Unleashing the Power of a Great Candidate Experience

Unleashing the Power of a Great Candidate Experience

Charles Goretsky Charles Goretsky
16 minute read

Given the well-documented challenges that organizations face with hiring and maintaining sufficiently sized and skilled workforces, they increasingly recognize the pivotal role that a superior candidate experience plays in attracting and retaining top-notch talent. Beyond being a mere courtesy, a positive candidate experience is a strategic imperative that directly impacts a company's ability to meet its objectives. As organizations continue to grow and work to meet their staffing needs, understanding the tangible benefits of investing in a candidate-centric approach becomes paramount. From enhancing employer branding to reducing time-to-fill and fostering a positive organizational reputation, the dividends of prioritizing candidate experience extend far beyond the confines of the recruitment process.

However, to cultivate an exceptional candidate experience, it is critical to understand the nuances of job candidates' experiences and preferences. The modern job seeker is not merely a passive participant; they are discerning consumers evaluating potential employers just as rigorously as companies assess them. Looking at the realities faced by job candidates, from the initial point of contact to the final decision-making phase and onboarding, organizations can build an appreciation of how to tailor their recruitment strategies best to resonate with top talent, ultimately elevating their employer brand and positioning themselves as employers of choice. As the job market continues to evolve, it becomes imperative for businesses to continuously evaluate and recalibrate their approaches to place the candidate at the forefront of the recruitment journey.

What is a “candidate experience”? 

The candidate experience refers to individuals' overall perception and interaction with an organization's recruitment and hiring processes. It encompasses every touchpoint a candidate has with an employer, starting from the initial awareness of a job opportunity through the application and interview stages and extending to the final decision-making and onboarding phases. It is characterized by seamless processes, ease of interaction with the organization's automated systems, positive and engaging interactions with its people, and optimized access to information related to the company, function, department, manager, and teammates.   

Like a high-quality customer experience, a positive candidate experience contributes to favorable impressions of the company, its culture, and the quality of its products and services. Similarly, it is linked to employee experience, where a positive one leads to favorable impressions of the company’s leadership, culture, career opportunities, and work environment.

Organizations that prioritize candidate experience recognize its critical impact on their employer brand and the ability to attract and retain top talent. A positive candidate experience not only contributes to a favorable reputation in the job market but can also enhance the likelihood of candidates accepting job offers and, in turn, positively influence employee engagement and retention. In contrast, a negative candidate experience can lead to reputational damage, the loss of potential talent, and even dissuade individuals from becoming customers or advocates of the organization. Therefore, organizations are increasingly optimizing their recruitment processes to ensure a positive and engaging experience for candidates throughout the journey.

Why is the candidate experience important? 

The benefits of a positive experience

The candidate experience is a critical element of a quality talent attraction and acquisition process. The primary issue is the keen competition for talent globally, with talent shortages being the highest seen in the past 16 years, with 75% of U.S. companies experiencing significant obstacles in hiring with 10.7 million unfilled job openings in 2022. Worker mobility has skyrocketed over the past few years, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reporting that more than 50 million workers quit their jobs in 2022, and 47.8 million switching roles in 2021. While the trend is easing (estimated at 43 million for 2023), the number of open jobs remains substantial.  

Further exacerbating the issue is the labor market participation rate, which measures the volume of people who can but are not actively working, contributing to open jobs across industries continuing to exceed the labor supply. In fact, labor force participation has dropped from 67% in 2001 to 62.8% in December 2023, a shortfall of 1.27M workers. Interestingly, the greatest shortages occur in professional and business services (55% of jobs unfilled), and financial activities (40% unfilled) show the greatest gaps. Boiling it down, there are only 72 workers for every 100 open jobs in the U.S.

An abundance of research has demonstrated that companies providing a positive candidate experience significantly improve their ability to hire the “best and the brightest” significantly. For example, such organizations have been found to increase the quality of hire by 70%. Over 91% of experienced HR professionals asserted that “the quality of candidate experience has a direct impact on quality of hire,” (although only 42% have designed and tracked candidate experience, which represents missed opportunities for improvement.  Research by Glassdoor found that organizations investing in candidate experience were able to improve the quality of hires by 70%.

Further advantages include higher offer acceptance rates, candidate attraction rates, future candidate referrals, and lowered new hire turnover rates. For example, 80% of candidates reported that a good experience influenced their job offer acceptance. LinkedIn found similar results, with 87% indicating that a good experience would lead them to accept the offer. 88% of applicants who had a good experience said that they were more likely to encourage others to apply, while 80% of those not receiving an offer would apply again. Organizations with strong onboarding processes increased new hire retention by 82% and improved productivity by 70%. 

Other studies have also shown that a good experience as a candidate can influence overall perceptions of the organization – such as the 71% percent of satisfied candidates would be more likely to buy the company’s products or services. Furthermore, 57% of job candidates indicated that they posted a review after a positive experience, and 28% left a negative one. Negative reviews pose a threat as future job seekers increasingly rely on such information when applying for a job posting.

The drawbacks of a poor candidate experience

A negative candidate experience, while frustrating and oftentimes upsetting to candidates, can lead to serious consequences for the organization. The rate of occurrence is surprisingly high – for example, 48% of job seekers have stated that they had one or more negative experiences while applying for jobs in the prior year, and 49% of candidates reported that they had turned down a job offer based upon such a poor experience. They reported that people were influenced by poor impressions of the people they interacted or interviewed with, the workplace itself, and the degree to which the interview process was inefficient and disorganized. Further research found that 59% of candidates had a bad experience applying for a job online.

And the impact of such experiences is important, particularly in a tight labor market where replacing long-term employees is difficult and expensive. New hire turnover is especially painful – for hiring managers and recruiters who must repeat the lengthy and labor-intensive process, for co-workers who must live with related productivity and workload challenges, and the company which has to re-spend overhead budget dollars. Research reported that organizations offering poor hiring and onboarding experiences are 50% more likely to experience high turnover rates, and that 80% of new hires with a poor onboarding experience planning on looking for a new opportunity elsewhere. In fact, among those reporting a plan to “leave soon,” 74% said the onboarding experience was boring, 66% found it confusing, and 64% considered it a failure.

Not surprisingly, a poor experience directly impacts the organization’s ability to attract future candidates, with over 50% of candidates declining to apply for a job after reading negative reviews on employer review sites like Glassdoor and JobSage. One study found that 77% of candidates with a bad experience will actively share it with their networks, and another reported that 72% of candidates share negative experiences with family and friends, 25% will “actively discourage others” from applying, and 41% of rejected candidates with a poor experience say they will be less likely to do business with such companies. And 83% of surveyed job candidates indicated that an interview experience that failed to meet their expectations could negatively influence a role or company they “had initially liked.”  

The findings are sobering and should act as a massive incentive for organizations to evaluate their processes from a candidate’s perspective and regularly monitor and structure them to make the process frictionless and pleasant. Perhaps the key is to think of the process as less of a job and more of an opportunity to impress and make a good friend.

A bit about candidate preferences

Understanding the candidate is the same as a B2C company seeking to better appreciate its current and potential customers' preferences, biases, and purchase patterns. No detail is too small in a highly competitive environment, whether it involves a job, a bag of cookies, or a laptop. Using design thinking or related methodologies, a recruiting process can be created that simultaneously meets business and end-user requirements. Actively seeking out and listening to the opinions and preferences of job candidates (including recent hires) can yield a more responsive and effective experience for future candidates.

Some interesting findings about candidate desires and behaviors will help to inform best practices in candidate experience. For example, understanding that:

  • 45% of candidates reported that an employer had ghosted or stopped all communications. 
  • Over 70% of job seekers said they will not submit a job application if it takes more than 15 minutes to complete. 
  • 58% of candidates have expectations that they will hear back on their initial application in one week or less regarding their initial application. 
  • More than 70% want feedback from their interview process, even if it did not result in a job offer  
  • 86% consider a company’s commitment to DEIB a major decision factor.   
  • The majority of Glassdoor users surveyed read at least 7 reviews before forming an opinion of a company.  Build a robust and positive experience!

Group enjoying a great candidate experience

The elements of creating a great candidate experience

As we’ve defined, the experience covers all activities and interactions a candidate has with the organization, from initial awareness to onboarding. While there is a lot to unpack, some actions can be taken to build an experience tuned to the needs of the individuals involved. The primary and overarching building blocks can actually (and ideally) be drawn from an organization’s values – respect for the individual, integrity, honesty, and transparency in the relationship, compassion, regard for individual differences, etc.  These can be augmented with business values such as process efficiency, brand image and integrity, customer focus, community partnership, etc. 

Driven by alignment with corporate values and consistency with brand, various leading practices can be adopted (and adapted) to establish a more robust, positive, and meaningful experience for job candidates.

1. An informative and instructive career site

The career site should be engaging and informative, drawing the user into a wide range of insights into the company, its strategic purpose and intent, what it values, the work culture, the workplace, how it interacts with the community, and what it values most in its employees.  It should go well beyond a mere listing of open jobs by providing a broad picture of its employee value proposition, benefits, skill, and career development opportunities, employee engagement (social, demographic, etc.) activities and programs,  facilities descriptions (or walk-throughs), and major policies (remote/hybrid work, parental leaves, etc.). Ideally, these are presented in multi-media formats and include interviews with current employees in targeted jobs, locations, etc.

2. Articulation of an employer brand/employee value proposition (EVP)

Create a clear and actionable brand and EVP that guides the development and implementation of all employee-facing processes, practices, and programs. Use core values and competencies such as integrity, accountability, collaboration, innovation, development, curiosity, mentoring, respect, trust, openness, etc.) and build those into talent management processes and performance expectations. Promote the brand and EVP in job postings, candidate communications, career promotions, and social media while leveraging them in screening questions and assessments, job interviews, promotion decisions, etc.

3. Build a relationship with candidates

Avoid the “post and pray” mentality by engaging candidates (active or passive) in a series of conversations that guides them gently into a potential employment relationship. Patience is rewarded by a more gradual process of discovery by each party, with the candidate being made aware of the company, its EVP, plans and business directions, opportunities for growth, benefits of “membership”, and the company learning about the individual’s unique blends of experiences and skill sets, work and thinking styles, potential cultural fit, preferences and aspirations, etc. The deployment of a candidate relationship management (CRM)  platform allows for ongoing communications and exchanges over time, including the posting of recent company product/service advances, business growth, strategic directions, and notable employee achievements.

4. Informative and comprehensive job postings

Job listings should be candidate-centric, providing them the data and insights into the opportunity and growth pathways that are associated with it. They should explain in clear and unambiguous language what the role is expected to accomplish, how it interacts and collaborates with others inside and outside the function/department, and how a job contributes to the company mission, customer success, and the community as a whole. It should respect the desire for job holders to have “meaning” in their work, with clarity on the value the role provides to the company and its stakeholders.

5. A streamlined application progression

An efficient job application process asks for less data input up front.  Modern applicant tracking (ATS) and related systems can scrape data on an individual from the internet, requiring less data being requested. Allowing candidates to provide data once through the use of integrated HR systems (e.g., ATS with HRIS), enabling their downloads of existing profiles (e.g., LinkedIn), and auto-capturing data as they work their way through the application process (e.g., confirming educational attainment prior to interviews, SSNs before finalizing offer packages, etc.). Applicants expect to be able to use mobile-enabled apps, so having such a capability is essential to providing a great candidate experience.

6. A smooth and well-designed screening and interview process

Whether engaging in remote, virtual, and/or in-person screening and interviewing activities, those should be well-planned- and orchestrated. These should also involve easy (and ideally automated) scheduling that ensures fit with the candidate’s calendar), periodic reminders, and links to all needed resources (virtual meeting link, interview prep guides, schedule of events, interviewers' name/role/bio, travel arrangements, etc.). Itineraries should be monitored and overseen, movement guided between interviewers, time set aside for breaks, etc.).  Schedules should be designed to provide a range of appropriate (and trained) managers and employees for both discussions and questions related to the role, expectations, management style, colleagues, onboarding and development options, and the workplace that the candidate will encounter as a new hire. Core to this is the opportunity for the candidate to meet the right blend of people (level, role, demographics) to communicate a sense of the culture and realities of the role being taken on.

7. Reliable, timely, and meaningful communications 

As the data suggests, candidates want timely feedback and yet often do not receive it. This includes system-generated confirmation of application receipt, information on the application status, timely feedback on general suitability for the role, decisions related to interview selection, and section process outcomes. As has been seen, the desire for meaningful and compassionate feedback on the candidacy is paramount to all candidates, regardless of the outcome. Providing brief but personalized outcome feedback, with rapid decisions for those offered jobs, and rejected candidates being encouraged to apply for other jobs as appropriate.  The use of a post-process survey asking for candidate feedback on their experience (regardless of where it ended) is an excellent ongoing source of data to refine the process.

8. Onboarding that provides a welcome and drives retention

The onboarding process should be defined as extending beyond first-day orientation, ideally lasting through the first year or further. It should focus on getting the new hire settled into their role and the organization, with a highly structured assignment of mentors, scheduled interactions with the hiring manager, and formal socialization into the culture/people/mission. Gallup research has confirmed that a critical aspect is developing a formal new hire development plan that links the shortcomings identified in the selection process and the individual's career aspirations to available learning and development opportunities. These are especially critical for employees working remotely or on a hybrid location basis.

9. Integrate candidate experience into HR- and hiring manager-related KPIs 

Establishing positive candidate experience ratings into Recruiter and Manager performance requirements is essential to ensuring that managing the process smoothly and efficiently for all candidates comes to fruition. As it establishes the strength of the initial bonds between an employee and company,  the experience is often viewed as a harbinger of the longer-term employee experience (EX), and thus is a crucial aspect of employee retention. Regularly collecting and disseminating experience survey results, especially when collected on candidates who make it to different steps of the process, can reveal gaps to be addressed through redesign.

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