A previous colleague of mine recently interviewed for what she believed to be her dream role. Things were looking pretty great after the fourth round of board room style interviews. She had completed two “assignments” and nailed them. Two months into the process, they ghosted her. Nothing, no communication. Nada.

This organization is well known. You have heard of it. I told her to walk away, dreamy as the role may be and as incredible as the company seems, there is some serious organizational toxicity going on if candidates are expected to interview for three months and complete assignments I would have billed $80 per hour to complete as a consultant, and then hear nothing in return for weeks.

Photo Cred: Charles Deluvio

She couldn’t shake the fact that this was the job for her and reached out to an administrative assistant who served as a liaison between her and the “important” people. The admin replied that unless she hears otherwise, she should consider herself an active candidate and to stand by. She was elated. I was worried.

Two weeks later, month three for anyone who is tracking, she got a call back for another interview with two more people. This was a C-suite role, yes, but good grief, how many cooks are in this organization’s system? She interviews and felt great about her connection with the latest whos-whos. Two additional weeks passed without so much as a word, and she was sweating it. Looking for a reason to check in without violating the boundary the admin had set earlier, she decided to inquire about the salary which, no shocker here, was not listed on the job posting or communicated during the interview process.

We cannot give out that information. That is what they told her.

I’m sorry, what? You cannot tell one of your top candidates, a person you have been dragging down around on the job seeking merry-go-round for over three months, the amount of money they potentially would be offered if selected? I was livid but she was in too deep to give up. The next day an email arrived inviting her to interview with the senior most employee of the organization, the CEO and director who would be accompanied by a man my colleague had already interviewed with because heaven forbid these people conduct a one-on-one.

She gave it her all and called me after the interview. “It’s finally over,” she said. “They just have to hire me. I know they will. This was probably a formality.” I raised my eyebrow and hoped for her sake that if they did hire her, they were far better employers than they were recruiters.

One week later, they rejected her. After near four months, two incredibly time-consuming “assignments,” and six execution style interviews, she was right where she started. Jobless. The result was devastating. I watched this woman- a bright award-winning innovator and accomplished community leader crumble. All they offered to her as an explanation was that they went with a more seasoned candidate and that she should, of course, apply again should another fitting role come available.

Photo cred: Anh Nguyen

When the LinkedIn announcement of their new hire came around, I, of course, had to check out their pick. His accomplishments were minimal compared to my colleagues, and his employment record a hodgepodge of big titles at small organizations. The hire didn’t make sense and I encouraged her to write to the HR department and ask for a candidacy review. She did. They declined.

16,000 employees and this institution does not provide candidacy reviews, but they sure do assign free work and drag people through a full fiscal quarter of wondering if they are worthy of their employment. After she saw their hire and had no explanation as to why they didn’t choose her, the depression hit quickly. She didn’t get out of bed for three days. She cried and wondered what it was she had done wrong. Was it something she said in interview number five? Was her “mock” marketing plan not as effective as she thought it to be? Was it her gender? Her unruly hair that she couldn’t tame in Interview three? Her three young children whose solid childcare she made a point to communicate in all six interviews so as not to be passed over for being a mom.

It’s been a month since she lost her dream job, her words, not mine. This place sounds like a nightmare to me, culturally speaking. I didn’t think much about it until I saw the very same organization post about wellness at work in honor of #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth.

As recruiters and hiring managers, we hold people’s livelihoods in the palm of our hands. That job application? That is someone’s ability to put a roof over their head? That interviewee that didn’t get a callback? That is a person’s hope, dashed, and maybe for the 17th time. Can we hire everybody? Of course not. What we can do is recruit and interview ethically.

Here is what that looks like:

  • Thorough and clear job posts with salary range.
  • Hiring timelines communicated to applicants.
  • Prompt rejection letters.
  • No more than three interviews in total.
  • Paid hiring assignments. No one works for free, even if you put the word “mock” on the assignment.
  • If a candidate gives you multiple interviews and you reject them and that candidate requests an explanation to help them grow and prepare, you owe them exactly that.

It’s easy to post about #MentalHealthAwareness. It takes genuine effort to be aware of mental health and act accordingly when recruiting and hiring. Let’s do better.