How This Company Made Its Hiring Process More Personal — and Is Reaping the Rewards

April 30, 2019

The world has become automated. From grocery store checkouts to voice command Amazon orders, it seems everyday life is becoming more machine than human.

In the world of recruiting, this is also very true. Chatbots, applicant tracking systems, automated messaging, online assessments, and video interviewing are just some of the technologies widely used these days. And they provide value by making the hiring process easier to manage, and in turn, make our lives a bit easier.

But, here comes the record scratch...does this also benefit candidates and your efforts to engage and hire them?

Probably not.

Just think about when you have to call a “helpline” of any sort. You go through the automated prompts (“press 1 for account issues, press 2 for support issues, etc.”) and start feeling your blood boil prompt after prompt. If you’re anything like me, you are relentlessly pressing 0 to get to a real, live, human being you can talk to. I think this same frustration already exists within our systems and tools for recruiting, and as automation continues to overtake the process, this frustration from candidates will only increase as they scream: “Can’t I just deal with a human being?!!”

Don’t believe me? Take a look at your social feeds after searching “recruiters.” Let’s just say it’s not good, and that a lot of what is really being said under all the frustration is one constant message: “Treat me like a human being!”

How Flexion is solving the automation dilemma by making their hiring process more human

Some companies are hip to the negative effects automation has on candidate experience — and they’re working to not only be more human in their interactions with candidates but also to use this as a strategic advantage.

One such company doing this very well is Flexion Therapeutics (headquartered in Burlington, MA). As a small business ( about 300 employees), Flexion has to make itself stand out from the competition. Julie Green, vice president of human resources, says their efforts to be less robot and more human have helped them to do just that — and beat their competition and receive around 5,600 job applications annually. (Full disclosure — they are a client of mine.)

“There is the dreaded recruiting black hole where candidates take the time to send in a resume or even worse, go in for an interview and then never hear anything back,” says Julie. “To me, that just doesn’t feel fair or right. I thought back to when I was a candidate. I’d send in applications and then patiently (or not so patiently) check my email to see if I got any responses. At the very least, a response is expected; I wanted to know they got my resume. I realized the impact communication can make with a candidate. Not just ensuring a communication happened, but truly interacting and engaging with people. They deserve to be treated with respect, transparency and a little bit of ‘human’ thrown in there.”

Here’s what they did to make this happen:

1. Defined who they were, what they stand for, and presented it honestly

“We put a lot of thought into defining our values and building our company culture, and we want candidates to know what we stand for,” says Julie. Because of that, they started sharing behind the scenes views of what life at Flexion is like on social media and via live conversations with their network:

They also added this video describing Flexion’s values to every external job description in order to give potential job applicants a better sense of what the company is all about:

In creating these videos, Flexion was careful to ensure that the employer brand they were putting out there was an honest depiction of what it’s like to work at Flexion. “It’s important that the employment brand match the actual culture,” says Julie. “The worst-case scenario is that a company creates a false impression that doesn’t align with reality.”

2. Created more personal responses for every single job application

“While I wish we could have a live conversation with every candidate that applies, it’s just not feasible,” says Julie. “However, we can be more personal using email.” That’s why they thank every candidate who applies to Flexion and provide more information on what they can expect next.

As the candidate continues to progress through the process, their communications become much more frequent and personal. “We want them to know we appreciate the fact that they are choosing to spend time learning more about us,” says Julie. “There are many companies out there, and I know we can’t take that for granted.”

3. Began reaching out to candidates proactively throughout the process and providing personal contact info

The Flexion interview process focuses on the human aspects of hiring, keeping the candidate’s experience in mind throughout.

“I tell candidates right up front that we will be there with them throughout the process,” says Julie. “I’ve been in their shoes and wondered, ‘It’s only been 3 days…do I call?’ I don’t ever want candidates to feel that way. I tell them if they have a question or want to know what’s going on to call me or email me anytime. And I mean it. We’re not perfect, but we try to keep them informed at each step of the process.”

4. Took the time to make rejections more thoughtful and useful

The HR team at Flexion takes time to consider how they should interact with candidates every step of the process, and not just the successful candidates. They think about the tone and type of information they would want to receive if they were on the receiving end of a rejection letter.

“Whenever possible, I try to share specifics with people so they understand why we went in a different direction,” says Julie. “I take the time to be more personal, because it’s the golden rule — treat others how you want to be treated.”

They also share ways to stay connected both through the company’s social media, personally connecting on LinkedIn, and sharing contact info. These actions have paid off.

“I started having people reach out and thank me for ‘the nicest rejection letter they had ever received,’” she says. “While that was a genuine shock the first time, I regularly hear that message at least 4 or 5 times a week.”

Here are a couple of examples of notes Julie has received:

“Thanks for the lovely rejection letter, it made my day!”

“First of all let me commend you. I've seen a lot of rejection notes, but I was impressed by:

1. The speed at which you were able to review/screen my submission and provide a response within the same day.

2. The authenticity of the letter back to the candidate where empathy is expressed for this god awful process we call the job search.

3. Your willingness to stay in touch through social media."

Clearly, these candidates will think positively of Flexion even though they didn’t get that job. And who knows — they might be the perfect fit for another role down the road.

Final thoughts: Making the effort to be more human has paid off for Flexion

“The results have been incredible,” says Julie. “I immediately saw my network explode. I was connected to more people, and more people learned what an amazing company Flexion really is. We saw our direct applications to our website go from 9% to almost 40% in less than a year. This is real ROI.”

A lot of companies forget that a big (and vital) part of their “employer brand” is the candidate experience. I don’t care how great your content is or how amazing your careers site is, if the candidate’s experience doesn’t match the messaging, you will lose 100% of the time — and that’s a fact.

Yes, automation has many benefits. However, as Flexion has shown, human interactions (especially when the opposite is now so prevalent) will always win out. I have always believed that outside of getting married and having children, there is no more important and emotional decision in someone’s life than their career. How can we expect to truly be successful as recruiters if we don’t understand that and tailor our interactions with this in mind?

No one wants to be treated as a “transaction” — especially when it’s someone’s career we are dealing with. Flexion has benefited greatly from its human-centric approach, especially in a job market where that is getting exceedingly rare. When redesigning your candidate experience efforts remember — how would you want to be treated? Sometimes speed and efficiency aren’t the answer. Taking the time to be human can impact your recruiting and help you win.

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