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The Definitive (and simple) Guide to Candidate Experience

 

Candidate experiencing happy handshakes

Hello! Welcome to the guide to candidate experience! Since you’re here I’m assuming that you’re looking to up your candidate experience game. Well, you’re not alone! According to this TalentBoard report, 74% of employers want to improve their candidate experience! That’s pretty amazing! An improved candidate experience is needed more than ever before. A whopping 83% of candidates will change their mind about a role if they didn’t like the interview process. You could be losing out on some very talented people, only because your hiring process isn’t up to par.

In this guide you’ll be able to find everything there is to know about Candidate Experience. Starting from definition right to the possible future. Keep reading to get an edge when competing for awesome talent!

What is Candidate Experience and why does it matter?

“Candidate Experience” is a phrase that is used to describe the experience of people who have applied to your job postings. This includes your entire hiring process. This starts from when they are filling out the application all the way to hired (or disqualified as the case may be). It's also the experiential sum of all candidates. So you can’t treat only the most qualified candidates well and claim you have a superior experience.

Now you might say “that’s impossible for a company my size!”. Of course, it’s harder to communicate with 200 candidates than 20, but we’ll discuss ways to solve that a little later on. The important thing to know is why candidate experience is so important and why it’s worthwhile to improve on.  

Candidate experience and customer experience should be considered equally as important. Bad candidate experience can do as much damage to you as any negative customer experience. Many times the people who are applying to your jobs are also potential, if not current, customers in one way or another. Leaving them feeling disrespected could result in lost revenue. Like bad customer experience, people will tell their friends and family about their experience.

Quick Peek:  The cost of a poor candidate experience.

Virgin Media found out that they were losing about $5 million annually to candidates who had a poor candidate experience, which was a conservative estimate. That’s a lot of pocket change to lose out on. Once Virgin Media fixed their candidate experience, they found out that it was actually 10 times cheaper to acquire new customers with a great candidate experience than it was through traditional marketing methods. The case study of Virgin Media goes to show the real importance of a truly great experience for your candidates. Sure, it will be different across different businesses and industries, but the impact is similar.

How bad candidate experiences happen and how they impact the candidate

 

Stress from bad candidate experiencesDon’t feel too bad if you’re thinking that you have a terrible experience for your candidates. A lot of people do and the fact you’ve read this far means you want to improve it. That’s what counts!

Here are some of the more common issues that candidates face:

  • Lack of communication

  • Questions that don’t provide insight into the abilities of the candidate. Ex: How many trees are there in Canada? How many windows are there in NYC? Android or Apple? ETC. Yes, these are real questions asked in interviews. Yes, they are terrible.

  • Complicated or confusing applications

  • Online applications that aren’t mobile-friendly

  • Distracted interviewers

  • A rude reception

These issues can happen to any business at any stage. There are two main culprits of bad candidate experience habits. They're a lack of knowledge about the impact on candidates themselves and hiring teams who become overwhelmed.

Let’s talk a little about the impact of candidate experience from the view of the candidate. The impact has been referenced several times in this guide already, but only how it impacts bottom lines. A poor candidate experience can have major consequences for the candidates themselves.

Not hearing back for a month or more can cause jitters. Nonsensical questions or distracted interviewers make people feel unimportant or disrespected. A whole host of other things can cause stress for people. As HR professionals, why would we want to do that? Why would we want to cause unease and stress in these people’s lives, people who want to work with us? Intentionally or not, bad candidate experience has a wide impact on both the organization and the candidate.

Some might say that they can’t communicate with all their applicants at one time. That the sheer number of tasks and things to organize is too daunting to also consider how the candidates may feel. In today’s world people are pulled every different way possible with different tasks and responsibilities. It can be very difficult to deliver a great candidate experience when you can't get your basic tasks done. In the next section, you will learn some tricks to stay ahead of the curve.

Bridging the Gaps: How to Improve the Candidate Experience

 

Bridge the gaps by communicating with candidatesIf you didn’t before, now you know that the experience you provide to your candidates is pretty important. Let’s discuss how to improve the candidate experience. There are a whole host of different ways to do this, we’ll go over the most common best practices. If you feel like our list doesn’t cover everything, the best thing to do is to put yourself in the shoes of the candidate or do some Candidate Journey mapping. If you wouldn’t like something, chances are they don’t like it either!

Communication

One of the absolute biggest detractors of candidate experience is lack of communication. Leaving candidates in the dark is very annoying for candidates and the longer they wait, the worse their experience is. This doesn't mean that you have to talk to candidates every day, that would be annoying in a different sense. It does mean that it depends on how long your hiring process takes. If your hiring process is only a few weeks (i.e. 4 or fewer weeks) long, contacting all your candidates once halfway through would be ideal. If your process is longer than 4 weeks, emailing every second week is a good way to keep your candidates happy. Even if it’s an email saying that you haven’t forgotten about them. It does go a long way.

Another part of this, and arguably the easier one to slip up on, is once you start disqualifying your candidates. Many companies don’t bother telling disqualified candidates that they’ve been disqualified. Leaving them completely in the dark until they give up all hope. Luckily, as technology advances, this is becoming less and less of an issue. Most Applicant Tracking Systems today allow you to automate emails. Once a candidate is marked as disqualified, the platform will send them an email. This removes a lot of the work for hiring teams.

If using software to help seems out-of-reach, have no fears! There are alternative solutions. The least effort is posting, on your careers page or about us section of your website, the general path of how your hiring process works. If it takes you two weeks to review resumes and screen, let people know. If you accept resumes for 6 weeks after posting the job ad, let people know that too. That way they will be able to better anticipate when they are in or out. You can also tell candidates in an email before you start reviewing that you’ll be contacting people for interviews on a set date. If they don’t hear by that date, they have been disqualified. This makes it clear where the candidate stands in the process, reducing the guesswork and distress for the candidate.

The Interview

The interview process is hard for both sides of the table. You, as recruiters, want to make sure the candidate is skilled and will make for a great fit in your company. The candidate is at least a little nervous and wants to make a great first impression. Our job as candidate advocates is to make sure that our interviews don’t add unnecessary stress. There are some simple ways to make this happen.

The first way to reduce the stress is to make sure that the candidate has your undivided attention for the duration of the interview. Put your phone on silent and use paper notebooks or tablets to take notes. Having a laptop screen between you and the candidate doesn’t foster a strong human connection. Ensure that your interviewing area has reduced distractions for you and the candidate. A quiet room with a closed door is the best route.

Most times, the biggest fear for candidates are the questions. To ensure a great experience during the interview stage, let candidates know what to expect during the interview. If you want them to complete a task at the end, let them know beforehand that a task at the end is coming. You shouldn't tell them the exact questions, but letting them know if there are any questions about your products or services will allow them to be better prepared.

Plus you might get some good feedback on your stuff. It’s also important not to ask ridiculously hard questions where there is no real answer (some of which are listed in the above section). They are sometimes referred to as “Brain Teaser questions” or “stress questions”, which is what they do; induce stress. Some people can answer them well and some don't. These questions will tell you nothing about how well the person can do the job (unless that job is making up numbers). Keep the questions centred on the candidate’s ability/skill level and cultural fit.

The Application

The application is where the first aspects of the candidate experience can be identified. This is where candidates get their first taste of your company. A lot of candidates, especially the highly-talented ones, don’t waste their time. According to SHRM, 60% of job seekers will actually quit filling out an application if it’s too long or complicated. That’s a huge amount of people that you could be losing. Some believe that the solution is the one-click apply button, but then you have a higher chance of very unqualified people flooding you. There is a middle ground. First, make sure that your application (if online) is mobile-friendly. Then go through it yourself. Does each field make sense to you? Does it flow well? Do you have to re-input information? If you find even one thing that bothers you, then there’s a dozen things that will annoy a candidate. Keep things short and concise.

A good framework is: 

  1. Get their resume/cover letter
  2. Ask a couple of questions to help determine fit
  3. Give the candidate a section where they can add a couple of other facts about themselves to help them stand out
  4. Then get them to submit!

Measuring the Candidate Experience

Now that you’re armed with ideas on how to improve the experience, the question is how can it be measurable? It is often hard to measure feelings and experiences since it can vary widely depending on the person’s other life experiences. The best thing to do is get some kind of baseline reading, before you introduce sweeping changes. A quick survey is always good for this. Try to keep it at 4 questions or less, otherwise, people won’t want to do it.

The most important info you need to grab is Net Promoter Score type data. Once you get a rough score on how people feel, leave a space where people can describe their feelings and what caused them. You can split it into a “What did we do great?” and “What didn't we do great?” boxes. Once your survey ready and you have a baseline metric, send it to all your candidates. The more responses you have, the better the data will be.

The Future of Candidate Experience - Is Automation Helping or Hindering?

 

Improving candidate experiences with technologyThe future is always uncertain. What it holds is a mystery, but unless a meteor comes down and hits us, there’s a pretty good chance task automation and AI will be playing a pretty big role in the future. The question that remains is how will that impact hiring and the candidate experience.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball with me (otherwise I would be buying some lotto tickets right now), so I can’t say what exact innovations will come about and alter how we hire. We do some current technologies that will no doubt become more and more prominent in the next few years. Those technologies are video interviewing and chatbots.

Video Interviewing

Video interviewing is by no means a brand new invention. There has been video-calling technology since webcams became a thing. But now there’s a growing trend in hiring surrounding video interviewing. More and more recruiters are asking candidates to record themselves answering questions and then submit the recording in the application. There are pros and cons to this way of doing things.

The biggest pro is obviously that you can screen candidates a lot faster. Seeing how they can answer questions, their body language, the tone of voice. Submitting these video questions are significantly more contextually rich than a regular application. This can really help you determine if you want the person to come in for an interview.

This is not without some flaws, however. As usual, to think about the candidate experience, you have to think about what a person will feel when going through your process. An on-the-spot request to record yourself answering pop-up questions can be a terrifying thought for some people. Also, not everyone has access to a webcam to record themselves, although it is becoming more and more common, you can’t guarantee it.

The best way to mitigate this issue is to make it very clear that a component of the application is a video question or two. This way people will be able to present their best image and feel confident about themselves and their responses. A warning also allows candidates to make arrangements to ensure they can still complete the application. Doing a little bit can usually go a long way.

Chatbots

Chatbots are becoming an increasingly popular way to help people with routine questions. Many customer success departments now utilize them to decrease wait times that people face when looking for answers. Most chatbots are still pretty simple, only grabbing articles that are designated to predetermined questions and answers, but as AI develops we should see some pretty impressive innovations here.

With all that said, how can chatbots help with hiring? Well, they are most useful very early on in the hiring pipeline. They can help reduce the number of emails that a hiring team sends out because the bot can answer a lot of basic questions. This is a huge boost to candidate experience, because they don’t have to wait for someone to get back to them, which could take hours. Bots can send a response immediately to help someone out. How great is that! This is definitely something we should all be taking a look at.

Video interviewing and chatbots are two of the main technologies out there that will have a significant impact on hiring in the future. Technology is always advancing and changing, but one thing must remain constant; focusing on a great candidate experience. This is paramount and any technology that you use should reflect if you want it to be great or not. Overall, automation is a huge help to hiring teams and will continue to make our lives easier. When it comes down to it though, no amount of technology can replace the human connection. That’s the important thing to remember.

Final Thoughts

 

Communication is important part of the journeyThe candidate experience is a journey. There is a lot to think about, a lot to plan, and it takes a lot of work to be great at it. There are significant benefits for the companies who do it right though. You attract better candidates, people actually want to work with you, and the best part is that the successful candidate will have a better fit with your company.

If you have read all the way to here, I hope that you feel more confident in how to improve the candidate experience at your organization. There is still much to talk about. Companies are finding new ways to improve the experience all the time, but it often comes down to treating people how you want to be treated. That is always the fastest way to ensure a great experience.

The biggest take away from this is to always keep trying to improve. Think about what you like and dislike about the hiring process. You won’t be able to get a perfect score every time, but that’s ok, small improvements are still better than nothing.

Happy hiring!

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