February 3, 2015

One of the hottest catch phrases in HR right now is the notion of “candidate experience” — which is part of an organization’s overall employer branding proposition.

While most people would probably think treating candidates respectfully would be a no-brainer, some organizations are only now waking up to the idea that candidates’ experiences of the recruitment process have a significant impact on employee engagement, motivation, retention and the perception of the organization in both the labour and product markets. These days, news of a poor candidate experience could potentially go viral within hours, turning off many others who may be interested in working for the organization or even buying its products.

I have previously mentioned the need to treat candidates with dignity and respect, to keep them in the loop in terms of what’s going on and provide them with timely and appropriate feedback if they are no longer being considered (although candidate experience is much more than that). Yet many companies still don’t understand the importance of treating candidates well, and a high percentage of recruiters and HR practitioners don’t even believe candidate experience is an important consideration.

Being a former recruiter and occasional hiring manager myself, I get it. I know what it’s like to have hundreds of unqualified candidates apply for one vacancy and candidates who won’t take no for an answer even when they aren’t a fit for a role or the organization.

In a tough job market, it’s easy to succumb to the idea that candidates are an annoyance and their experience throughout the recruitment process doesn’t really matter. After all, isn’t being too nice to someone who isn’t an “A” candidate far too time-consuming and likely to give him the wrong idea? (I’m being sarcastic here.)

Candidate experience includes everything from the moment someone applies to a job online right through the entire recruitment process, interviews, background and reference checks, hiring and onboarding. In other words, an organization that is serious about improving candidate experience needs to examine the entire process from end-to-end.

Handling candidate rejections

One person I know — an HR practitioner actually — recently interviewed with three organizations. Unfortunately, he didn’t land any of the three positions, but interestingly none of the three companies handled the rejection the way a best practice employer is supposed to.

One somewhat curtly rejected him via e-mail after he followed up, and he never did receive an answer from the other two even after following up (in one case, several times). He just basically had to guess that he wasn’t moving forward (only one of the three interviews really hadn’t went well, but he thought he had a legitimate chance with the other two).

What astounds me is this relates to the way one HR professional was treated by other HR professionals, and two of the three organizations were big, well-known companies. But even successful candidates are frequently treated poorly by the organizations that eventually hire them.

Improving candidate experience

It is a bit of a cliché, but candidates are interviewing companies as much as they are being interviewed themselves. While it is important to provide a candidate with a realistic job preview (RJP) – which involves information on both positive and negative aspects of the job and organization – presumably an employer would want candidates to think positively of the organization during the recruitment process.

In many ways, employers need to “woo” candidates – without overselling the position or the organization. This is especially important as the job market continues to improve.

An organization that is serious about improving candidate experience should examine the following:

* Existing internal and external recruitment policies, practices and procedures.
* A candidate’s overall experience applying for a vacancy online and the user-friendliness of the company’s applicant tracking system (ATS).
* The organization’s careers website, the content of job postings and the messaging, look and feel of any recruitment advertising.
* The organization’s facilities, particularly with respect to lobbies, meeting rooms and reception areas.
* The structure, format, length and number of interviews candidates are required to attend.
* Any testing completed by candidates, as well as simulations, facility tours, etc.
* The amount and type of information provided to candidates about vacancies and the organization.
* Candidate communications, including with respect to interview scheduling, next steps, background and reference checks, job offers and candidate rejections.
* Any feedback from candidates, recruiters and hiring managers.
* Relevant metrics such as time-to-fill, recruitment sourcing, new hire retention rates and percentage of rejected offers.



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