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What is candidate experience and how improving it can grow your business

There was a time when tending to your brand mainly involved ensuring good customer experiences. Nowadays, the quality of the job candidate experience has emerged as a critical component of brand identity and reputation. Providing a good candidate experience is one of the top goals of many employers and a full-fledged focus area for talent acquisition teams. A 2020 SurveyMonkey/Living Corporate poll revealed that 32% of participants were currently searching for a new job, evaluating candidate experience is more important than ever.

What is candidate experience? Essentially, it is the series of interactions a job seeker has with your organization throughout the recruitment process. Every touchpoint potentially contributes to the experience. And just as social media has democratized the sharing of customer experiences around products, services, and companies, it has enabled job candidates to draw back the curtain on their experiences with hiring organizations.

Perhaps the most well-known example of how important candidate experience can be is when Virgin Media discovered, through internal research, that 18% of their candidates were also their customers and 7,500 had switched to a direct competitor following poor experiences with the company’s recruitment process. The £4.5 million in lost revenue was equivalent to losing two customers for every new hire. And that accounting does not include lost opportunities resulting from unhappy candidates influencing other customers and other prospective candidates to give Virgin a pass.

Candidate experience

Let’s take a closer look at what candidate experience consists of and why it is critically important to a company’s reputational health and profitability.

Key components of candidate experience

Every organization’s recruiting program and processes are designed to meet specific needs, but there are common touchpoints present in most. What are the most important elements of candidate experience?

A candidate’s experience typically begins with a job advertisement posted at the corporate career site, shared through the company’s social media accounts, or listed at a third-party site. The clarity and tone of the advertisement, and the position(s) described, provide an important first impression about the company and what it might be like to work there. Many, if not most, candidates will check the company’s social media presence to see what others are saying about it and how it presents itself.

The job application process is tremendously important. Depending on how well it’s designed and implemented, it can deepen and strengthen a candidate’s engagement with the opportunity or discourage them, even to the point of dropping out. Those who submit a completed application then undergo whatever screening methods are in place.

The interview stage may comprise one or two conversations or a series of interactions with various people, including at least one in-person visit.

Each talent acquisition program will have protocols for updating candidates about the status of their application, answering questions, and providing other relevant feedback.

Each of the mechanisms listed above, along with any other contact a candidate has with the company’s HR professionals, team members, or leadership, contributes in some way to the candidate’s overall experience. As many as 78% of candidates believe their experience during the recruitment process offers reliable indicators about how a company values and treats its employees.

Why is candidate experience so important?

Think of candidate experience as a company’s report card, where past candidates and prospective hires give grades reflecting how well the company treated and communicated with them.Today, assume every candidate plasters their report card all over social media. Bad report cards make it challenging to attract and hire the talent you need and can undermine your reputation across the board.

Good report cards reflecting positive candidate experiences will benefit your company in several important ways:

  • Reinforce your value proposition as an employer. The better your reputation, the easier it will be to attract the top talent you need.
  • Reduce cost per hire. Optimizing key parts of the recruitment process to improve candidate experience often improves efficiencies and shrinks costs.
  • Reduce time to hire. A well-designed process for candidates also facilitates more-informed and faster decision-making on both sides of the table.
  • Boost onboarding rates. A solid experience up to the point of hiring makes it less likely a preferred candidate will turn you down in favor of a competitor’s offer.
  • Improve retention. Positive candidate experience establishes the foundation for loyalty and trust.
  • Increase employee referral response. Employees who had good candidate experiences and have access to effective recommendation tools will refer other strong prospects.

Also worth noting is that today’s job seekers place more emphasis on company culture than earlier cohorts did. A bad rap from a candidate or two can prompt unknown numbers of desirable prospects to pass you by.

What makes a great candidate experience

A positive candidate experience begins and ends with clear, candid, consistent communication. The application process is easily accessible and mobile-friendly. Candidates feel respected at every stage and confident the process was fair regardless of the outcome.

Whether a candidate learns of your open position through your website, job advertisements, or social media, the job description should clearly outline the role and responsibilities, provide a summary of compensation details (salary, benefits, perks), and give a sense of the company values. This initial interaction can set the tone for all that follows.

The application process is as short as possible and includes clear, concise instructions. At this stage, as throughout the process, everything is designed to reduce friction and maximize transparency. Candidates find it easy to apply and clearly understand what they should expect to happen next and when.

Communication is frequent and personalized. Even a simple text or short email message lets a candidate know where they stand. The message might be that they have not made the next cut, and taking the time to let them know reduces frustration and signals that you respect their time and appreciate their interest. And if the candidate is shortlisted, you certainly want to keep them engaged and feeling positive about the process.

While the interview is the employer’s chance to get to know a candidate and assess their fit for the job, it’s a road that runs both ways. Rest assured the candidate is engaging in the same evaluation process, determining whether the job and the organization feel like a good fit. A frequent complaint from candidates is the interview process is loose, conforming to the company’s needs and disregarding those of the candidate – the opposite of the experience you want to create. A structured approach helps avoid repetitive conversations for the candidate, prevents confusion, and facilitates clear, rapid decision making. Be sure the candidate understands the process in advance and be sure your team(s) stick to that process and the expectations you have set.

Follow-up is prompt and candid, communicating clearly why the candidate did or did not meet your needs. Regardless of the outcome, the candidate is likely to share their experience with others. That word-of-mouth can have significant impact on your company’s reputation, for better or worse.

The final recruitment touchpoint is onboarding when you deliver on promises made and begin to build on the foundation of trust. A positive experience involves streamlined paperwork and no unnecessary “red tape.” The new employee is introduced to their team, made to feel welcome, and equipped with what they need to do the job.

How to measure candidate experience

In the competition to gain and retain customers, your company likely uses surveys to measure, monitor, and manage customers’ experiences. The same principles apply in the competition to acquire and retain great talent. Companies that manage the candidate experience as a key metric achieve a competitive advantage in hiring and beyond.

Best practices for a candidate experience survey

An effective candidate experience survey program is not complicated, but it should closely follow several best practices. The objective is to examine your recruitment process from the candidate’s perspective, identifying what works well and what needs improvement.

Keep it anonymous. Anonymity is offered to most survey participants in any context. Recent employment candidates are unlikely to respond honestly or participate unless they are confident their feedback will remain anonymous.

Inform candidates about the survey early in the process. The last thing you want is for recent candidates or new hires to feel ambushed when invited to respond, or to wonder whether they have been selectively invited. Including notification about the survey in your recruitment process underscores it as a routine exercise and indicates to candidates that you are accountable for their positive experience.

Keep it short. Six to ten well-designed questions that can be completed within five minutes should capture plenty of feedback for your purposes. When they can see that it will not take long, invitees are more likely to participate. And signaling that you continue to respect their time and appreciate their interest can add a final, positive message to their experience (or, at the very least, avoid creating a negative vibe).

Time it correctly. The best time to solicit survey feedback from rejected candidates is a while after the position they sought has closed. It’s important that they are not still hoping for a second interview and have had time to process rejection. Either scenario can inject bias into responses. While it’s impossible to eliminate bias, careful timing can help reduce it.

Offer an incentive. Again, this sends the message that you respect their time and affirms that their feedback has value for you.

Use both closed and open-ended questions. Closed-end questions are quick and easy to answer, while open-ended questions can reveal more depth about a respondent’s viewpoint.

Who to survey

Candidates wind up in one of three categories: post-interview applicants, final stage candidates, and new hires. Each perspective can be illuminative.

Applicants who are rejected following an interview are well-positioned to help you understand how the company comes across during the early stages of the process and the interview visit.

Final stage candidates will have experienced the same process, of course. Still, their perspective may include other interactions that were not consistent with what they experienced up to that point. And those who rejected an offer can provide particularly useful information.

You can expect new hires to be generally positive in their feedback. Nevertheless, if they are genuinely invested in the organization, they will likely be candid about their candidate experience. And they can shed light on the onboarding experience as well.

What to survey

An effective candidate experience survey measures how well your recruitment process delivers in specific ways, captures candidates’ unprompted impressions, and obtains a Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Are job descriptions clear, accurate, and complete? Are the details and requirements represented consistently in various interactions, e.g., conversations with the recruiter, the interview, follow-up communications? Do your recruiters explain the hiring process clearly so that candidates know what to expect as they move through the steps? Is the application process accessible and efficient?

Do candidates receive adequate feedback and updates? Do they know where they stand at each stage of the process? Do they feel respected and appreciated?

What are candidates’ impressions of your company—the setting, the organizational culture, the people who work there?

Is your onboarding process smooth and meaningful? Do candidates find the reality of their new job aligns with the expectations created during recruitment?

Regardless of each candidate’s outcome, would they recommend your company to a friend or family member?

Example questions for a candidate experience survey

Using both closed and open-ended questions generally yields the richest findings. Below are some examples of questions to use in a candidate experience survey.

  • Please indicate your agreement with each statement below. [5-point scale: strongly disagree to strongly agree]
    • The application process was easy and efficient.
    • I received appropriate updates on the status of my application.
    • The job description was clear and contained the information I needed.
    • The hiring process was clearly explained, and I knew what to expect at each step.
    • [Company]’s hiring process is fair and professional.
  • How likely would you be to encourage a friend or family member to apply for a position at [company]? [10-point scale: extremely unlikely to extremely likely]
  • From your perspective as a candidate, what aspects of [company’s] recruiting/hiring process work well?
  • From your perspective as a candidate, how could [company] improve our recruiting/hiring process?

Over time, you may fine-tune the closed-end questions to measure the effectiveness of actions taken in response to open-ended answers. For instance, complaints about the application process might prompt automation of low-touch screening steps, in which case you might add a question pertaining specifically to that aspect of the process.

How to improve candidate experience in recruitment

The candidate experience can have a lot of moving parts but optimizing it does not have to be complicated if you observe a few guiding principles.

Standardize your hiring process to facilitate measurement and management and reassure candidates that they are engaged in a fair and professional process.

Assume candidates are mobile-first with a low tolerance for repetition and tedium. From their perspective, a positive experience is streamlined and efficient. At the same time, they value human interaction and genuine engagement. The key, then, is to leverage technology tools without depersonalizing the process.

Automate low-touch steps and time-consuming tasks to increase speed and reduce friction. Leverage tools like AI screening software to better identify the best-qualified candidates while freeing up recruiters to focus on the high-touch steps where human engagement makes a difference. A pre-employment survey can determine eligibility on key parameters and save applicants and recruiters time and inconvenience later. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) make it easy for candidates to apply from various platforms, e.g., job boards, social media, career websites. Candidate Relationship Management systems (CRMs) can automate personalized communication with active and passive talent pools to keep candidates engaged. Recruiting chatbots can handle preliminary screening, answer FAQs, and provide a feedback loop between candidate and recruiter. Internal tools such as interview feedback surveys not only save time but improve analysis and decision making. And video interview management tools can make the process more flexible, more objective, and data-driven.

Regardless of how you balance automation and human interaction, the overarching objective is to get communication right. Set clear, specific expectations and stick to the plan. Keep candidates apprised of their application status and field questions as close to real time as possible.

How improving your candidate experience can grow your business

A consistently positive candidate experience builds your reputation as a desirable employer. It helps you attract more applicants and better applicants. With a broader, deeper talent pool, your quality of hire improves. A strong candidate experience can also support your overall brand, increasing awareness and customer loyalty.

Because a good candidate experience reflects an optimized hiring process, it also helps raise the quality of your recruitment. Fast, easy application processes attract more applicants. Conversion goes up and abandonment goes down. Efficient screening, interviewing, and selection enable you to extend offers without delay, reducing the number of candidates you lose to competitors who acted faster.

Word-of-mouth advertising has never been so pervasive or powerful, and managing candidate experience effectively creates real, measurable benefits for your company. SurveyMonkey is part of Momentive, maker of AI-driven insights and experience management solutions built for the pace of modern business. Learn more about our Candidate Experience solution here.

NPS, Net Promoter & Net Promoter Score are registered trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company and Fred Reichheld.

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