Improving Your Candidate Experience

When does your relationship with your employees begin? Their first day at work? Not quite – it begins the second they send you their application. A bad experience as a candidate means a negative image for a company – even if the candidate in question goes on to get the job.

You want new hires to start on a positive note, instantly engaged with their new workplace – not begrudgingly settling in after a demoralising and unpleasant application process. It’s not difficult to create a positive candidate experience, but some organisations seem to find it even easier to get it wrong.

Job Interview

What do applicants expect?

What is a candidate expecting when they apply for a job with you? Despite many an article about entitled millennials, most people don’t actually expect to get every job they apply for.

With employers receiving an average of 39 applications for every graduate job, and typically only 2% of applicants receiving an interview, most applicants know by now that they’re not guaranteed a job just by applying for it.

However, they do expect to have an application acknowledged – or at the very least rejected, so they can stop worrying about it. In a recent CareerBuilder survey, 82% of workers said they expected to at least get a response to a job application, even if their employer isn’t interested.

The standard “thanks-but-not-at-this-time”, or the even vaguer “your-application-has-been-received” email can often be all it takes for applicants to come away a little bit happier – and to keep inboxes free of messages checking up on the status of their applications.

How are organisations letting down applicants?

Despite how easy it is to do even the absolute minimum, such as setting auto responses to let people know their applications have actually been received in the right place, or sending out a mass rejection email to the hundreds of applicants who won’t make it to the next stage, too many employers don’t even bother.

The same CareerBuilder survey asked respondents what made their candidate experience a bad one, and many of the responses were to do with communications: 29% said employers had never acknowledged receiving their application, and 60% said an employer hadn’t bothered to let them know a decision after an interview.

But this isn’t the only way organisations are letting down potential employees – even when communication is there, it can be sorely lacking. Of those surveyed by CareerBuilder, 30% said the company representatives didn’t seem to be knowledgeable – or presented a negative image of the company – while 43% said the job didn’t quite match the one advertised once they’d reached the interview.

Job Interview

Why is the candidate experience important?

So someone who’s not going to work for you isn’t happy – who cares? Well, it’s more important than you might think. As company culture becomes an increasingly essential marketing tool, and a key way to attract top talent, it needs to extend to all areas of your organisation.

CareerBuilder asked its survey respondents what they would do if they had a bad applicant experience – 22% would discourage others from working there, and 9% would tell others not to use the company’s products or services.

If the experience was a good one, on the other hand, 37% would recommend that others seek employment with the organisation, and 23% would recommend the company’s services – even if they didn’t get the job. 56% would also consider applying again if a more suitable position opened up.

A good hiring process contributes to a positive company culture – one that ensures new hires start their new position feeling positive and already aligned with the company’s values, while also not closing the door on any unsuccessful applicants to return in the future.

How can you improve the candidate experience?

We’ve already covered the basics, such as acknowledging applications, sending polite rejections, and following up after interviews – even if the candidate in question didn’t get the job.

But this is the absolute minimum. A form email rejection, for example, is by no means the best way to go about informing a candidate that they have been unsuccessful – particularly if they have been to an interview. At this point, a personalised email or phone call is absolutely necessary.

More importantly, when you’re informing people that they have been unsuccessful, tell them why – offering feedback on why someone wasn’t right for this particular role, what experience you felt they lacked, and so on.

It’s also important to be open with your candidates – about how the hiring process will work, or more information on the company. You don’t have to give away trade secrets, but there will be things you can tell candidates to build trust that they may not be able to find online.

Phone Call

Other ways you can improve your candidate experience include:

  • Ensuring the experience level of the interviewer matches that of the candidate. This article in Forbes is something of a horror story about an entry-level HR employee interviewing a senior-level candidate, which left a very poor impression on the applicant.
  • Introducing candidates to your existing employees through website bios. Not only does this give applicants a better idea of the culture in the workplace they are trying to enter, it also means that interviews are conducted by a familiar face, humanising the company to applicants.
  • Ask for feedback as well as giving it. Ask successful and unsuccessful candidates about what worked and what didn’t work for them during the hiring process, and use this feedback to improve the way you do things.
  • Keep people on file. And don’t just say you will – actually do it. Just because someone wasn’t quite right for one role, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t still find a place in your organisation. If you have great candidates who have just missed out on a position, keep in touch, and keep them in mind next time you’re recruiting.

A gruelling candidate experience means people show up for their first day of work already demotivated, begrudging the hoops they had to jump through to get there – and this will, of course, affect existing employees. If you want your staff to hit the ground running, motivated and engaged with their new employer – while continuing to attract top talent too – then your hiring process needs to be nothing but positive.


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