candidate experience and employer branding

Candidate Experience – Should we still be talking about it?

Penny Daniels Best Practice

Who else is bored of hearing about candidate experience, as if it’s a new concept? For some reason, in the HR/Recruitment industry, we keep attempting to show how we’re at the forefront of new thinking, by chasing after new trends and adopting buzzwords for the obvious. We forget what the actual point is. Candidate experience– the experience a candidate has through the process of applying, interviewing, and being (or not being) hired by an organisation – is nothing new. And all companies should be trying to create positive candidate experiences.

Recent HR literature alludes to the most innovative candidate experience strategies being more marketing-focused (candidates are your customers, they have more choice, you need to actively sell to them etc), and technology-focused (gamification of application processes, automated/personalised feedback, apps you can use to track where you are in the application process). However, before we start trying to modernise and advance this notion of “candidate experience”, we need to begin creating positive experiences first. Sadly, many companies struggle with this.

So why the focus on candidate experience – and what can we do to make it better?

Let’s begin by thinking about all the things which create a negative candidate experience – and consider what your worst experience has been:

  • Lack of feedback / being “ghosted.”
  • Long, drawn-out processes.
  • Lack of information or misinformation about the role.
  • Salary not being disclosed.
  • Hiring managers not being able to make time to interview.
  • Hiring managers not showing up for the interview.
  • Not treating the interview as a two-way process.
  • Clients not being flexible with great candidates.
  • The interview process not being consistent enough.
  • Lack of basic information prior to interview such as confirmation, what to expect, interviewers, directions.
  • Lack of access to speak to a real person throughout the process.
  • Extra layers of process and interview stages thrown in last minute e.g. tests.

But why is this still happening?

In many ways, technology has made things harder to create consistent candidate experiences. The speed in which we can do things online has made it easier to apply for jobs, easier to post jobs, and therefore easier not to think before doing either. Candidates rarely read job descriptions in full or look up the company before hitting apply, in “spray and pray” mode. Companies and recruiters do the same, posting jobs that often either don’t exist (to “talent pool”) or are already pipelined to an internal candidate (to tick a box on an external process). None of this is conducive to a good candidate experience: having too many applicants means offering feedback is an unmanageable process.

Whose responsibility is candidate experience?

Recruiters get a lot of stick for not giving feedback. Often, but not always, they blame the companies, because they don’t provide feedback. But then the internal teams will say the hiring managers are not feeding back to them. What we then get stuck in is a constant blame-shifting loop, where no one is really taking responsibility, and nothing is getting improved. We should all take responsibility for our part in the process, and learn to influence more.

External recruiters have a job to manage their clients effectively. As an internal recruiter, it’s your job to manage stakeholders. And as a hiring manager, it’s your job to make sure you know you want to hire, when, what you want and to feedback accordingly. Stop blaming everyone else. We are all equally responsible and should be working towards the same unified goal.

Think before you click

As a candidate, be selective about the roles you’re applying for, check you are qualified and take time and effort to personalise each application. As a recruiter or hiring manager, don’t just post your job descriptions and hope the perfect candidate will apply – think about your target audience, and sell each opportunity through quality, well-thought-out job adverts. And please, let’s stop posting ads for jobs that either don’t exist or are already earmarked. Having an influx of applications from active, often irrelevant candidates is not what I would ever call effective talent-pooling. You may have been told to cast the net wide, but if you focus on what you want and move to a more proactive way of working, you will have more success.

Review your processes – honestly

For us to start understanding what we are doing right and wrong in terms of candidate experience, we must review where we are currently at. This is of course difficult – we don’t want to admit that we are doing anything wrong! It can be painful for both external recruiters and internal talent teams to self-reflect and admit that on occasions they have given people a bad experience and could have done a lot better. But it is imperative to be honest with ourselves if we want to see improvements.

Analyse data around time-to-hire, offer-to-acceptance and reasons for drop-out. Look at Glassdoor reviews and understand the real perception of your business. Interview past candidates. What did they think of your process? What bits did they like and not like? Did the hiring manager have the appetite to hire, or know what they really wanted? Was the interview a painful, one-sided experience? Did it take six months from initial brief to offer acceptance? If so, why? Have you got an outdated test that no one can access because it’s an old system, or that no one passes because its impossible? Write down areas for improvement, and don’t be afraid to be brutal.

Make a plan, and stick to it

The easiest way to get out of this loop is to create a hiring plan, ensure the whole process won’t last longer than a few weeks, and stick to it. If you can’t commit to that, you aren’t ready to hire. Often, we feel so desperate or pressured to find somebody for our roles, that we go to market in a blind panic. We start hiring without putting any thought into how, or any concrete plan or timetable in place.  Companies “don’t have time” to write proper job briefs, meet recruiters and fully explain the role, set aside whole days to interview candidates in quick succession, and make time to feedback promptly. And recruiters are renowned for cutting corners throughout the process. The most common is that they never bother feeding back. This isn’t rocket science – invest the time upfront, and you will save time later. Treat people with respect and communicate with them. This will ensure they will remember you, talk about you positively, and possibly become a customer or a repeat applicant.

There is nothing more frustrating than engaging yourself, or one of your candidates in a process, for the company to forget that it’s a passive market and leave you hanging, hoping that six months later you will still be anxiously waiting by the phone. Top talent can sometimes only be on the market for a week or so. Does your process allow for this speed? Most people expect a process to take a maximum of two to three weeks.

Set expectations

Put timelines around CV feedback and get line managers time for interviews upfront. Introduce candidates to the process simultaneously so they can be assessed within quick succession and aren’t waiting around. Set expectations, stick to agreements and communicate throughout. If you don’t have a start date in mind and you can’t commit to a plan, don’t hire. Smaller companies are now beating the bigger brands in the war for talent, just by the speed in which they can make things happen. They are more agile, more communicative and more personal. When you become a big machine, the process can take over and inhibits good hiring.

Understandably, sometimes you can’t be this quick. It is key that the process (however long it has to be) is articulated form the offset. If it’s going to take five weeks with X number of interviews, tests and people to meet – make sure you communicate what can be expected right from the start. Stop moving the posts – so it was supposed to be a three-stage process over the course of a week, with six initial candidates whittled down to three finals and then one to meet the CEO, with a hope to offer? Great. But then you decide to throw in three more stages? Or now there is an internal candidate that has seemingly appeared from nowhere– and we must wait for this process to be completed before you can decide? Surprise surprise, people will lose interest.

Consider your partner; protect your brand

One of the main factors that constitute a bad candidate experience is having no consistency. Especially when external agencies are involved. Choose one partner that can live and breathe your brand, and who will feel personally responsible for finding you the right person. If you have six agencies all giving an inconsistent message to market and all speaking to the same people, (agents ringing candidates about roles that they have already interviewed for and been rejected for…) it becomes an unmanageable mess and reflects badly on your brand.

It is important to note that the experience that your candidates have with external suppliers is just as important as the experience they have directly with your business. It’s the first impression they get. And people speak, people whisper. Recruiters and therefore candidates will know how long your process is and how you have a reputation for not feeding back, and the best ones just won’t work with youAnd recruiters, you are free to say no. If it is a multiple agency role with no timeline and you haven’t met the client- do you think that this will give the best experience to your candidates?

Be honest, don’t be afraid to be negative, and don’t oversell

Be honest, upfront and as detailed as possible about the job. Create contextualised job briefs, not just job adverts with lists of roles and responsibilities. Like a cv, explain in detail what makes your job different, how it came about, the exciting things the successful person will be doing, how they will make a difference and what they will ultimately gain from the role. To attract the best talent, you need to bring the culture, the company and the team to life. Be open about what it’s really like. Don’t be afraid to include “the bad bits” and the challenges. The right candidates for you will appreciate your honesty and know what they are coming into from day one.

Don’t lose the personal touch

Remember that candidates are not pieces of paper or numbers – but real, living and breathing humans, with career aspirations. Whenever I consider a CV, I try and remember that there is a person on the end of it, probably hoping for a call. I try and think about my little sister, who suffers from anxiety and goes into a panic every time she sends off her CV, terrified that someone may actually call her! Tech can make us lazy and impersonal. Let’s put the human touch back into recruitment and treat people how we want to be treated. Don’t ignore anyone. Offer help in case someone needs advice or wants to check in, give them your number to call, make yourself available.

Of course you can’t do this for everybody, but a simple polite email is better than nothing. If you are putting quality, tailored and detailed content out there and engaging proactively with the most relevant talent in the first place, this is very manageable.  Consider your candidates’ thoughts and feelings, boost their confidence, tell them not to worry, and always reply to them. Communication counts for so much. Even if it’s to say ”No news yet, please can you wait a bit longer?”

Touchpoints are crucial, and with technology, there is really no excuse. We are not in the days of sending a CV by post and waiting for a phone call. Candidates expect regular communication. They will often look at a huge number of different sources of information about your company prior to engaging with it. Make sure all these touch points are positive ones. Give feedback and updates – easily done with templates and can be automated… but pick up the phone too.  You are lucky if you hire the best talent in the market- not vice versa.

Money talks

Don’t fall at the final hurdle. If a candidate has jumped through multiple hoops to get to a final stage and has been transparent about their expectations from the beginning, then gets offered less than what they wanted – most of the time, they will feel disengaged and won’t accept. Never undercut on salary if you don’t have to. Avoid negotiating back and forth which can be uncomfortable for both parties. Make your new team member feel valued by presenting your best and final offer at the beginning.

The content of two jobs can be virtually the same. The experience of how you end up getting that job is not. That experience is a key part of the decision process for your candidates. As they haven’t started the actual job, it’s actually the ONLY competitive advantage that you have.

Make it count.

 

Penny Daniels

Specialising in senior and board-level HR and Talent searches, Penny Daniels is an executive search consultant for Investigo. She leads a team of specialist experts that care as much as she does about changing the world of recruitment and HR. Penny has interviewed hundreds of individuals within this space and is an expert at identifying passionate, pragmatic and commercial HR leaders, that add value to the bottom line and provide a tangible ROI.

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