Why Do Good People and Good Organizations Allow a Bad Candidate Experience?

Here is my game-plan: share my thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness style blog as move through my 60-day journey to answer the following question … Improving the Candidate Experience: Why do good people and good organizations allow a bad candidate experience?

I’m going to be collecting information by interviewing as many company and HR leaders, some who I know other I don’t, focusing on HR leaders from the 2011 Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For list.

Below are some but not all of the questions we will be chatting about in my path of discovery.  I’m also figuring that all this great information will create even more questions from the questions.

Q1: Rate your organization’s external and internal candidate experience: poor, average, good, great, or amazing.

Q2: How important is creating a high-touch “candidate experience” to your company?

Q3: Define what you feel your candidate experience looks like.

Article Continues Below

I’ve set out with a vision to uncover the reasons why improving the candidate experience has not been a priority for most organizations. I draw this conclusion from the horrific, low satisfaction scores from candidates. Even within the initial four interviews with HR directors I’m been enlightened with the perspective of straight-up HR (versus talent acquisition) people who are all at the top of their game and committed to doing a great job.

I’m digging into what people really think about this topic of the “candidate experience.” There have been lots of opinions and discussion about candidate experience, but still don’t think we’ve figured out why good organizations run by good people have horrible or at least very average candidate experiences. My goal is not to condemn or beat up anyone’s HR, recruiting, or corporate culture practices. It’s to frame these discussions into a way that can be consumed by everyone the candidate experience touches.

What other questions should I be asking in my journey to figure out why good organizations have a lousy candidate experience”?

Just food for thought: check out the video below, created out of a panel from Recruitfest Fall 2010: The Candidate Bill of Rights.

Bryan Wempen is the executive vice president of PeopleClues, responsible for the global market strategy and helping organizations improve their candidate experience. Wempen also co-host a daily Internet radio show with William Tincup called DriveThru HR. Prior to joining PeopleClues® in August 2008, Wempen was a founding partner with Reliant Live.

Reliant Live is focused on improving employee selection and retention for their clients using Reliant's HR Technology (zipsurvey.com, reliantLMS, reliant360). Reliant was created out of a merger between Corporate Survey and Bryan’s company Talent Strategy, Inc.. Before Reliant Live, he founded MacKay Edge Assessment Group/Talent Strategy, Inc. MacKay Edge served more than 500 clients in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and China.


21 Comments on “Why Do Good People and Good Organizations Allow a Bad Candidate Experience?

  1. Great project Bryan.

    Feel free to mysteryshop http://www.thecandidateexperienceawards.org/ to see what our (Talentboard, a non-profit) discussions earlier this year came up with. We’ve had 58 firms apply for the awards to date (the deadline was mid July) that we are going to give out in October and we’ve collected some useful data we can add to the pile when we get it crunched this Fall.

    Meanwhile we are in the midst of getting several thousand candidates of the firms that are claiming to be improving their candidate experience to weigh in during this next month.

    The more light we can all shed on this issue the more likely we are to move the needle forward.


  2. Awesome project Bryan. I would be curious to know who HR departments consider their customers. I’m guessing most will say it’s the hiring managers of the positions they are recruiting for. Which is certainly true. But I would like to think that job candidates are also key customers.

    I just published a blog earlier today that completely relates, shedding some light on this topic.


  3. Indeed a fascinating project, as we’ve all been candidates and yet as recruiters/hr professionals we’re often not enabled to deliver the experience we would want for ourselves.

    So my question would be – How do you empower your recruiters to work with candidates as people rather than rewarding them on completing a process?

  4. Bryan, great stuff. The state of candidate satisfaction is so bad, I started a company to address it. I would add to your questions set: “How do you (or do you) measure candidate satisfaction?” We’ve developed a tool to do that and are just launching next month. I’d love to network with all who share my (and your) passion. I applaud Jerry’s group’s work with the C & E Awards! I would invite all to join my LinkedIn Group, “We are All Candidates” as a start in that direction. There are some open questions right now that could benefit from your insight.

  5. I would suggest that the first questions you ask is:

    Do you know what the candidates you do not hire say about your company? How do you know?

    I think in most cases you are going to hear things like: “Well we check glassdoor and some of the other vent sites.” or well sometimes we get nasty notes from unqualified candidates who are mad because they didn’t get a job”.

    I would suspect that most do not send out a survey email to candidates who apply through their ATS or even those who are interviewed and turned down, asking for any input as to how they felt about the application or interview process. Mostly because i think that most don’t really care and will give you excuses such as, “We know that people who are not interviewed or hired never think they had a good experience so why should we waste time sending them something when we know what the answer is going to be, we can’t hire them all.”

    Or if they do make any effort they do nothing with the results taking the attitude that it’s too time consuming and the process is what is. Why bother to interact with people they don’t want.

    I will be interested to see the results of your interviews.

  6. @ Sandra:
    You hit it on the head again. The people at the top don’t CARE how regular applicants are treated- either they don’t identify with the typical applicant because they didn’t have to go through the typical applicant’s crap, or they regard the dysfunctionalism as a sort of “hazing” which is part of being admitted to the “club”.

    @ Everybody:
    I am feeling a bit of frustration with the community. This issue pops up every few weeks, and people are “shocked, shocked!” at how bad candidate care is with most companies. Well, I put this out there to my internal (corporate and contract) colleagues:
    If you feel that your company/client isn’t providing the level of candidate care you feel is appropriate, spend an hour or less on the web and investigate where you can hire a $2.75/hr. (wholesale) virtual assistant who can respond to all your candidates’ phone and email inquiries, and (to the greatest extent possible) make the candidates’ experience professional, if not actually pleasant and inviting. (If you can’t find virtual assistants, tell me and I can show you where you can locate these folks.)
    Come back here and let us know what you find out…

    If people don’t do this, there can be a number of reasons:
    1) Their company’s/client’s candidate care is good, or at least they think it is. (I look forward to Gerry’s awards.)
    2) They’re too busy/tired doing their core recruiting functions to spend an hour investigating this.
    3) They know that there managers/directors/VPs don’t care, so why bother?

    Let’s say you go, find out, and tell us the results. Then it’s time to “take it upstairs.” People may be reluctant to do this because:
    1) You don’t do ANY stuff like this at your client/company without possible negative repercussions.
    2 again) They’re too busy/tired doing their core recruiting functions to spend an hour investigating this.
    3 again) They know that there managers/directors/VPs don’t care, so why bother?
    (BTW, in my own case, it’s a combination of 1 and 3…)

    I await your replies and wish you a great weekend,


  7. Very much interested to learn what you uncover in your project…

    A few questions I would ask are:

    1) Have you (senior executive) experienced first-hand the candidate experience at your organization by (recently) applying for a position as an outside applicant?
    2) Aside from the existing sites enabling anonymous comments, what type of feedback would your candidate experience receive if each person who applied had access to leave a score (culminating in a “Klout” type ranking) at each phase of the process?
    3) How confident are you that each and every touch point along your process leaves a positive impression – job posting content, ATS process, initial screening, interviews, negotiation, offer, on-boarding?
    4) Is every verbal or written communication between our organization and candidates timely, professional and respectful toward candidates?
    5) Are your interviewers aware of (and trained on) appropriate and effective screening/interviewing methodology?

  8. It’s obvious to me too Keith. From a TPR standpoint i can’t even get internal recruiters to respond when i submit a qualified candidate without stalking them and i do good stalk. There is a lot of lip service paid to candidate experience but it’s just that lip service period, paragraph.

    Internal recruiters are too busy trying to hustle a resume or two to a hiring manager to keep them off their butts. If a candidate does finally fight it through all the crap involved with the ATS application (a large % of the time the damn things blow up in the middle or freeze)get a phone call and wonder of wonders an interview..if they blow any of the above with any kind of off remark or lack of tap dancing ability they are history and referred to as an idiot who does not deserve a phone call or even a form email. Most of the time all anyone hears is the sound of the wind blowing through the canyon..if they are lucky and there is an automated response.

    Companies are spending millions on marketing, social media, blah, blah and they forget that the masses are made of individuals. What good is all the social media spend if it generates contacts and applications that result in professional people being treated like a cafeteria line where the overemployed in HR and recruiting pass along deciding to just have a bite of desert and leave the green beans. And that’s just initial contact or lack of same.

    If you think it’s bad at the top companies to work for try a survey of medium sized companies in everyday America. It takes a Captain America or Wonder Woman to even get a response to an application. And all our gurus want to automate further.

    Maybe we should just tatoo those cute little thingys on everybody’s forehead. Let them press their head to the computer screen then their linkedin profile jumps up, they get a hire, no hire posting to their linkedin profile and they move on. No expectations, no interaction…Hello Moto, how’s your RSS?

  9. @Sandra:
    Thanks- I enjoy what you say. I decided to look at the video- seems like these guys (It was all men, which is interesting considering how much of the HR/Recruiting field is composed of women) were divided between those that were saying “we can’t treat everybody decently” and those that said “we should treat everybody decently”. I would like to have heard some of them say: “We are committed to treat ALL applicants as if they were million-dollar customers, and if it costs us $2.75/hr to hire people to make sure that they are, we are prepared to pay that expense.”

    I do part ways with you on one thing, Sandra: automation. If I can make sure that applicants are treated with respect (as I would expect to be treated) and it costs less than $2.75/hr. to do, I say “automate”. If it costs more than that, then “*outsource”. However, I’d want to make sure that whatever way it’s done is thoroughly tested first, so that it truly is a timely, professional, and respectful way of dealing with people.

    What do you think, Folks?


    Keith “Probably Won’t Be Invited to RecruitFest” Halperin

    * My rule of thumb:
    If you wouldn’t pay someone $50+/hr to do it, no-source (eliminate) it, through-source (automate)it, or out-source (send away) it.

  10. I think that many recruiters are really, really busy and as such, they work on the ‘squeaky wheel’ theory. People who make the most noise, or who have the most impact on their day, get the attention (e.g. the hiring managers). I was recently running a workshop for a client and we were defining SLAs for Candidate Care. The recruiters wanted to set their SLA as three business days to return phone calls to candidates! This is because they just couldn’t see any other way of getting through the volume. Obviously this is unacceptable.
    Some things we came up with include:

    Returning phone calls:
    • Keep a ‘call sheet’ by your phone where you list all phone calls to be returned and can keep track of them in one place
    • Set aside a specific time every day to return calls (i.e. one hour in the afternoon)
    • Set a goal for getting through them and feel good about your achievement – returning candidate calls is part of your role, it is not wasting time

    Use voice mail to set expectations:
    • If you are in interviews all day and returning calls is impossible, say so in your voice mail message. Redirect the caller to send you an email – it is easier to reply to emails

    Use your out of office function in your email:
    • Again, if you are in meetings all day, set expectations for when you will respond to candidate enquiries

    I think candidates are ok if you set realistic expectations (and keep to them!).

  11. @Jennifer: Thank you for elaborating this for us. You clearly care.

    @ Everybody: If you had lots of reqs. ands were vere diligent (a la Jennefer) in getting back to every email/phone call from candidates, what percentage of time would you probably be spending doing his? 5%? 50%?



  12. Thanks for all the comments in addition to the suggestions for questions you’d ask. I’m excited to talk with as many people as possible. Best, Bryan –

  13. I am with myStaffingPro, an ATS vendor, and we are focused on providing a high touch candidate experience. I would love to help you with the discovery process. Please let me know how we can get our customers involved.

  14. @ Julia: This is very good to hear.
    My sugestion is to ask your client:
    “What amount are they prepared to pay to make sure each and every candidate’s application experience is professional and respectful, if not actually pleasant?”



  15. What really bothers me is the lack of Common Courtesy for those applicants that have gotten through the screening process and have been invited to the company for on-site interviews, many times with senior leaders, many times at an expense to the company.

    These candidates are clearly qualified. They spend hours researching the company and preparing for the interview. Often they travel a distance. Quite frequently they spend the entire day at the company interviewing. They send the appropriate thank you’s to various individuals. Then they wait. And wait. And wait. Hearing nothing, even after several follow ups.

    While we all understand only one candidate can be selected, isn’t this effort on the candidates part worth a response from the company? If not a personal phone call then just a simple follow up e-mail? Minimum of a “thank you for your time, we appreciated meeting you, we’ve selected another candidate (or we’ve put the job on hold), best wishes in the future…”

    My readers tell me this happens all too frequently. Why? Whatever happened to common courtesy?


  16. Love the research on this topic. I have been wondering lately why employers don’t seem to feel compelled to make a first impression on candidates. As a Recruiter in the job market, I’m finding that employers in general don’t have any idea on how to make an impression or sell themselves to the candidate. So my question is, do employers have to sell themselves to the candidate?

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