configurable or customizable!