The Two Headed People Challenge

This is an unedited version of an article that originally appeared in Issue 3 of Catalyst magazine

When I was 16, I applied for three summer jobs. One at Safeway, one at Burtons, and one at Iceland. The first two went as expected. Application received, interview offered, and outcome given within a few weeks.

Iceland was different. They were quiet. Very quiet. After handing in my application, I heard nothing. I phoned to find out what was happening, and they didn’t answer my call. I went into the store to ask the manager, and he was too busy to see me – despite the fact that they were still advertising.

A year later, the manager of Iceland phoned to offer me the job.


Nearly twenty years later, I still remember that experience, and both me and my family still have a poor impression of Iceland because of it. As a company, the only thing that really matters is how you make people feel – whether they’re a customer, or a colleague. And that means that every interaction a customer has with a company is part of their customer experience, including experiences they have as a potential employee.

Yet in most organisations, the customer experience team and human resources teams are rarely on the same floor, let alone in the same meetings rooms. They’re both focussed on the same thing – building a good reputation with the general public, hoping to earn decisions in their favour, and then giving a great experience so that people feel great about interacting with them, enough to tell others – but rarely share their knowledge, skills, and approaches to doing this with each other.

This means that too often the money and time spent perfecting the customer experience is undermined by a completely different recruitment experience. CVs and applications go unanswered, people are left waiting a long time to find out what’s happening, and cold, automated responses are given, despite the fact that these are hugely emotional moments in the person’s life. And as Keenan Steiner showed in his article in 2017, it has a real commercial cost too, with 6% of rejected Virgin Media candidates cancelling their contract – to the cost of around £4.4m per year.


But the same principles that create a great customer experience apply to recruitment, too.

Firstly, people crave certainty, as a customer and a potential employee. So setting expectations and doing what you say you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, will immediately reduce the mental effort needed for the person eagerly awaiting an update.

Secondly, showing genuine empathy and understanding helps the person to know you do, genuinely care. This means communications that are delivered in a way that understands the big emotional impact it will have when received – not cold and confusing scripted paragraphs that delight the legal team but disappoint the receiver.

And thirdly, people want to see personality, the humanity within the organisation, not a faceless corporate machine. Careers fairs, interviews, and assessment centres are all brilliant opportunities to act in a way that brings your brand to life for people – and as Trello showed, this can even be done during the most mundane parts of the experience.

As recruitment gets more automated, the temptation is there to standardise the approach and forget about the human at the receiving end. But whilst this may make things more efficient, it may be affecting your business in ways you haven’t realised, too.

Just ask my Mum, who definitely hasn’t gone to Iceland since.


Thanks for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. You can find me:

One thought

  1. John, really good article! I had never put the two things together but you are exactly right, a poor interview experience puts you off the company completely. Well done as always. Rob

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