UN Special No 541 Juin - June 2005


An applicant’s bill of rights (Part I)

Reprinted by approval from Dr John Sullivan*


Below is an article written by Dr John Sullivan, Professor at the School of Management at San Francisco State University. The article would seem to address issues which are specific to the private sector. Not so. At a time when the UN is undergoing all sorts of HR reforms wanting to become more «businesslike» than business, complaining of not being competitive enough and wanting to be able to attract the best, HR professionals and managers and international civil servants that we are could learn a few lessons from the text below – lessons about respect and reasonable expectations made in good faith by applicants when they go through the application and recruitment process.
How many times have we heard from staff that they have applied for such and such a post without even receiving an acknowledgement. How many of you out there complain because once you have been interviewed, you find out by accident a few months later that the post is filled or better yet that the vacancy notice has been cancelled – sometimes 8 or 9 months later.
How many of you wonder how you did on the interview and wish for some kind of feedback, and perhaps you are told it is not possible. And how many of you question the fairness and legality of the recruitment and selection procedures in your own organization.
Are employees in the private sector more deserving of respect then we are in the UN common system?

One of the hottest phrases in recruiting these days is «enhancing the candidate experience.» Yes, treating applicants better is becoming a hot issue again, just like it was during the last war for talent. An improving economy means that the power begins shifting from the employer to the applicant. So if you want high application and offer acceptance rates, you need to begin to pay attention to your candidate experience.
Applicants are not stupid. If you treat them harshly when they are essentially «guests» at your company, they will automatically assume that you will treat them even worse if they become employees.

Business Reasons for Improving the Applicant Experience
There are several reasons why recruiting organizations should focus on improving the way that applicants are treated. Some of them include:

Building a Customer-Focused Orientation in Recruiting
«Don’t call us, we’ll call you» is a phrase from customer service hell, but unfortunately, it is a response that is actually used on applicants. Even though not every recruiter utters the phrase out loud, it’s clear to almost everyone involved that recruiting more than occasionally treats applicants worse than the
DMV treats its customers.
This «don’t call us» approach to applicants is just one indication of how many employment departments are arrogant in their approach toward applicants. All too often, employment and hiring managers take a «my way or the highway» approach to the hiring process. There is a lesson to be learned: we need to begin to treat all applicants with a higher level of courtesy and respect. HR needs to learn how to duplicate the level of customer service that is usually provided by our sales, customer support, and product service departments.

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Differentiate Yourself by Exceeding Their Expectations
Part of the reason that staffing is not customer service friendly is because most staffing processes were developed when unemployment rates were high and employers could demand almost anything from desperate applicants. That has all changed now, so it’s time to treat our applicants like customers. Because so many recruiting departments treat applicants in a cavalier manner, it is possible, without much effort, to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
The best way to begin the process is to let applicants know upfront what level of treatment they can expect. You can let the applicants know that they have the «right» to be treated with courtesy in many ways.
However, if you are really bold, the best approach — which I recommend — is to promise them a high level of courtesy, respect, and treatment in what is known as an Applicant’s «Bill of Rights.»

Compiling an Applicant’s Bill of Rights
There’s no standard format or magic formula for developing an applicant’s Bill of Rights. I recommend that you design your recruiting process so that it reflects the way you would like to be treated if you were applying for a job. That means making a list of your goals for applicant treatment and then developing an individual promise, or «right,» to fit each of these customer service goals.
The following section contains a list of rights that you might consider for your own customized Applicant’s Bill of Rights. No one firm would utilize them all, so start with a small number and add additional rights only after you have succeeded in meeting each of the ones that you included in the initial selection.
The applicant rights are categorized according to the steps in the recruitment process. Because applicants themselves have responsibilities in addition to their rights, the last section of the list also includes applicant responsibilities that should be included in the mutual understanding.
Essentially what you’re doing is developing a service-level agreement between the company and the applicant. It is a proven approach that has worked in dozens of other business areas where there is a significant negative consequence to treating customers poorly.

An Applicant’s Rights
Although I use the term «rights» in this article, they are not technically legal rights but instead should be considered as a series of promises or reasonable expectations that are made in good faith to the applicant when they agree to go through the application and hiring process. Before the lawyers in the audience have a cow, remember that just as you promise customers a great experience without any legal consequences, you can do the same to applicants with few negative, but a large number of positive, consequences.
Applicant promises that you might want to include in your Bill of Rights are listed below. (When it’s required, an explanation of the need for the customer promise is included.) Remember, this is an extensive list — so initially, only pick the 5 to 15 rights that you are most likely to be able to meet during the first year.

1. Treat them with respect and dignity.
We promise, wherever possible...

2. Provide information on the job.
We promise, wherever possible...

3. Provide information on the selection process.
We promise, wherever possible...

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4. The interview process.
We promise, wherever possible...

5. The offer process.
We promise, wherever possible...

* The author has been described as one of the leading strategists in the field of human resources around the globe. As a recognized thought leader on topics ranging from talent management to integrative HR strategy, he has been working to challenge the archaic perceptions that have limited HR’s contribution to the business for more than thirty years. Via his roles as an author, corporate advisor, and educator he challenges the status quo and offers a bold forward thinking look at what it takes to become a smarter more powerful function. He currently serves as a Professor of Management in the College of Business at San Francisco State University.

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