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Should You Tell Job Candidates What They're Doing Wrong?


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Employees, feel free to skip this column. There’s really nothing here for you; I’m just going to ramble on about employer duties like taxes, insurance, payroll and all those other things that just bore you to death.

OK, employers, hopefully you stayed with me. Don’t worry: I’m not going to talk about those horrible things—heck, they bore me to death. I’m going to talk with you about the scariest thing in our business—employees!

There is nothing better than a great staff made up of people who are excited to be at work. They can take your business to levels that are not typically possible with a mom-and-pop operation. I’m lucky I have a great team behind my store, but I am always concerned about losing a team member because I’m not sure viable replacements are out there.

Most of us have two types of positions available. One would be entry level, and the other is what I refer to as talent. Talent can be managers, groomers or any other specialized skill position. When I am trying to hire team members, I typically use job placement websites. I don’t really do anything fancy or pay any fees to get higher listings. I list the position, the responsibilities, the salary range and any other pertinent data.

When the position goes live on those jobs placement sites, I get a lot of responses. I actually was amazed at the number of responses I received the first time. However, when I started looking through them, I realized that only 5 percent of the resumes fit my position. What I have learned is that many people have their information and resume already online, so it is only a matter of checking a box to send it. I think some people just select every open position in their area and apply to every one of them. Why not? It’s just a mouse click.

As a young man, I would spend hours editing my resume and cover letter to match the position I was applying for. If I was applying for a manufacturing position at Acme Widget Co., I would reference my passion for widgets and the incredible Acme growth story, and I would try and highlight things in my resume that would fit for Acme.

I remember applying to a company that had a position I was absolutely perfect for, except it stated “college degree required.” I didn’t have a college degree, but I wrote a cover letter to the company explaining my passion for the position and how I would be a perfect employee and they would not regret giving me the position regardless of the lack of a degree. Did it work? Did I get the interview? Of course not. The position required a college degree. I imagine nobody even read my heartfelt letter; they flipped to the education section and saw “high school diploma,” and then sent it to the shredder.

Today, employment websites weed out candidates automatically based on your requirements, which means you would never see such a cover letter. Only want to see resumes with a college degree? No problem. Want to see candidates who have worked in pet stores previously? No problem. As simple as it is for them to click a check box, it is equally simple for me to put in qualifiers so I won’t see those resumes that are not a good fit. The downside of qualifiers is that there might be a great employee out there for my store who doesn’t meet the traditional guidelines. But if I don’t use the qualifiers, I get too many resumes from people who obviously did not read the job description.

For instance, I might list “full-time job 40 hours a week” and get resumes from people looking for part-time work. I tend to look at those resumes because I think maybe I’ll find a cover letter like I did 30 years ago—something along the lines of “I realize you requested full time, but, currently, I am a student and unable to fulfill those hours, but I really want to work for your company. It has been a dream of mine to work with pets, and I feel this position would be a wonderful starting point for me.”

I would talk to somebody who put that in their cover letter, but that’s not likely to happen in today’s world. Technology and the internet certainly added to the way people apply to jobs but we, as employers, also contributed. We are always busy, and any way we can find a timesaver like weeding out unqualified applicants, we jump on it. Sadly, we might be weeding out some really good people.

I also struggle when looking at some resumes or when interviewing some candidates as to whether I should tell them what they are doing wrong and mentor them so they could get a job in the future. I recently received a resume full of spelling and grammar errors, including the misspelling of a former employer company’s name. Most human resources experts would say that indicates an employee who does not pay attention to detail and most likely has problems communicating. Is it possible the person submitting the resume could’ve become a perfect team member for my store? Absolutely, but I deleted it because, you know, it was just a mouse click. If that person had walked into my store, I would have been able to assess the real person—not just a piece of paper.

Should I have called this person in, interviewed him and provided some feedback to help him learn? I want to say no, but then I think back to role models, employers of my past, and all the people who took an extra step in making me a better person, and I am so grateful they did not take that approach.

How about people who show up to an interview dressed inappropriately or glued to their phone during the interview? Do you send them away, or do you give some feedback?

Good employees are almost impossible to find, but are we contributing to the problem? If the previous interviewer would have said, “I’m sorry, it doesn’t look like you are what we are looking for, but may I suggest you look over your resume for typos, leave the phone in your car and don’t wear flip flops on your next interview? You just might get further along in your employment quest.”

I know, you are thinking you will just receive a shrug and an eye roll as the candidate walks away, but if you reach one, you will make a tremendous difference, and, heck, maybe your next interviewee will have received some tips in their past from a potential employer and will be someone you want to talk with.


B.C. Henschen is a well-known champion for pet owners who want the best in their pet’s food. He is the Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) consumer advocate at Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), serving on the Pet Food Ingredient Definition Committee, and is a director with the World Pet Association (WPA). Henschen is a popular speaker at industry events and meetings. A certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, he is a partner in Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.

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