Dear employers: Here's why nobody wants to work for you

Peter Harris|

I recently wrote an article about the behaviours that will most turn employers off from hiring a candidate. In fact, there are actions they dislike so much from an applicant that they not only won’t hire the person, but they’ll also blacklist them from all future opportunities with the company.

Quite a few people took the time to write in their responses to that article and similar ones that detail candidate mistakes on the job hunt. The common theme in the comments was that sure, candidates do get things wrong sometimes, but what about employers? It turns out that recruiters and hiring managers make a lot of blunders of their own, and that can cost them a great deal of potential talent when skilled but offended candidates choose to walk away.

Here are the top ten employer behaviours that candidates hate:

    1. Poorly written job descriptions with a list of demands but no benefits. Candidates need to know what is required for the job, of course, but they also want to know what’s in it for them. Describe the working conditions, the great culture, a few perks. Give people a reason to apply to your opportunity.

    2. Asking for the impossible. Some job descriptions ask for so much that no candidate could possibly have all of the credentials – or if this superhero miraculously existed – they wouldn’t work for the salary offered anyway. (You want a developer who can code your website, create all of the graphics, write engaging content in three languages while selling all of the media? For $20 an hour?)

    Looking for three plus years’ experience coding apps for Windows 8 is also absurd when the product has been on the market for a few weeks, but we’ve seen that sort of logical fallacy in job postings before.

    3. Being unprepared at the interview. Many candidates talk about sitting across the desk from someone who is apparently reading their resume for the first time. Jennifer says, “I once had a guy spend half the interview responding to emails on his blackberry and then showing me pictures of his family instead of interviewing me!” Job seekers stress about interviews, prepare in advance, and psych themselves up for the day. It is disrespectful to them when employers don’t take the meeting as seriously or give their candidacy the attention it deserves.

    4. Not replying to applications. Candidates like to receive an acknowledgment that their resume was received. This doesn’t have to be a phone call, or even a personalized note. The standard auto-response that thanks them for applying and lets them know they will only be contacted if they are selected for an interview is enough. That’s because when you’re applying for a job online or through email, you never know with 100% certainty that your resume got through unless you receive that confirmation. Emails hit spam filters or go to the wrong addresses, computers can freeze up or fail to process. Letting candidates know that you have their resume means that their chances now rest on the merits of their application. That’s fair. It’s stressful not to know if your career was blocked by a technical glitch.

    5. Much worse, not replying after interviews. When a candidate has taken the time to physically come in to the office to be interviewed, they deserve an official word on whether or not they got the job. Just by being interviewed, they know they were on the short-list. People have a lot of hopes riding on job interviews, landing a new opportunity can be life-changing. So amongst the behaviours that job seekers hate the most from employers is to be left hanging, indefinitely, after a job interview. Give them a call and let them know either way. Or at the very least, send an email thanking them for their time and interest, letting them know that you’ve selected another candidate.

    6. Allowing really long delays in communication with no explanation. Things can change, job seekers understand that. But when you say that you’ll let a candidate know about a decision by the end of the week – and you can’t make that deadline – send them a quick note. A simple, “Things have been crazy here this week, and we haven’t been able to move forward with the selection process. We’re going to regroup next week and will get back to you then…” will do. It’s the silence and the not knowing what’s going on when a job is on the line that candidates really dislike.

    I once received a call back for a second interview fully two months after the initial one. I had accepted a different (and much better) job in the meantime, so I never found out what the delay was.

    7. Asking for references right off the bat, even if you’re never going to call them. This causes job seekers to waste some social currency. The problem is that most candidates warn their references to expect a call, and they give them the job description in advance so that they’ll be prepared. They don’t want to have to let their network know about every job that they are interested in or to make too many demands on their time. They only want to have to approach their references for the roles for which they are a serious contender and it’s the references themselves that can make or break the deal.

    8. Going through the motions when an internal candidate or referral has already sealed the deal. Candidates tell horror stories of finding out that jobs they have applied for, interviewed for and even done a sample project for have been filled by the manager’s nephew. The theory is that even when there is a clear internal front-runner, companies still have a policy of going through the motions of screening a few alternative candidates.

    I have never seen this situation myself, but several managers I talked to confirmed that it happens. You can see how it grates on the ‘alternatives’ who’ve wasted their time.

    9. Indiscreetly talking about a candidate in public. This one was also written in to us. Linda shared: “My friend Evelyn was taking public transit to an interview – it was an interview for a position within her own company – a move to another division. While en route she overheard two women from her HR team talking about her, saying that she would never get the job, and wondering why she had even bothered to apply. She did not confront them, but was understandably upset that her own HR team would slag her and gossip about her in the open like that. She’d been with the organization for five years at this point and completely lost respect for the company.”

    10. Making it all about you. Once candidate told us the story about an employer who was so high on their own company that they spent the entire interview telling her how great the company was, how everyone wanted to work there, and how even being interviewed was a privilege considering the competition. Christina writes, “It was just really bizarre. They didn’t actually ask any questions about me or my resume. Shouldn’t at least part of an interview be spent a) trying to get to know me, and b) telling me the good parts about the job? Selling me on the opportunity? It was like a cult.”

Here’s something else to consider. When candidates feel that they have been treated shabbily, they’ll not only walk away from jobs with a company, but they’ll boycott its products as well. There’s no negative word-of-mouth as passionate as that coming from a person who feels personally and professionally affronted.

See also: Warning signs that the job will suck even more than being unemployed


Peter Harris
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Category: Recruitment Challenges
  • David Gay

    Peter, you’ve expressed shock at seeing openings that offer $20 per hour to do all those amazing things. As a jobseeker, I’ve seen a lot more asked for considerably less. It’s that hit song all of Corporate Canada is singing in unison, “Do more with less! Downsize! Rightsize!”

  • erromy

    Too many employers think that the power scales are on their side so treating candidates like they are dispensable is their God-given right. Thanks for balancing that perception Peter, and letting those kind of employers know that the candidates they hire under these conditions, and who believe in their right to be rude and inconsiderate get the kind of employees they deserve — the kind who will be using them and who will be looking to get out of there as soon as they are done using that employer.

  • bubbles69_69

    I would like to add one to the list. If the employer is advertising for the same position several times a year, people won’t waste their time applying because the employee turn over is too high. As a job seeker I see this as a potentially nightmare employer

  • Martin Brisson

    Can I add another one ? Ask for a resume AND ask for completing a form with the same questions (example: job experiences and where you studied and….) where all the answers can be easily find in the resume.. Why asking for a resume if you want us to fill out that form ? Or the other way ?

  • Parmeet Bedi Shaw

    Most Canadian markets I find are too small and the word travels fast…most people know whats going on….such as Company A pay package is terrible, Company B puts its employees under too much stress and that extra few K’s is not worth the stress.
    Company C’s management is known for its dirty politics and you want to steer away…and so on. 10 years ago when facebook was introduced, Companies took advantage of setting up dummy profiles and spying on people, now I am sure most Canadians are smarter than that and will not say something stupid on social media which can get them fired, which makes it harder for the companies to know what is truly going on with their employees. Most people have lost faith in HR departments. I can count multiple people who I know have told me that they don’t trust HR teams anymore because they are not for employees but are puppets in the hands of management. On many occasions I have seen that myself. Its a sad truth but HR departments needs to revamp and do better by employees to start seeing retention go up.

  • Garth Hinman

    You really glossed over a huge one briefly addressing it as an aside in #2 – insulting low ball pay offers or ‘conveniently forgetting pay raises’ will end them faster than anything!

  • Richard Derek

    I love it when an employer already has their candidate chosen but goes through the process of looking for a candidate. This is largely thanks to the system today where, in my opinion, employers are afraid of simply going ahead and promoting/hiring the people they want out of fear of being politically incorrect.

  • Dana

    Number 8 strikes a chord, for sure. It’s so frustrating going through an interview when it turns out there’s already someone in mind and you feel like your time has been wasted. I’ve been in a situation like that – and the interviewer accidentally slipped up and said they’d hired another candidate already – and that was hard. But there’s a nice piece on my blog about how to turn that around, for anyone who has been in that situation too.

    All the best,
    The X Class – a success blog

  • Gordon Ham

    They missed one, the recruiter with no experience in the field determining whether a candidate has the required skills, based on a company asking the impossible.

  • Jessica

    #6. I once had 3 interviews, one being over a meal. Being told after the 2nd interview they would let me know in a couple of days, the potential employer called me back 3 weeks later, to come in for a 3rd interview, after the interview I was told again they would let me know in a couple of days, after 2 weeks I followed up with a phone call, nobody got back to me, after 5 weeks I followed up with an email, the hiring manager emailed a response a few days later letting me know that the company was under new ownership, and that the position had been filled by someone else. I was disappointed that they left me hanging for so long, and that after 3 interviews they didn’t communicate that there was going to be a possible takeover, and that their was another candidate in the running.

    • Akash GG

      I went through that too, but two more than you (the job implied relocating to another continent, complete with whole
      family, and you can imagine the level of expectation that everyone was
      into after each successive interview…):
      an ‘ice-breaker’ of 45 minutes, a follow-up technical one of 1 hour, then another non-technical one of 1 hour after three weeks, and then another higher up the ladder after 4 weeks, and a final one telling me it’s all done, just a question of a director’s signature. And then after 4 weeks, one 31 December, my heart racing at seeing the call coming from the recruiter, only to announce that it’s now a question of a new owner having frozen all international recruitments. Speak of a new year’s gift…

  • Tim Morgan

    I was traveling through the area where a Radio station I was interested in working for resided. I called the head of Creative and Production much earlier in the day and asked if I could stop by and see them. I had already in the months leading up to this meeting built some rapport with the department head. The Creative/Production head agreed to the meeting and so I dressed for the interview brought my physical creative portfolio (this was back in 2008) and expected a professional grade interview even if it was a little impromptu.

    What I received instead was a complete joke and a waste of time. While I did meet with the station manager, the sales manager and the Creative/Production Director; neither the Station Manager nor the Sale Manager seemed to be taking the interview seriously. I was asked ridiculous questions and essentially laughed at. On my resume besides my years selling and writing radio copy I had listed my years working on the side as an OHL Mascot, roles in a few community theatre plays, stand up comedy experience not to mention a number of years performing live radio comedy. Remember I was applying for a job as a radio Creative Writer so I had left such things on my resume to show my diverse creative background. These guys treated me as if my experience was inappropriate to the job I was applying for. I could see their point of view if I was applying to work in the stations accounting department and not creative.

    In the end the head of Creative and Production never got back to me with even a simple you are not being considered. Also within a couple of months the entire unionized creative staff there for some “unknown” reason quit over a period of 3 days.

    I guess I was lucky that I did not get the job after all.

    In the years following that fiasco I worked at a number of stations as a department head in Creative/Production and Sales roles (I was hired using the same resume the other guys thought was funny).

    For years after the station (that hosted my interview of fail) was continually spotted on a media job sites looking for writers (I have no idea why that was).

  • ISA

    Job descriptions these days are wish lists that even santa will not entertain. Just like incompetent applicants there are tons of incompetent hiring managers and are a big reason in deciding which offer to accept.

  • The Werewolf

    I’ve hit literally every one of these…

    One company I applied to arranged a phone meeting, then forgot they’d scheduled it. They rescheduled that which went well. Then they arranged an in-person meeting which seemed to go well. Next they arranged another phone meeting (with staff in another part of the country) and missed that one. Another scheduled phone meeting – only to cancel it a day before the meeting because they’d decided to hire someone else. Ah well, their loss – but it left me feeling like I’d dodged a bullet. :)

    I’ve come to the conclusion that sending a follow up email after an interview to let the candidate know they’ve not been chosen is a dead practice, given how few companies do this anymore (including companies like Microsoft and Amazon who should know better).

    Asking for the impossible happens a lot… a lot of companies are trying to do the “here – solve this puzzle” thing – but they often forget it’s as much about finding out if the candidate can communicate as it is about letting the candidate know if YOU can communicate. I had one interview where I was asked a very strange problem which i couldn’t solve. But I also didn’t want to seem stupid so I tried a few things and asked for advice – but didn’t really get any. So I tried a few more things – explaining my logic verbally as i went. No reaction. This went on for almost an hour and of course, i failed the interview. Sort of. Again, I ended it feeling I’d dodged a bullet, not that I’d lost an opportunity.

    But what really bugs me is when the job description or recruiter clearly doesn’t know their stuff. Biggest one – job descriptions asking for .Net experience by which they mean “ASP.Net” which is just one of four broad areas encompassed by “.Net”. I know from the details – but when a recruiter calls – I almost always know they looked at my resume and saw 15 years of .Net experience and immediately called without seeing that little of it is in web work (which is ASP.Net).

    One really unusual new twist for me is that I’m almost ready to retire rather comfortably and suddenly, *I* can be picky about the company for who I work. It makes the interview process remarkably more enjoyable because if I don’t get the job – no big deal. THEY have to convince me to work for them – not the other way around. :) it’s already landed me a job at a company where I quite enjoy working.

  • Kevin24

    I went to a few of those inteviews requesting 100 credentials of which I had 98. Both paying $60K – $70K and should have been $80K+ with a shorter list. I didn’t get the jobs because of that one missing cert plus there was another 5 credentials not even listed. Talk about double secret probation

  • pigbitinmad

    OMG, being interviewed by people who have no clue about the job itself.

    I responded to an online job posting which seemed to be seeking an “Acquisitions Librarian.” Admittedly, the wording of this ad was a little bit strange because in addition to the usual acquisitions job functions normally found in an academic library; the same ad also included a laundry list of other functions which generally do not fall to the acquisitions librarian. These include: Circulation, ILL, Collection Development, Cataloging, Archival processing of special collections (like an ad for Prego Spaghetti Sauce “You Name it! It’s in there!).

    Fortunately for them, I am somewhat of the unicorn they are seeking as I have actually DONE 99.9% of those things in one way shape or form. But did they care? Not so much. At least the guy who conducted the phone interview acted like he had no idea what I was even talking about.

    As I mentioned each item in the ad (and the fact that I have done this before) I was met with a form of puzzlement as if ILL, Approval Plans etc. had absolutely nothing to do with the job after all. I can’t say for sure, because the guy interviewing me (who was about 25 years old) said “Well, I’m not a librarian so I don’t know.” I responded with, “all of this stuff is on my resume so I guess there must be SOME reason you called me.” He admitted that yes, “your background does closely match the job description.” WELL HELLO!!!!!!!!!!

    However, I knew I was doomed when the interviewer followed up with “I’m just calling you to see if you fit our culture. We have a really great culture, it’s sort of like a Silicon Valley startup here. They also have a lot of weekly meetings where they listen to a presentation and pat each other on the back and say cool things. Oh, and they also suggested that “we don’t work 9-5 here” the implication being that they work “tech hours” which is like 75 hours a week or something like that (this was for a well known University academic library). The word “teamwork” was thrown around as if working in teams is actually a good thing. The only real question I was asked to answer was ‘in what areas do you feel you need improvement’ and ‘describe a time you were creative?'”

    What I actually wanted to say was this: “You get a list of books, you order them. Then you mark them as received and you pay for them. you do not have to be a Leonardo Da Vinci for this. But just so you know, I did win a blue ribbon at a Junior High School art exhibit.”

    My take on all this was they googled me after they set up the phone interview. They then realized to their horror I was not 20 years old and they had to back-pedal somewhat by insisting that I wouldn’t want the job because they work 70 hours a week, are mostly young.

    I have actually had more interviews like this than I can count. Either that or they berate you for not having a certain skill that is not even on my resume, so why in the hell did they even call me?

  • jetsonjoe

    Yes recently left a company who was hell bent on getting me to work for them…and gleefully telling me that they offer no benefits but they paid well and rewarded annually. Well I should have seen that as a warning sign right off the start. And I did start…as the pay was good…looking forward to working for the company with a great “reputation”. Little did I know that the owner of the company was more concerned with the colour of the chairs he bought for the lunchroom and the line patterns in the newly installed brickwork than hiring necessary additional staff. Putting in charge egotistical self centred and inexperienced managers who made mine and everyone else’s life miserable. When after a year and a half with no review or any indication of where my future was going with the company…as I could not get them to commit to sitting down and talking….I looked for another job elsewhere. Needless to say they at the time where taken back at how could I possibly leave working for them…did I not realize that we were the best in the industry….Ha!….In your own little minds…in your own little minds. In the course of six months after I left over 29 people quit…hmmmm…wondering what happened. Glad to be out of that that. Lesson learned…the grass is not always greener on the other side.

  • zach

    a job labeled entry level in a student job board with note “10 years related experience”

  • Efrem

    IMHO, “not replying to applications” should be a red flag for the candidate, and that’s why: it’s really easy to set an auto-response like “We received your CV, we’ll consider it”; then why the employer doesn’t set such a response? Probably, it’s because he/she considers candidates as inferior beings unworthy to have a response. Would you like to work for such an employer?

  • Tomjo

    My personally favourite job hunting story was when I applied for some positions at several colleges, and received an automated email telling me that the position had been filled….2 years later!

    • pigbitinmad

      Colleges typically take forever to hire which is idiotic in itself. Especially librarian jobs because they ain’t exactly curing cancer.

  • Kath Loften

    The worst is expecting credentials totally not required for yhe job. There was a job here in BC advertised as entry level reception. The description stated answering the phones, taking messages and filing as the sole duturs but they exoected a college business degree minimum!

    • Robin Pittman

      That’s increasingly common – just as a method to limit applications to a reasonable amount. It’s unfortunate really. What drives me nuts is the fact that in many cases, HR departments — which may be completely isolated from the understanding of what the position involves — are the ones doing the hiring.

  • Eric

    I remember one job interview where I had Detasiling listed as part of my work experience, which only paid around $700 per year. The person who held the interview argued with me saying that I could live off that amount.

  • Job Developer

    Great article! Working closely with the employer community and job seekers I have come across several of these types of situations. Thank you for bringing this to light, let’s hope it starts a conversation!

  • Shido

    So true and another reason why HR should be taken out of the hands of employers.. ironically.

  • Sigurd Crane

    Done a few of these, as I was out of work, then underemployed for a while. My favorite was a firm that wasted an hour and forty-five minutes of my time-half interviewing me condescendingly, then half telling me how great they were, and how I’d never done ‘their’ sort of work before. On reviewing their website, I found out that the owner had the thinnest resume you could get without being unqualified. His wife (who did the same job) was worse. I wonder who they eventually hired. He had to be desperate.

  • David Gay

    My favorite job requirement when I applied for an opening at a music place was, “Must be able to play the guitar”. Seriously.

  • The Lori

    I once was a contract worker whose position became permanent so I had to re-apply for my own position. As it was a clerical position, the boss had me organize and greet the interviews. It was awful, everytime I met somebody to escort them in they’d ask me “why are you leaving the post?” to which I replied “I hope I’m not!”
    I felt SO bad for them. It was clearly a waste of their time, I was right there, competent & already in the job six months. Shockingly, I got hired and kept my job. What a waste of time for those other people!

  • Marion Anderson

    The worse situation I had was attending the interview and getting hired, only to find that the position I was hired for didn’t even really exist! Instead, they had another employee who had been there longer fill the position and left me scrounging every day for a job to do, even a desk to sit a – I am a graphic designer. More than once they instructed me to sitin a chair and wait for three hours and more until a desk was vacated so I could do some work.
    It had taken me nine months of gruelling job search to get this position and was pretty much on my last legs financially. The company held on to me for their three-month probationary period and within one week of completing it, they dismissed me, telling me, “It just didn’t work out.”
    On top of that, this was the first time the floor manager of that shift referred to me by name. Until then, he would just yell out across the floor and everyone would have to look up to see who he was referring to.
    To be honest, by the time I had reached the end of that three-month period, I hated that job and hated working there, but being so strapped for money there was simply no way I could just walk away. I’ve been a graphic designer for 30 years, and have worked for a few of Canada’s largest newspaper producers. This job was not newspaper related, but never in all that time have I been treated so discourteously land felt so de-valued even as a person.

  • Tara Williamson

    i had an interview where the interviewer left the room, talked to the manager (whispering) “i guess i will just hire this one” not even 10 feet away from me.

  • DJL1234

    I had sent a cover letter and my resume via e-mail for a position; both my resume and cover letter clearly stated my name however, the HR manager responded that they would like to bring me in for an interview… what was the problem? They had asked my wife to come in for the interview instead of me (my wife did not apply for the position) so I then clearly stated I was no longer interested.

    Number 5 on this list (gone thru so many times): Much worse, not replying after interviews. I have asked nicely either way if they could let me know if I got the position or not however, 95% of the time they always say yes; the they don’t follow thru.

  • Adam Lyne

    I have a reason that tops them all.

    My boss stopped paying his employees for around a month, and to be frank I had a second job. The second he gave me the slightest hint I should be fired because I wasn’t doing my job right (which seemed to be everything, including walking the company dog) I was out the door.

    I figure 25-50% of the office staff took similar routes, no pay, tick him off, get fired, and leave. Since by doing that we all got money from the government since we could argue we were fired since we weren’t doing our jobs right since we weren’t paid.