A true recruiting story of how one Fortune employer lost a $10 million dollar contract with potential for $100 million.

The loss…traced back to recruiting. It’s a horror story (think lesson) every employer should read and make part of their daily routine. Most don’t and won’t.

The Recruiting Horror Backstory

I first heard this story many years ago when I attended a leadership training course in New York City. The story began with an illustration from the bowling alley. The instructor started the story with the same information I include above. Strange I thought! Bowling and the loss of a multi-million contract?

Now for the Bowling Alley Story

The instructor gave us our first clue. He said, “This is a story of communication, or should I say, lack of the correct communication. I think the best way to illustrate what happened will be for you to picture a blowing alley.

He continued, “Picture yourself standing with bowling ball in hand, staring at the 10 pins at the end of the alley. You’re the last bowler for the night. This is your final frame. Your team needs the win and it’s up to you. Score at least a 210 and your team wins the tournament.”

“You take careful aim, begin your approach, slide up to the foul line and release your ball.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” he said.

“The opposing bowling team hung a blanket just in front of the pins. You can’t really see the pins. You can of course see the lane and the gutters on either side. The blanket is flexible so your ball will slide right through to hit the pins.”

You watch your ball move swiftly down the alley, turning ever so slightly to the center of the alley as it disappears behind the blanket. Suddenly you hear the crash of pins. Someone yells, you’ve knocked down 6 pins. You think which 6?

Of course you’re puzzled and confused. You know you still have 4 pins remaining for your final shot. Where do you aim your final ball?”

Now as you ponder your last ball of the night, you hear your team mates exclaiming words of encouragement. Only 4 pins left. Knock those down and we win the tournament.

Well, by now I think you get the idea. If you don’t know which pins to aim for, how effective will your last ball be? You might as well be blind. You can toss your ball down the alley, but where?

The Bowling Story Application

Here’s how the $100 million business was lost for a very large Fortune company.

It just so happened that a candidate’s uncle was the person making the decision to purchase consulting services from the same company his nephew had recently interviewed with. His nephew was a top candidate in his field and he had multiple job opportunities.

The nephew’s interview took place in the late fall, just before Thanksgiving. When the family got together for the holiday, the uncle asked his nephew how his recent interview had gone with the Fortune company.

It turned out his nephew had a terrible interview experience. And, he wasn’t shy about relying the details to his uncle.

Among other things, the company just stopped communicating with the candidate after his second in-person interview. Among other rather rookie mistakes, they didn’t return his phone calls. He was treated like a commodity. Just one of many the company thought they could choose from. Boy were they wrong!

By Thanksgiving, the uncle had narrowed his choice of consulting services to this particular Fortune company and one other. He felt the price for the consulting service was competitive with either choice. The service capability for both was the same. Now other factors entered into his decision.

A part of the uncle’s purchasing criteria included his nephew’s poor interview experience. Actually it was the catalyst that caused him to dig deeper into the company’s reputation.

He saw his nephew’s experience as an important indicator of the company’s culture.

So when other things were about even, he chose the other company. New business that was ultimately worth $100 million (over a 3 year contract), lost because the recruiting department failed to communicate and treated their candidate very poorly in several other ways.

They didn’t have to hire the nephew.  But they sure should have treated him humanely. They should have treated him like he was an important customer. In this case he was…indirectly!

The Moral of the Story

Be up front with candidates. Let them know if they aren’t being hired.

Communicate in a timely way.

Learn how to say NO in a nice, professional way both verbally and in writing…just do it. You don’t have to give detail reasons, but you should at least let them know about your decision.

Remember candidates often have multiple choices of opportunities and they have to balance the timing of their job search.

Candidates, if you decide to remove yourself from consideration, tell the company you’ve decided to go another direction. Remember the company usually has other candidates they’re also considering. This helps them balance the timing of reaching a final hiring decision.

Employers and Candidates, think you don’t have time?  HOGWASH! You can do it if it’s important…and it is.

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