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No, you shouldn’t disqualify a candidate because they didn’t send a thank-you note

Companies who use subjective criteria in their hiring process are not going to get the best people, argues this CEO.

No, you shouldn’t disqualify a candidate because they didn’t send a thank-you note
[Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash]

Should the absence of a “thank-you” note from a candidate be a deal breaker in a hiring decision? Business Insider and INSIDER executive managing editor Jessica Liebman made the case in an article. Her piece generated realms of feedback, which led to many lively conversations.

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She has since clarified, in a follow-up article, that a “thank-you” note isn’t the only factor in her organization’s hiring decision. She also noted that they had hired employees who didn’t send thank-you notes. Still, the first article conveys the message that a thank-you note can make or break an interview (even though Liebman insisted this isn’t the case). That’s an issue–because relying on candidate etiquette is a subjective criterion. When companies enforce them, it can hinder their (otherwise strong) hiring practices.

The importance of structured hiring processes

Hiring teams should rely on a process that takes subconscious bias out of the equation. Otherwise, organizations risk making decisions that can overlook qualified applicants. A dependence on subjective hiring criteria demonstrates that a company may lack a structured hiring process and provides little to no guidance for how hiring is supposed to work.

A well-trained hiring team should be able to set and use consistent criteria tied to the position and role rather than relying on subjective expectations, such as behavioral cues. In practice, this means organizations should make hiring decisions based on clear and structured selection standards, as well as documented interviews and data collection to optimize the process. Using flawed proxies, like certain gestures or actions to judge candidates, can result in a wrong hiring decision. When managers do this, they’re basing their judgment on their belief that a candidate fits their perceived need, which is always not accurate. In the process, they might miss out on ideal talent.

The pitfalls of relying on candidate etiquette

Today, companies are scrambling to find the right talent in a candidate-driven market. This raises the question of whether using “proper etiquette” as a benchmark for hiring is doing more harm than good. Unfortunately, a competitive hiring market hasn’t stopped managers from improvising their own tricks of the trade instead of standard guidelines for finding the best candidates. More often than not, there’s no evidence or quantifiable data that show the benefit of these practices.

Ultimately, managers should only select candidates based on skills and experience. Relying on arbitrary criteria (such as a candidate’s etiquette) can send an inconsistent message to potential employees. Not only can this hurt a company’s chances from attracting top talent in the future, but it can also hurt their company brand. Katie Turell, a director of talent acquisition at Bonobos, pointed out at the Fast Company Innovation Festival that job candidates are potential customers. A candidate who may have negative opinions about a company’s hiring process will likely tell someone about their experience. They might even discourage others from engaging with the company’s brand altogether.

Companies also need to be aware that in the age of online forums like Glassdoor and LinkedIn, job candidates have a platform to review their (positive or negative) interview experiences. The best managers will ensure that each candidate walks away with a sense that the company’s process is objective, whether they extend an offer to them or not.

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When a note is more than a note

You might argue that a detail that seems random or personal can denote a critical attribute. Sure, it might not be a marker of a job candidate’s skills. But doesn’t it demonstrate something relevant to the role–such as attention to detail and commitment to a task? Yes, but companies shouldn’t base their hiring decisions on those qualities alone.

A more objective hiring process means that hiring managers will say “no” to fewer good people and make offers to better candidates. It also means taking the time to design a fair, more inclusive, and less biased process. Few hiring approaches are intentionally designed to be harmful, but when a hiring manager creates arbitrary criteria, it can harm a company’s reputation. Given today’s demand and the technology available to support job candidates in the market, we’re living in a candidate-driven market. If companies want to attract the best talent, they need to make sure that their hiring practices reflect that reality.


Daniel Chait is the CEO of Greenhouse.

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