dummies_catalog_app_icon300x300Everyone seems to be talking about candidate experience these days, and the noise surrounding this perennial talent trending topic has become deafening, even though most of that banter ultimately falls on deaf ears throughout the recruiting universe.

I’m a little self conscious even writing about it; after all, no one needs another post on what’s become a pretty tired topic.

After all, I’m not sure anyone’s really an “expert” on candidate experience, but I’m damn sure that I’m by no means any sort of definitive authority on this subject.

Candidate Experience For Dummies (A Handy Guide for the Rest of Us).

The only thing I know about candidate experience is that I’m a recruiter, and this is one topic that actually matters to me, my colleagues and my clients – not to mention the dozens of candidates I engage with daily.

No matter what industry you’re in, no matter if you work for a search firm or as part of an in-house talent acquisition team, candidate experience has emerged as an integral part of most companies’ talent acquisition process.

Candidate experience is no longer being ignored; instead, it’s moved into the collective consciousness of the entire recruiting profession, and we’re all better off for this new commitment to doing right by doing good for our candidates.

The Talent Board’s annual Candidate Experience Awards have played a critical role in keeping this critical competency center stage, driving awareness and actual action across this grand old profession of ours. Every recruiter has likely been touched by the ripple effect this cause has created. It’s pretty powerful when you look around.

Most talent pros know by now that they need to take proactive steps towards improving the candidate experience, but what often happens is that individual recruiters and talent acquisition organizations often start a slew of initiatives targeting the candidate experience, a spike in efforts whose lack of cohesion, strategy and organizational alignment make meaningful measurement – and long term improvement – more or less impossible.

Without defined benchmarks and a scaleable, sustainable strategy, these grandiose programs are doomed to gradual failure. It’s pretty common for recruiters and their respective departments to go overboard at first, strategizing on all these innovative initiatives they can put into place to be an employer of choice.

Getting a call back or having an application acknowledged isn’t enough – companies apparently owe candidates some sort of “wow” factor, which is why so much of our efforts on fixing this initiative are completely misplaced. The thing is, pretty much every recruiter is already all in when it comes to improving the candidate experience. But then, other crap gets in the way, the “real” things real recruiters have to deal with.

You know, stuff like open reqs, reports, meetings, more meetings, sick kids and dogs with the runs. We go back to doing the bare minimum we need to get by, candidates be damned. While most of us are more or less high on candidate experience, the ensuing crash is almost an inevitability.

Recruiting is A Hell of a Drug.

puppeteerNow don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to discount the importance of candidate experience, so don’t misunderstand me about where I stand. I am a tremendous proponent of giving candidates a great experience every time they interact with my company, regardless of whether or not we end up hiring them or if they ultimately choose us as their next employer of choice.

I can tell you from experience, however, that my consistent commitment to candidate experience isn’t easy. It requires persistence and perseverance to challenge the company status quo and implement wholesale change in an organization.

This means changing approaches, attitudes and processes, which is about as difficult as it sounds for even the best recruiters and most progressive employers out there. But it’s not impossible.

As with so many other grassroots movements, creating change in the candidate experience starts with you. The real power lies with the millions of individual recruiters out there; together, we have the collective power to reengineer recruiting and improve candidate experience piece by piece, making a real difference with the real candidates we touch each and every day.

It’s great to talk about it, but it’s up to us to start actually delivering a better candidate experience right away, without overthinking things. Here’s what every recruiting and staffing pro can start doing today to improve the candidate experience of tomorrow.

Respond To ALL Your Applicants.

puppetYeah, I know it sounds crazy. As a recruiter, you have a set number of positions you’re working on, and these are more or less assigned to you, whether you like it or not.

And there’s nothing to like about having the ultimate responsibility for tending to the candidates generated by these respective requisitions.

Now, please realize that I don’t believe you have responsibility for any of the other recruiters on your team – they’re responsible for their own reqs, and how they deal with candidate experience is really up to them. Now, I know that’s not an ideal solution, but recruiters need to worry about what’s actually in their control. The bigger picture is a bigger problem, and one that’s probably not entirely yours in the first place.

Just because a candidate happens to apply to your role doesn’t necessarily mean you owe them anything. If they meet none of the minimum qualifications, they’ve already wasted enough time; what is important, however, is responding to those qualified candidates who, for one reason or another, didn’t end up making the cut. Either way, there’s really no excuse anymore for not getting back to every applicant, at least with an automated message.

The technology is there, and since pretty much every employer already acknowledges applications received, pretty much every employer already has the functionality to make this a reality with nothing more than a few e-mail templates and basic macros. If you can’t at least automate a “thanks but no thanks” response to candidates no longer under consideration, then just STFU about candidate experience already. You’ve got to get the basics right, first.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking; some templated message from an employer without any personalization informing candidates they aren’t a fit probably isn’t the best candidate experience fix, but templates are OK. In candidate experience, it’s really the thought that counts. And if you can’t at least create a template, you obviously aren’t thinking. Always sweat the small stuff. It makes a big difference.

At the end of the day, candidates would rather have bad news than no news at all. Almost all of them are looking for an answer, even if that answer is no. In my experience, I’d say about 10% of the candidates I reject end up sending me e-mails stating something to the effect of, “Hey, Pete, thanks for considering me. I’ll keep an eye open for other opportunities that might be a fit.”

Guess which candidates are top of mind when I start my next search? Hiring hack: if you’re a candidate, doing something this simple that takes literally 15 seconds to execute is a pretty easy way to set yourself apart from the pack. And even if you don’t end up hiring a candidate, providing them with a world class experience can help recruiters put their network to work by becoming a magnet for referrals for your next search and beyond. A great experience is the recruiting gift that truly keeps on giving.

Know Thy Candidates, Know Thyself.

Dummy-Actors-9Look, I get that bikini shots on Facebook or those photos of your stint on Model Mayhem that one time you needed extra cash in college aren’t necessarily what you want prospective employers to look at.

GEM Recruiting AI

At the same time, you don’t want to look too sanitized or sterile – no one wants to work with someone who’s even boring on social media. The key is to be human.

If you’re going to engage a candidate or chat up a prospect, keep it simple, stupid. Make sure you read their resume and scope out their social profiles, and make sure your talking points are on point by looking for the commonalities and shared experiences most likely to create instant connections and continuous engagement.

For example, maybe you went to the same college as the candidate, or maybe even went to a rival or another school in the region.

It makes sense to bring up your alma mater, and even talk some smack – these commonalities are the common currency of candidate engagement. Even if you are holding it down for whatever branch of SUNY you happened to go to, if you’ve got something in common, embrace it.

Beyond education, I often run into candidates who have worked in the same industries or at the same companies as I have in the past. I always double check this to see if we have any connections in common; good thing there’s a site for that…

This due diligence helps me develop some talking points that improve candidate engagement and open the door to a conversation (and, hopefully, a conversion). Don’t grill candidates about their previous experiences or ask them to read through their resume. Removing the transactional feel of that first conversation is key to having the kind of meaningful interaction that leads to meaningful recruiting relationships.

I’ve noticed that it’s really the little things that make a big difference. For example, when I talk to candidates on Mondays, I like to see how their weekend was or what they did; on Fridays, it’s a pretty safe bet to lead off by greeting candidates with a hearty “Happy Friday!”

These personal touches might seem obvious, but they’re the often overlooked details that help remove a little bit of the tension inherent to a cold call with a candidate, most of whom aren’t particularly happy with their current situation. You’re throwing them a potential life preserver, and that can be a kind of nerve racking encounter for many people.

If you’re a recruiter, it’s OK to crack a joke (at the appropriate time), add a little humor or insert a little self-deprecation as needed to defuse the tension and reduce the anxiety inherent in an interview or a phone screen. You might be a recruiter, but candidates will appreciate you more if you’re a human, too.

Don’t Be Afraid To Answer Questions. All of Them.

kermit-the-frog-funny-doctor-posterNo matter what stage of the hiring process you happen to be in, whether on that initial cold call, or before or after in person interviews, throughout the offer phase and clear on through onboarding, it’s every recruiter’s job to answer every question a candidate might ask.

If you don’t know the answer, it’s your responsibility to find that information, by any means necessary.

It’s important for recruiters to build time into every scheduled candidate interaction, from phone screens to offer extensions, for candidates to ask questions.

Make sure that you actually LISTEN to what they have to say, and how they say it. These questions will give you as much insight into the type of candidate they actually are as the actual answer.

There’s almost always a pretty big difference between the candidate asking questions about, say, how much storage the virtualized servers can hold or the company’s software selection process and the candidate who asks about time off policies and casual Fridays. The devil  is in the details.

By listening to the questions candidates ask, you’re also creating rapport and building trust; providing them with the answers, insights and information they’re looking for positions you as a subject matter expert, resource and talent acquisition ally. Make sure you’re on their side by making sure your candidates know everything they need to succeed at every respective point in the hiring process.

Recruiters are often the first point of contact many candidates have with a company, and salary asie, I think we can almost all agree that liking the people we work with is a huge consideration for most people when selecting their next employer.

Listening to, and answering, all of a candidate’s questions can be key in making sure that they’re looking at an opportunity for the right reasons, and also build the kind of relationship that helps recruiters put their company’s best foot forward by showing that your company actually cares about that candidate. First impressions count. Make the most of it.

Post Script: From the “Please Don’t Waste Your Time Commenting On This Low” Department.

The above point, obviously, is not meant to include those outlier candidates who are so batshit crazy that their only life mission is to see how many random questions you’ll actually answer before snapping. Just in case you were going to use those rare crazies as an excuse, just wanted to let you know, we’re covered. Appreciate you.

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About the Author: Pete Radloff has 15 years of recruiting experience in both agency and corporate environments, and has worked with such companies as Comscore, exaqueo, National Public Radio and Living Social.

With experience and expertise in using technology and social media to enhance the candidate experience and promote strong employer brands, Pete also serves as lead consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consulting firm.

An active member of the Washington area recruiting community, Pete is currently a VP and sits on the Board of Directors of RecruitDC.

Follow Pete on Twitter @PJRadloff or connect with him on LinkedIn, or at his blog,RecruitingIn3D.

By Pete Radloff

Pete Radloff is a veteran recruiter, sourcer and consultant, who has been in the industry since 2000, with experience in both agency and corporate settings. Pete’s passion stretches across several areas of talent acquisition, including recruitment and sourcing, social media, employment branding, recruitment operations and the training and mentoring of recruiters. Currently the Principal Technical Recruiter for comScore, and a Lead Consultant with exaqueo, Pete has previously worked for high-growth organizations such as NPR and LivingSocial. In addition to recruiting top talent both in the U.S. and abroad for these companies, Pete has developed successful recruitment and sourcing frameworks, recruitment processes and procedures, and enhancements to the candidate experience to enhance employer brand. Being part of the local recruiting community in Washington, D.C. has always been important to Pete. He was a member of Board of Directors for recruitDC since for six (6) years, and has also been a speaker at several recruitDC events. He's also a contributing writer at RecruitingDaily and SourceCon. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter, or at his site, RecruitingIn3D