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A Rude Selection Process Can Mirror Working Conditions

By Joann S. Lublin

When Rebecca Theim interviewed for a publicist's post at a big multimedia production concern, an effusive executive assured her she didn't need to meet anyone else, as she'd make a great addition to the staff.

The executive promised to firm things up after a vacation. It didn't happen. After seven months and seven attempts to contact that hiring manager, "I received my only follow-up from the company -- a generic rejection letter from the human-resources director," Ms. Theim recalls. "I still can't believe how I was treated."

The manager involved, when asked to comment, said only that the company was disappointed to learn "this applicant was unhappy with her interview experience."

In her next job as communications director for a big forest-products concern, Ms. Theim always contacted applicants within a week of interviewing them.

Job hunting is a two-way street. How well you handle candidates may affect your own career. "Selecting talent is a big part of being a good manager," says Scott Erker, a senior vice president at Development Dimensions International, a leadership consultancy in Pittsburgh.

With the unemployment rate so low, no one wants to join a workplace that treats potential staffers impolitely. Yet plenty of hiring managers act rudely -- as I heard from Ms. Theim and many of the 120 other readers who reacted to my recent column about bad manners among applicants. I spoke to several with horror stories for insights into how a hiring manager's discourteous conduct influenced their own behavior once the tables turned.

In the late 1970s, a young computer programmer named Jeff Atwood showed up on time for a 1 p.m. job interview with a major conglomerate in midtown Manhattan. He waited three hours. No one offered an apology or refreshment. He requested permission to use the restroom. The receptionist refused.

His delayed interview began at 4:15. An uninterested official asked curt questions for just 10 minutes. "I was just glad to get out of there,'' Mr. Atwood remembers.

The stressful experience left a lasting impression. "I learned to treat potential hires with respect, dignity and tolerance,'' says Mr. Atwood, now staff manager for a computer architecture and consulting firm in New York. At the outset of job interviews, he always asks applicants whether they need a bathroom or a beverage.

Philadelphia attorney Terry Reilly waited even longer for his job interview. The general counsel for a unit of a major securities firm left him cooling his heels until 2:30 -- nearly six hours after he arrived. Mr. Reilly became famished, but he stayed put because he really wanted the position.

The general counsel finally ushered Mr. Reilly into his office, then promptly suggested rescheduling the interview for about a week later. Mr. Reilly waited more than an hour the next time.

Three times over subsequent months, the general counsel's secretary arranged follow-up calls between her boss and Mr. Reilly. She repeatedly urged the attorney to be ready at the agreed time to answer the phone. But the general counsel never called.

As a result, "I try to be considerate of time schedules," Mr. Reilly says. And he never makes job prospects wait in his law firm's lobby for long. "If you can't be prompt, then at least be honest with people," he adds. "Don't let them hang."

Mitzi Chamakala Chollampel felt equally ignored during her pursuit of a job with a big consumer-products business. The executive interviewing her repeatedly looked at his BlackBerry while she answered his questions. At one point, his secretary popped in to announce that his wife was on the phone. The man took the call -- and discussed their evening plans.

Though the inconsiderate behavior bothered her, Ms. Chollampel joined the company, worked for someone else, and eventually took charge of recruiting. She says she tried to give applicants her full attention by turning off her BlackBerry and computer monitor.

Taking job interviews seriously shows you're committed to "finding the right person," explains Ms. Chollampel, currently manager of customer loyalty for consultants Loyalty Group in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Readers suggested other ways that polite behavior might help you attract top staffers. Walk in a job seeker's jittery shoes. Hiring managers must realize "they have people's hopes and dreams in their hands, often at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives," Ms. Theim observes.

Another tip: Remember that applicants believe a rude selection process mirrors working conditions. Employers should treat job prospects as customers and invited guests.

"Bad manners have long-term consequences," warns Peter Dowling, a Stamford, Conn., sales manager at a finance and accounting consulting firm. Wooed by a recruiting software concern this past summer, he was stood up three times for a telephone interview with a vice president. Now, whenever someone mentions that company's name, he says, "I speak of the discourtesy."

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Article from October 2006