You know the drill. You post a job ad and 300 people apply. You are certain that, at best, there are five qualified people in that stack of resumes, so what's the fastest way to find them? Some employers ask job seekers to jump through a hoop before committing any time to them. The hoop might involve a pre-employment test, performing a work-related task like writing something, or even asking something really time consuming like developing a business plan in order to apply for a job.
Except here is the problem.
And it drives away many of the most talented people you really want to talk to.
By asking for something before you have committed anything you convey that your time is worth more than theirs ... that they are just one of thousands and you are too busy to talk to them. Except top performers don't see themselves as mindless drones, as one of thousands. And remember, there were, at most, only five of them in that big stack of resumes - but in your haste to save time, you just gave those five the same bad experience you gave everyone else.
Think about how you feel when a company treats you that way. I went to Home Depot this weekend, only because my local hardware store was already closed. I detest going to any retailer who is not staffed and managed appropriately to deliver actual customer service. Heck, even the self-checkout process was poorly designed. Sure, they got my money, but it was frustrating and dehumanizing ... just like the first impression you are making on everyone who answered your ad.
Don't misunderstand me. It is smart to ask for extra information, it's even a great idea to test people, but please mind your manners and do those things only AFTER you have first spoken with them. After you have spoken with someone, you are welcome to ask for something else. To save time, I think a phone interview makes a lot of sense.
OK, so if my "mind your manners" rant was not compelling enough for you ... Steve Boese wrote a great post on your real first impression with job seekers. No, it's not your offices - it's your web presence and what people say about you. It's what happens long before they apply to your ad. Google is your first impression, followed by your website, corporate job site, and then what other people who interviewed with you reported about their experience. (InsideJob on Facebook for example).
If your hiring process feels like shopping at Home Depot, these experiences will surely make their way into the online conversation about your company. Then your first impression on Google will be working against you, and your recruiting problems will grow ever larger.
Oh, and forget about those 5 good people, they all dropped out long before you got around to interviewing.
Ultimately, very little of what is written in either the job description or the resume helps either party understand each other, or helps to predict who will be successful on the job. In this very first step of the hiring process -- posting a job ad and reviewing resumes -- there is already a frustrating breakdown in communication.
Disclaimer: This advice is primarily for professional hiring in a large metropolitan area. Our perspective is shaped by our work in a retained executive search firm, conducting searches for CEO and senior staff positions. We've completed over 600 searches for associations and other nonprofits in major metropolitan areas like Washington DC, New York, and Chicago, but not all of our advice will be relevant if you are interviewing for other types of positions in other job markets.