An Honest Look at What Job Candidates Really Want

Fragile handle with careEvery few months here on ERE, some author writes an article discussing the “candidate experience,” or as I prefer to call it: the “c words”: candidate care. As a contract recruiter, I’m very frequently a candidate, so while I’m just one person, I’m very familiar with this side of the process, so let me discuss the candidate’s perspective.

Social Network Recruiting and Talent Communities

As a candidate, if I see a job which looks good, I don’t want to “engage” or “develop a relationship” with some perky pseudo-recruiter. I want to get hired now. If you’re one of those rare companies that actually plans for hires down the road, then tell me when you’re looking to hire me, for what position(s), and what I have to do to get ready to be hired at that time. Also, if it’s not going to get me work or money, (preferably very soon), I don’t want to hear your corporate-marketing “B.S.”

Your Positions — I Find ‘Em, You Send ‘Em

  • If I see one of your positions on your site or elsewhere (maybe you sent it to me), it should take no more than 90 seconds to find the job I want, and no more than 90 seconds to apply to it, preferably with an easy resume upload like Jobvite’s. If it were mobile, I’d want my application to be dropping and dragging my resume over an active area specific to the job or to the company’s overall job application section, and that’s it. Also, if you’re sending me a position, make sure it has some relevance to me; each day I get probably close to a dozen listings for the types of jobs that I recruit for, and not for recruiter jobs. (If you want me to spend considerably more time filling out information, taking an assessment, doing preliminary work for you, etc. that’s fine; just let me know that if I do this for you to your satisfaction, it will get me a face-to-face interview within a very few business days).
  • I’d want immediate notification of application.
  • I’d want “in or out” notification to the next stage (telling me what the next stage is) within two business days, and that next stage should take place in no longer than one week and ideally less.

Telephone Interview:

  • It should be 15-45 minutes, and you should let me know in advance what it will be for (technical/professional info, cultural fit, etc.).
  • You should give me a day to prepare unless it’s specifically a “phone meet-and-greet” type of basic introduction.
  • I’d want ”in-or-out” notification to the face-to face or video interview stage within two business days, and that next stage should take no longer than one week. Ideally less.

Face-to-Face Interview

  • With rare exceptions, it shouldn’t be more than two to three hours, with three to five interviewers who interview me. (If it takes your team longer than that to tell if I can do the job, then they don’t know how to properly interview.)
  • Make me feel like a special and important guest:
    • Be completely prepared for me — don’t keep me waiting.
    • Don’t have me fill out a paper application at this point.
    • Try and sell me on your position and company, and I’ll try and sell you on me.
    • Don’t be arrogant jerks.
    • Don’t waste my time; if I’m “out,” don’t have me go through the whole interview team. If I’m in, tell me I’ll know with one week (with some exceptions) if I go on to the next step and let me know what that next step should be and how soon that will be. (Typically, no more than two rounds of interviews.)

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 12.59.23 PMIn Between and Ongoing

I want to be able to easily track my continuing status online (including mobile), and if I have questions, there is a toll-free number to a virtual candidate care assistant who can help me with whatever I need to find out, in real-time if possible, and no more than one business day if not. This virtual assistant’s deliverables are to make sure that each and every candidate from entry-level grad through the highest executive has a pleasant application process, so that even if they don’t get the job, they’ll tell all their friends to apply because of how well they were treated.

Forget the Above: Employers Don’t Care

The great majority of employers don’t care about the candidate experience. They don’t have to care. If they’re not an “employer of choice” and looking for the “fabulous 5 percent,” then they can treat people any old way they please, and the people will line up for more. Employers of choice are particularly known for this sort of thing, because they can treat almost everybody badly and still get the pick of the litter.

I said this a couple of months ago:

I’m putting out a challenge to the staffing managers, directors, and VPs out there reading this: if you’re sincerely interested in fixing your candidate care, let me know off line. If you’re not a manager, etc. but you think your manager, etc. would be interested in really doing something: forward this on to them, I’ll let people know in my column what I’ve found about who “walks their talk.”

Article Continues Below

Not one responded; not even the winners of the “Candidate Experience Awards” wanted to follow up here on ERE and elaborate for the rest of us. So, folks: I’d like to proclaim this a dead issue, and would appreciate no more “Isn’t the Candidate Experience Bad?” articles, or “I treat all my candidates well” statements. We’re years past that being relevant or useful. You want to talk about the “c-words”? Well then: tell us what you’ve done or are doing to make bad candidate care decent, decent candidate care good, or good care great. Extra points for how you overcame the apathy or resistance of the arrogant and privileged folks at the top of the corporate food chain. Show me that you care.


photo from bigstock, for only

Keith Halperin is currently working as a senior contract recruiter and performs additional sourcing work. He has worked in recruiting, placement, search, and research for highly diverse clients (from startups to Fortune 500 firms) throughout the San Francisco Bay Area since 1986. He conceived, designed, and implemented corporate recruiting strategies, and developed a white paper for a $70 million, five-year NASA CS recruiting project. He developed the Recruiting Process Methodology, a comprehensive open-source roadmap of recruiting. He co-founded MyIPOJob job fairs for pre-IPO companies, and founded Recruitersforum, an online job site for all types of recruiting positions.


13 Comments on “An Honest Look at What Job Candidates Really Want

  1. Hey Keith, sorry I didn’t see your call to action – was probably on the phone with a candidate or manager at the time.

    I’m a contract recruiter too, so while I haven’t been an applicant for a few months agree that things should be simple and honest but most companies have such small organizations that are under funded, under (un) trained and under experienced that having that expectation is unrealistic I’m afraid. Which is my entry point to those orgs and helping to fix the problem.

    OK, gotta go. Billing time!

    Steph McDonald

  2. @ Stephanie: No worries. “…most companies have such small organizations that are under funded, under (un) trained and under experienced that having that expectation is unrealistic I’m afraid.”
    I think a similar statement was made re: product quality, until the Zero Defect *Methodology (
    came along, and now that concept is used world-wide, with great improvements to quality. Fundamentally, what does it say about a company if it is unwilling unable to pay *$2.00/hr to fix a chronic problem which hurts their brand and reduces their potential candidate pool- instead of spending lots of money trying to get people who don’t know you to come and like you in a Talent Community, why not spend a tiny fraction of that to make sure that people who already know and came to you DO like you?

    @ Tracey. You are very kind. Thank you.


    *The approximate cost of an offshore Virtual Candidate Care Rep

  3. Organizations that genuinely take their candidate experience seriously will also measure it through auditing and feedback from candidates themselves. Those that are doing that are the ones at the forefront of actually putting in place action to make this happen rather than just talking about the candidate experience at friendly conferences and workshops.There are a lot of organizations who are fearful of making this first step because of what they might find out. But draw a line in the sand. Know where you need to improve. Make the difference and get on with it.

  4. @ Maureen: Thank you,”Mighty Mo”. I try, and sometimes I succeed.

    @ Nick: Well-said and very sensible. While someone’s overall experience is highly qualitative, almost all aspects of it can be quantified for measurement purposes. (Obtaining and entering this candidate experience data could be another of the Virtual Candidate Care Rep’s duties.) It could be called the “*Candidate Satisfaction Score” (CSS).

    I’ve previously mentioned that I strongly believe a hiring manager’s deliverables should include quality hires on-time and within budget, similar to the requirements for his product/service deliverables. Perhaps Staffing Heads could have a sufficiently high-level CSS as a deliverable…

    “Organizations that genuinely take their candidate experience seriously…” I would be very interested to know what organizations (particularly Bay Area ones) do this, and strongly promote this fact. I’d think it would be highly valuable to say something like: “Interested in a job with us? Then apply, and we’ll treat you like you’re a CEO, whether you get hired or not. Tell all your friends, too.” This seems like something that would be perfect for our Social Network Employment Branding enthusiasts to do work with…

    “Know where you need to improve. Make the difference and get on with it.” I’m afraid that (as with many things) the organizations most in need of doing so are the ones least likely to.



    *I thought about calling it the “Applicant Satisfaction Score” but then though again when I saw what the acronym for that was…

  5. Keith,Candidate feedback is going to be most important factor in Recruiting.It really matters how they are treated and how they react.We actually should not boss around rather they should be treated like clients.Some employers should set a trend and benchmark,that will happen only when Recruiters will start thinking.Thanks for the article.

  6. Spot on Keith. It’s not easy however a necessary step on the road to improvement. If companies are adopting Six Sigma or other such methodologies to improve the way they do things, it would place them at an advantage to adopt, develop, implement simple measures to improve candidate experience in the recruiting process. After all, a company is its people.

  7. @ Anmol: I wish what you said would come about. However, I am afraid that those who create and oversee the candidate experience either aren’t reading this, actually disagree, or aren’t prepared to do anything. I’m still waiting for someone from a (preferably relatively unknown, non-EOC) company say:
    “Yes, our CC was a mess, but now it’s the best! Here’s what we do, here’s how we did it, and here’s what you can do, too.”

    @ James. Thank you. I would like to create a formalized, objective standard for recruiting: Generally Accepted Recruiting Practices (GARP), and would enjoy communicating with anyone in recruiting actually interested in coming up with provable best ways of “quickly and affordably putting quality butts in chairs” (and not the often-self-advertising and marginally-at-best-relevant trendy topics taking up too much ERE space). Whether you’re a brand-newbie or the most senior SVP of Staffing, your knowledge and opinions are welcome and appreciated.

    You want to start getting rid of the BS in recruiting?
    Well, let’s start shoveling!


  8. Well said! Recruiting is sales after all. Even if we sell great products, without great customer service, we will eventually lose our customers. By the way, someone said it isn’t easy. Maybe you are right; then start small. Some aren’t that difficult but many recruiters don’t do. For example, giving an update to candidates in a timely manner. If you have already talked to candidates, show enough courtesy to those screened out by sending a personal thank you ding email. Is your time so precious that you can’t even send a quick personal message? I don’t believe so unless you are a poor performer who does not know how to see what’s important and can’t prioritize your work.

  9. @ Hannah. Thank you.
    “Even if we sell great products, without great customer service, we will eventually lose our customers.” That is so. However, we live in “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone, so let’s do the deal” world, so long- term (typically much more than a single-quarter) consequences can be usually left to our successors. At least that;s how people at the very top seem to run things: keep the quarterly profits up to maximize the share price, then cash out while the going is good. Shouldn’t we follow the examples of our successful leaders?

    “Is your time so precious that you can’t even send a quick personal message?” Yes Hannah, it is too precious to send a personal message to each and every person who makes an inquiry to me. Furthermore, I’m not even willing to spend the time with my clients to see how the $2.00/hr Virtual Candidate Care Rep could have access to my email to handle it. I fully admit it to you and everyone: *CANDIDATE CARE ISN’T A HIGH PRIORITY FOR ME, EITHER. However, I did get a response from a Staffing Manager at a major EOC who asked me what questions I wanted to know about his company’s CC. I’ll see how that goes, and tell you the results.



    *”Quickly and affordably putting quality butts in chairs” IS a high priority for me…

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