What We Can Learn from 42Floors’ “Recruiting Black Hole”

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The “black hole”: recruiting’s all-too-apt slang title for application processes — usually driven by terrible ATSs — that send job seekers into the informational abyss. If that sounds dramatic, you’ve likely never experienced the black hole firsthand.

Let me share an anecdote to illustrate how extreme (and miserable) the black hole can be: I spent last summer looking for jobs after parting ways with the school I was working at. At the beginning of June, I applied for an education-related job at a fairly well-known local nonprofit. The online application process was pretty much standard operating procedure: upload a resumé, a cover letter, some recommendations. Repeat all the information already provided in your resumé and cover letter in a bunch of text boxes. Repeat yourself some more. Et cetera, ad nauseam.

You know, the usual maddeningly frustrating experience.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited. I didn’t receive so much as a personalized confirmation that the organization had received my application (just the computerized “thank you” email). I had no idea whether or not the organization was considering me until the end of July, when someone called to schedule a pre-screening interview over the phone.

Awesome. Great. The pre-screening went well, and the woman said she’d be in touch to schedule an in-person interview.

Three weeks later (mid-August at this point), the organization finally scheduled my in-person interview. Meanwhile, I’d grown increasingly frustrated with their hiring inertia, and I’d been applying to a bunch of other organizations because I had no idea whether or not this position would work out for me — or how excruciatingly long the hiring process might be. Or if I even wanted to work for an organization that puts candidates through this sort of nonsense.

My in-person interview seemed to go well. I fired off a follow-up email when I got home. It went unreturned.

I heard nothing for months. Literally months. In fact, I had no idea that they’d closed the job until receiving a letter in the mail (yes, a paper letter) in December. That’s four months of radio silence — couldn’t they have told me much sooner that they didn’t want to hire me?

But, hey, at least they told me the position was closed. Some companies don’t even do that much.

Building a Better Candidate Experience

Tales of the black hole are widespread, partially because they’re tied to another trending topic in HR and recruiting: candidate experience. Increasingly, more and more organizations are focusing on building better candidate experiences — which seems like it should just be common sense. Regardless, what we’re seeing is organizations realizing that frustrating application processes are a good way to turn highly qualified talent away from you. After all, why are the best of the best going to join your organization when you’re treating them like crap before they even step foot in the office?

A good candidate experience, on the other hand, draws people in — if your hiring process is simple and enjoyable, candidates are going to be eager to join your team. They’ll feel valued and engaged even before you hire them.

In order for organizations to figure out what makes a great candidate experience, they need to heed the words of TalentCulture CEO Meghan M. Biro. In a piece for Forbes, Biro suggests that companies looking to build better candidate experiences should “walk in the job seeker’s shoes.” This means organizations need to really understand exactly what job seekers are going through. They need to empathize with candidates, figuring out exactly what ruins the application process and remedying the situation.

This means organizations need to confront the frustrating black hole firsthand in order to understand how candidates feel. But how?

Well, in a quest to annoy overzealous recruiters, the people at commercial real estate service 42Floors may have given us the perfect simulation.

Facing the Frustration Firsthand

Tired of being bombarded by recruiters, 42Floors created what it calls the “recruiter black hole.” It’s a simple, but ingeniously mischievous way to mess with recruiters who just don’t know how to back off.

42Floors tells these recruiters to call the “HR manager” at this number: (415) 534-6560. Except, that number doesn’t actually lead to an HR manager — or a person at all, for that matter. As Darren Nix, founder of 42Floors, explains on the company’s blog:

“A very patient individual named Derrick (a clever recording) will tell you that there are several positions for which he’s currently hiring and he’d like to cover all of them to see if you have any good candidates in the pipeline for him to review.  Without pausing, he’ll proceed to list the job requirements from five random jobs listed on Indeed.com in excruciating detail.  He’ll occasionally interject something like, ‘Sorry this is taking so long, but I just wanted to cover all of these before we get to your questions’.  Then he’ll continue on to the next job.”

After eleven minutes of this, the recording starts repeating itself, over and over again, until a frustrated recruiter wises up and/or hangs up.

You can call the number to test it out for yourself. It really is as annoying as it sounds.

But, here’s the thing: the sheer frustration you feel while listening to a self-centered recording blather on and on (and repeatedly) about things that are, at best, just barely relevant to you is exactly the same feeling job seekers get when applying to organizations with horrid candidate experiences.

Annoyed by having to hear Derrick say the same things over and over again? That’s how job seekers feel when we have to give an organization the same information over and over again. We sent you a resumé — why do we need to write out our work history again in the application?

Dazed under the crushing, unstoppable flow of irrelevant information Derrick spews? That’s how job seekers feel when the entire application process is mediated not by a real, living, breathing human being, but a website that doesn’t care who we are or what we need.

Ready to hang up because Derrick won’t listen to a single word you say? That’s how job seekers feel when we get no response to our queries about timelines or interview schedules or whether or not the job is still open.

So if you want to understand how job seekers feel, give Derrick a call. Then get to work building a better candidate experience.

Read more in Job Applications

Matthew Kosinski is the former managing editor of Recruiter.com.