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Candidates’ Perception of Unfairness in the Recruiting Process

By Maury Hanigan on Recruiting Trends

Every year, hundreds of millions of applications are submitted for jobs, and the overwhelming majority of them are rejected. The reaction of individuals who aren’t selected can range from indifference to rage. Thanks to new tools now available that can correlate candidate dissatisfaction to bottom-line results, employers are becoming more aware of the b

stressed young businessman sitting outside corporate office working on laptop computer holding head with hands looking down. Negative human emotion facial expression feelings.

usiness benefits of treating candidates fairly and respectfully. Disappointed candidates are an inevitable byproduct of the recruiting process, but candidates who feel they’ve been treated unfairly are particularly toxic. A review we undertook of the largest candidate survey conducted in the United States reveals troubling themes among candidates who perceive unfairness in the process.

Source of Data

The 2015 Talent Board, North American Candidate Experience Research Report collected survey data from 130,000 candidates who applied for jobs at more than 200 companies. Survey participants replied to as many as 70 questions, including: Was there anything you wish you knew about [the company] or the job BEFORE you applied that would have helped your decision to go forward — or not? The question was open-ended. Fifty-five thousand participants provided answers. The answers were manually coded for up to three themes, including fairness.


To some extent, all candidates who apply for a job but are not hired feel the process has been unfair.  Candidates rarely apply to jobs that they do not think they are qualified for. When they are not selected, they tend to believe that they were eliminated for reasons other than their qualifications, which feels intrinsically unfair. The source of the perceived unfairness clusters in distinct categories.

Sample Comments from Candidates

Arbitrary Rejection

“[I wish I knew] … if they used job-filtering software … which often unfairly eliminates resumes from being read by hiring managers, even though the applicant is qualified for the position (but the system eliminates them due to a lack of specific KEYWORDS in their resume).”

“My education and experience was above the positions for which I applied, yet it appears little to no consideration was given to me as a candidate.”

“I wish I knew if a person reads resumes, instead of some pointless keyword program that spits out “top” candidates for HR to pretend they care about (or even know about how [the applicant’s] background actually fits the job), instead of just hiring someone they planned to hire before posting the job.”

“I would never have wasted my time filling out an application if I knew that I would be overlooked.”

“Maybe an applicant-screening process that would facilitate a guaranteed “efficient and fair” process, without the typical experience I’ve had with most, where the application[s] are electronically screened based on private criteria that excludes truly qualified candidates from advancing through to the true interviewing process.”

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