The HR in ESG's "S"

August 9, 2018

The Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) craze has picked up massive momentum in the past 12 months or so.  However, there remains much ambiguity about what ESG is and how to measure or value it. We talk with companies almost daily about defining and measuring ESG, and strategies for improving ESG ratings. 


But that isn’t what this article is about.  


Over the years. I’ve tried to help numerous friends find new jobs.  Earlier this month, my oldest son became immersed in the process of turning his unpaid internship into a paying job.  I’ve heard many people lament about the job hunting process. Yesterday, I had something of a revelation about this. 


Of course, I am not an HR professional so I confess there may be aspects I don’t know about.  This is a job hunter’s perspective.  As with much of my writing, I expect there will be strong views expressed in posted comments.  I hope that discourse will help bring about some change, or at least awareness and consideration.


There has been great deal of current media coverage on why and how employers should attract and retain employees.  Much of the concern in this regard relates to Millennials entering the workforce who view employment and employers as an element of their life purpose/quality.  Many ESG ratings models include some form of this as a component within their frameworks. 


Yet, how many companies have considered that their initial candidate screening and interviewing process create that critical first impression by candidates? Companies that include attracting and retaining talent as part of the “S” in ESG may be unwittingly failing in this area. 


I’ll explain.


Candidates have always been expected to invest time in learning about a prospective employer. Employers expect and probe a candidate’s understanding of the company’s products, business strategy, stakeholders, competitive position, etc.  In the interview process, candidates then demonstrate that knowledge – along with the initiative and interest they hold by investing their time in the research. But do people in the hiring process invest a commensurate amount of time in understanding candidates before the interview?  Imagine what would happen if a candidate said any of the following:


  • “I spent many hours researching the company in preparation for our meeting. How much time did you spend researching me?”

  • “Since you only reviewed my application, resume and LinkedIn profile, I only read the job description and company home page.”


Online application processes, automated resume screening, auto-generated emails and other computerized processes wholly dehumanize the experience for candidates.  What if a candidate used the same approach toward a company?


  • “The text search I did on the job description didn’t produce certain keywords, so I filtered it out as not being relevant or meeting my needs.  However, there are other jobs posted that I might be interested in.”

  • “Feel free to email me, but my personal email is managed through an automated system.  Please don’t be taken aback by the generic and impersonal auto-generated reply.”


Some hiring managers don’t really know the technical requirements, what a job should be or what they want in a candidate.  It is not unusual for these types to use the interview process as a way to learn more about the reality of what a position should entail - like using the job posting as a consulting RFP that seeks different approaches to solving a problem.  This is completely unfair to candidates as there are no solid criteria for them to rely on in assessing the position and their suitability, or in properly preparing or demonstrating their expertise/fit.


  • “I’m not at all sure what I want in an employer.  Can you explain what this company has to offer me and I’ll use that information to form my ultimate criteria.  Then I’ll know the right position for me when I see it.”


I have heard about hiring managers who use the process to find solutions to specific business problems they face.  By getting candiates to offer ideas and opinions on how they would address those problems, companies are essentially getting free information.  Some might view this as stealing a candidate’s intellectual property.  What if a candidate said:


  • “I’m facing a design challenge for a product similar to yours.  Tell me how this company does/would design product X so I can use that information in my current position.”


A severe dearth of communication from employers is also epidemic, which is frustrating and upsetting to candidates.  Perhaps candidates should end interviews like this:


  • “Thank you for meeting with me/offering me the job.  There will now be a long, undefined period of silence from me about my status.”


Candidates are not blameless. A troubling trend of “ghosting” (where candidates accept job offers, then simply don't show up) has grown, and there have always been those candidates who use the interviews as leverage against their current employer for raises/promotions.  While I advocate for more equality between candidate and employer, I despise both of these practices.  They are completely unfair to the hiring manager and highly unprofessional.  Ironically, companies do a similar thing by externally posting “ghost jobs” where internal candidates have already been identified and perhaps even selected.


Employers counter that they are flooded with applications and resumes and they cannot be expected to review every one personally and in detail, as well as spending time conducting further research into each.  Fair enough, but there needs to be recognition of the importance of fairness and humanizing the process. 


Recruiters can be a solution.  Good recruiters personalize the process for candidates and provide deeper screening and evaluation for hiring managers.  Good recruiters charge hefty fees, but are worth it.  Unfortunately, not every recruiter is good.  Some fall into the same holes as the employers themselves.  Others may misrepresent their capabilities or available openings.  And even good recruiters can be unsuccessful if they are treated by their clients in the same way that those companies treat candidates directly.


In the end, companies that consider talent acquisition as part of the social element of ESG may want to think about their hiring processes.


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