Crowdsourcing Ideas Through Candidates

I thought for my final blog post for the year [and decade], I would write about a topic that is – quite frankly – prolific today, in really bad form, and it is being embraced and implemented by far too many companies.

I was slow and skeptical to recognize this as a real issue when it was initially surfaced to me in mid-2018. But I have, since then, recognized the crass acceptance and adoption of the theft of ideas from candidates with no intention of considering them as potential hires. According to Dow Jones, employers offer jobs to only 0.4% of their candidates.

Has this practice always kind of existed? Yes…but it’s become more pervasive and accepted today. It’s become one of the priorities of organizations. Which is why it is taking five and six interviews and up to three to four months to fill open positions. These companies get the opportunity – through hundreds of résumé submissions – to capture innovative ideas from a variety of sources, skills sets, and experience levels. This gives companies quite a large pool of talent to shop ideas from with each job posting.

What. Why. How.

Have you been in an interview and the interviewer asked really probing questions about things that aren’t easily connected to how you perform your responsibilities. What you can contribute to the culture? What you expect of the leadership you work with? But…very pointed and specific question upon question about process, policy, or other seemingly unrelated-to-the-role questions.

Things like…who your contacts are at a specific vendor. Or they’ve wanted to compare software functionality with what you’ve used. How your current or past companies managed through a specific challenge. Have you been asked to complete a project or give a full-length presentation to a group of interviewers that covers a very precise topic? Or travel with a team of executives to visit sites and give feedback?

I have had multiple people inside an organization ask me to send over curriculum’s/syllabus’ for some of my L&D projects. I have had companies ask to have Employee Handbooks that I’ve revised for other companies. I have had a CEO and CHRO demand to have the onboarding program I created with one of my clients – that is a direct competitor of theirs – implying that I needed to provide this before moving forward with an interview. Guess, what their biggest issue was? [Hint: Year One Retention]

They persistently, ask the same question multiple ways and make you feel as though you have little wiggle room when it comes to supplying an answer to their question….or else.

As a consultant for the last four years, I am exceedingly protective of my ideas, my intellectual property and that of my clients, my sources, my partners, and my crazy-effective skills around my ability to expeditiously and clearly overcome obstacles. I remember being asked by an SVP of Tory Burch last year, “What do you do when you get stalled on a project/assignment?“. I told him, “Gosh, I don’t get stuck. I have a finite amount of time with clients to deliver solutions, creative curriculum, relevant & relatable content, and so…I do my homework and I value my time and the time of my client.” He asked a lot of questions about “stuck/stalled”. Enough so it became profoundly clear that this was an issue in their organization.

Definition of Crowdsourcing

According to the great Kaytie Zimmerman, Forbes Contributor, “Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, rather than from employees.”

The concept of crowdsourcing is fairly new, with the term only being coined within the last decade. It’s accepted by most of us as a part of our daily life. And we see it brought to life in exciting and positive ways by companies creating fun campaign/engagement opportunities for people to connect, collaborate, and create content as a group.

It seems like a benign and fun concept, right? And it should be. But there’s a dark side to it…

Here’s The Issue

Since it was introduced to me, I’ve been surfacing this topic with colleagues, acquaintances, people that call me for guidance, and recruiters. It’s almost without exception that people are having more detailed, pushy interview experiences. They also find that jobs are going to people with less experience and at a significantly smaller salary, at the end of the process.

I frequently talk about the lack of diversity companies have today because, despite the outward appearance of their employees, they seek to find candidates that are exactly like everyone they already have in the organization. They don’t look for diversity of thought, perspective, experience, curiosity, and/or creativity.

The back-end users [HR] set up the Applicant Tracking System [ATS} to find people that have a desirable background that is most congruent to their existing internal talent pool. Let’s face it, what companies want today, in a lot of cases: they want obedience – people who are just smart enough to execute arbitrary directives or do the massive quantities of tedious paperwork. And just dull and compliant enough to passively accept it.

Because there is no diversity of thought and companies don’t hire outside their comfort zone, they – frequently – are at a loss [of ideas and talent] when business challenges present. So, they are utilizing the interview process to crowdsource ideas to help them overcome impediments specific to their business.

How This Works

A job is posted. Let’s say 250 applicants submit their résumés. ATS identifies 25 as “relevant”. Phone screens are set up where basic questions and some pointed questions are asked by someone who doesn’t really understand the role – nor do they really care about it. These are a list of questions usually provided by the hiring manager. You hear them typing notes like crazy in the background to send to the next level interviewer for scrubbing. They’ve captured some ideas and thoughts based on what the company needs and what the candidates shared. The candidate pool for this role is whittled down to ten people for either initial in-person or a deeper-dive phone interview.

In a test, one company created a perfect resume for an ideal candidate for a clinical scientist role, it scored a mere 43% relevance because the ATS it was submitted to misread it. [Source: Bersin & Associates]

In this next level interview is where they start asking very judicious questions around their hot button topic(s) to glean competitor information or they hope to capture new ideas – that they then massage and make theirs – that will possibly help them resolve some internal crisis or obstacle. They may spend more time asking for detail around process/operations than seems reasonable and are missing some opportunities to ask questions about the candidates ability/competencies in their role.

After ten detailed information-gathering interviews, the pool is then decreased to three to five of the most acceptable candidates [acceptable because they likely can do the job, their salary requirements are most desirable for their range, and have shown they are willing to jump through hoops for the company].

Candidates 4th or 5th Round Of Interviews

The company brings these candidates in to meet with five to eight other people – either in an entire day or in a two or three visit interview process. In many elevated roles you are required to work through an exercise/project for the company or create/facilitate a presentation specific to their business. Again, giving them the ability to gather additional ideas and kidnap additional intellectual property for their use. [The form you signed in the initial phase of interviews generally gives organizations the right to use any ideas offered by candidates for their gain/benefit during the “relationship”, whether short or long term.]

As much as 80% of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions. [Source: SmashFly]

Here’s the kicker…these companies can then, compile the best ideas from all the candidates they’ve spoken with, again – hire one of the least expensive candidates, give them their marching orders based on information gathered from – usually – stronger candidates and share the other ideas taken with appropriate department heads. It’s a smarmy practice overall.

And here’s the bigger kicker…these companies don’t possess the talent that can execute these ideas that they have captured. Most great people who are driven enough to deliver solutions also have a unique style or ability that make things work and that can effectively communicate and rally a group of people around a concept. It’s tough to replicate. And most people receiving these seemingly arbitrary, hijacked ideas aren’t willing to put in the work try something new because…they can’t.

The Solutions

For Candidates

I don’t have a perfect solution for this, unfortunately. It’s a gross practice by weak companies with soft leadership that are – in a lot of cases – desperate because they’ve placed themselves in a position where they don’t have the talent to be truly successful and stand out in the marketplace.

I think being aware of this practice is helpful so YOU can manage the conversation and your narrative accordingly. I always prefer the direct method of letting companies know that I know what they are seeking and that I am more than willing to share solutions and support action with their partners and if they would like for me to do that, we can talk about a short-term contract for consulting services. There are also interviews I have cut short because it was clear all they wanted was to squeeze information and ideas from me.

You need to make the decision that is best for you – knowing all of your circumstances.

For Companies & Recruiters

A study by Bersin found that organizations with mature talent acquisition strategies, on average, perform 30% better than peers on business outcomes, including the ability to meet or exceed customer expectations, create new products and services faster than competitors, and meet or exceed financial targets. [Source: SmashFly]

Be honest with your candidates. Be honest about candidate salaries and where a person stands on the scale. Be honest about what the interview process is trying to accomplish – from the VERY FIRST contact with candidates. Be fair and honorable in your dealings with candidates. Read and don’t dismiss feedback from Glassdoor, Indeed, and other platforms as just “sour grapes”, there are some broken processes usually that need to be fixed that candidates are sharing in this feedback. Consider the optics of how you manage your candidate experience. So even if a candidate is unsuccessful today, they:

  • Are still excited about your brand and feel encouraged enough to want to work for you in the future;
  • Don’t become critics of your company and its leadership because of terrible communication, candidate ghosting, or other flawed processes [like crowdsourcing];
  • Walk away dazzled by your organization, feeling connected to the people they interacted with, and tell others about the positive experience they had.

Hiring Managers: Challenge the status quo. Fight for THE BEST candidate. This person may be quite different from the others but if they have “it” – take a chance on them. Compensate them fairly. Appreciate and recognize their contributions [and everyone else who makes great contributions to the business]. Never be satisfied with mediocrity.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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