Promises, promises

Some employers leave job applicants hanging on. Philip Schofield reports
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The Independent Online
PAUL, a successful marketing executive in his late 30s, lost his job last December after a merger. Since then he has applied for 21 posts. He knows the importance of targeting applications and believed he was well-qualified for each post. Each application, a carefully prepared CV or application form, took at least three hours to complete. Only 11 were acknowledged.

"I don't mind rejection," he says. "What I can't stand is being left hanging in the air. Why do companies invite you to apply and take all this trouble over application on their behalf, and then act with such discourtesy? Are they really so insensitive that they don't know what it does to you? Have they also forgotten that job applicants may also be customers, shareholders and so on?"

The 85,000 member Institute of Personnel and Development has had a Recruitment Code since 1978, although its authority is less forceful since it was renamed "The IPD Guide on Recruitment". It says: "Receipt of solicited applications must always be acknowledged. Unsolicited applications should also be acknowledged always be acknowledged whenever possible..." It also says: "Unsuccessful candidates must always be notified in writing as soon as a decision is reached."

However, there can be few people in the workforce who have not seen some of their job applications vanish into the vacuum of corporate indifference.

Another common cause for complaint among job seekers concerns discrimination, particularly on the grounds of sex, race and age. Although the first two are the subject of legislation, age is not.

The Guide says: "recruitment advertisements should never contain age barriers or age-related criteria of any description".

Even so, it is not uncommon to see advertisements using such coded phrases as "join our young team", "dynamic", "forward looking" or "recently-qualified".

Law firm Davies Arnold Cooper says 150 companies a week may be breaking the law by placing potentially discriminatory job ads in the national press which specify age, marital status, physical attributes and areas of residence.

Many employers use recruitment agencies. Although most act ethically, too many still accept employers 'hints' not to send particular types of candidate for fear of losing the business. Some consultants admit in private that they do not always send those best qualified for the job, but those 'whose face will fit'. These are are generally white, male and under 50.

Two regular causes for complaint relate to the timing of interviews and to the reimbursement of travel expenses incurred in attending interview.

The IPD Guide says: "Organizations should be prepared to cover reasonable expenses for candidates to attend interviews and to be reasonably flexible over the timing of the interview. Their policy on expenses and timing should be clearly stated in the letter inviting candidates for interview."

The same points are made in the long-standing code covering the recruitment of newly-qualified graduates. Titled "Best Practice in Graduate Recruitment", this has been jointly agreed by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, National Union of Students and Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services.

On interview timing it says employers should be "flexible and provide alternative times and dates for selection activities where these may clash with exams and other important academic or recruitment/selection activities..." However, some employers still offer only one date, and if the student is otherwise committed, the attitude is 'that's your hard luck'.

Roly Cockman, Chief Executive of the AGR says the principle most frequently broken by employers, relates to the reimbursement of candidates' expenses when attending interview. The code says that employers will: "pay reasonable expenses for off campus interviews, always making it clear before interview if such payment will not be offered".

According to Mr Cockman "it is not so much that most employers do not offer expenses, but that they do not make it clear whether they do or not". A typical debt-burdened student invited to attend interview perhaps 200 miles or more away faces a real dilemma unless they know their travel will be paid.

The time has come when employers, and any agencies acting for them, should re-read their codes of practice, circulate them to every relevant member of staff, and promise disciplinary action for anyone in breach of that code. Their credibility is at stake.