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First Impressions


By Kathy Leonard, President of Freeman+Leonard

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression.”  Typically, we apply that wisdom to ourselves in meeting someone new, to job candidates interviewing with a prospective employer, to any number of personal relationships including meeting a blind date or (high anxiety here) the prospective in-laws.  We don’t often take such care with the impressions we create are in our own companies.  Those of us who take pride in guest experiences, even naming our front desk receptionist, “Director of First Impressions,” often fail to consider where most of our potential employees first experience our company and meet our representatives: Recruiting, Human Resources and Hiring Managers.


A customer experience strategy for many retailers over the years is called, Secret Shopper.  A “shopper” records their experience in a brand’s retail stores and sends feedback that guides the company’s marketers and merchandisers on ways to improve the in-store experience.  If you’ve seen the show “Undercover Boss,” you know these CEO’s learn things about the business, both good and bad, by going undercover in their own companies.

For a true eye-opening experience, put that same strategy to work in your own company.  Apply online for one of the open positions, or have several people you know who qualify, apply for a job in order to become your company’s “secret shopper” of hiring. You or the team then can supply true insight to job candidates’ experiences.

Our Recruiting Team sent one young, very talented art director to an interview with a company for whom he had always dreamed of working.  He knew the job would be exciting and the people there accomplished and fun.  He had high regard for the brand and often shopped at their store.  He was devastated when the company recruiter called him a liar for misinterpreting a question on the application, (he answered NO to, “Have you ever worked for this corporation?” when in fact he’d interned for a few weeks at one of the company’s retail stores when in his teens).  The company’s HR representative refused to take into account his explanation and a talented and enthusiastic young art director moved on to another opportunity.  Both the young man and the company lost out.

This is one of many examples.  Others:

A well-known ad agency left a senior-level candidate sitting in the lobby for over an hour while awaiting a final interview with the president.  Finally, the candidate left the reception area in search of someone, anyone, only to find that everyone had left for the day.  In another case a candidate showed up at 10:20 for a 10:30 a.m. appointment to meet the hiring manager, and was loudly accused by the recruiting manager of being inconsiderate and unprofessional for having not arrived sooner.  The candidate was thrown off-kilter for her important interview and not at all interested in working at a place she had earlier believed would be the perfect company.

Our company frequently interacts with the people in your company responsible for hiring.  Daily we send candidates to businesses across the country for in-person interviews. Some of these candidates report back amazing and positive experiences whether or not they were offered the job.  Others tell us shocking stories about their experiences at companies who treat them with such disrespect they become disappointed and disillusioned with a brand they once admired.

Make sure your efforts toward a great customer experience extend to the people hoping to work for you, as well as those who shop with you or do business with you.  Be certain those folks who are overwhelmed with applicants and resumes, and with scheduling interviews and getting feedback, are still delivering the brand impression to your job candidates that you’ve worked so hard to define and create for your customers.