There is a story, frequently invoked by game theorists, about the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. Upon landing at Veracruz, Mexico, Cortes very visibly burned his ships, thus signaling to both his own men as well as the Aztecs that there would be no retreat, and the Spanish troops would be fighting to the death. This action was said to have motivated the Spaniards and demotivated the Aztecs, and as a result, Cortes successfully conquered the Aztec Empire.
Leave aside the fact that the story is most likely apocryphal . The reason it is so frequently mentioned in game theory is because it demonstrates what is known as a commitment device, what Freakonomics authors Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt have described as “a means with which to lock yourself into a course of action that you might not otherwise choose but that produces a desired result.”
I recently completed a hiring process for a role at Mediabistro. Out of the more than 200 candidates who applied, I ended up interviewing 12 of them in person. And at the end of every interview, I promised the candidate that, one way or another, they would hear back from us when we had made a decision. By making that specific commitment to each of them, I was anticipating that future moment when, with my hiring decision made, I would have to sit down and perform the unpleasant task of calling a bunch of highly qualified candidates to tell them they didn’t get the job (To those who had not been invited to interview, we turned down those candidates over email).
And that’s where I found myself last week, not particularly looking forward to the prospect of making those calls, but knowing I had put my own reputation, and that of my company, on the line — I had told the candidates that, since Mediabistro encourages all of its job-board customers to follow up with candidates, we make a point of practicing what we preach.
So I made the phone calls to turn down the candidates. I’ll admit, there were a couple of times where I was relieved that it went to voicemail, but I dutifully broke the news to every one of them, repeating a few key phrases but making sure I came across as one human being talking to another (I’ll never forget the time earlier in my career when I got a form rejection email from a large company and then, the next day, a voicemail from the person who had interviewed me repeating word-for-word the text of the email).
My task completed, I felt satisfied for following through on my promise. But it was when the candidates started emailing and calling me back, simply to thank me for getting back to them, that I truly appreciated having done the right thing. At the same time, it’s a sad commentary on the state of the job market that candidates should feel so grateful to get this information, rather than simply viewing it as a common courtesy.
At Mediabistro, which provides a wide range of career resources for media professionals, we’ve never viewed our job board as merely a transactional endeavor. Rather, we want to cultivate a highly engaged community of media folks, who can rely us on to connect them not only with job opportunities but also with the skills, information, and people they need to succeed in their careers. We want candidates who apply for jobs to feel like they’re becoming a part of that community, rather than just throwing their resume into a black hole. That’s why we respond to all candidates, and why, if you’re concerned about maintaining your brand, you will, too.
For more advice, read “The Art and Science of Candidate Rejection.” Use Friendly or Formal Email Templates for Personalized or Mass Rejection Emails within our Entirely Platform.