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First Impressions: You Only Get One

image credit: Chris Benz, Benz International

As an employer there are several ways to reach candidates when you have a job opening. You can post a job on job boards as well as your own website. Internal recruiters can reach out to potential candidates, or an external recruiter can reach out to candidates on your behalf. 

When that first encounter takes place, it is important that employers first understand their audience and how to attract them. Your best candidates may be currently employed; they may be actively looking for work or they may be passive candidates who are tougher to reach. Employed candidates do not necessarily need your job. They want a career move that will challenge them, enhance their career goals and get them excited. 

So the first step in making a great first impression is a well-written job description. Is it easy to understand? Is it brief and to the point? Does it clearly articulate how the opportunity can be beneficial to the candidate? Are the parameters of success defined? A suggestion is to reverse engineer the job description based on what a new hire can accomplish in the first 90 days. Define what success would look like and then articulate what it would take to accomplish it. 

reverse engineer the job description based on what a new hire can accomplish in the first 90 days

Candidates will appreciate a job description that defines success in the role, not just a list of requirements and responsibilities. Cut the fluff and jargon and say what the job really is so it is clear – if you want someone technical, say so! If you really want someone with domain experience, make sure to mention that! If something is nice to have or you really only expect candidates to have about two-thirds of what is listed as required, say so!  

In addition, remember to sell the position and the company. Put on your sales and marketing hat and make it a great first impression. Make the job description alluring to the very best candidates that exist and cut out boring and obvious boilerplate-like statements such as “other tasks as assigned”. A good recruiter can also help you craft an appealing job description.

Once a candidate has been reached through a job posting or recruiter it is important to make the process hassle-free. Candidates I speak with often complain of companies that ask for too much (resume plus cover letter, survey or questionnaire, work samples). Information on a candidate can be helpful, but there comes a point where much of it becomes redundant or even hard to fulfill. For example, when have you seen a cover letter truly add value and provide information that is not already on their resume? And asking for a work sample from a candidate’s current or prior job can violate NDAs or create an ethical dilemma for them. Some of the best candidates I’ve interacted with can be so turned off by a cumbersome process that they decide to bow out. 

The other complaint I hear often is that communication is often lacking. Timely communication is key throughout the process and the first impression is no exception. An email or a phone call to let the candidate know that their information has been received and is being reviewed can keep the candidate in the game. Setting expectations by letting candidates know what the next step in the process is as well as an estimated time frame are critical in creating an exceptional first impression with candidates. If you don’t have time for this due to the heavy volume of resumes you receive, consider using a recruiter who can handle this on your behalf.

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Maintain regular communications with candidates. Candidates need to be kept in the loop, even if there are no new updates. I suggest you check in with a “hello, we haven’t forgotten about you, thanks for your patience, things are still progressing, we should get back to you by the end of the week.” A quick call to the top candidates to provide an update will further keep candidates engaged and really show you are a company that cares about people. Humanize; don’t commoditize.  

What you do with candidates that are not being moved forward in the process can be just as important as the ones who do make it to the next step. Find a way to politely and professionally share why they aren’t moving forward in the process. Again, external recruiters can help if this seems overwhelming.

A poor candidate experience can show up on social media or sites like Glassdoor and can end up hurting your employer brand, which will impact your ability to attract top talent in the future (a dissatisfied voice is like a megaphone). Being aware of how you treat all candidates from start to finish, starting with the first impressions, can help you attract top talent to wow customers, improve operations, fulfill projects, and increase sales.

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The author, Chris Testa, is a top recruiter focusing on the utility industry. He has an MBA and an engineering degree and has spent 30 years in the utility sector. He currently leads Testa Search Partners, a company headquartered in Atlanta and serving all 50 states. He can be reached at ctesta@testasearchpartners.com

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