Pointing the Way to the Candidate Experience

What does “Candidate Experience” mean?

That would seem to be an easy question. But try it and you quickly see how tricky it is to answer.

The candidate experience is the emotional impression created in a person as they proceed through the process of seeking, applying, and being considered for a job with a specific company.

That’s my off-the-cuff answer. Considering a simple Google search turned up 99,000 references to a definition, mine seems as good as any.

Which is exactly the problem Gerry Crispin, Mark Mehler, and friends say is hobbling the industry. It is “evident,” they argue in a new, and provocative monograph, “that the stated opinions are too often unsubstantiated.”

“Unfortunately, among the 100,000 or so people claiming expertise about what the candidate experience is (literary license) the few common themes we have found have little substantive support for their conclusions,” the authors note in the introduction.

Over the following 33 pages, the team details the transformation from hiring — including an entertaining discussion of selection by citrus possession — to recruiting and why, today, candidate experience matters.

“The controversy among staffing professionals isn’t about whether a candidate experience exists,” the authors note, “but why it is so important now when, in the past, employers could generally ignore it at will.”

Why indeed. With millions out of work and millions more underemployed, why does it matter what the candidate experience is? The short answer is that the better the experience, the better the hire, and the better and more valuable the employee will be. At least, that’s the street wisdom.

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You won’t find that spelled out in the monograph, which is a bit unsettling, particularly since gaps between employers who post jobs and take applications, and those offering a best-in-class candidate experience are substantial. Of the Fortune 500 firms surveyed (yes, all 500 of them), only 8 percent (40) earned a best-in-class rating. Almost 60 percent were considered undistinguished or worse.

The team’s criteria for best-in-class is high. Their corporate career sites are mobile-accessible, they offer information about specific jobs and the work environment, navigation is clear, contact information is readily apparent, they engage candidates in two-way conversations via social networks and talent communities, and, though the evidence supporting it is “a mile wide and an inch deep,” they make efforts to say “why a candidate should come and stay.”

By comparison, candidate expectations are meager. A survey by Shaker Consulting Group confirms just how little window shopping job seekers expect. Job descriptions, a place to apply, contact information. Once they actually apply, what they really want is an acknowledgment, a timeline, and to know where they stand, or at least when the job was filled.

As the monograph points out, and the articles it references, and the research by Crispin and Mehler it cites shows, there’s so much more to the candidate experience than that. Which brings us back to just what is that elusive “Candidate Experience?”

It is, offers the team:

“The attitudes and behaviors of individuals who aspire to work for a firm about the recruiting process, the stakeholders in the process, the work and the company itself as a place to work.”

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


10 Comments on “Pointing the Way to the Candidate Experience

  1. Great article John. The candidate is often overlooked as companies try to find the fastest, most efficient way to hire. And recruiters have a trained eye for top talent and tend to ignore the rest. It can be quite brutal out there for a candidate. With all the new recruiting tools out there, companies now have the ability to be much more efficient in their hiring process. But at the same time, social media is empowering the individual and gives every candidate a voice to speak up against a company that wrongs them. So while companies and recruiters should embrace these new recruiting tools and streamline the hiring process when possible, they should also be very mindful of the candidate experience. Treat candidates right and they will become your ambassadors. Treat them wrong and you have an army of angry people ready to tweet about you!

  2. Great points, John.

    It’s startling really just how little candidates are regarded throughout the application experience.

    A friend of mine recently tried to apply for a job whereby a police-officer signed copy of his passport was necessary to apply for the job. On top of that, numerous questions were asked ranging from the banal to pointless, stuff that ought not be asked so early on in the application process.

    The application process should be simple. It should be accessible from both desktops and the mobile.

    It seems lacking that companies disregard the needs of the candidate by not sending out any form of response. An acknowledgement of receipt of the application is not a response. A simple automated email stating that you have moved in the process or have been declined does wonders for a person’s mental well being. I don’t buy into the notion that this is difficult. If a company has shortlisted a range of candidates, then clearly the inverse of that is the remainder are part of the talent pool and will be contacted in future if anything pops up.

  3. Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
    If a company is an employer of choice, it doesn’t have to treat applicants/candidates well, and unless an applicant/candidate is certain that they’re the “in-demand, A-player” that everybody here always drools over,they should feel lucky to get an acknowledgement.
    Why: because THEY DON’T COUNT- nobody cares what happens to
    a regular, unconnected applicant/candidate, and unless there are consequences for ignoring the non-elite (and we have nearly 20% under/unemployment), don’t expect any substantial improvements. When I hear that a company has decided to hire some $2.00/hr virtual assistants to make sure the candidate experience is decent and professional (if not pleasant), then I’ll believe something may start to change.



  4. @Gerry:
    I hope that someone possessing both compassion and political savvy/influence DOES take what I said literally, and works to improve the dismal status quo.



  5. I’ve managed to skim-read the report and its certainly going in the right direction. It’s a subject close to my heart (and historically a big part of my work) & my inspiration has always been to look outside HR to understand how to create great experiences.

    Some slightly random thoughts:

    You need to understand what the candidate is trying to achieve and the detailed approach they make to changing or getting a new job.

    Expectations of experience are not in the most case set by your competitors, but with other activities that candidates complete on a more regular basis. On kick-off meetings for websites I usually tell the team to forget what their competitors are doing. We do things like deconstruct the experience of using Amazon and then map to parallels in the recruitment process.

    Experiences are multi-channel. Everything needs to be considered. Some of these experiences are in HR’s control, others are not, however are there opportunities to influence them?

    Everything can be measured. Measure at the onset, measure continuously through design, measure on an ongoing basis. Act on the measurement.

    The real value in information is ‘mashing’ together data from multiple sources. Eg. What is the difference between what people who didn’t hear in 30 days compared to those who heard in 5 days? What is the difference in outcome that can be associated with this? This exposes the typical issue with reporting tools – they deal with showing what is happening using the data stored in the tool rather than explaining why it is happening.

    Most importantly, understand that you can improve and have the drive to do something about it. In the area of customer experience a study by BCG found that whilst 80% of execs thought they offered above-average customer experience, only 8% were thought of offering it by their clients.

    Focusing on the candidate experience can mean significantly different solutions. When building one big global careers site candidates repeatedly told us that the vast amount of information on a careers site is used not to decide whether to apply but when called to interview to help prepare for the meeting. We therefore designed a site to edit information to help candidates prepare. Our testing showed that given the site met their information needs the number of candidates using sources that we couldn’t control reduced and the enthusiasm for the job increased. Of course usability testing and eye-tracking enabled us to ensure the maximum number of relevant people applied in the first place.

    Great experiences aren’t created by magic, they’re systematic, planned and measured.

  6. 18 months ago I did a short presentation and then sat on a panel about this topic. The room was mostly CXO’s, VP’s and directors at the largest of companies in town.

    My suggestion to them was to apply for a job at their own company.

    A few took my offer to do this with them. We have created resumes, online profiles, email accounts and pay as you go cell phones.

    And then they apply for a job at their company.

    I likely do not need to say that their experience has been at best, bad and worse, insulting.

    Interesting how a little audit can open the eyes wide.

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