Plenty of articles offer advice on how job applicants can improve first impressions. But few acknowledge that employers are often the ones who make a poor first impression.

Job applicants are expected to tolerate miserable recruiting processes. Candidates would not dare to show up late, yet they're regularly left waiting at reception by an interviewer. The same hiring managers who are dismayed not to receive a thank you note leave applicants lingering without next steps.

This kind of double standard can have real costs. The best candidates won't want to work for you and won't hesitate to dissuade friends from doing the same.

Don't want your recruiting process leave the wrong first impression? Follow these three strategies:

1. Do the hard work upfront.

It all starts with the job spec. Sure you need to hire someone yesterday and you're eager to start interviewing candidates. But if you don't define the role's responsibilities in sufficient detail, recruiters will be left guessing what makes for a good candidate. If they don't know what to filter for, they will waste time sourcing candidates who won't ever be hired. 

A great hiring manager sets recruiters up for success by investing time to carefully define the role's scope and skills. For example, consider the difference between:

"candidates must have five years of experience in quality assurance."


"candidate will be expected to design and implement a blind order test process to assess quality. After analyzing results, candidate will develop action plans to reduce customer dissatisfaction."

The former may be easy to filter for on LinkedIn, but reveals little about relevant experience. The latter provides a level of detail that empowers recruiters to "be more creative in sourcing diverse, compelling, and unexpected candidates who could really drive impact" says Jevan Soo a People Operations leader at both Square and Blue Bottle Coffee. "Even better, that detail means you've [already] written a great foundation for your onboarding and goal setting with your new hire."

2. Practice makes perfect.

Soo swears that "interviewing is no different than other critical business skill. You get a lot better at it when armed with knowledge, technique and practice." To help your team improve, focus training on three key topics:

  1. Be consistent. Strive to standardize the types of questions that each interviewer asks and how they ask them. The goal is to impose a standard in order to make candidates comparable and also to minimize interviewers' bias. 
  2. Quantify as much as possible. Impose a scoring system to rank key attributes and insist that interviewers take detailed notes to justify each score. That way you have evidence to refer back to when evaluating candidates. Tools like  Greenhouse, Lever and  Zoho offer scoring frameworks that are easy to use. 
  3. Ask for feedback. The only way to improve the candidate experience is to ask for honest feedback. Send anonymous surveys that protect their privacy. Be sure to share that anonymous feedback with interviewers so they can learn and improve.

3. Don't waste applicants' time.

Set expectations upfront with clear milestones and a timeline to reach a decision. For example,

  • Thirty minute phone screen with a recruiter
  • An hour long call with a hiring manager
  • An in-person interview consisting of a three hour long meetings with the relevant team members
  • Final round interview with hiring manager

On the day of, don't let interviewers show up late or drag on longer than expected. You would not tolerate that behavior from a candidate, so why should they not expect the same from you?

Don't disappear for two weeks after an interview. Provide prompt feedback on a predetermined timeline. If you offer an answer within seven days, it is your responsibility to manage the team's internal evaluation process and deliver an answer by that date. 

The truth is that most companies turn down a lot more candidates than they hire. "Besides your alumni base, the candidates you turn down are effectively your largest group of 'ambassadors' to the rest of the world about what your company is like." Soo suggests you design your recruiting process to "turn your entire candidate pipeline into brand advocates on your behalf."

That's the sort of first impression worth aspiring to.