Packaging and Selling the Candidate Experience

There are plenty of whitepapers and blogs that attempt to define and describe the candidate experience, but can we go further? Can we find a way to make it part of a holistic recruitment approach, and think of it more like a product, or a “deliverable” item?

Granted, it is hard to imagine that the candidate experience can exist independently of a talent acquisition strategy and vice versa. Instead, we need to refine the entire recruitment strategy to ensure the candidate experience is pre-targeted and delivers real value to the customer.

So, What’s the Product?

Recruiters are always looking to enhance, differentiate, and sell their products, but what exactly is the final recruiting product? Some may say it’s the job offer, but if we think about the way recruitment tools and strategies have evolved, this definition alone cannot capture it.

All of the recruiting and talent resourcing efforts that use interactive media sites — creating user-friendly career pages, blogs, communities, etc. — are designed to draw in and gain candidate interest. They hope to entice candidates (as much so as hiring managers) to “buy” into a recruitment process in the hope of obtaining a job. But, if the product is only the job on offer — and this can only be given to one person — this would leave most of the customers who applied with nothing to show for their “purchase.” If we say that the final product is the company job offer, we are bound to have many unhappy customers.

Instead, we can argue that the one thing all buyers can receive from an organization is a candidate experience. Whether they actively apply for a position or they are approached, and regardless of whether or not they are offered and accept the job, the experience is the one thing each applicant can receive.

From the moment the first connection is made, be it a click on a site, an email or a telephone call, the experience begins.

Like a stopwatch, it is something that can then either speed up, slow down, or stop. As the one consistent product for talent, recruiters should treat the candidate experience as a deliverable, which should be targeted, marketed, designed, and tailor-made.

And the tailor-made part is critical. Whether a candidate is fortunate to receive a job offer, or they are rejected or withdraw from a recruitment process, they remember their candidate experience; some even make decisions based upon it which can impact the organizations trying to hire them. By understanding the nature and the main ingredients of the candidate experience, companies can create their own specific product that aligns best to their target audience.

5 Quality Ingredients

We believe the candidate experience has several key, basic ingredients. There are five different factors which, depending on the intensity of the candidate’s interest, influence the quality of that experience — during, before, and after an application.

  1. Branding factor: this includes everything related to the corporate and employer brand. It is the reputation, the brand awareness, a corporation’s products and/or services and everything else sitting within marketing, PR, and communications.
  2. Learning factor: this covers facts and figures, reports, and any type of data a candidate can learn about the role, company, and industry.
  3. Technology factor: this relates to the technology experience that candidates have when connecting with corporations. It can be the first impression of an application tracking system, but also the technical impression of websites, webinars, games, and other elements.
  4. Human factor: this is not limited to recruiters or interviewers only. The human factor contains all human pieces that a company has ever had onsite, offsite, or online.
  5. Process factor: here, candidates will learn how well a company is organized or how respectfully their application is treated. Trust, a sense of security, and success perceptions can be won or lost depending on how well the process is leveraged.

The “Experience Economy”

To better understand how these factors affect the application process we have borrowed Joseph Murphy’s pre-employment testing matrix from his Experience Economy blog.

Quoting Mr. Murphy:

[It has been suggested] we consider and evaluate an experience with two continuum variables: interface and immersion.

‘Interface’ is the type of interaction the candidate is offered. At one end of the continuum is ‘read and watch,’ while the other end comprises choices and interactions. Immersion addresses degrees of cognitive, emotional, and physical engagement. At one end is attending to, studying, absorbing information, at the other end is active processing, and emotional and physical participation.

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If we overlay our candidate experience factors onto this matrix, four out of five have their place within the matrix, while the fifth (process factor) encompasses all four as a framework.

  • The Branding factor can build enthusiasm in the candidates with high potential for emotionally engaging them, yet it provides limited interacting possibilities.
  • The Learning factor helps educate candidates, and yet is lacking the deep intensity of emotional or physical immersion.
  • The Technology factor is usually activity-based with no or any emotional engagement. In an ideal situation this can also entertain candidates.
  • The Human factor potentially provides the highest physical and emotional immersion and brings the most interaction into the process. Thus, this element can provide the most engaged candidates.

These factors may not impact the candidate experience with the same importance. Companies can recruit well even if their brand is less attractive or they have no need to educate their candidates for certain positions. Not all companies can deliver a high-tech experience, and likewise we can imagine some positions where the human piece is not the primary question to be considered.

That said, companies should realize and accept the specifics of their own recruitment experience.

Where to Start

There are four essential questions a company should answer before defining it’s candidate experience product.

  1. Who is our target audience?
  2. What do they care about that we can leverage for more targeted engagement?
  3. How much are the Five Matrix Factors aligned with our company’s vision, corporate culture, and business strategy?
  4. Which recruiting mix can serve the best to deliver the pre-targeted experience and thus to ensure the highest level of engagement?

By developing answers to the above questions and using the matrix as part of an overarching talent acquisition strategy, companies could be on a better path to achieve its candidate experience product.

For example, companies might want to drive a lasting candidate experience by focusing their product more on candidates learning about who they are and meeting their people, and focus less on technology. Other companies might want to be more around lasting impressions of strength in technology and brand awareness. Either example must be supported by a process that instills confidence and trust.

The visual shows a sample analysis how a tailor-made candidate experience product can be extended after reviewing the current state. The black bars indicate the current existing factors; the white bars represent a desired, targeted future state. The more a company can increase its presence in its targeted factors, the greater chance that organization will have to engage with a wider candidate audience and effectively deliver the lasting product it desires.

Would You Buy Your Own Product?

The candidate experience is unique, it’s personal, and it’s a combination of multiple forces, but it is the final product for every buyer in the talent market of any organization. Therefore, to ensure you have a successful candidate experience product, you have to consider the ingredients that go into it. When was the last time you walked in the shoes of a candidate? When was the last time you had the experience of being a buyer in the candidate market? What was your candidate experience? When you know the answers to these questions, it’s far more likely that you’ll create a candidate experience of lasting value to your customers and to your organization.

Balazs Paroczay and Jillyan French-Vitet work for Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting. Balazs is the EMEA Talent Resourcing Lead, RPO practice. Jillyan is a Global Director, Workforce Strategy and Talent Resourcing Lead, RPO practice. Equally passionate about talent acquisition, their experience cover a broad range of operational and strategic full-lifecycle recruiting; including talent resourcing, process re-engineering, data research and analysis, and technology. Both have designed, built, and executed talent acquisition programs within different countries, from entry to executive-level hiring.


22 Comments on “Packaging and Selling the Candidate Experience

  1. Enjoyed the article. Very stimulating. Incorporating Joe Murphy’s work is also a good move. No question that a more comprehensive view of candidate experience is going to move this needle forward and what you’ve written is well worth some serious discussion. Count me in.

    A couple things you may want to consider as you expand your writing on the subject are a)describing, with some examples, how firms can ‘align’ (your #3 question is really a #1 issue for getting support from business leaders); b)describing the factors you shared in terms of’operational’ definitions for a specific scenario/case. (i.e. How a firm sets candidate expectations about how they will be treated in the next few minutes, hours, days and weeks may differ but the fact that they do and that it can be measured is an essential result of ALL of your factors…branding,learning,technology and human factors…and yet I would maintain that I know of only two firms that attempt to do so for ALL candidates in advance); and, finally, c) we need to have a clear, agreed-on definition of what the candidate experience is and what minimum measurable expectations we would have for a company claiming to incorporate said experience into their hiring process….dare I say it…a Standard.

    Best to you. Seems to me an initiative by RPOs would be a great place to start as I can certainly attribute the success and (mostly)failure of many RPO efforts to the their inability to establish with their clients what is acceptable treatment of candidates independent of the agreements for the # of quality bodies in seats and cost containment.

  2. Great article. I love how you position the candidate experience a product to sell.

    If a positive candidate experience was sold, even the rejected job seekers will walk away satisfied; having learned a thing or two that they can apply to their next effort.

    Hopefully, they’ve garnered career advice, insight into the company culture, a better understanding of their qualifications and the role that’s a best fit for them.

    No buyer’s remorse 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. Great article. I love how you position the candidate experience a product to sell.

    If a positive candidate experience was sold, even the rejected job seekers will walk away satisfied; having learned a thing or two about themselves that they can apply to their next effort.

    Hopefully, they’ve garnered career advice, insight into the company culture, a better understanding of their qualifications and the role that’s a best fit for them.

    No buyer’s remorse 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.


  4. Thank you. I’m afraid I lack the intelligence to get most of the details of this- could you re-state it simply and directly? ISTM that as far as candidate experience requirements:
    1) Make sure they can find your job within 90 seconds of looking for it.
    2) Make sure they can apply to your job within 90 seconds of finding it.
    3) All additional steps the candidate needs to do should be very easy, quick, and intuitive.
    4) All routine candidate contact is either automated or handled by virtual $3.00/hr Candidate Care Representatives to make sure that each and every candidate has a professional (if not actually) pleasant experience.

    How do you find out how it works now? Try applying yourself, and/or have a very high-level person apply for a low-level position with an ordinary (“B- or C-level”) resume and a different name, and let THEM tell you how good the candidate experience is….

    Keith “Read the Prince and the Pauper” Halperin

  5. Great article, albeit a tired subject. I have been following ERE as long as I can remember, and a month hasn’t gone by without someone writing or blogging about the candidate experience. Not that I mind (and your article is one of the better ones!), its just mind boggling to me how much attention and energy seems to go towards this subject yet the problem persists year after year. How can this concept be so hard for a company to understand??? Why does it seem like the Recruiting Department always trying to “push” company leadership into doing something about it? OK, some companies get it, but the vast majority simply don’t.

    I believe it is the responsibility of the organizations LEADERS to get this right, make it a priority and measure each of their managers by their ability to recruit and retain top talent on their teams. THEN we will see a great candidate experience follow. Again, great article…it got me fired up (again)!

  6. We’ve been reviewing a “candidate experience” model ourselves and is interesting to see the number of discussions that centre around this subject without actionable metrics or analysis.

    This model does a good job in highlighting the branding and perception issues against the experience KPIs. But as with much of the discussion around employer branding it’s not about the concept as much as how can it be measured, monitored and benchmarked.

  7. Gerry, Keith, Scott, Nick – Balazs and I say “Agree”. We, too, have read about the Candidate Experience. We have our own experiences, as well, in this area. As recruiters, CE is a long-overdue ‘action item’ on our To Do lists. Who’s responsibility is it? We believed it is shared. We also believe that many of us, in the professional world, never ‘stop’ being a candidate. As such, we are both buyers and sellers of CE. Therefore, we want to make an impact, move the needle forward, gain traction … like Gerry, count us IN. Can we set a standard? Maybe. Collectively, however, we can advance from forward-thinking to even more forward-doing. It is for this reason we brought a more tactical-level research to the forefront. Would you buy your own CE product? Walk in the shoes of a candidate today and regrettably, in many cases it is a long walk. More to come from us …

  8. @Scott: Amen brother. You are 100% on target in your assessment that it is the leader’s responsibility. Take it from someone who has been fighting this in building a new paradigm that needs to emanate from the C suite. Sh*t or greatness rolls downhill. Which are companies truly committed to? Let me know when you’re ready to move to a situation where you can make this difference.

  9. @ Carol: The “People in Charge” (few deserve the title “leader”) DON’T CARE. They rarely have to go through the same crap that the great majority of candiates (or employees)have to, or if they do, they think it’s some type of initiation ceremony- “if I went through it, THEY can go through it, too!”


  10. Hi guys

    A wonderful ariticle – as it has to be to stimulate comment from such a storied group of readers.
    I don’t agree that this is a ‘tired’ subject – what is ‘tired’ is that we are still preaching the same basic elements from the soapbox that I have been doing for 15 years here in Europe at events and have been for 30 years as a recruiter.

    Start with Common Courtesy. If a candidate applies, respond!

    This really is not rocket science, nor, IMHO, does it really need metrics to prove its worth.

    But, if you want a metric that matters:
    We ran some research a while back for during our What is Online Recruitment seminar seies across the UK. We asked: Have you ever had a bad recruitment experience? And, if you have, will you buy that company’s products or services?
    Over 70% of respondents (across all socio-economic and geographic sectors) stated categorically that they would not.

    What other measure does HR need to get the funding and the commitment from the Board to ensure that the candidate experience is top drawer.

  11. First, I am honored by how my thinking and writing inspired a great article that triggered some thoughtful dialogue.

    Thank you Balazs and Jillyan.

    Second, metrics are for those who want to understand the impact of an experience, and, make adaptations based upon learning from experience.

    Third, with candidate as customer, does “net promoter score” like evaluation tell you what you need to know?  Do you ask all your candidates for feedback?  What to they say?  What percent take you up on your invitation to provide feedback.  Here are some examples of what candidates say after a virtual job tryout

    Lessons I learned from the early days of the USA quality movement include: the customer defines quality and if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

    I interviewed Gerry Crispin on the candidate experience several years ago. Listen to his clear message here.

    Jim Gilmore, one of the authors of The Experience Economy and I recently met to continue our dialogue on the candidate experience. Watch for my video interview blog with Jim, to be posted here in the near future. He offers some interesting things for our collective consideration.

  12. Subject never tiring, until organisations get it right/take it seriously and do something about it, will always keep coming up.

    Candidate experience = (equals)
    -mindset of both recruitment leaders/managers and those that they manage.
    -instillment of sense of duty and responsibility towards anyone that has anything to do with candidates.
    -directly measurable impact on a brand name and status.

    Get it right or suffer the consequences.

  13. I would say the final recruitment product is simply labour (or labor for American viewers). Recruiters broker labour between workers and employers. To dress Candidate Experience as a product seems to me to miss the point. The best candidate experience is to be hired by a company that really needed the labour that they can provide (or grow to provide). If recruiters spend more time gaining a deep understanding of the exact labour needs of their own companies and where the best providers of that labour can be found they can actively seek those candidates and remove most of the unsuccessful candidates from the process. The most important focus should be on reducing the flow of candidates to a minimum whilst maintaining the quality of the output, as a by-product you will then automatically improve candidate experience.

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