For organizations focused on attracting top talent to their organization, the idea of providing a great “candidate experience” is top of mind. It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean, what contributes to it, and what can recruiting teams do to craft their own positive candidate experience? As with most things in the world of talent, HR and recruitment, there is not one widely accepted definition of the candidate experience. For our purposes, we can conceptualize the candidate experience as the feelings and attitudes candidates have when they interact with your hiring process. A closely related area of study is applicant reactions, which focuses on candidate perceptions and reactions to an organization's selection practices, for example, the perceived fairness of your interview process. Why do these things matter? Quite simply, if a candidate has a negative experience with an aspect of your hiring process, it will negatively impact your employer brand, the candidate won’t apply for the position, and they will likely share their experiences with others.
There’s often a lot of variability between organizations in terms of how they conduct their hiring processes. Given this variability and the likelihood of candidates having experienced multiple hiring processes themselves, providing information of what to expect with your particular process will be well received by candidates. These expectations will anchor candidates to a reference point for what’s to come, and your ability to meet and ideally even exceed those expectations will reflect positively on your organization and the overall candidate experience. Setting expectations about what your process will entail doesn’t mean it has to be easy. In fact, even if your organization sets difficult expectations and follows through on that as expected, candidates will at least know what was coming to them.
The relationships candidates build with company representatives throughout the hiring process are imperative in building a good first impression and overall positive perception of the organization. Some research has extensively documented what is known as the “recruiter effect”, which is when candidates who worked with a recruiter who they believed to be friendly, informative, and competent also tended to perceive the recruiter’s organization and position openings as more attractive. If the organization holds themselves accountable to treating candidates well and building strong relationships, their recruitment efforts will benefit from it.
One of the most often cited sources of candidate frustration is not knowing where the organization stands with regards to their application at all stages of the process. If a candidate applies for a position and doesn’t hear back from anyone in the organization, they’re left wondering whether their application was even looked at. Even if their application is not suitable for any of the positions in the organization, candidates like to have someone let them know that this is the case. Therefore, it’s important for organizations to give candidates the respect of letting them know whether or not you will be moving forward them.
As mentioned above, an understanding of applicant reactions with regards to selection processes is deeply important for organizations. A key element of applicant reactions to selection practices is a perception of fairness and relevance to the job they’re applying for. This is why simulation based assessments like situational judgement tests are perceived as fair to candidates, because the assessment represents the actual work of the job they’re applying for. If a candidate feels that they were subjected to selection practices that are irrelevant to their ability to do the job effectively, they’ll likely walk away with a sense of frustration towards the company. Most candidates will like context as to why selection practices are being used and the influence it will have in the process of screening out (or screening in) their application.
A positive candidate experience usually doesn’t come about by happenstance. Most often, it will require a certain degree of intentionality, planning and thoughtfulness from the recruitment team. To do this successfully, it’s a good idea to map out the candidate journey from the moment a candidate thinks about applying to an open position through the time you’re onboarding them as a new employee. When you break the process down into multiple steps, you’ll get a better understanding of how to make each step in the process stand out.
As an organization making hiring decisions, you will inevitably be unable to hire every candidate who applies to one of your open positions. However, it’s always a good idea to get people to want to work for your company, whether they get the job or not. A good way of doing this is sending signals to candidates that showcase your organization's culture, the values that you standby, the people that work in the organization, and other indicators that would get people to want to work for you. Whether or not they get the job, they’ll gain respect for your organization and likely recommend it to people they know.
As we mentioned above, expectations play a critical role in providing a reference point for candidates to understand what’s going to happen in the process. This can be achieved in many ways, but the simplest form of expectations setting can be relayed through a simple document that outlines the various steps in the process, how these evaluation methods would be conducted, and even a rubric letting them know how they’re being evaluated. Additionally, candidates also really appreciate a set of tips and best practices as to how to prepare and be successful in the process.
Applying for a job is nerve wrecking, candidates are generally unsure of what’s going to happen and there’s a lot of ambiguity. Signal to them that you understand what it’s like to be on their side of the table, and try to calm any nerves that may exist. The world of applicant tracking systems, AI and automated recruitment still benefits greatly from human relationships in the hiring process.
Another well documented stream of research in the realm of recruitment and candidate experience is the presentation of a realistic job preview (RJP). For organizations that want to entice candidates to apply for their position openings, it can be very easy to present a job description that sounds great and that portrays the job as one that everyone would want to do. While this may be helpful in getting a lot of people to apply for the job, it also increases the likelihood that the people that do apply are not actually qualified for the job. Conversely, offering a realistic job preview will present an accurate view of positive characteristics of the job, as well as the challenges that will be associated with doing that job successfully. You can also provide additional information regarding how performance will be evaluated, what success looks like, the work environment, and more. This has been shown to increase employee retention over the long term, because candidates who apply for the position know what is expected.
It is unlikely that you will be able to resolve who the best candidate for a position is within a few days. Rather, you’ll likely want to have a position open for a long enough time to give candidates the opportunity to find and apply for the position, as well as screen them properly. While this is great in terms of providing opportunity, it can quickly become negative if some candidates are left in the dark for long periods of time after they complete their application. For that reason, candidates will really appreciate periodic updates of where they stand in the process, where you’re at in terms of reviewing candidates for the position, and relative timelines of when they can expect to hear back from you.
Providing a great candidate experience is hard. This is especially the case in a job market where applying for a job involves very little friction. If candidates notices a position they like on a job board or some other online site, it’s often just a few minutes and clicks away from sending in an application. This is great for widening talent pools, but it often presents challenges to the sheer volume of applications that are sent in. For many organizations, it gets to a point where there are too many applications and not enough bandwidth to fairly and accurately review them all internally. For high volume hiring, organizations can use different forms of recruitment software that enable them to identify the best talent for the job and improve the candidate experience for everyone who applies.