Hot topic – Candidate Experience

With most organisations now in the throes of planning their way out of today’s gloomy economic climate, the ‘hot topics’ of Talent & Reward are rightly getting some serious attention (we touched on this in a previous article).

The first half of this Talent / Reward ‘equation’ is really about finding and hiring good people, and this gets us thinking about the idea of the Candidate Experience.

It’s this Candidate Experience that sets the tone for the important employee / employer relationship to come; the Employee Experience.


(This is the second half of the ‘equation’ – i.e. how you engage, incentivise, reward and retain – and it’s something we’ll come to in a future article). The Candidate Experience also leaves a significant footprint in the market from which you’re seeking talent, which impacts on your future hiring efforts.

Why does it matter?

Personnel Today has reported that 74% of jobseekers would talk to others about a negative experience with a company during their recruitment process. Considering the potential negative impact on reputation, addressing this issue should be more of a priority, but a surprisingly large number of companies still don’t pay much attention to the experience of they are offering candidates.

So what makes the experience a positive one? The research behind the recent UK Candidate Experience Awards, notes five things a candidate really wants – 1) to be shown why they should want to join the business; 2) a rationalised application process; 3) to have their applications acknowledged; 4) honesty and transparency; and 5) the big one… feedback!

Treat your candidates like your customers

Realising that the Candidate Experience is an important one is the first step – making sure that yours is a positive one takes a bit of planning, though. So, when looking at the Candidate (and, later, Employee) Experience we think it’s worth considering the customer analogy and thinking about the Customer Experience.

How so? Well, recruiting new talent is a bit like acquiring new customers. A business needs customers to buy their products or services so they can make money. The customer pays more than these products/services cost to make and deliver, thus bringing in profit and allowing the business to grow. The cost of acquiring the customer is more than returned by the profit they generate. A good customer sticks with the company and keeps on buying; they become a valuable asset to the company. They tell their friends about how great the company is and new customers come along, for free… etc. Anyway, you see where I’m going with this?

So, a Marketing Manager for example will spend time, money and a good deal of effort to build a consumer brand. The argument goes, a strong brand confers trust, it creates a context for the product / service, it engages on an emotional not just a practical level. They will identify, segment and reach out to their target market through a variety of relevant media on a daily basis. They’ll project the brand proposition – consistently and repeatedly, and as distinct from their competitors – to help engender a feeling of ‘want’ in their prospective customers. Then, when it comes to selling specific products and services, a Sales Manager will leverage this brand profile, tap into latent market desire and create a compelling level of interest. This interest will generate action from prospective customers, and… the result? The customer buys! Following the sale the Customer Services Manager builds a relationship with this customer, thus extracting yet more value (as I say, we’ll come back to the Employee Experience!).

The parallels between Customer and Candidate Experience here are clear. We’ve pulled together some thoughts below on how you can take this thinking and weave it into your talent acquisition strategy:

Sell your brand not just the job.

All too often recruitment is a just-in-time activity, where the product (the vacancy) is promoted in a vacuum (i.e. no underlying brand support). This way, each time you recruit it can feel like you’re trying to whip up interest from nowhere. Those companies taking the time to position themselves as an ‘employer of choice’ are essentially softening the market and will tend to get a much more positive reaction when they do market a particular role. They’re selling the brand continuously and plugging in specific recruitment needs along the way.

When employer brand-building, think about using a broad mix of channels and activity (it’s not enough to just have a careers page on your website). Think about it as a long term activity not something that you switch on when you need to hire. It’s like creating a window on your organisation through which potential employees can look… so make sure you give them something interesting and exciting to look at!

As with the Customer Experience a positive brand image will increase the propensity of people to respond to you; in this case when you’re recruiting. Importantly, it will also prompt good people to proactively come to you even when you’re not… and that makes life much, much easier!

Don’t let the tail wag the dog

Recruitment, particularly in large organisations, is a complex thing, and you need to have systems and processes in place to manage the large volumes of data that recruitment campaigns can create. Sometimes the systems and processes are there to help you make decisions, sometimes they’re there to help you keep track of things and give consistency, and of course they are useful in building up an archive that you can look back on.

Having a process is essential; do remember though that it’s your process, not the candidate’s. For example, an excruciatingly long application process can scare people off. Some online applications can take up to 40 minutes to complete, which can be incredibly frustrating, and many candidates abandon the process before completion. This is especially true if the long-winded process is not explained, and seems unnecessary to the candidate.

Things like having a rigid online application process, setting fixed interview dates ahead of time, working to specific timescales etc may all sound great from your perspective but if you’re not flexible there’s a risk your perfect candidate will fall through the cracks. Maybe they need a bit more information before they apply (do you offer that option?). Maybe they are out of the country (or presenting a new strategy to their current Board!) on your interview date. Maybe they have three other applications already in progress and you lose them to someone else because you’re too slow?

A robust process is important, but a little bit of flex makes a huge difference to the Candidate Experience, and it’s something people will remember. It could be the difference between landing your perfect candidate rather than losing them to a competitor. As with the Customer Experience, it’s about going that extra mile and bending the rules occasionally… because the prize is worth it.

Follow through

This is a simple one. Research suggests up to one third of candidates get no feedback whatsoever on their application; nearly half receive only a standard email template with no personal or specific details when applying online. Candidates who are left without acknowledgement are often left with a bitter taste, something that certainly wouldn’t encourage them to apply again and probably won’t help them want to buy the products of that company over another. Lack of feedback following an interview is even harder to take – in fact it’s almost rude. If someone has taken the time out to travel to and attend an interview, at your request, it should be worth at least a phone call in return!

The Candidate Experience is very much like the Customer Experience here in the sense that it’s in the follow-through where you either succeed or fail. Call it ‘living the brand’, call it doing-what-you-say-you’re-going-to-do, call it just being professional, polite or responsible… whatever you call it, not delivering on your promises is a sure fire way to undermine all the good work you’ve done on building and selling a brand. From the candidate’s perspective it’s an alarm bell ringing. In Customer Experience terms poor follow-through is telling them the ‘sell’ and the ‘reality’ are not the same. Good follow-through reassures, and reinforces a positive Candidate Experience. So, above all, take the time to provide feedback as it will ensure you stand out from those who don’t.


Thinking about the Candidate Experience as similar to the Customer Experience is enlightening. For some it requires a subtle change in mindset, but the benefits of weaving this thinking into your recruitment strategy can be huge.

Presenting candidates with a good experience – from initial contact with the brand through the recruitment process to reject / offer stage and beyond – is key to attracting the best, maintaining their interest and essentially getting them through the door on day one as fully engaged and enthused new employees. And this is where the Employee Experience begins…