Rethinking Candidate Experience

One of the most pervasive, and ubiquitous, topics permeating the recruitment and talent acquisition industry agendas is that of candidate experience, a focus reflected throughout the HR Technology Conference’s agenda and ancillary events, including the Third Annual Candidate Experience Awards.

The recipients of these awards, and the companies considered on the cutting edge of candidate experience, are without a doubt helping change perceptions and create best practices around this elusive yet extremely important issue, and these awards provide valuable validation – and recognition – for employers taking the time to get this critical recruiting competency right.

But the fact of the matter is, this recognition served largely not to show how far the industry has come in addressing candidate experience, but how far we still have to go before we get it right. Most of the winners were selected not for actually doing anything innovative or actually creating systemic change, but rather, for simply meeting the relatively low baseline for what recruiters should have ostensibly be doing for candidates in the first place – communicating status, illuminating what to expect in the process, and providing updates & feedback in a timely fashion.

That’s not candidate experience, that’s common sense. And only in our industry is common sense worthy of an award. But we’ve been talking about this issue for years now, and seem to be doing a great job of creating a conversation and awareness about candidate experience, but little in the way of facilitating tangible change, particularly for the line recruiters who are the primary arbiters of candidate experience in the first place.

Back in 2010, Gerry Crispin addressed the concept of a Candidate Bill of Rights for RecruitFest! (which, coincidentally, was my first experience working with RecruitingBlogs), and also the genesis for this award, as Gerry publically issued the challenge based on the session:

“I’ll throw $1000 in the hopper to start a national Candidate Experience Award for Recruiters (and Private Sector Employers) who, in the eyes of job seekers, are creating a world-class candidate experience. Who else is in? Who wants to make this happen?”

The good news is, apparently, a lot of companies, as the C&Es have become big business, with some of the world’s biggest employers and most profitable brands working to drive this initiative through candidate surveys, process design & improvement and increased engagement with current & potential candidates alike.

But ultimately, the candidate experience conversation is flawed for the reason that this is not a top down directive that can be enforced or created at the corporate level, but rather, a values-based mindset that’s driven by individual recruiters on a daily basis, and these recruiters generally care about filling open requisitions, with time-to-fill and cost-per-hire being the primary metrics upon which their performance is judged, and this focus on just-in-time hiring outcomes seems to be at odds, if not entirely mutually exclusive, with the long term approach and more amorphous analytics associated with improved candidate experience.

The easiest fixes for candidate experience as currently defined have existed for years. Survey after survey shows that the primary complaint of candidates is not hearing back when a position has been filled, although a majority state that they receive some sort of automated acknowledgement when their application is uploaded into an ATS and before it enters a recruiters’ workflow.

Almost every ATS on the market, from legacy systems like Taleo & Brassring to emerging SaaS systems like Jobvite & SmartRecruiters has the capability to not only automate the application acknowledgement, but the ability to use that exact same functionality to send a “thanks but no thanks” e-mail when the candidate has been knocked out of process or is no longer under consideration. The problem is, for whatever reason, most recruiters choose not to do this. Simply sending an automated e-mail is enough for most candidates – and enough to make a significant difference in candidate experience.

Since the data for the Candidate Experience Awards was generated by sending surveys about the process directly to candidates via e-mail, with amazingly high response rates, it can be assumed that most of these leading companies have the added advantage of an ATS that functions not only as a system of record, but also a system of engagement, and that candidates will not only welcome campaign-based communications, but also take up a tangible call-to-action.

This offers employers an opportunity to drive referrals, build engaged talent networks and drive candidates to social sites & owned career platforms (or “talent communities,” if you like fluff). It’s a win-win situation, and eminently, the most immediately solvable component of the entire candidate experience issue.

Ultimately, I actually think we do a good job with candidate experience – defining a candidate as someone who’s qualified, interested and available for a current or projected job opening. Those candidates who have the skill sets to move past the disposition phrase of resume review and into some sort of secondary screening (most commonly a phone call) almost always receive at least some sort of perfunctory feedback, and as long as they’re still in process, can expect reasonably good treatment and a high level of engagement from the recruiter they’re working with. And if you’re taking the time to do a :30 phone screen, or come in for an in-person interview, recruiters almost always at least reciprocate that by providing what we’d consider to be a positive candidate experience.

The real problems seem to stem from a different phenomenon: applicant experience. And that, fundamentally, should be seen from a different lens. As HR Technology improves, functions like one click applies and social integrations make it easy for people to apply for jobs (which is a good thing), but with that ease comes a tsunami of often unqualified candidates who do not meet the minimum stated criteria for the job they’re applying for. And because they do not meet these benchmarks, nor are they viable for the position, recruiters owe these applicants less than ones who were able to actually self-select and who will move forward in the process.

Just because someone applies for a job doesn’t mean they deserve any more of a recruiters’ time then they’ve already gotten just by clicking an apply button if they’re not actually candidates but instead, doing nothing more than the job seeker equivalent of posting and praying. And we all know this strategy rarely renders results.

So, when it comes to applicant experience, that’s a different conversation altogether, and one that’s easily fixable through really any ATS or point solution on the market – acknowledgement not only of receipt of submission, but acknowledgement that they’re not moving forward.

But if they actually meet the OFCCP criteria of a candidate vs. applicant, and their qualifications are aligned with what both the recruiter and hiring manager are looking for, then that person can expect white glove treatment as long as they’re in process, and almost unilaterally, notification and feedback when they’re moved out of it.

It’s time to shift the conversation from how to treat applicants to how to better attract, engage and hire actual candidates – because that’s the entire purpose for the existence of recruiting, and the focus of the day-to-day efforts of the practitioners carrying req load whose time and resources are already stretched enough without having to make every applicant walk away with a positive experience – only the ones who are actually candidates. Placement over placation: that’s the ultimate best practice for recruiters. The rest is really just marketing.

Originally Published on RecruitingBlogs

One Comment on “Rethinking Candidate Experience

  1. So I posted about the same disappointment two years ago – http://hrfishbowl.com/2012/10/candidate-courtesy-not-candidate-experience/ – after the second annual awards in 2012. I love Crispin, and I love his cause. But I, like you, am tired of recognizing mediocrity. The problem is, I’m not sure there is anyone (of size) out there creating a “world class” experience. In fact, I believe the aspirations to do so are misguided and impractical.

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