Making a Shift in Recruiting: The Candidate Experience

Posted by Ashley Jones

At the Best Recruiter 10th Anniversary Celebration, Principal and Co-Founder of CareerXroads Gerry Crispin discusses Talent Board’s vital candidate experience data and how expectations, fairness, accountability, listening, and closure impact candidate experiences in the recruiting process.

Recruiting has been evolving for a number of years and the candidate experience in particular is really changing the way we’re thinking about recruiting. Inspired by changes happening in the recruiting space, three of us started a non-profit called Talent Board to promote and elevate quality candidate experience. Many of us like to think we treat candidates as customers, it’s a great aspiration but we seldom do. Candidates truly are stakeholders in our companies, and in years prior we haven’t necessarily been their champions, thereby putting our ability to hire at unnecessary risk in the long haul.

Who really is a candidate

It’s easy to define a candidate as someone who’s qualified or someone who gets past the application stage, but everyone is a candidate. They become a candidate the moment they express interest. It’s the moment that they press ‘submit’ on their application.

The reality is, once they believe they’re a candidate, they now have expectations about how they will be treated. If you’re not paying attention to those expectations, you put yourself at extraordinary risk.

Measuring the candidate experience

We have about 300 companies a year actively participating in the Candidate Experience Awards. It’s the largest collaboration of employers sharing data about how they treat candidates that we’ve ever seen. Employers share all of their different touch-points throughout the entire candidate journey and then the candidates share their side of the experience.

As of September 2018, we had over 130,000 candidates completing surveys and sharing how they were treated. We have an opportunity to make a shift in recruiting with this data. You need the data in order to go to your bosses and show that what you’re doing has an impact. If you don’t get invested in being able to do it better, it will impact your long-term ability to hire.

Five practices in particular stand out from the data, with 80% of your candidate’s experience based on them: expectations, fairness, accountability, listening, and closure.

1. Expectations

If I walk into a diner, I expect a person with big plastic menus to come up to me with a smile and put some coffee down. I expect that instantly. It’s not a place where I’m expected to stand outside for an hour or make a reservation—it’s a diner.

Candidates have expectations too when they connect with you as a recruiter. You and your employer need to figure out how to build that set of expectations. As recruiters, how well are you engaging candidates to better understand what the process looks like? Is it a sequence of different interviews? What’s the timeframe? Are we talking about a couple days, a couple weeks, a couple months, a couple years? Is there somebody who helps them get from point A to point B?

Statistically, when you set expectations and then deliver on them, you’re rated higher in terms of the overall candidate experience.

Setting and delivering expectations

There’s a company out of Atlanta that includes a note when applicants press ‘submit.’ The candidate is told that in 20 days the recruiter will be in touch. On the 20th day, the system automatically sends a note to every single candidate who applied that says, “Was the recruiter in touch, yes or no?” The recruiter doesn’t have to say whether they’re finished hiring or not, but the recruiter has to at least make that first contact, that first touch-point.

They do this because the company has done some research to identify what the expectations are for candidates that apply. The candidates believe that within three weeks somebody will be in touch. If you don’t set the expectations yourself, you don’t know what expectations of their own the candidate is operating on.

Expectation pitfalls

We ask candidates, is there anything you wish you had been able to ask before you applied, interviewed, or accepted that offer? We received hundreds of thousands of comments and the one thing that stands out in particular, that 50,000 people put on the top of the list, is salary.

We’re in a culture that can’t quite figure out how to manage telling somebody about compensation. We still teach recruiters how to avoid answering that question—stop it. It ticks off candidates and they just go over to Glassdoor or and figure out what it is on their own.

So you’re driving people away for the wrong reasons. Expectations are a key issue and if you don’t know your candidates’ expectations, ask them. It’s an easy survey to do.

2. Fairness

What happens when you realize, as a candidate, that no one’s contacting you, no one’s engaging you? You’re in the system because you had to be, but you never got any further. The recruiter got a list of all of the applicants, but they’re not contacting every one of them. Yet that person is still sitting, waiting, expecting something, and getting nothing. They recognize that something’s happening, people are being interviewed and getting jobs—it’s just not me.

That’s an issue because that candidate is going to perceive that it is not a fair process. One of the big challenges recruiters have is showing that what you are doing is as fair as you can make it. Showing that you are not ignoring folks simply because of who they are, that you are fully engaged in trying to get everybody involved, and to give feedback to the extent that it’s possible to do so.

The fairest question of all

As recruiters, we’ve all spent a lot of time figuring out what we want to know. We’ve studied the jobs and we know what questions to ask to help us make the best decision. However, a number of companies have begun asking a single question at the end of applications and interviews: “What didn’t they ask you? If you think it’s important, tell us in order to compete for this job.”

This question covers some of the things we’re no longer doing as much as we used to like cover letters. By being open to the fact that maybe there’s something you didn’t ask, you’re demonstrating fairness in the process.

When we ask candidates if they were able to share everything they thought was important to compete for a job, the answer to that question has the most significance statistically, in terms of how candidates rate the company. Your candidates want to feel that when they leave that they have said everything they came to say. This one thing seems to have a critical value to candidates.

3. Accountability

Managing expectations and communicating a sense of fairness are worthwhile endeavors but how do we make sure we continually address practices like these? Are employers actually measuring candidates’ experiences? If I have100 recruiters, I’m not going to get all 100 recruiters to focus on candidate experience, unless I’m measuring it along with other performance measures.

It’s one piece of the scorecard and if it’s not on the scorecard at all, then it’s merely an individual commitment. We have to go beyond that if we’re going to operate this way as a profession.

Measures towards accountability

Capital One in D.C. asks their candidates if they would refer others. They look at that data by facility, job family, level, and by recruiter. Every month, each recruiter receives a NPS score. Then the top five recruiters run a webinar once a month, talking about what they thought they were doing that gave them such high marks from their candidates and they brainstorm how everyone else can improve.

Their NPS scores continued to rise exponentially, and with numbers that high it’s an indicator that you have raving fans. And those fans are people who did not get hired, but who are out there flying your flag and telling others that they should be working for your company. That’s pretty powerful if you can get that far.

4. Listening

Another one of the five factors that impact candidate experience is listening. It’s active listening, it’s Psych 101. If I apply and I have a question about the job, will I find someone in your company that I can ask that question to? Will you listen to me?

What is the mechanism in your corporation for listening? Is it a chat room, an email address, or is it silence?

Be available to listen 

It’s key to listen, but also to demonstrate that you have listened. Risk Management Solutions is a company that seeks PhDs in mathematics. They host a chat room every day for a couple hours and anytime a PhD in mathematics shows up, they make sure they have somebody in that room available to listen and respond to them. They communicate that there is a top-notch recruiter who will answer every question that you have, and if you bring honest questions, they have honest answers.

So, you have to be able to listen in order to respond. The question is, how empowered are you as a recruiter to be able to tell the truth about what it is you’re hearing to respond properly? That’s a conversation that you have with your managers within the organization.

5. Closure

The last factor is closure. In our research we found that 30% of the companies that thought they were doing a great job actually had candidates that never heard anything. And 60% of those who did hear back received the basic, “Thank you. Do not reply to this email.”

We can do better than that. For instance, have a couple different scripts that are kind, engaged, and communicate the sentiment, “I’m sorry, we’re not going forward with you. These are the kinds of things that this job usually requires at these levels. If you can improve your skill, knowledge, and experience, please come back and reapply.”

The candidate journey

We’ve discussed five practices to enhance the candidate experience spanning expectations, fairness, accountability, listening, and closure. How do we juggle these practices to accomplish them effectively? Mapping your process. It could be a journey of the candidate or thinking of it in terms of a pipeline. How do you make people aware, how do you engage them all the way through to how you pre-board them after they accept the offer?

Can you list all those touch points? How many of them are there? I’ve heard companies talk about 15 to 115. Looking at your pipeline or the journey you’re creating is an incredible opportunity for stepping back and re-looking at your process. The companies that are doing that are the companies whose candidates are rating them higher long-term.

I personally apply to probably 300 or 400 companies a year and I periodically come across the worst stuff I’ve ever seen. I could apply to more companies more comfortably 35 years ago than I can today.

The implication here is it’s not an easy job. Recruiting is one of the toughest jobs there is, as you’re fundamentally trying to deal with the needs of hiring managers, your bosses, the candidates, and so forth. In the end, you choose what path you take, whether it’s a job or it’s a career to you, and whether or not you’re going to do it in a way that makes you feel good about having done it.


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

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This entry was posted on Monday, December 10, 2018 1:07 pm

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