The candidate experience is a hot topic in recruitment at the moment – and a topic that’s unlikely to go away anytime soon. The candidate experience has a direct impact on your brand, your potential talent pool, and even your bottom line. In this article, we’ll break down what the term “candidate experience” means and six steps you can take to improve the candidate experience.
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What does “candidate experience” mean?
The term candidate experience refers to the interactions a job applicant has with a company during the hiring process. This includes every action or communication from the moment an individual reads the job description, submits an application, and goes for an interview, to the job offer and salary negotiation.
The candidate experience is determined by six key components that mirror steps in the hiring process. These components are:
- The job search: how does the candidate discover and interact with your organization? This includes elements such as social media posts, job listings, and careers page. Make sure each of these touchpoints is designed to save your candidate time and effort and to make your company stand out – for the right reasons.
- The job application: are the application instructions clear and straightforward? Is the job description written in a compelling way? Is it easy for a candidate to hit “apply” or are there many pages of demographic or eligibility questions they must answer?
- The screening process: Usually considered an internal process, the way you screen candidates can be a powerful touchpoint in the candidate experience. Consider whether candidates are aware of the success criteria and skills required for the role. Do they know if and how they will be screened and assessed against those criteria?
- The interview: a positive interview experience is crucial. Do you ask the candidate to come in for multiple rounds of repetitive questions? Are you giving candidates feedback following the interview? Is your remote interview software easy to use? Are your interview questions designed to help a candidate stand out?
- Onboarding: once the contract is signed, does your onboarding process make the new employee feel welcome? Are you delivering on the promises made during the hiring process? Design a structured onboarding process to help your new hire engage with their role for the first 30, 60, and 90 days.
Candidates want to know where they stand throughout the hiring process. If you’re passing on an applicant, let them know with a quick email so they’re kept in the loop. If someone’s moving on to the next stage, give them an update of what the next steps are so they know what to expect. Constant communication and feedback are critical to making your hiring process feel more human.
Why is the candidate experience important
The candidate’s first impressions of your brand are formed early and impact their decisions throughout the hiring funnel. Consider some of these data points collected by Lever:
- 83% of employees say that a negative interview experience can change their mind about a role or company they once liked;
- 80% of job seekers say they would be discouraged to consider other relevant job openings at a company that failed to notify them of their application status;
- 72% of job seekers that have had a negative candidate experience have shared their experience on an online employer review site such as Glassdoor.com.
The candidate experience impacts your employee retention, your employer branding, and even your profit. Here are some salient reasons why getting the candidate experience right is critical.
Improve employee retention
Employee retention starts before someone even signs a contract with your company. The recruitment process and onboarding experience impact an employee’s willingness to go the distance with an organization.
The costs of losing an employee due to a poor recruiting experience are massive. In the US, businesses lose at least $450 billion due to disengaged employees; and high turnover costs between six to nine months salary to replace an employee when they leave.
Recruiters who actively communicate with a candidate throughout the process, tailor an onboarding experience for each individual, and follow up during the first year on the job can make the difference between a disengaged team member and someone with high career satisfaction.
Make better hiring decisions
A great candidate experience leads to an overall better hire. Better hires, in turn, improve the relationship between the talent acquisition team and hiring managers. A great example of this relationship improving has been at Australia Post, who recently reinvigorated their hiring process. “One of the most pleasing, yet unexpected, results is the faith the business now has in our ability to find the right people for the roles.
“It has empowered our consultants to have more meaningful conversations with stakeholders surrounding best practice methods to attract better talent,” reported Talent Acquisition Manager, Spencer Timmons.
When recruiters are clear about the profile of the candidate they’re seeking, they can deliver high-performing employees that improve internal communications, productivity, and overall business results.
Attract high-quality candidates
Companies that provide a great candidate experience have a great reputation among job seekers. And, in a competitive hiring market like the current environment, reputation is everything. Careerbuilder’s research showed that 68% of candidates believe the way they are treated throughout the hiring process is a good indication for how a company treats its employees. If you want to attract top talent, make sure they’re given the same five-star treatment you’d offer your employees.
Increase employee referrals
Employee referrals have long been the holy grail of recruiting. When your employees have gone through your hiring process successfully, they’re more likely to recommend your organization to other qualified candidates. Research by recruiting intelligence firm ERE found that “candidates share their positive recruiting experiences with their inner circles (friends, family, peers, etc.) over 81% of the time and their negative experiences 66% of the time.” Referrals impact not only your hiring ability but your brand’s reputation with customers. When a consumer hears about a brand that makes treats their job applicants well, they are more likely to become loyal customers of that brand’s product or service.
Turn rejected candidates into allies
Your candidate experience can be so powerful that even rejected candidates become brand evangelists. Virgin Media discovered that by improving their candidate experience, they could dramatically improve their business results. Virgin’s hiring data showed that 18% of their rejected job candidates were also customers. Furthermore, inconsistent communication, outdated hiring methods, and a broken careers page were causing over 7,000 job candidates to abandon the brand– in turn, costing the company approximately $6 million in lost revenue. Addressing these obstacles helped the brand recover revenue and improve their reputation even with candidates who were ultimately unsuccessful in their application.
Improve your bottom line
The business case for a great candidate experience is beyond dispute. Just by providing a structured onboarding program, businesses can capture nearly two times more profit than companies without any onboarding strategy. The candidate experience impacts nearly every part of your business: save money on employee churn, improve employee engagement and productivity, and ultimately, build a reputation that makes it easy for your customers to stay loyal.
6 Steps to improving the candidate experience
- Set clear expectations
- Provide constant communication
- Screen candidates using an immersive skills assessment
- Create consistency
- Use the right tools
- Improve your employer branding
Recruiters who are seeking to improve the candidate experience should go through the entire hiring process in the shoes of an applicant. See what it’s like to find an open position, read the job description, complete an application, schedule an interview, and do a mock interview with a hiring manager to see what it’s like to be a candidate for your company. The process can be eye-opening.
If you feel there’s room for improvement, start by taking these six steps.
1. Set clear expectations
Candidates – especially Millennials and Gen Z applicants – are extremely loyal to brands that are transparent. Transparency starts at the top of the hiring process. Set expectations in the job description by being as clear and open as possible about what the position requires, the challenges, and the core competencies someone needs to be successful. Provide instructions at the beginning of the application that indicate how many questions someone will have to answer, the documents they need to submit (CV, cover letter, writing sample, etc.).
Once a candidate has made it past the first pre-employment screening, give them a clear sense of the timeline and steps in the hiring process they will go through as they get approved. Brief candidates of what to expect before they get to the interview. “When you’re scheduling the interview with the prospective candidates, explain what will happen during the process, including that types of questions they can expect and what they might need to prepare. Surprises in a high-pressure environment are rarely welcome,” write the experts at Hello Talent.
2. Provide constant communication
Talent Board surveys consistently find that communication is the number one way to engage talent and deliver a great candidate experience. The simple mistake of not sending an email confirming an application has been submitted successfully can destroy the candidate experience.
“In 2017, only 43% of candidates were able to view the progress of their application—down from 61% in 2015. Simple changes to communication—progress bars to show application status, automated email follow-ups, next-step reminders, and so on—can dramatically increase reapplication rates, yet few companies adopt them,” reports Google Hiring.
Let candidates know what’s going on as your hiring process evolves. Send confirmation emails and follow-up emails to keep people apprised of their application status. Even when their candidacy is unsuccessful, let a person know so they can continue to seek new opportunities. Proactively respond to any negative online reviews on sites like Glassdoor to let candidates know that you value their time.
If you’re already using a tool to help streamline communication, take it a step further and get to know your candidates on a deeper level during the phone screen. “Providing timely feedback and being prepared and on-time for meetings is a good first step, but the best way to respect your candidates is to take their careers seriously. Always take the time to have an exploratory conversation and get-acquainted step somewhere at the top of the funnel,” writes one expert on LinkedIn.
3. Screen candidates using an immersive skills assessment
Skill assessments can be used to simultaneously move lots of candidates through the hiring funnel efficiently, evaluate a candidate’s abilities, and to give an applicant a simulated idea of the actual job responsibilities.
First and foremost, the best skill assessments screen candidates in, not out: providing a fair chance for every applicant to prove their capabilities. Vervoe’s algorithm scores candidates using a multi-layered approach. Candidates are ranked based on how well they perform, not filtered out for failing to achieve an arbitrary benchmark. The top candidates easily rise to the top, but no one misses out on being considered for the next round. When used at the top of the hiring funnel, a skill assessment can select a more diverse pool of applicants to continue onto the next phase.
Likewise, a skill assessment allows candidates to self-select out of the hiring process altogether. Set up a series of questions that mimic the day-to-day tasks of the open position. If a candidate recognizes the tasks are outside their skill set, they can decline to finish the assessment and let the recruiter know this isn’t the right fit. Candidates appreciate the opportunity to avoid signing on for work they can’t accomplish or to take on a role that doesn’t match their career goals.
4. Create consistency
Consistency within the candidate experience is important for a number of reasons. First, it increases the likelihood that you’re accurately comparing candidates and making an offer to the best possible individual. Second, it reduces the potential for discrimination. And third, consistency helps ensure that your brand is represented the same way across different touchpoints, which impacts your marketing efforts and customer loyalty.
Especially if your company practices high-volume hiring, it can be difficult to create consistency throughout the hiring process. There are some key touchpoints to focus on:
- Job ads: all job postings should contain the same information about your company, its culture, benefits, and your organization’s mission, even though the responsibilities and requirements will differ.
- Careers page: visitors to your company careers site should leave the page with the same understanding of your company and its culture that can be found on social media, in job descriptions, and at hiring events.
- Email communication: load customizable templates in an applicant tracking system or email marketing tool to provide applicants with alerts as they move through the process.
- Skill assessments: find an AI-powered solution designed for scale to communicate with those who complete your skill assessment letting them know the next steps. Easily manage a high volume of candidates without compromising quality.
- Interview questions: develop a set of questions you can ask all candidates to ensure everyone is treated fairly.
There are a number of HR tech tools and platforms that help teams communicate consistently with candidates, even during a high-volume hiring event. Make sure to include the same logo, colors, and copy on your LinkedIn page, social media channels, and company website.
5. Use the right tools
One of the hardest parts of offering a great candidate experience is that recruiters simply don’t have time to give each applicant the attention they deserve. HR tech can do a lion’s share of the repetitive work that takes up too much of a recruiter’s time. An applicant tracking system (ATS) can automate key messages, such as rejection notices or interview scheduling emails. A candidate relationship management system (CRM) similarly automates communication after someone has applied for a job, integrating with the ATS to build a pool of candidates and keep them engaged. Video interview tools help recruiters shorten the time to hire and broaden their candidate base to include remote applicants; the best ones have AI built-in to help screen candidates to the next phase. And, finally, an AI-powered skills assessment can keep a candidate engaged early on in the hiring process.
6. Improve your employer branding
SHRM writes, “Recruiters cannot take for granted that everyone knows about the company or that, if the company builds a new career website, people will automatically visit. Recruiters need to make sure that the company message is reaching the places where candidates are. And if employees love working for the company, find a way to share that with candidates.”
Many of the best employer brands are also top-rated consumer brands: Apple, Airbnb, and Salesforce enjoy popularity both for their products and for being great places to work. In part, this is because they treat their employees and potential new hires with the same care and consideration as they treat their customers.
Focus on the candidate experience the same way you would focus on the customer experience. Is it easy for a job seeker to find information about your company culture, benefits, and work environment? Can they hit “apply” with the same ease as they hit “purchase”? Does it feel as good to work at your company as it does to buy from your company? This lens can shift your thinking about your candidate strategy and improve the overall experience.
How do you measure candidate experience?
How do you know if the steps you’ve taken to improve the candidate experience are working?
Some companies use candidate experience surveys through a tool like SurveyMonkey or Typeform. These surveys get sent to both successful and unsuccessful applicants and ask questions such as:
- Did the job description help you understand the role?
- What did you like or dislike about the interview process?
- How often did you hear from recruiters/hiring managers?
- Would you apply for an open role at our company in the future?
- Would you encourage a friend to apply to work at our company?
If you don’t have the time or resources for a candidate experience survey, look at metrics throughout your hiring funnel. If you see high rates of completion for your skill assessments, for instance, that’s a good sign that people are having a good interaction with your brand.
If applicants are dropping off and not completing your skill assessment, try to dig deeper and learn why. For instance, check your application abandonment rate: the percentage of candidates who started filling out your application but never clicked apply. If this percentage is high, it might suggest that you need to shorten your application.
Start creating a better candidate experience
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