How a Non-recruiter Learned to Improve Candidate Experience

As an employment marketing writer, I spend a lot of time working closely with recruiters and hiring managers. I am fascinated by their experiences — from the entertaining to the disappointing to the bizarre. But the best stories are the ones that create an impactful change.

Below are some of my favorite success stories that drove process improvements, enhanced communication, and engaging marketing tools. Of course all of them started with a problem …

Out of control nerves. A recruiter once told me they have candidates tear up during interviews constantly. “I’m fully aware that interviews are the last place most people want to be,” she shared. “Believe it or not, recruiters empathize that interviewing is hard. I think people sometimes forget we are interviewing you because we think you may be a good fit for a job, not because we want to humiliate you. Poor past experiences and social media horror stories are making people more nervous than they needed to be.”

What they changed: This recruiter decided to rebrand themselves and their company as welcoming and supportive. Changes such as smiling more, offering a bottle of water or snacks, and calling the candidate to prep them before the interview all made a difference. In addition, the hiring team made their interview process more conversational and less interrogational. The recruiter immediately noticed an increased rate of offer accepts and more successful candidates.


Waiting for the candidate who’s 100 percent qualified. Some job descriptions are written as if the candidate must have significant experience in absolutely every task — which is often untrue. Of course, an applicant may not get a data analytics role with no knowledge of statistics, but it’s not always necessary to be greatly experienced in everything. An IT manager shares, “We had someone who was technically great, but didn’t have experience presenting to senior leaders. He got hired because he was honest about his presentation experience, and shared that he was taking courses and practicing on a small scale.”

What they changed: They took a red pen to their job descriptions, cut out less frequent tasks, and divided qualifications into “must have,” and “nice to have.” They even posted the above story on their career site blog to demonstrate how a new hire was making strides to obtain the “nice to have” qualifications. Within a week, they had 10 quality candidates.



Rejection disguised as a compliment. I once met a hiring manager at a conference who chuckled when he told me about a rather odd phone call. “It was from a candidate we sent a rejection letter,” he said. “He told me he appreciated all the compliments and he “got the message.” He actually thought we were encouraging him to apply again. Doesn’t he get that we send that letter to everyone?” In the candidate’s defense, standard rejection letters can be really bad. They’re usually vague and, especially with rejections, too soft. This candidate’s drastic misinterpretation made the team realize they needed a change.

What they changed: They banned the form letter. Well, sort of. Because most of us don’t have time to craft a personalized letter to every declined candidate, the team created a broader category of letters, instead of sending the same letter to everyone. A few examples are — Never Hire, Needs More Experience, and Doesn’t Meet Minimum Requirements. The recruiting team also personally edited letters for unique situations — like offering suggestions for someone who was incredibly close to getting hired. As a result, they maintained a relationship with higher-quality candidates (who they wanted to apply again), while also clearly, but politely, rejecting others.

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The right combination. One team was struggling to fill a role that required a distinct combination of skills: the individual had to be thick-skinned for demanding clients, but also do well in a supportive and collaborative team environment. One hiring manager shared a lesson learned about a candidate who seemed like a good fit at first, but after they were hired, clearly intended to take over. “She was great with clients, but her personality didn’t fit in with the team. Unfortunately, she was resistant to change and only lasted a few weeks.” The recruiters felt they had focused too much on the client side and wanted to ensure their selections were balanced.

What they changed: Two major changes helped — first, they decided that client-relationship skills could be taught, whereas working styles were more ingrained. In addition, during the interview, the recruiters would share details on a current project and ask the candidate their opinion. The hiring manager was surprised at the results, “It was eye-opening how many candidates offered suggestions for us to improve, instead of sharing how they would contribute to the project. We found a great hire by choosing someone who wanted to serve both clients and the team.”


An out-of-date process. Your hiring process may seem fine on the surface, but if it’s been a while since you’ve upgraded, it’s probably time to reassess. For one group, they wanted to get a sense of what was lacking in their candidate’s experiences, but didn’t have a good method to get feedback. They discussed surveying recent hires, but felt they may be hesitant to give criticism immediately after joining a company.

What they changed: The entire recruiting team went through the application process — and it was enlightening. For one thing, they found letters that didn’t make any sense — people who applied, but weren’t interviewed, received rejection letters that started, “Thank you for interviewing with us.” In addition, the technology wasn’t seamless — in some cases it took almost an hour to fill out the online application, when most of the information could be found in the candidate’s resume. After making improvements, they saw not only better candidate pools, but also gained efficiencies for the recruiters (no more walking candidates through a clunky process!)

Devon Miller is a writer specializing in branding and marketing topics that create authenticity and engagement via social media channels. Working closely with recruiters, marketing specialists, and business areas, she creates concepts and copy that attract and educate candidates on job opportunities. By identifying trends in perception to inform social recruiting content strategies, she can help uncover opportunities for digital engagement and social recruiting initiatives, especially in difficult to reach talent pools.


5 Comments on “How a Non-recruiter Learned to Improve Candidate Experience

  1. Love all the process improvements and best practices shared here which highlights the importance of continually monitoring the quality of candidate experience. There’s so much talk these days about bettering it. Going beyond that, so good to see from the above examples of how things are actually being done to better the candidate journey!

  2. I love the way this article is laid out! You present a problem and immediately offer a solution. I especially like the story about the candidate that “got the message” but misinterpreted it. Employers don’t communicate enough with candidates, in general, and when they do, it’s likely a mass email. Most candidates can tell! The best way to get around this is to do what you suggested – tweak email templates (like these: a bit to fit the unique situation. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you, Devon. I work as a contract contract recruiter, so I am oftenn a candidate: overall my CE is terrible to fair/Ok, rarely good, virtually never exceptional except for MS in 2008.

    I wrote the following in EREon 4/16/2013, and the only thing that’s changed is that there are now more many morelow-cost, solutions which employers DON’T use:

    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 (n 2013-kh):

    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.”

    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.”

  4. Nice article! The recruitment process is difficult for both the employers and the candidates. Thank you for sharing; this will help ease the process and make it less stressful.

  5. Very good article, thank you for sharing these practices. Working at an IT recruitment firm myself, I know that it is sometimes very challenging to find the right candidate to fill a position, but high quality interviews and good candidate experience should always be provided for everyone no matter the circumstances.

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