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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

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Improving our hiring process: what I learned from asking job applicants for feedback

During our recent content designer recruitment, I made a few changes to improve our hiring process. One of these changes was introducing a feedback form for applicants. I reflect on what I learned from the responses and actions I want to take to improve things further.

Why I introduced a feedback form

This was the first recruitment round I sent a feedback form to unsuccessful applicants.

The idea came to mind last year. We offer feedback to unsuccessful applicants we interview. Why shouldn’t applicants provide us with the same?

It was an anonymous, free-text response form where applicants (both those we interviewed and those we didn’t) could comment on:

  • how we advertised the role (both the advert and blog post I wrote alongside it)
  • our interview process (for interviewed applicants)
  • our feedback blog post for unsuccessful non-interviewed applicants
  • anything else they wanted to share

My blog post advertising the content designer role

My feedback blog post for unsuccessful non-interviewed applicants

I didn’t get many responses, but the ones I got were incredibly helpful in letting me know what worked or didn’t about the process.

Tell candidates when rejection emails come, not just interview invites

In my post advertising the role, I listed a timeline for the hiring process, including when we planned to send out interview invites, hold interviews and give candidates a decision.

My usual process is I inform all unsuccessful applicants at the same time, after all interviews are over and we’ve offered the role.

However, what I learned from the feedback form (and enquiries I received during the recruitment) was that this did not match applicants’ expectations. Those who didn’t get interviews expected to be told they were unsuccessful at the same time we sent out interview invites.

Looking back at the post advertising the role, I realise I didn’t make this timeline explicit for applicants we didn’t interview.

In future posts, I want to make it clearer that the date for receiving a decision is for all applicants. If you’re not invited to an interview, you won’t hear from me until interviews are over.

While I do appreciate that applicants want to hear updates as soon as possible, as a hiring manager, it’s risky to reject people before interviews happen.

Sometimes people you invite already have offers elsewhere when you contact them or get an offer before the interview. This didn’t happen this time, but I need to plan for the fact that we might need to contact longlisted applicants for an interview if people drop out.

My feedback blog post was helpful, but could have been more carefully worded

Another change I made this round was I wrote a blog post of feedback for applicants who weren’t shortlisted for an interview. It outlined the common themes we saw in applications that didn’t make the shortlist and what stood out about applications we did shortlist.

My feedback blog post for unsuccessful non-interviewed applicants

A few applicants commented on how helpful and reassuring they found the post, and that they appreciated my efforts to give unsuccessful applicants feedback.

However, there were a few people who said they were disheartened about the way we shortlisted. I said we prioritised interviewing people already working as content designers or with a significant amount of experience in similar roles (15+ years).

People noted that this conflicted with the tone of my post advertising the role, where I said I was open to hiring people completely new to content design.

I was sad to read candidates felt disheartened, which made me reflect on how I could have worded my feedback post better.

What I should have made clear in the post was that the way we shortlist is not pre-determined. It’s based on the calibre of applications we receive.

I’m still open to hiring people new to content design, and I will always encourage those people to apply.

Every recruitment round is different, though. We can’t predict what the calibre of applications will be. An application that wasn’t shortlisted this round might be a more competitive application in a different round.

Two years ago, we didn’t interview anyone already working as a content designer, and this time, they made up the majority of our interviewees.

For people not already working as content designers, we don’t shortlist those who have had 15+ years of experience as rule. I regret that my wording gave that impression. It just happened to be the case that the applicants in this round who we thought would be competitive against existing content designers had that amount of experience.

Say how the position became available

I mentioned in the feedback post how this vacancy was to replace a highly skilled content designer who left the team, which contributed to shortlisting the way we did. I was keen to fill that skills gap.

Some people said it would have been good to know this beforehand, and I agree, though I need to be careful in how I express this in future.

I’m all for saying how the position became available because that creates more transparency in the recruitment process.

However, similar to what I said above, each round of recruitment is different. Just because I want to fill a particular skills gap doesn’t mean I will receive applications from people with those skills. It all depends on the job market at the time and who is interested in our vacancy.

So yes to being transparent about why we are hiring and my expectations. But as I don’t know what the calibre of applications will be like, I will always encourage anyone who meets the essential criteria to apply.

Make clear who is and is not suited to apply

With 83% of applications ineligible for shortlisting, I want to make it clearer in my posts advertising the role who is and is not suited to apply.

I’m sure there will always be people who send in applications without reading the instructions. For example, I said in the advert this time we couldn’t consider applications without a cover letter, and 13% of the applications we received had a CV only.

However, I’m thinking about the recent grads who applied who I thought have the right skill set to be a content designer, but they didn’t have the experience level for this mid-level role.

I want to clarify in my post advertising the role that you can be new to content design, but this particular role isn’t entry-level (but that we do have different entry-level content roles on the team).

Applicants found the interview process time-consuming, but ultimately okay

This recruitment round was the first time I introduced a 2.5 hour interview process for the content designer role.

There was a:

  • 45-minute content appraisal presentation task
  • 45-minute interview
  • 1-hour editorial task

The week before interviews, I sent candidates the interview questions and task directions. On the day of the interview, I gave candidates the content they had to work on in the tasks.

I was worried about the time commitment of the whole process, as I realised 2.5 hours is a long time to get away from work or other responsibilities. I told candidates to let me know if I needed to make any adjustments to best meet their needs.

No one asked for any adjustments in the end, and the overall feedback I got was that while it was a lengthy process, ultimately people thought:

  • they had enough time for the tasks
  • the different aspects of the process gave them the best opportunity to show their skills

As such, I’ll continue with this format for next time, but keep giving people the option to ask for an adjustment if needed.

Keep using a feedback form

Finally, given all the insight I got this recruitment round, I’m keen to keep using a feedback form in future.

Even with the few responses I received, I have a lot of actions of what to improve based on what I learned.

My goal is to create the most inclusive and considerate hiring process I can. Making that process open to receiving feedback is a great way to reach that goal.

Do you recruit staff?

I’d love to hear what you think of the approach I’m sharing and any learnings from your processes. Leave a comment or drop me an email.

Lauren’s contact details

2 replies to “Improving our hiring process: what I learned from asking job applicants for feedback”

  1. Delfina Hoxha says:

    This is a great idea! I’d love to see it implemented across functions and companies.

    Sometime after filling out an initial form and getting the “We’ve received your application” email, the company I currently work for sent me an email with the subject line “Thank you for applying.” I immediately assumed I wasn’t moving forward to the next stage, but that wasn’t the case (as you might’ve guessed from the “company I currently work for” part, lol) and I mentioned it as feedback to them to update. I love the thought of “content designing” the hiring process and would love to see more of these pieces 🙂

    1. Lauren Tormey says:

      Thanks for this comment, Delfina! Well done on offering your company that feedback! I’m sure many other applicants were thinking the same as you. Hoping to write more pieces on the topic as we continue to improve our process, though that will all depend on when we are hiring next.

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