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Apr 12, 2019
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Once in a while, we come across hiring managers with some odd questions or assessments they put their candidates through. I’ve been in the HR professional for over 17 years now, and I guess it’s safe to say, I’ve seen quite a few interesting ones.

Recently, one of my clients started rejecting candidates citing the reason that they are not “tech savvy” enough. Naturally, we wanted to know more about how they came to this conclusion. One of the interviewers on the panel felt that to test for tech savviness; they would ask if a candidate could use a particular function on one of the standard office productivity software.

This, in our opinion, wasn’t a fair assessment. There was a mention on the job description that the candidates should come with an intermediate level of proficiency for this software, but nothing on this specific feature. Being the good clients they are, we sat down and address this particular assessment and put in place something more appropriate. We made a fantastic hire after that.

Well, you could imagine the look on my face when I read the article “I’ve been hiring people for 10 years, and I still swear by a simple rule: If someone doesn’t send a thank-you email, don’t hire them,” by Jessica Liebman, Business Insider US earlier this month. It’s got a catchy title, and naturally, I was tempted to see what this was about.

The gist of the article points to a very generalized recommendation of not hiring any candidates that fail to send a “thank-you” email.

Drawing from Liebman’s experience as the executive managing editor of Insider Inc. and having hired hundreds of people over a decade, she felt that the “thank-you” email would be a good test of the candidate’s motivation to wanting the job. And for the times where they’ve hired someone without this “thank-you” email, the outcome was either a U-turn by the candidate before joining or attrition after a few months of joining.

While there are some good takeaways from the article, I feel that the article is flawed and the recommendation of not hiring someone based on not sending a “thank-you” email questionable.

Interviewing is a two-way street

Candidates come into the interview process under different circumstances. Having worked with clients to build a world-class team, we take a considerable amount of effort in positioning the roles of targeted candidates who aren’t necessarily looking to leave their organizations. Some of the best candidates are so settled in their current roles that it takes a lot of coaxing to get them even to do a call with the hiring team. In our line of work, we call them “Passive candidates.”

As much as candidates are “expected” to sell themselves during the interview process, the company needs to be able to do the same. Interviews go both ways. A good interview outcome does not necessarily result in a hire. A good outcome is a clarity to come to a right decision. Both the candidate and the company can adequately assess each other for fit, and make an eventual decision to proceed or not.

Let’s say we went through the whole process of courtship to bring a top talent from a key competitor over, and wait, this candidate “forgot” to thank you for an interview. Should we drop the candidate and redo the search? I guess not.

Equal opportunity, fair assessment and being clear with what you are looking for

Equal opportunity and fair assessment is quite a vast topic for us in recruitment. While we are not discussing if rejecting a candidate for the action of sending a “thank-you email” constitute to an unfair assessment or not, I think it’s fair to say that it’s little too much of a bias.

The purpose of a job description is really to outline the expectation of the role allowing candidates to understand what is required of them to perform the role. I had a quick look at the roles posted on Insider Inc.’s career site; there isn’t a reference to a requirement for candidates to send out a “thank-you” email after interviews. If this is going to become a requirement and assessment criteria, wouldn’t it be fair to have this listed on the job description?

Candidates shouldn’t be made to hunt for email addresses

Liebman suggested in her article that getting the email address would indicate that the candidate is resourceful. I beg to differ. There’s nothing more to it than just plainly asking the interviewer or the recruiter for it.

If the interviewer is elusive to the point that you need to “hunt” for the email address, you need to think twice about joining that organization. It’s not as if you haven’t met this person; you just had an interview, remember? For crying out loud, you’ve invested time to meet them.

There might be another angle that we haven’t considered, the candidate might have freaked out the interviewers so much that they don’t want anything to do with the candidate after the interview, but that’s a different story.

It’s about bringing the best talent to your organization

An interview process is an essential part of an organization’s talent strategy. It should be about identifying the right talent and bringing that talent into the organization. As much as I’m a huge advocate for being creative in the interviewing process, I’m also cautious in setting up the process to ensure that the objectives are met.

There is value to getting the candidate to navigate the process like an old school role-playing games (RPG). This is the part where I show my age. The old school RPG games are set up in a way where you are faced with mostly random choices. A wrong decision would cause the game to end with a less desirable outcome, so you would end up saving the game at different points so you can “restart” from the point where you get to make a different decision, and hopefully complete the game successfully.

Candidate shouldn’t be subjected to this sort of treatment, and if anything at all, they should be provided with as much information as possible.

Managing an interview process

Here are some simple steps you can take in managing an interview process with your candidate.

  • After setting up the interview
    Send the candidates all the information they need. This may include the most updated job description (JD), additional insights for the role and information of the interviewers. Information about the interviewers may also be in the form of online Linkedin profiles. All this would go a long way to helping your candidates prepare for the interview, and it’s also proper etiquette. Candidate should come fully prepared for the conversation and be able to present themselves for the interview best, and there shouldn’t be surprises they have to deal with.
  • Just before the interview
    Check in on the day before or the morning of the interview to make sure that your candidate is fully prepared for the meeting. This also allows you to confirm that your candidate can make the interview. Candidates may not be familiar with the venue of the meeting, so checking in also ensure that the candidate would not have an issue with finding the place. Ask for any last questions they might have. Most candidates do last minute reading on the company, interviewers and such, so this might be an excellent opportunity to address any questions or concerns they may have.
  • Right after the interview
    Always check in with the candidate right after the interview. I try to do this with a day if possible. Thank the candidate for spending the time to meet with the interviewers. Ask for feedback and if there’s anything that might have been missed during the discussion. There may be questions that have not been answered, and additional follow up questions from the candidate. Also, this is an excellent opportunity to get some download on how the interview went which is valuable data points to take the debrief with the panel.
  • Follow up
    Depending on the position and the role we’re hiring for. It can be good practice for the candidate to summarize what was discussed and some of the candidate’s thoughts/ recommendations in the form of a one pager.I’ve worked with many candidates at the executive level on creating this post-interview summary. This is usually not requested by the interviewers, but all the feedback for this were fantastic. This enabled richer discussions around the role and what the candidates could bring to the table in the subsequent rounds of interviews. Both interviewers and candidates came out of the process have a much better understanding of the role and the candidate’s fit. These candidates when hired, tend to be more engaged and take less time to get up to speed.

Summing up

There are a lot of data points that we can take in assessing a candidate’s fit for the job. The question of the “Thank-You” email is one about etiquette vs. taking the right data points for evaluating talent.

One of the biggest pitfall with data analytics is taking the wrong data points. Is sending a “thank-you” email a mere etiquette or does it give you insightful data into this candidate’s ability to do the job?

While I agree that companies should look at the candidate as a whole and consider the all observable data points as a whole, deciding to discount and reject a candidate base on this one single point doesn’t make sense.

Finally, I would like to ask my readers to reread the title of this article. I gave you an interview and where is my “Thank-You” email?

This question cuts both ways. Before you ask your candidates to send that email, have you sent your candidate an email to thank them for taking the time to interview with you? Or, maybe what you’re trying to say is that you are probably not interested in this candidate.

Once again, it is more important to have a process that allows both interviewers and candidates to have an honest and transparent discussion about the role, make an assessment and come to a decision.

Happy interviewing and may you bring the best talent to your organization today.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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