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Ayse Osman felt very confident after a phone interview for an executive assistant role at an entertainment company in Toronto this past summer.

The 42-year-old had worked in a similar role within the music industry before being furloughed at the start of the pandemic, and felt she was well suited for the position. The human resources manager on the other end of the line seemingly agreed.

“He pretty much told me, ‘based on your agency experience, your background really fits the profile for this job,’ and we really had a great connection, he even said it was a really good call,” she says.

Ms. Osman was told to expect a follow-up later that week, and when she didn’t hear back she sent an e-mail to check in the following week, and then another.

“I thought everything went well – he said everything went well – and I never heard back from him again,” she says. “Last month I noticed the role was still open, they hadn’t filled it yet, so I sent them another e-mail to say that I’m still interested, and again nothing.”

What Ms. Osman experienced has become increasingly common over the course of the pandemic. According to a recent study conducted by human resources consulting firm Robert Half, nearly one in four senior managers admit that their company is taking more time to hire lately in hopes that a better candidate comes along. In some cases, employers will keep candidates strung along with occasional updates – known as “breadcrumbing” – in hopes that they don’t lose interest. In others, they may suddenly stop responding altogether, as was the case for Ms. Osman.

“Despite the fact that companies want to take more time for the hiring process, candidates in this market will lose interest,” warns Koula Vasilopoulos, Robert Half’s district president for Western Canada.

The research from Robert Half found that 72 per cent of candidates lose interest in a job if they don’t hear back from the employer within two weeks, and 87 per cent give up after not receiving an update within three. Some even retaliate against employers whom they feel have wasted their time or misled them.

“Candidates have the ability to leave negative comments, and vent about experiences on social media, so you need to be mindful as an employer,” says Ms. Vasilopoulos, who emphasizes the importance of setting clear timelines and expectations at the outset, and sticking to them.

According to Robert Half, 48 per cent of candidates who feel like they’ve been “breadcrumbed” will withdraw their candidacy, and 44 per cent will refuse to consider future opportunities with that organization. Furthermore, 24 per cent leave negative reviews on anonymous employer-review websites and 16 per cent vent about the experience on personal social media accounts.

“Candidates are unlikely to stay quiet if they have a really bad experience; they’re likely to tell their friends and family, and deter others from applying,” says Kaitlyn Roberts, the founder and principal consultant for The Employer Brand Shop, a Kitchener, Ont.-based recruitment marketing and employer brand agency.

Ms. Roberts explains that a negative candidate experience is often interpreted as a warning sign about the company more broadly. “They tend to think if an organization doesn’t respect their candidates, they’re unlikely to treat their employees well,” she says, adding that the damage could even extend beyond their reputation as an employer.

Ms. Roberts points to research by Talentegy Inc., a talent analytics platform, that suggests that a majority of candidates who have a negative experience while applying for a job will hesitate to purchase products or services from that company in the future.

“For many large organizations, that can have a significant impact,” she says. “If they interview hundreds or thousands of candidates that do not get the job, those people may be less likely to spend money on their products or services in the future, so if you’re not treating even your unsuccessful candidates well, you can be impacting your business outcomes in the future.”

Improving the candidate experience may require investing in more human resources staff, improving backend hiring technology and infrastructure, or developing a more streamlined online application process. In most cases, however, a little more communication and transparency can make the biggest difference.

“One of the biggest complaints we hear from job seekers when it comes to candidate experience is falling into the black hole, where you apply for a job and never hear back, or you get an interview, and then you never hear back,” says Marcus Bush, director of Canada sales and U.S. key accounts for employment website Monster. “That happens quite often.”

As a result, Mr. Bush emphasizes the importance of keeping candidates up-to-date on the process, setting clear timelines and expectations, and communicating with them on the platform or medium that best suits them, whether that’s e-mail, text or phone. “What we’ve found is that when you communicate with job seekers in the manner in which they prefer to be communicated the candidate experience is more positive, and even if they don’t get the job they’re more apt to apply to future positions, and refer others.”

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