The Applicant Black Hole Finally Needs to Disappear

I’m no astronomy buff, but recent headlines about black holes, star collisions, and ripples in space and time grabbed my attention. (In case you missed it, scientists believe they’ve found evidence of a black hole swallowing up a dead star, which occurred about 900 million years ago.) However, this news got me thinking about a different kind of black hole: the applicant black hole.

black hole

Source: Elena11 / Shutterstock

Also called the candidate black hole, recruiting black hole, or résumé black hole, the applicant black hole refers to the phenomenon in which a candidate applies for a job online and never hears back from the employer or recruiter. It’s as if his or her résumé got sucked into the cosmos.

The euphemism became mainstream during the Great Recession, when desperate jobseekers flooded employers’ in-boxes with applications. Responding to every candidate was virtually impossible, if not impractical, especially for short-staffed small- and midsize businesses.

Although times have changed, the applicant black hole remains alive and well in the recruiting space-time continuum. In fact, 26.4% of jobseekers say not hearing back from employers after applying is their most pressing challenge when using online job boards or communities. Now that the job market has shifted in favor of candidates (there are more jobs than people to fill them), the applicant black hole is back in the spotlight.

You would think that the evolution of HR technology would have already mitigated this issue. For example, applicant tracking systems (ATSs) automate the process of filtering out irrelevant or underqualified applicants’ résumés and often have messaging functionalities to keep candidates abreast of their application status. Yet, not every employer uses an ATS, such as small businesses and those who hire infrequently.

At the same time, hiring managers are busier than ever due to the flourishing job market and the sheer difficulty of finding qualified talent. Recruiting is just one task on their to-do list, meaning communicating with candidates often falls by the wayside.

Put the Candidate Experience at the Center of Your Universe

To destroy the applicant black hole, employers and recruiters must focus on the candidate experience. Your candidates’ perception of your hiring process is critical not only to recruiting top talent but also to building a strong employer brand—your reputation as a good or bad place to work.

When a jobseeker has a poor experience with your brand (“I spent hours submitting my application and never heard back” or, “They dragged me through five interview rounds and didn’t bother to tell me I didn’t get the job”), they tell their friends, family, and folks in their professional network who could one day want to join your team. And, when talent is so hard to find, you can’t afford to lose the trust of potential applicants.

Additionally, a disgruntled candidate may not hesitate to write a negative review on social media or a company rating website. This public-facing feedback paints a poor impression of your organization, thus damaging your employer brand, deterring future candidates, hurting employee morale, and even impacting your bottom line.

4 Ways to Shrink the Applicant Black Hole

The applicant black hole won’t go away overnight, but employers and recruiters can begin changing their practices and improving the candidate experience today. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  1. Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes. Job searching can be emotional and frustrating, which exacerbates a negative experience with your brand. Mitigate some of this frustration by looking at your application process through the lens of the candidate. Where might a jobseeker face friction? Is the process longer than 10 minutes? Are your instructions confusing? Determine where you might make adjustments, big or small, that will leave your applicants with a positive feeling about your company.
  2. Prioritize communications. Whether that means using an automated messaging system or reaching out with a personalized e-mail (or phone call), make a conscious effort to connect with each applicant. In the least, confirm that you’ve received his or her application, and explain the next steps in the hiring process. Even a simple message like, “Thank you for your interest in our open position. Our HR team will contact you in 48 hours if we’d like to move forward with an interview,” will do.
  3. Treat candidates like customers. A quick or automated message does the trick for addressing the black hole, but does it really improve candidate experience? Probably not. Nurture and engage your candidates as you would a valued customer. This could mean sharing helpful content (like interview tips or information about your company’s culture) in your e-mail communications throughout the hiring process. Be transparent in your job postings, and detail your benefits and unique perks. Offer interviewees their favorite beverage before they sit in the “hot seat.” These efforts should carry over into the onboarding process and help ensure you retain your new hires.
  4. Disqualify, don’t reject. Communicating with candidates also means you’ll have to be the bearer of bad news. Even if you must inform applicants that they were not selected, you can do so in a way that doesn’t compromise their experience. Provide helpful feedback about their résumé or interviewing skills. Point them in the direction of other opportunities—perhaps the company in the building across the street is hiring. More importantly, don’t think of it as “rejecting” top talent. If you have one or two “runners-up” (candidates who were great fits but lost to someone slightly more experienced, for instance), pipeline them. Connect with them on LinkedIn, add them to your recruitment marketing e-mail distribution list, or even gauge their interest in consulting or freelance work to keep them warm. Then, when a position opens, they’ll be more likely to jump on it—with their positive candidate experience and perception of your employer brand fresh in their mind.

Above all, the recruiting industry is long overdue for a change. We need to refocus our efforts on the candidate experience and make the applicant black hole nothing more than a piece of science fiction.

Steve FlookSteve Flook is President and CEO of iHire, a career-oriented platform that brings candidates and employers together in 56 industry-focused communities. Connect with iHire on Twitter, @iHireJobNetwork.

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