The Journey and the Destination: Improving Your Candidate Experience

Things have never been busier than they are now for Human Resources professionals – or, for that matter, anyone involved in recruitment and hiring. If you’re reading this, we don’t need to tell you how much you have on your plate. When recruiting gets busy, our work can easily become a series of disconnected steps with no connection between them. Sourcing and hiring new employees becomes nothing more than a seemingly endless string of tasks and deliverables. Does that sound familiar? Internally, this leads to a recruitment process that isn’t as efficient or effective as it can be. Our focus here, however, is what happens externally. To a candidate, it feels equally disjointed. There’s no ‘flow’ to the process, and there’s a missed opportunity to build a relationship between the company and the candidate. One that, in turn, leads to a great employee-employer relationship.

The key to fixing this problem is improving your candidate experience. Here’s one important caveat: you already have a candidate experience. Every company does. The question is, is your current candidate experience the one you want to offer?

Understanding and improving your candidate experience is a two-step process. First, it’s about a shift in thinking. Specifically, it means looking at the series of steps in the hiring process not from your perspective, but from the candidate’s. It’s about truly putting yourself in a candidate’s shoes, imagining how they would perceive and feel about the experience at any given point. From this perspective, you can begin to make small but significant changes that will create a great candidate experience.

The second step is tying those discrete stages together so that they’re more than a series of events. The various stages of your hiring process then become a journey from beginning to end, creating a narrative that is consistent and cohesive. That journey is different for some than others, of course. Some candidates may apply and be rejected before an interview. Others are dropped from the process during the interview stage. And one, of course, goes on to become your newest employee. Although the candidate experience will be different for each of these people, creating a good experience for all of them is important.

A good candidate experience preserves a decent relationship between your company and unsuccessful candidates, protecting your employer brand. This is particularly important in this age of transparency, when unsuccessful candidates who perceive themselves as being treated poorly may take to sites like Glassdoor, Reddit, and others, sharing their hard feelings with others. And of course, a candidate experience is the first step in the employee experience for the candidates you do hire, kicking off that relationship on the right foot.

There are a few pivotal moments where significant improvements can be made fairly quickly and without significant (or any) expense. Let’s look at those now.

 

Sourcing

First impressions matter. The candidate experience begins the moment a potential candidate is exposed to your company and the opportunity that exists to work with you. In other words, it starts well before a vacancy is identified. Recruitment messages can no longer simply speak to ‘what we want’. Effective messaging also must articulate ‘what we offer’. Every company has a unique value proposition that will appeal to candidates that would be a good fit. What is yours? That value proposition can – and should – be embedded in every recruitment message your company projects. Job postings should have elements of that message, as should the careers page on your website. The ‘voice’ in those messages should be consistent; authenticity is key. There should be no disconnect between what a candidate sees in recruitment messages versus what they read in customer-facing marketing messages and on public-facing social media.

There’s an important role for recruitment partners to play in this as well. At JB Hired, we devote time and attention to ensure that we understand our clients’ value proposition and recruitment messaging. We know how important it is to create a great first impression for your company, and we take pride in our ability to articulate a compelling value proposition when we’re speaking with high-performing candidates in demand. Whether the first point of contact for candidates is an external recruitment partner or a member of your staff, this is the first step in building their relationship with your employer brand, and it has a great deal of influence on the candidate experience.

 

Application: Candidate intake

There’s a saying in sales: strike while the iron is hot. When a candidate has made the decision to apply to an opportunity with your company, the iron couldn’t be hotter. This is a pivotal moment in the candidate experience that can leave a very positive, or very negative, impression. A bit of planning can ensure that things get off on the right foot, and it’s especially important here to think about the process from the candidate’s point of view.

If you’re gathering applications online, make sure the systems work properly. Technology sometimes fails; better that you should discover a glitch before a candidate does. If you haven’t done so, consider going through the application process yourself, to experience it firsthand. Is it user-friendly and streamlined? A very common pet peeve for candidates – and one that can turn away otherwise qualified and interested applicants – is requiring them to upload a resume, but to also input exactly the same information into a form. This kind of redundancy feels disorganized and can be frustrating enough to make a candidate abandon the application altogether.

Interest tends to wane in the absence of communication, so you can keep candidates’ interest levels high by providing prompt feedback after the application is submitted. An automated confirmation of some kind is a helpful first step, to let them know that the application was received. For active, open roles, the sooner you can provide some feedback on the status of a candidate’s application, the better. Don’t overlook the importance of providing that feedback to unsuccessful applicants. If their resume will be kept on file for future consideration, let them know. If they should reapply in the future, tell them that. Keep the communication professional and courteous. Unsuccessful applicants may become candidates for future roles, but even if they aren’t, leaving them with a positive impression will make it more likely that they’ll speak positively about your company to others. The reverse is also true.

For candidates who are moving forward, prompt and clear communication is even more important in maintaining a positive candidate experience. Be transparent about your process: what to expect, when they should expect it, and who to connect with if there are any questions or changes on their end. This kind of openness and frequent communication keeps the ‘iron’ hot, and it’s one more way in which we support our clients’ employer brand. We keep in touch regularly with all candidates who are actively moving ahead, to keep their interest piqued, and to stay on top of any developments that might change the status of their candidacy.

The period of time immediately following application is a window of opportunity to create the kind of candidate experience you want to offer. Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes; how would you want this step to feel? Negative experiences – or even neutral ones – are the norm for candidates who have become accustomed to ‘ghosting’, and a lack of transparency. Investing a bit of time and attention here can very quickly differentiate your company from your competitors for talent.

 

Selection

If you were a candidate progressing through the selection process, how would you feel at every given step? No matter how many interviews are involved, would those interviews feel orderly and organized, each one having a meaningful purpose? Would they feel repetitive, with the same questions being asked by several different people? How many separate times will they need to visit your office? Would it be easy or difficult – especially for candidates who are still employed elsewhere – to accommodate the interview times? When you see your process through the eyes of a candidate, you will begin to see opportunities to make the process a smoother and easier one to navigate. 

Throughout this middle stage of the candidate’s journey, communication remains a key consideration. Your hiring strategy should identify a ‘point person’, responsible for communicating developments to candidates and also fielding any questions or concerns from them. We help simplify things for our clients by being a single point of contact for all candidates, but if you’re not working with a recruitment partner, a member of your team should be identified for this role.

An equally important aspect of communication is providing prompt feedback after interviews. For candidates who are continuing on, this helps to keep interest levels high. Keeping lines of communication open and active will also help surface any change on the candidate’s end, giving you visibility into a change of interest, and the opportunity to counter any misperceptions that might lead to an unforeseen drop-off later. Pass on specific positive feedback where you can; it’s really nice to hear the good things someone sees in you. Of course, this sometimes means being the bearer of bad news. Once again, it’s helpful to do this promptly, and with compassion and courtesy. The way in which unsuccessful candidates are let down is one of the most common sources of negative reviews and anecdotes online, and is, therefore, an important aspect of your candidate experience.

As the interviews progress, the process of selection also becomes an opportunity for relationship building. The initial interviews are primarily about information exchange. Once you’ve narrowed the field to only a few candidates still in the running, with intention, you can start moving to a higher level of engagement. For some companies, this might mean tours of the office or workspaces, to give candidates a greater sense of place. Introductions to other team members may also be part of this mix, allowing candidates to more clearly envision working with these people. At later stages, some companies choose to start introducing candidates to some more senior executives, or the business owners. In addition to the beginning of an important relationship in the workplace, this demonstrates interest at a senior level. That buy-in is an essential message for a candidate to receive, especially if they will take on a position of some decision-making authority. In some cases – where it’s congruent with their culture – companies choose to make these introductions in a more social, less formal setting, rather than across a desk or a boardroom table. Whatever elements or approach you select, remember that to the candidate, they’re a reflection of your culture. What they experience through this process should be consistent with what they will experience if they become one of your new employees.

 

Post-Offer

The recruitment process for a given role comes to an end when the successful candidate signs an offer, but the candidate experience doesn’t need to end at that moment. In fact, it shouldn’t. Until their first day of employment in their new role with you, that person is still on the candidate experience ‘journey’. Put a plan in place to touch base once or twice in the period between offer acceptance and day one of their employment with you. The main objective is to let them know that their new company – and their future colleagues and manager – are looking forward to having them start.

There’s another opportunity here, as well. Do you remember the last time you started a new job? No matter how much you were looking forward to the change and excited about the new opportunity, there were almost certainly some nerves and anxiety. It’s natural; human beings aren’t especially well-wired for change, and changing jobs is a big one. These touchpoints before the employee’s start date are an opportunity to answer any questions they might have about their very first day at work – basic things we take for granted, like what time to show up, where to park, and who they should ask for when they arrive. You might even want to share a bit more information about the onboarding process that will take place in the first days and weeks. In short, this is an opportunity to put their mind at ease, leaving room for nothing but positive excitement about beginning in their new role.

Did you find it useful to put yourself in your candidates’ shoes, imagining what they would experience as they progress through your hiring process? How easy or difficult would you find your process as it stands now? Most importantly, if you were just joining your company as a new employee, would your experience as a candidate make you feel like you were valued, that your time was respected and that you were joining an organization where you were going to have a great experience as an employee?

This can be a difficult shift in thinking to make. Most of us in hiring positions are accustomed to seeing the process only from our perspective. It’s not a failure in thinking, it’s just that we all have many priorities and competing interests. When things are as busy as they are right now, urgent priorities have to take precedence, and we can’t easily take the time to step back and see the bigger picture.

To underscore the point, you already have a candidate experience. It just may not be the kind of experience you want to offer. If it’s not, the solution is within your reach. First, itemize each of the steps in your hiring process – starting with the initial contact (whether a job posting, or a recruitment partner), moving through the interviews and selection, and ending with the window of time between the offer acceptance and start date. Next, consider each of those steps as one part of a journey, a narrative that has a beginning, middle, and end. It might even help to map those steps out visually, so you – and others – can see the pathway holistically. Third and finally, put yourself in the candidate’s shoes, perhaps by imagining yourself as one of the candidates. Are there missing steps – such as points of contact – that would help fill in gaps in the process, making it a more seamless experience? Are there steps that could be eliminated? For the steps that remain, are there any that could be changed in some way to make the candidate experience – the journey from applicant to new employee – a better one?

Improving your candidate experience protects and enhances your employer brand, and provides a smoother runway for new employees coming on board. And finally, if you need another reason, doing so will also help make your recruitment and hiring more organized, effective, and yes … enjoyable, too.

We’re pleased to be an integral component of our clients’ market-leading candidate experience, and we’d be happy to be part of yours, too. Contact us today to discuss how we can help support your recruitment activities, and help you attract top talent to your business.