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There’s been a lot of talk lately in human resources and recruitment blogs about improving the candidate experience – but what does that really mean?

The candidate experience is the job applicant’s perspective of the end-to-end job application to onboarding process. At each stage, the candidate may have feelings and impressions about the process that positively or negatively affect his or her opinion of the potential employer. Ultimately, those factors can influence whether the candidate continues with the application or decides to look elsewhere.

Let’s take a closer look at the individual phases of the candidate experience to better understand the process from the applicant’s point of view:

Phase 1: First encounter

The candidate experience begins before s/he applies for a job, when they first are introduced to a company. That might happen through a job board or on a corporate careers webpage, or via a 3rd party recruiter who then directs the candidate to more information. Everything the candidate sees on these pages influences his or her opinion of the company, from the UX of the careers portal to the language used in job postings.

Tips for capturing the candidate:

  • Ensure your careers page gives candidates a full picture of your company culture, available benefits, and any other background that might be helpful in deciding whether or not to apply.
  • Write job descriptions that are gender neutral, and provide a foundation for what the requirements of the job are without asking for the world. Keep it short where possible.
  • Allow applicants to access to job descriptions before needing to log in, if at all. The faster a candidate can get to this information, the better their experience will be.

Phase 2: The submission of materials

The candidate will submit required materials such as a resume, cover letter or writing samples. Companies may have the submission process driven by a simple email, or through an applicant tracking system, or possibly using “apply with” functionality, where an applicant applies via a job board login such as LinkedIn, Monster, or Indeed.

Tips for ensuring an easy application experience:

  • Keep the information request section brief, noting where information is optional vs. required.
  • Ensure an auto response is generated, confirming receipt of the application, and informing the candidate of next steps
  • Use “apply with” functionality where possible; candidates are already comfortable and fluent with those systems, and they see them as trustworthy technologies.
  • Allow for mobile uploads; many candidates job hunt on mobile devices and have their materials stored for easy uploads.

Phase 3: The waiting game

After the candidate submits materials, he or she awaits a response. The candidate may receive an auto-reply thank-you email from the company with instructions to be on the lookout for a follow-up. However, candidate communication does not end here, and the longer an employer takes to get back to a candidate, the more likely it is that the candidate will form a negative impression of the company.

Tips for keeping your candidate’s interest:

  • Send a confirmation receipt. Be as specific as possible on how long the applicant should expect to wait to hear back.
  • Keep your candidate apprised of where they are in the process.
  • If/when you’ve decided to decline moving forward with someone, let them know promptly.

Phase 4: The interview

The employer contacts candidates to inform them that they have been chosen for interviews. Ideally, the interview should take place in the next 1-2 weeks. The employer should clearly communicate the time of the interview, its expected duration and the name of the employee who will be conducting the interview.

When the candidate sits down for the interview, the questions should be thoughtful, targeted and clearly developed with the unique demands of that specific vacancy in mind. Stakeholders should coordinate their line of query, from HR to the hiring manager.

Following the interview, the candidate should be given a clear and honest timeline for when a decision should be made. If the process is going to be slower than is ideal, the candidate should be given regular updates on the progress of the decision-making process.

Tips for a positive interview experience:

  • Provide details of the interview ahead of the meeting. Include the address and directions to the office, a list of people the candidate will meet with, and anything they should bring with them.
  • Allow time for candidates to ask questions during the interview without feeling rushed. They are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them.
  • Be prompt with feedback. Let the candidate know what the timeline will be for them to hear back on the status of their candidacy.

Phase 5: The offer

Your team submits the offer to the candidate, often first via phone and then paperwork is sent for signature. The candidate may then counter offer, ask questions, decline, or accept.  

Tips for converting the candidate:

  • Allow an appropriate amount of time for a candidate to review the offer letter and coinciding information. Build in the opportunity for questions.
  • While you may be seeking an immediate answer, make sure not to pressure the candidate into a fast decision.
  • Ask the candidate how they’re feeling about the offer you’ve made to best gauge their interest. Ask for any hesitations and do your best to put them at ease.

Stage 6: Onboarding

The candidate experience does not end when the individual accepts a job offer. The onboarding process is an important period that continues to shape the candidate’s impression of his or her suitability for the role. Comprehensive new employee training is critical to their success.

Tips for a successful onboarding:

  • Ensure the new hire has a clear picture of their first day. Share what to bring with them, the timing of the day, and where to go.
  • Have a dedicated contact available to show the hire around. Make introductions with people, and point them to meetings, and resources they may need.
  • Take the new hire to lunch or a coffee to welcome them to the team.

Looking at the candidate experience from the applicant’s point of view can help employers design application processes that increase their odds of attracting and retaining top talent.

What does your candidate experience and onboarding process look like?

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