Paying Job Candidates Just to Come In

Down 800,000 employees, the fast-food industry is paying candidates to be interviewed. Will the tactic spread to other sectors?

There’s a new line-item expense in hiring budgets: shelling out cash to job candidates to show up at job interviews. At least that’s the latest toll the so-called Great Resignation is now having on the fast-food sector—and perhaps other industries to come.

This was unthinkable two years ago, but the US restaurant industry today is down 800,000 employees since February 2020, forcing some establishments to curtain late-night serving hours. Most have already boosted entry-level pay 15% this year—and now, hiring managers are paying for interviews. “Some organizations are giving $50 to interview,” says Michele Capra, vice president of client services for talent acquisition at Korn Ferry. “They’re doing it to be the first employer to engage those applicants and get more applicants in their pool.”

Though paying for interviews may seem unusual, the idea of paying to get candidates through the door is as old as doors. According to Linda Hyman, executive vice president of global human resources at Korn Ferry, companies used to pay for people just to show up at job fairs. “When competition spikes, everyone wants talent coming to their events,” she says. “How do you entice them? You offer great food, money, celebrity events—whatever is going to work.”

That said, experts are not keen on the strategy of paying for interviews. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to people not showing up for interviews,” says Juan Pablo González, sector leader for professional services at Korn Ferry. “It’s missing the point. If they’re trying to engage employees to become part of their organizations, they really need to think about their why.”

He says this because getting candidates into seats has no bearing on whether those candidates stay in those seats. “People might appear for $50, but if the company doesn’t have its employee value proposition down and a robust reason for working there over other places, then they’ve just attracted a lot of people and hired no one,” says Elise Freedman, workforce transformation practice leader at Korn Ferry. “Before organizations start paying people to come in for interviews, they better well have their story down.” She says it’s critical that the hiring managers doing the interview be able to articulate the employee value proposition and organizational purpose.

To be sure, experts say that interview payments make more sense in targeted scenarios, such as when looking for particularly experienced retail staff at a certain store location, or when an industry’s reputation may be deterring local applicants. But overall, the payments signal the need for organizations to improve their treatment of job candidates, who have long complained of non-responsive recruiters and generally cold, non-welcoming experiences. “Organizations and search firms will need to be better about getting back to people and not just presuming that if they call, candidates will be there,” says Ron Porter, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and member of the firm’s Global Human Resources Center of Expertise. “It’s clearly a shift in power dynamics, for the better.”

Rather than paying for interviewees, David Vied, global sector leader for the Medical Devices and Diagnostics practice at Korn Ferry, sees another likely outcome. “I think a backlash is going to come at some point because employers are not going to stand for prima donna behavior like ghosting,” he says. He instead suggests that HR managers distill job descriptions down to their most essential elements and hire accordingly. “Companies will likely reconfigure the workforce to do without that hire.”