Should Candidates Pay?

Topics: HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser

photo of person's legs dangling over edge of tall building. Photo by Alex Wong cc0 Pexels in article Should Candidates Pay by John Sumser on Elevated Careers

Over the time that eHarmony invested in bringing its compatibility product (elevated careers) to market, they toyed with a range of ideas. Among them was the notion of charging candidates for premium service levels.

Over the time that eHarmony invested in bringing its compatibility product (elevated careers) to market, they toyed with a range of ideas. Among them was the notion of charging candidates for premium service levels. There are not many ideas in HR and Recruiting that evoke near religious fervor. The importance of diversity is one. Not charging candidates to use job boards is another. (The notion that it is impossible to have HR as a profit center might be a third.)

As a disruptive upstart (in spite of its age and financial heft), eHarmony/Elevated Careers is bound to ruffle some feathers. Their core dating business involves charging customers for the chance to find a match. It’s natural that they would investigate the charge the candidate issue, probably several times.

The way that disruptive upstarts disrupt is by doing things that the establishment sees as sacred cows. That’s why it is so odd that the most vocal criticisms of eHarmony’s potential to break the rules is coming from the industry’s resident camp of disrespectful upstarts. It’s odd to hear criticisms about breaking the rules from the very people who pioneer and champion the rule breaking sport. The criticism is loud and clear even though elevated careers is not currently charging anyone anything.

Then again, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

After watching the pot boil, I thought I’d take a whack at publicly considering the question. Is there a circumstance in which it is okay to charge a candidate to submit an application? When is it okay and when isn’t it? I’m sure I’ll miss large chunks of nuance and hope that you’ll join me in a conversation. I’m anxious to understand the issue more completely.

All sorts of people charge job candidates for all sorts of things.

You can not get the attention of a third party recruiter unless you meet whatever their current criteria happens to be. To them, a candidate is simply a piece of inventory that either matches or doesn’t match the employer’s requirements. They make their money by taking a fee that is over and above the candidate’s pay (or salary). While the employer definitely writes the check, it seems hard to argue that that fee could easily be given to the candidate were the recruiter not involved. While marking up inventory isn’t exactly charging, it’s damned close.

While that assertion is certain to (and perhaps designed to) raise eyebrows among the 3rd party crowd, it’s a rhetorical question. It’s hard to argue that money that goes to third parties doesn’t subtract from the possible package. Whether or not third party fees come directly out of a candidate’s pocket is major hair-splitting.

Every time I’ve ever prepared a resume, job application or proposal, I’ve always sought to make my offering stand out. The right paper, the right formatting, coaching on positioning and actual resume writing are all legitimate services that candidates can and do purchase. About the only thing that I haven’t purchased is the exclusive right to apply to a particular company. In order to do that, you have to pay fees to Ivy League colleges very early in your career.

I’ve used giant envelopes, fax spamming, special paper clips, glossy photos, fruit baskets, great illustrations, sticky notes all in the attempt to stand out. In my time around the recruiting industry, I’ve had resumes stuffed into every conceivable public orifice in my cars, houses, offices and conference totes. Just as I want to impress and stand out, so do others. I am always entertained by the stories of creative applicants who send life size cardboard cutouts or clever web gizmos to differentiate themselves.

For a subset of job candidates, the entire question is ‘how do I differentiate in a way that gets me noticed and gives me an advantage?’

There have been plenty of services that distribute a resume to multiple destinations for a fee from the candidate. Most of them offer the capacity to apply to multiple places at once for a fee.

I’ve never heard of a company that charges candidates to apply for a job directly. But, all sorts of companies charge all sorts of candidates for all sorts of things from job hunting methodologies to professional PR and photography.

So, let’s think about the elevated careers product and why it might be a useful tool for some candidates. Let’s imagine (in spite of the fact that they are definitely not currently charging anyone for anything) what they might charge for.

With its own capital and internal resources, elevated careers built a database of 2 million companies with over 20 employees. They have a model of the culture for each of those companies. Their core product evaluates a candidate’s responses to their questionnaire and compares that to the 2 Million cultural models. The candidate gets an evaluation of their relative fit on a skills, personality and cultural basis.

The value that the candidate gets is real feedback about the viability of their application. They get the answer to the question “Would this be likely to work out if you pursued it?” I don’t know of any other tool that provides that level of value.

There’s another layer of value that will depend on the mid term success of elevated careers. Assuming that their models and matching algorithms are valid and that employers start to discover that a match from elevated careers is worth knowing about, candidates would be well advised to include this information in their job application. The industry has long sought the golden validated resume.This could well be it.

Why wouldn’t a candidate pay for that and why shouldn’t a company who creates this level of value charge for it? Who doesn’t want an edge in the job market. If the ‘golden application isn’t a company standard but an exception based on who decides to pay for it, I can’t see adverse impact being important here.

It’s simply a case of candidates being able to pay to improve the quality of their experience. Why should that be the exclusive province of employers? Don’t we want candidates to take responsibility for their part of the candidate experience (and, isn’t it the largest part?)

So, I simply don’t see the objection. No one is required to pay to apply anywhere. The service I’ve described is simply an additional tool to make the candidate stand out.

But, it does have the potential to shift the playing field for those 3rd party folks.

What do you think?


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