The Hidden Cost of Going Back to Square One

People develop opinions about companies in a few ways. Sometimes their opinion is developed through being a customer or a vendor. Other times it is based on the advertising messages they see or hear word of mouth. I want to discuss another way perceptions about companies are developed and that is through being a candidate for employment.

When a candidate is being recruited to a company, there are three ways advertising messages get communicated. One vehicle for this marketing message is through the phone lines of a recruiter. The second one comes from other people the candidate knows who may have more information about the company. The third advertising message that shapes a candidate’s perception of the company is what they experience for themselves during the recruiting process–whether as a candidate or prospective candidate.

As an executive recruiter, I get to see many companies handle hiring in many different ways. Some companies have a chronic behavior that sends a negative ripple through the candidate pool. The ripple occurs when a company conducts a search, gets to the end, and then decides to keep looking. Yes, the ole “back to square one” is potentially causing a wave of misinformation to candidates and prospective candidates. Let me explain…

When a company goes “back to square one,” they run the risk of the candidate pool concluding three negative assumptions as they say, “That job is still open?”:

That job is still open?

Attract: When a company goes “back to square one,” they lose the allure of scarcity and appearance of opportunity. Imagine you’re a candidate being readdressed by the same recruiter about the same opening as a month ago. Would you assume that the company is having trouble attracting people? Could you see yourself thinking, “If others don’t want this, why should I?”

Afford: Perhaps the candidate doesn’t think that the company is having trouble attracting people. Instead, what if they start thinking the company can’t secure the winning candidate financially? Typically when a company is “back to square one,” they have offered the job to someone and been turned down. Candidates aren’t oblivious to this. What I’ve found is that candidates aren’t attracted to what they feel someone else has turned down regardless of the reason. Even if this too is a false assumption, going “back to square one” allows the hypothesis to hatch that there is some deficiency in the company or the company’s offering.

Agree: Companies that attract the best candidates are ones that show cohesiveness and sound decision making in the interview process. When organizations have to restart a search, candidates may think that the company has trouble making decisions or agreeing internally. In this scenario, I’ve heard candidates say, “They must not know what they want.”

As a balancing statement, I’m not saying that companies should make a hiring decision just to avoid these three assumptions. Hiring the wrong person can be much more costly than going "back to square one". Sometimes going “back to square one” can’t be avoided and wasn’t brought about by any of the above reasons. What I would advise against is allowing a chronic behavior to develop. There is a cost for duplicating efforts, and as outlined, it may be costing companies in ways that don’t show up on balance sheets.

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