We talk a lot about the concept of ‘auditing’ your own candidate experience; that is, taking a step back and actually seeing what it’s like to apply for a job at your own company. If you’ve done this, you already know what a maddening exercise that ultimately turned out to be; it’s as eye-opening as it is frustrating.
Auditing your current application process is important, because it forces recruiters to address the most fundamental question of candidate experience: how can we put the candidate at the center of the recruiting process?”
You can’t improve candidate experience by approaching the problem as a recruiter, but instead, it’s important to think through things from the point of view of the actual candidate who’s actually experiencing your hiring process.
We often forget candidates when we’re talking about candidate experience, which is ironic but for obvious reasons, it’s their voices that too often get ignored in this industry conversation. And it goes without saying, they’re really the ultimate arbiters of any of this.
Putting the Candidate Back In Candidate Experience.
So, how exactly can organizations redesign their recruiting strategies to create a truly candidate centered recruiting process? Start by looking critically at every stage, from application to on-boarding, that a successful candidate must currently navigate on their way to becoming a new hire.
A candidate centered recruiting process should optimize every single touch point along the way and make it as quick and painless as possible.
This requires looking for either creative ways to meet the needs of both your organization and those of the candidates, or, in certain situations, understanding that sometimes, it’s imperative to make a trade-off and sacrifice some of your organizational wants in order to give candidates the experience they deserve. It’s a tradeoff that almost always pays off.
We all can agree that looking for a job kind of sucks. But what, exactly, do candidates hate the most? Here are some of the most common (and persistent) job search challenges candidates complain about:
- It’s impossible to pull up your careers site on a mobile device, much less apply for a job.
- You want to know way too much information. Why do you need to know every applicant’s social security number?
- Your application process takes FOREVER.
- You left out important details like salary and benefits information from the job description. That’s the kind of stuff people want to know before spending hours filling out an application.
- You never even acknowledge receiving applications, much less letting anyone know where they stand in the process. Did you even get those resumes?
- You never provide a timeline of the process or even when you expect to fill the position.
- Even though there was an in-person interview, you didn’t let anyone but the final candidate know that a decision is made, or why they weren’t selected.
- You wait forever to make an offer, then expect an answer right away. Talk about double standard.
None of these should really be much of a surprise. I mean, we’re pretty clear on how candidate experience sucks. We know the source of the problem. Well, whoop-de-doo. We’ve known what we can do better for a while, but as much as we talk about improving the candidate experience, these same things keep happening.
It’s not like we ever set out to intentionally make applying for a job with our companies just flat out suck, across the board; it’s one of those things that just kind of happens. And by the time we notice we’ve got a problem, it’s often too late to make what would have otherwise been a pretty easy fix. So, why don’t we fix things in the first place, if we know what’s wrong and what sort of outcomes we’re looking to achieve?
Well, recruiting might not be rocket science, but you wouldn’t know that by the ways in which we layer on complexity to seemingly simple stuff or how we ignore the fundamentals for whatever recruiting tool’s the newest or shiniest that week.
The Hidden Causes of A Crappy Candidate Experience.
Instead, we rationalize our bad habits by passing the buck and blaming someone, anyone, but ourselves for the sorry state of candidate experience at our companies.
We’d like to think of ourselves as the victims here, but it’s really your candidates who are getting screwed.
Obviously, candidates only see the tip of the iceberg; there’s a ton more going on behind the scenes than the very narrow scope of interactions with your recruiting team that actually impact their experience. They don’t see how miserable recruiters are having to use that slow, outdated and complex legacy HCM system; they only see how long and complicated that same system makes it to send their resume in for a job posting.
They don’t see that years of paying entire business units or departments well under market has created compression and internal equity issues; they only see that lowball offer you put on the table. And they don’t see the fact that you, as a recruiter, genuinely care about candidate experience. They only see that no recruiter ever seems to call them back, no matter how many applications they submit.
It’s rare these days to see a career site that doesn’t have some sort of section devoted to mission, vision, values or equally aspirational career-related credos, but talk is cheap. It’s what you do – or don’t do – for your candidates that actually shows what kind of stuff your company is made of.
You may say “our people are our greatest asset,” but for some reason you disrespect them by wasting their time, abusing their confidence or outright ignoring them during your hiring process. You may talk about how awesome your corporate social responsibility and community involvement initiatives are, but you can’t expect people to think you’re really a responsible business when you won’t even give back by sending a “thanks but no thanks” note to candidates no longer under consideration.
You may talk about your values, but it’s clear by treating candidates like crap, your real values are highly suspect, if you have any at all. This is what candidates see on the outside, looking in. This is the stuff that actually impacts your employer brand, not some company blog or employer Facebook page.
Not All Candidates Are Created Equal.
The culprit in most cases is pretty obvious: employers are asking applicants for entirely too much information up front, way more than anyone reasonably needs.
There is no reason you need to know the mailing address of every employer a candidate has had for the last 7 years. Or how many years they’ve been acquainted with their references, the current contact information for someone who was last their direct supervisor a decade ago, or any of the dozens of extraneous questions employers require every candidate to fill out before successfully applying for a job. If they ever get that far.
Why do so many employers ask so much? Is it to ensure compliance in a heavily regulated industry or as part of some very detailed record keeping requirement? Are you also administering a consumer survey or using this data in advanced market research? Look through your application and ask why you ask what you ask. If the answer isn’t obvious, and it’s not required for OFCCP, EOE, AA or any of those acronyms, then axe it from your application.
For example, you require a phone number and e-mail address so you can contact candidates. You ask for salary expectations to make sure you can afford them. You ask if they’re eligible to work in the US because you don’t sponsor visas. These are obvious. But asking for the phone numbers for every company a candidate has worked with for the past decade, or for a list of related college coursework, or any of that other stuff that shows up? C’mon, man. Get rid of it.
You want candidates who click the “apply” button to get in your system, not to screen out anyone who doesn’t have a few hours to waste on filling out form after pointless form.
This is not the best first impression your company can give – and speaks volumes about what working for your company is really like. An arduous, lengthy application process smacks of spreadsheets, piles of manual paperwork and fax machines. If you’re not in financial services or HR outsourcing, then this probably isn’t the message you want to be sending candidates about your company culture.
Big Data, Small Improvements.
Most recruiting organizations prioritize analytics like cost-per-hire and time-to-fill over much more meaningful metrics like quality of hire or candidate experience, primarily because the latter two are far more difficult to quantify and measure, with far more variables and far less control over outcomes. Speed and spend suffice because they’re easy to track.
When you measure success by these means, it’s not hard to see why candidate experience remains such an issue; recruiters have no real incentive to treat candidates well or take the time to go beyond the bare minimum required to move them through the funnel.
Calling candidates after phone screen to tell them they’re not going to be asked in for an interview, or e-mailing back hundreds of applicants to let them know they aren’t under consideration, are the right thing to do, but they also take time to do.
If your performance as a recruiter is measured primarily by time-to-fill, then there’s more risk than reward for recruiters who go the extra step for candidates – or even lift a finger for them.
Recruiters who are measured on cost-per-hire, similarly, never have to worry about the loss of revenue from those consumers who were shunned as candidates, because that often daunting long term indirect cost isn’t factored into cost-per-hire.
If recruiters aren’t held accountable for candidate experience, then they’re likely to continue ignoring it completely. It’s hard to blame them, really. They’re being asked to keep hiring managers and internal stakeholders happy, reconciling often competing interests and internal politics throughout the recruiting process.
This takes a ton of effort, and for most recruiters, it’s the hiring manager’s experience that requires the white gloves, not the candidate. Most recruiters actually do a decent job updating their hiring managers on who they’ve talked to, what candidates they haven’t heard any feedback on, availability for interviews and where in the process each search stands at any given moment.
Surrendering To A Hire Power.
The biggest process gaps, and candidate experience problems, almost always come from a breakdown in hiring manager-recruiter communication. If a hiring manager refuses to give a recruiter feedback, as often happens, then how the hell can a recruiter convey anything constructive to a candidate? If they want to see who else is out there after a round of interviews, how can a recruiter democratically convey that timeline change to the current round of candidates?
If any of this sounds familiar to you as a recruiter – if you’ve got those problem hiring managers who either take forever to respond, fail to provide feedback or have a habit of no-showing for in-person interviews, then you know how most of your candidates feel about you.
Here’s a secret: good candidates shouldn’t have to suffer because you’re working with a bad hiring manager. Sometimes, you’ve got to take control of what you can control.
So, how can recruiters control candidate experience using a systematic, standardized approach? To start, look at the hiring process end-to-end, and figure out every potential touch point where the candidate and recruiter will interact.
Then, flip the tables and think of what a candidate should reasonably expect from each stage of the process, how long it will take and what response is appropriate for each of these interactions for at least a somewhat satisfactory candidate experience.
This concept isn’t necessarily egalitarian; you should let all candidates know when they’re no longer being considered, but that notification should obviously be far different for someone who’s knocked out before a phone screen versus a runner up who’s successfully gone through the entire process.
As you go through your recruiting process, you’ll see that the top of the funnel is likely high volume, low touch and can be more or less automated; as candidates get closer to an offer, the expectations (and process) for candidate experience expand significantly.
This makes sense; while someone who’s not even remotely qualified probably doesn’t need much more follow up than an automated e-mail, a silver medalist who came this close to an offer might be a fit for a future position, or, more likely, could become great sources for future referrals.
These are the candidates whose experiences recruiters should spend the most time focusing on. Automate away the rest of the stuff and focus on improving the candidate experience where it adds the most value to your recruiting efforts for you and your candidates while keeping waste at a minimum.
When it comes to candidate experience, that’s pretty much the bottom line.
About the Author: Ray Tenenbaum is the founder of Great Hires, a recruiting technology startup offering a mobile-first Candidate Experience platform for both candidates and hiring teams. Ray has previously spent half of his career building Silicon Valley startups such as Red Answers and Adify (later sold to Cox Media); the other half of his career was spent in marketing and leadership roles at enterprise organizations including Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Booz & Co. and Intuit. Ray holds an MBA from the University of Michigan as well as a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from McGill University.