Yes, A Bad Candidate Experience Really Does Hurt You

Virgin Media’s whimsical branding masked poor hiring practices

Here’s something you already know about recruiting.  Whether you hire the candidate or not (especially not), how he or she reacts to the experience matters a lot.

The more difficult it gets to secure high-level/high quality talent, that interaction becomes more and more critical for two basic reasons.

  • You miss an opportunity. Candidates have become increasingly selective and come with a good sense of their worth.  A mediocre introduction to the firm is enough for them to walk.
  • You are hurt by the result. The word gets around.  Your “Employer Brand” take a hit and your attractiveness to other candidates suffers.

You know this because it makes sense.  But it remains a shadowy “of course” kind of issue because it is hard to quantify in terms of cost or benefit.  That was before Graeme Johnson.

Johnson is the former Head of Resourcing at Virgin Media, the Brit cable and mobile provider.  When he prepped for the job, he came across an enthusiastic candidate who had been rejected and who later cancelled her cable subscription.

Johnson wanted to know what made her cancel.  That particular experience included a bad-tempered receptionist and an interviewer who left the room to take a phone call, returned and promptly rejected the candidate there and then.


Costs of $5M a year

It wasn’t a one-off.  He would ultimately find out was that a bad candidate experience was costing the firm at least US$5 million a year and possibly as much as US$20 million.

The circumstances, of course, are particular to Virgin Media but instructive.  There were 123,000 rejected candidates each year, 18% of whom were customers and 6% of whom, (roughly 7,500) cancelled their Virgin Media monthly subscriptions of $60.  The resulting $5M is probably low because it did not take into account any impact of the experience being told to family and friends.

Johnson also reviewed Net Promoter Scores (NPS) which estimates how likely a person is to recommend a business or brand.   About two-thirds of the candidates rejected were classified `detractors“.


It could happen to you

Everything about the Virgin Media example is transferrable.

The nature of the costs incurred by a bad candidate experience will vary according to business focus but will impact the bottom line.

A bad candidate experience will occur anywhere as a result of interacting with unpleasant (i.e. unhappy) employees on top of an unconvincing and poorly conducted interview.

The remedies enacted are equally universal.  Johnson started by getting executive buy-in, established a Gold Standard interview program, created an annual award for the best candidate experience and retrained every hiring manager.

A hiring experience this costly is more likely to hit a large firm like Virgin Media (450 hiring managers) but the damage can also be done by one bad apple.

If you are a CEO, you will sleep better if you have a Graeme Johnson on the team.


Note: Johnson shared the Virgin Media experience at the 2016 LinkedIn Talent Connect conference in Las Vegas.  The above details are taken from a blog post of the event by Keenan Steiner.  Follow the link to read more posts by Steiner.





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