HR departments that fail to respond to every job applicant could be hurting their organisation by alienating potential customers, experts have warned.

Half of UK jobseekers have been left with a negative impression of an organisation following an unsuccessful job application, while a fifth have stopped buying their products as a result, according to a survey from talent assessment specialists SHL.

The study of 1,600 jobseekers found that the biggest issue for candidates was being ignored by employers they had applied to work for. Nearly half (46 per cent) of respondents said that not being told whether they had been successful was their top concern, followed by lack of feedback on applications (39 per cent) and not acknowledging receipt of an application (36 per cent).

SHL warned that although many organisations were now inundated by applications, they risked alienating customers and damaging business performance by failing to realise the link between the employer brand and customer brand.

David Leigh, CEO of SHL, said: “It can be easy to dismiss applicants who aren’t suitable, but employers must remember that unsuccessful job applicants are also potential customers and ignoring them could impact the bottom line. A bad recruitment experience can be at least as damaging as a bad customer experience in-store.”

Angela Baron, the CIPD’s employment advisor, agreed that jobseekers may question the values of an organisation based on their treatment. She added: “People invest a lot of time and effort in job applications, and it is low level courtesy to acknowledge receipt and tell candidates if they have been unsuccessful.”

The research, which also included a survey of 500 in-house recruitment professionals, revealed that the retail sector was worse than average at communicating with rejected candidates after the initial recruitment stage – 19 per cent said they did not respond compared to an average of 16 per cent across other industries.

Sue Gilbert, senior recruitment manager at John Lewis, which responds to all of its applicants, said: “The John Lewis brand is strong so we attract a lot of candidates, and understand that employer brand is aligned with customer brand. For us the candidate experience is absolutely key and we want it to be a good one, so those that have gone through the recruitment process will continue to or start shopping with us.”

Gilbert pointed to the importance of word-of-mouth for generating applicants and a positive employer perception, and added that as the John Lewis brand grew, the recruitment process would evolve with future input from the marketing team.

The study revealed that 25 per cent of HR departments across all sectors were struggling to deal with the increase in job applications since the economic downturn. A quarter of recruiters surveyed had employed at least one more person to cope with the extra demand.

While 70 per cent of employers had introduced additional selection methods and 25 per cent had added an extra stage to their recruitment process to identify unsuitable candidates, a fifth admitted that this may now have made their application process too onerous and off-putting for potential recruits.