Candidates expect the same treatment as consumers.
They want relevant engagement from companies based on where they are in the candidate journey, and what kind of role they’re actually interested in. They want the same level of personalization that they receive from sophisticated marketing departments.
Best in class candidate experience is about creating experiences for candidates that feel real, human and authentic. It’s about building personalized relationships with people, not just processing resumes, in a way that is useful without feeling intrusive or creepy.
Why does the candidate experience matter?
We all know the stats. 60% of candidates go through a bad experience when applying to a new job, and 72% of them choose to share that experience with others. And if you think that as a large enterprise or a well-known brand, you’re immune to this, consider that only 59 of the Fortune 500 companies score higher than 80% on “Would recommend to a Friend” on Glassdoor.
This is something we talked about at length with the Telegraph if you are interested in learning more:
It always comes back to the same thing: Top candidates have more options than ever before.
Employment rates are at a decade high. Not only are jobs open for longer, information about roles and employers is also more readily available, and candidates themselves are less bound by geography or language. The workplace is becoming culturally more open to job-hopping, and in such a competitive setting, every aspect of the recruiting experience matters.
If the employer brand is misaligned over different channels, if the career site is hard to navigate, or if the application process is long and clunky, it places the company behind competitors who offer a truly omnichannel experience, with minimal wasted effort from the candidate.
Candidate experience is an Operations issue
It’s easy to fall in the trap of thinking that the secret to a great candidate experience is to create delight and enjoyment through things like personalized gifts, fun events, and original communication. Those things matter, if you want to go from “competitive” to “blows everyone else out of the water”. We’ve actually written about what it takes to take candidate experience from good to great.
However, many teams still need the foundational stuff that will enable them to get to the “competitive” stage, and that is not about originality and style, it’s about operational efficiency. It’s about being able to automate and duplicate good practices at scale, measure both results and causes, and quickly iterate on recruiting processes.
Candidates “experience” the company through multiple channels and a long journey with many stops. Keeping all those channels and workstreams running in unison is the stuff of backend operations, automation, metrics, analysis.
The goal is for recruiters to provide candidates with the same delightful and unobtrusive journey that they get from leading consumer brands, across all of their different channels and workstreams. The problem is, while they now have access to the same kind of technology that marketers do, they don’t always have the same team structure, processes, and operational support to make it all run smoothly.
Building a decent candidate experience takes a lot of work. You have to think about every step of the journey, from the first time a candidate lands on your careers site or your linkedin page, to the reviews they read on glassdoor, to the application they fill out, to that final exchange when you make them an offer or turn them down.
The role of Recruiting Operations is to provide alignment between all these little bits and pieces of data and workflows and processes, so they can share insights not only on what happened-how many people were hired, how much money was spent on each lead, how long a role was open- but also why it happened the way it did-where the candidate experience delivered and where it broke down. Getting those insights can be like chasing a constantly moving goalpost if you don’t have the right backend operations to support all those workstreams.
The current state of candidate experience
Just a few years ago, a quick and simplified description of the current state of affairs would have been a picture of a black hole, where resumes and applications go to disappear somewhere outside of the space-time continuum. It’s thankfully a little better now, but not because everyone got better at providing a more human candidate experience. It’s mostly because the best at it are much, much better, and the spread between good and bad experiences on the market is much wider.
Candidates who are not informed of the status or decision of their application are 3.5x less likely to re-apply to that company that declined them, and 85% doubt that a human being has even reviewed their application.
And yet, many companies still manage to let candidates slip through the cracks because of terrible experiences. Take a look at a few of these comments that Forbes collected:
“I spent three hours customizing my resume for the job opportunity and writing my cover letter. Then it took me over an hour to trudge through the online application process. I couldn’t believe how difficult they made it.”
“The recruiter scheduled a telephone interview, then never called. After I emailed him, he rescheduled twice and blew me off two more times. You can be sure I’ll never consider that company for employment again and I can’t wait to share my thoughts in a Glassdoor review.”
“Having gone through the lengthy interview process at many different companies and been treated so poorly, I now know where I don’t want to work and the companies where I won’t buy their products. It’s truly shocking at the lack of respect for job candidates these days.”
No one wants to be that company. So where to start?
How to create a great candidate experience
The candidate experience starts a long time before someone is ready to "click" apply. It begins the very first moment that someone interacts with your brand.
To create a candidate experience that is truly best in class, you need to think carefully about what your entire end-to-end recruiting process looks like.
Here are some of the questions you need to start asking your team if you're serious about the candidate experience:
1. Who are your candidate personas?
Creating candidate personas can help your team build up a clearer picture of the expectations of the people that they're going after.
A candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal candidate. This persona is formed by defining the characteristics, skills, and traits that make up your perfect hire.
Simply put, personas tell you who your candidates are and what _they _expect?
This information makes it easier for your team to focus on the kind of candidate experience that is likely to be most effective. For example, the way you approach an executive level hire should differ substantially from the way you approach a new recruit for a call center.
2. How are you educating candidates?
First impressions count. When meeting someone for the first time, research suggests we build an impression of them within the first 7 seconds. This can obviously change, but often it’s pretty deeply entrenched.
By this rationale, it’s safe to say that by the time someone is ready to apply for a job, they have a pretty clearly defined impression of your brand.
Candidates use the content they find on your careers page, online reviews, and social media to research companies, to build out this early impression and decide whether they want to learn more or apply.
This is not necessarily a linear process. Candidates consume content based on what they’re doing at the time, and what they fancy reading, not how you draw it out on a storyboard.
To provide a positive pre-application experience, you need to think carefully about how to educate candidates on your employer brand and EVP.
You need to keep every channel actively maintained to ensure that wherever candidates look to educate themselves, they can find information that is useful and engage with people at that company.
“Active maintenance” means that a member of your team is responsible for joining relevant conversations, responding to reviews and messages, and giving candidates an attractive preview of the work environment, culture, and available opportunities at your company.
We've often found that a good starting point is to sit down with your team and go through all of the different ways that candidates might be looking to learn about your company. If it helps, think about how you would want to learn about an organization if you were applying for a job!
The list that you put together in this discussion should illustrate any existing gaps you have.
Pro tip: the power of the review
How many of your buying decisions start here?
We put an awful lot of stock by the opinions of people that we've never met when we're buying stuff.
Most candidates approach job applications in a similar way. Don't be surprised if the reviews that they read about your company on Glassdoor have a significant impact on the likelihood to apply:
Make sure you keep a close eye on your Glassdoor profile. Dive in and respond to anything negative as quickly as possible. There's nothing worse than a bad review that's left to fester.
3. What does the candidate journey look like?
It's not just the education component of the candidate journey that starts long before the application; formal relationships can also be established long before someone is ready to click apply too.
Whether it’s through conversations on social media, registering in a talent network, or attending one of your events, there are multiple ways that companies can start relationships with candidates that don’t involve an application.
This is an area of the candidate experience that most organizations don't think of immediately. It's growing in importance though, the vast majority of candidates aren’t ready to apply when you speak to them and must be engaged over time and kept "warm" for future roles.
Companies need to think carefully about the type and frequency of communication that they send to candidates. It's important to find the right balance between helpful and irritating!
To start, segment people based on the status of their relationship with your company. If they’re in the early stages of your pipeline, your goal should be to send them content that educates them about your company and helps them understand why it could be a fit.
If you think they could be might be ready to learn more about opportunities or even make an application decision, then you should be leveraging content that helps them understand your EVP or sending them to personalized landing pages that are more likely to drive applications.
The content map below provides a more complete picture of how this nurturing process should look:
For candidates that you haven't spoken to for a while, it's always best to start off simple. Test a simple monthly newsletter that updates people on all of the important stuff. (Example below created and sent from Beamery's Talent Marketing software).
4. What does your application form look like?
When people discuss the candidate experience, it's typically the application process that they have in mind.
In general, there's a pretty severe disconnect over the application experience – the average candidate spends 3-4 hours submitting a single application, while 70% companies think it takes them less than an hour.
Hardly surprising then, that 60 percent of job seekers quit in the middle of filling out online job applications because of their length or complexity.
High drop-off rates lead to loss of top talent, brand damage from candidates frustrated with the process, and the higher costs associated with abandonment in cost-per-click recruiting models.
Around 50% of employers believe that the length of application processes is a positive. Supposedly it “weeds out” applicants that aren't sufficiently committed. Good talent should be dedicated enough to fill out any kind of complex form that is thrown their way.
In reality, the opposite is true – the best candidates have plenty of opportunities in today’s job market. They aren’t as willing to jump through hoops, and will happily go where the grass looks greener.
Taking your own application is the easiest way to walk a mile in your candidates’ shoes and see what needs to change. Apply with a fake name and details, and take an honest look at your process.
5. What does the interview process look like?
If you're not thinking about the candidate experience during the interview stage, then don't be surprised if you find people mysteriously dropping out of your process.
This stage is critical. If someone is active and interviewing at your company, they're probably interviewing at a bunch of other places too. If you slip up on the candidate experience, they'll go elsewhere.
A big part of maintaining a successful experience is setting expectations correctly. There are internal and external components to this:
For the interview process to run smoothly, you need to make sure that the hiring team is correctly aligned.
It all starts with the careful selection of your interview panel.
Once this is complete, set up a meeting with all the interviewers co-led by recruiter and hiring manager. The goal here is ensuring that the interview team leaving the room feeling excited about bringing the new role into the business and knowing what good looks like.
At this point, you should divide the interview panel’s responsibilities. Who should be testing for what and why? Everyone should clearly understand what their role is.
Ensure that each interview is designed to test candidates in a different way. There's nothing worse than a succession of interviews where candidates are asked the same set of questions!
Once all this is agreed upon, set up clear timelines for when these interviews need to happen and make sure that everyone agrees to them.
Getting all this right sounds simple, but it will eliminate much of the delay and confusion that leads to negative candidate experiences.
Good external communication can make all the difference to candidate experience during the interview process.
You need to keep candidates up to date with the status of their application on a regular basis.
Even if nothing has changed and you don't have anything new to relay to candidates, it's tantamount that you share that. Remember, "no news" is still news for candidates.
This is particularly important for graduate hiring programs where there tends to be a big time period between opportunities being posted, and decisions being made. You don't want candidates to forget about you and take a different job!
6. How are you measuring candidate experience?
“What gets measured gets managed” - Peter Drucker
It's no good throwing a bunch of resources behind "improving the candidate experience" if you're not measuring what's working.
There are lots of metrics that you can keep an eye on to chart improvements in your candidate experience. Positive changes in any of the following could be a good sign:
- Website conversion rate
- Application dropoff
- Offer acceptance rate
- Engagement rate for database
- Glassdoor reviews
Those are a great place to start, but for measurements that help the team not only assess what is working or not, but also why, you need both operational and experiential data.
Operational data would be data points around results: Your Talent Promoter Score, your time-to-hire or cost-per-hire, your pipeline conversion rate or pipeline coverage.
Experiential data is around the stuff that influences results: your career site traffic and funnel data, your unsubscribe rates or event attendance rates, your campaign performance. Paired with qualitative data collected from candidates, these data points help pinpoint where there are breakage points or leaks in the candidate experience.
Pro tip: Build your NPS for recruiting (TPS)
TPS (or Talent Promoter Score) is a measure of how likely a candidate is to refer friends or colleagues to your organization (i.e. a measure of their happiness and willingness to promote your company).
Turning candidates into brand advocates is possibly the best indicator of a great candidate experience. It shows that their interactions with your company have been so positive that they’re actively spreading the word and promoting your brand.
To measure your TPS, send candidates a simple survey asking them how likely they are to recommend your company to their friends. Candidates can select a score between 0 and 10 that shows their willingness to promote your brand to their friends.
Detractors: Candidates that select scores between 0-4 are seen as brand detractors (i.e. they would actively criticise and detract from your employer brand).
Passives: Candidates that select scores between 5-8 are seen as passives (i.e. they do not feel strongly enough about your brand to impact it positively or negatively).
Promoters: Candidates that select scores between 9-10 are seen as promoters (i.e. they would actively promote your employer brand to friends and family).
If your candidate experience is improving, you should see an increase in brand promoters over time.
How a Talent Operating System impacts Candidate Experience
One of the challenges that talent teams face when looking at how to improve their candidate experience is that they don’t approach it like a holistic workstream that is managed within a single source of truth. The technology is there, but the workflows and processes are dispersed across multiple tools, or they don’t make the most sense from an operations perspective. That’s why the current trend in the talent industry is towards consolidation.
A talent operating system is a technology platform that can contain all recruiting activities, either by directly operating them or by deeply integrating with the talent tools where they are managed. It makes it possible for talent teams to run multiple workstreams from a single platform: strategic sourcing, employer branding and candidate engagement activities, marketing campaigns to nurture talent and drive traffic to careers sites, events, careers sites, specialized hiring, or internal mobility, among other activities.
By being the system that either holds or connects to all recruiting workstreams and all candidate records, a talent operating system provides the fundamental step-change that talent teams need to match consumer-grade experiences:
It enables them to predictably deliver an outstanding experience to every candidate, every single time, and to use that experience to convert top performers. This predictability is highly valuable to any business leader, as it reduces risks and uncertainty around the company’s ability to fill open roles now and in the future.
It exponentially improves the talent organization’s reporting, and therefore its ability to diagnose and fix problems. Every step of the candidate journey can be understood and explored in granular detail. Every cost and performance metric can be measured both holistically and at the individual level. Instead of reporting on a single event, a specific campaign, talent leaders can show the impact of a series of activities across different channels, or understand the performance of a specific team managing multiple workstreams. They can see exactly where to dedicate resources for maximum impact.