Don’t Ignore Me


I was coaching an AsiaPac President whose company had been bought by a larger organisation. He’d negotiated his exit and was weighing options. Over dinner, he showed me a spreadsheet he’d made with five options, and we went through each scenario.

One option was with a large MNC. He’d been in an off-on dialogue for some time with the regional CEO, who was personally looking for his own replacement. My coachee (let’s call him Phillip) was very much in the running, and had already conversed with some of the overseas top brass. He was moderately interested, but focusing his attention elsewhere due to their slow pace.

Phillip recounted an email from the CEO a few weeks earlier, who had apologised profusely. They’d last spoken three months earlier, but he now urgently wanted Phillip to [virtually] meet their global head of talent, cc’d on the email.

They were serious now, the CEO said, and meant business. Phillip immediately answered, affirming he’d welcome a talk with the global talent chief, and also added that he was mulling over other possibilities. Still very keen on this opportunity, he listed all his available times for the following two weeks. He never heard back from them–or anyone else in the company. One month later he received an email, apologising for the delay.

That was the end of his story to me.

I asked if he’d followed up. No, he said, That was that, he’d moved on, a reply I expected.

I mentioned that clearly they were in no rush, and likely there were some internal issues at play. “Why not pick up the phone, (no email this time) and politely ask?”

He listened, paused, and just said, “Good idea.”

To his credit, he did call. They were apparently no further along than before, which wasn’t a surprise. But the clincher was that they were oblivious and un-bothered by their inattention to his candidacy. He thus closed them off as an option, and went on his merry way. I doubt he ever thought about it again.

But I did.

Interviewing is grounded in emotion, not function.

No one–at any level–likes being ignored. What that company did was churlish, and Phillip’s reaction was understandable. No doubt they were doing as best they could, but with a glaring lack of EQ in the hiring process.

Very few things in life have a stronger emotional pull than being ignored, more so when you’re ‘exploring’ the market or told you’re being considered for a role.

I am acutely aware that talent acquisition departments are overloaded, and seldom have time to reply. However, [to paraphrase Arthur Miller] ‘attention must be paid.’

A reply–even an anodyne one–is simple courtesy. It is the right thing to do, an act of basic decency. And bear in mind that the reputation of every firm is shaped in part by the hiring practises.

Companies today can ill afford to give worthwhile candidates the cold shoulder. At some point we may have to deal with robots in order to get interviewed. Until then, it’s best to [try and] treat EVERY candidate respectfully. That is an external ‘career conversation’, but one that needs to be rethought, if companies want to really work on acquiring talent and burnishing reputation.

“A spark neglected makes a mighty fire.”

–Robert Herrick, poet, 1591-1674

Connect with Neal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *