uploadedHave you ever actually applied for a job that’s posted on your careers site? Yeah, I’m guessing from that blank look that the answer is probably never – or at least, it’s been a while, if you’re like most recruiting and staffing practitioners.

In fact, the only time most end users actually audit the front end of their application tracking system or recruiting software is when a new system or solution is initially implemented, and even then it was likely only to make sure that it was working.

Assuming that there were no glaring errors or oversights, you probably checked the candidate experience box off your list and moved on to more important matters, like sending mountains of templated InMails or manning a booth at a career fair. Or whatever it is that recruiters do that keeps them too busy to actually close the loop with candidates.

That’s preface that would leave many marketers, not to mention HR pundits and practitioners, with very little to talk about. After all, we spend a lot of our time as an industry focusing on the negative experiences epidemic to recruitment and retention, and how those negative experiences aversely affect our business and bottom line throughout the hiring process.

Whether it’s sourcing, offer negotiation or onboarding, the candidate experience conversation seems to accentuate the negative – but in broad brush strokes and sweepingly subjective, sensationalistic statements that offer little in the way of actionable outcomes or meaningful suggestions on how, exactly, recruiters are supposed to fix what’s long been broken.

That’s because when it comes to actually analyzing the impact of improving candidate experience, we’re at a disadvantage because, well, we’re dealing with a serious case of the missing metrics. At best, the fluff and ambiguity framing the candidate experience conversation is something of a superficial facade designed to conceal the fact that we haven’t actually figured out what really matters, and consequently, what’s worth measuring.

So we keep going around in circles without actually moving forward. But while recruiting may not have a clue about candidate experience aside from the 30,000 foot view provided in blog posts, B2B marketing copy and conference keynotes, there’s an entire function and dedicated discipline focused exclusively on experience. Their best practices and expertise might prove invaluable for helping us finally figure out what the hell we’re supposed to actually do (and where to look) when it comes to candidate experience.

User experience, or UX, as it’s more commonly called, can be defined very simply as a process that makes stuff easier to use. Joel March, one of the most prominent thought leaders in the UX space in his role as Experience Architect at TheHipperElement, has broken down the UX discipline into 5 distinct principles: psychology, usability, design, copywriting and analysis.

Applying Proven UX Principles to Candidate Experience

While fixing candidate experience obviously isn’t as simple or straightforward as these five major categories, by exploring how these UX principles apply to recruiting, these guideposts at least provide a framework that’s easy enough for recruiters to follow so that they can stop guessing and start actually improving the candidate experience.

Let’s break each of these 5 principles down.

1. Psychology: How much work does the user have to do to get what they want?

psychA candidate who actually wants to actively apply for a job really only has one mission motivating them – to get through the often arduous online application process and successfully submit their resumes for consideration. They just wish it was a digital experience more akin to buying a book on Amazon than filling out an online tax return. And there’s really no reason that it can’t be as easy.

Very few companies, and even fewer recruiting software vendors, offer one-click apply capabilities. Instead, most have an extremely complex and convoluted application workflow that requires dozens of different clicks to do something as simple as submitting a resume to a job posting.

If you don’t know how many clicks your application process takes, then find out. The answer, for most employers, is probably both shocking and sobering. Remember, each and every single one of those clicks is going to  cost you great candidates, who often drop out of the process well before you’re even able to capture their information or interest.

Many recruiters and hiring managers seem to approach this with the attitude that this onerous application process somehow is an effective screening mechanism, and that “if they were motivated, they’d take the time to finish the application.” News flash: that’s a bunch of BS.

In fact, a recent CareerBuilder study surveyed candidates about negative experiences while applying for jobs, and effectively dispelled this myth by providing a ton of data points that show how significant the issue of negative application experiences actually are when attracting and recruiting top talent.

  • 42% of candidates with negative experiences said they would never consider employment at the company again.
  • 22% of candidates with negative experiences said they’d actively tell others not to work for that company.
  • 9% of candidates with negative experiences said they would not purchase products or services from that company.

It doesn’t take a big data specialist to do the math and realize the huge business and bottom line implications inherent to providing a negative candidate experience. Doing so will drive less referrals, kill your employer brand and sabotage sales.

2. Usability: If the user doesn’t read the fine print, does it still work and make sense?

uxOK. You know that moment when you’re in the middle of filling out some really long form, and somehow power your way to the end and triumphantly click submit, only to get that little red error message that doesn’t tell  you what, exactly, you did wrong? Yeah, we’ve all been there – and it sucks. This is an example of usability – and a worst practice that you should avoid like the plague.

The easiest way to conduct a usability test to see how your UX stacks up is to set aside 30 minutes a quarter (go ahead and calendar it in now, so you’ll remember) and use that time to sit next to a co-worker, client or colleague and watch them actually apply for a job.

Then – and this is going to be hard for most recruiters, but the next step is also the most important: Shut up. 

Don’t opine on what they’re doing wrong or offer workarounds, tips or advice on what they should be doing as they apply. Simply observe, and record any challenges they may encounter, any parts of the process that are challenging or confusing enough to preempt them from continuing the application, or places they click away or simply quit the process entirely.

Similarly, informally query candidates during phone screens, in person interviews or even after onboarding to get their perspectives and feedback on what they experienced during the application process. This will give you the observational and anecdotal perspectives you’ll need to figure out the most pressing priorities and areas of opportunity for incremental improvements.

Every recruiter within a talent organization or staffing agency should do a similar process a minimum of once a quarter, optimally with some sort of standardized form or ratings system so that aggregate results can be more easily analyzed and acted upon.

This feedback should be housed in a single central repository that’s accessible to all members of your hiring team – there are a ton of no-cost solutions like Google Drive or DropBox for creating this, so unlike your application process, it’s relatively quick and painless.

3. Design: Does it represent the brand? Does it all feel like the same site?

ux jokeEmployer brand is another one of those topics, like candidate experience, recruiters can’t stop talking about. While these are often seen as separate or siloed concepts, the truth is that employer brand and candidate experience are really just two sides of the same coin.

If you have an ugly, outdated or off-brand company career site, it might be time to consider rethinking and repositioning your employer brand or selecting a point solution or platform so that cut through the clutter to get your message (and value prop) across. These, of course, should be optimized for mobile devices and should eschew heavy copy or boring corporate collateral in favor of being crisp, clean and candidate friendly.

Make it easy for candidates to navigate the various sections of the site, and make sure that they don’t have to go digging to figure out where to search for jobs.

That’s why most of your applicants are there, after all – most really could care less about that generic mission statement or why you’re committed to diversity.

Don’t focus too much on building a sleek, sexy site with a ton of plug-ins and widgets, though, if your actual job descriptions and backend ATS suck – there’s nothing more confusing (or convoluted) than asking a potential applicant to click from some visually stunning and impeccably designed careers site to a clunky, archaic ATS once they decide to apply. It just undermines your message – and the home screen on most enterprise systems looks about as up to date as having a hit counter on your site or automatically playing a .midi for every new visitor.

4. Copywriting: Is it clear, direct, simple and functional?

Yeah, you probably hate writing as much as everyone else, but copywriting is important for recruiting. And we’re not talking just about job descriptions or candidate communications. (PS: If you need a little refresher on how to write a great job description, we’ve got you covered; check out the video below for some killer tips and tricks).

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taEV1DkukLM” width=”500″ height=”300″]

Job desriptions are obviously really, really important for recruiters, but they are not the only copywriting that counts; every communication you have with candidates when hiring should have at least competent copy. From those automated “thanks but no thanks” or “I came across your resume…” e-mails to scheduling requests to actual offer letters and everything in between, copywriting can be a significant competitive advantage – or disadvantage, if it’s terrible – when hiring candidates.

Here’s a simple rule for the road. Think: what does this person really want to know? Does the copy I’m providing actually answer this question? Will this get their attention long enough for them to answer my call to action? It’s really that simple.

For a great example of this, check out the LinkedIn request I recently received from Steve Levy, who gets what it takes to get attention when crafting candidate communications:

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Word to the wise: fine print is the devil when it comes to UX; if it can’t be easily understood or articulated, it’s not worth having up there in the first place. Unless, of course, your lawyer tells you otherwise.

5. Analysis: Are you using data to prove you’re right?

analysisAnd we’re back to where we started from – actually finding the missing metrics to candidate experience and measuring success. But here’s the bottom line: if you’re not getting data from your website (which you should), you must get quantiative data from your candidates from some system or software, and track it as closely as stuff like days to fill or source of hire or those other traditional recruiting metrics that we’re still so focused on for measuring our performance.

Just as important, though, is making sure you don’t overlook qualitative data, which is just as essential to informing the candidate experience as hard numbers and, fortunately, far easier to track. All you need to do is start asking for feedback and collecting opinions from candidates, clients and colleagues about the recruiting process.

If you’ve worked in this industry for longer than, say, a week, you probably already know that everyone has an opinion, and won’t hesitate to make it known if prompted.

Every time you implement a new technology, launch a new initiative or roll out a new strategy in recruiting and HR, you’ve got to do so by asking one critical question: “how are we going to measure this?” If you can’t, then there’s really no point in moving forward in the first place. But if you measure the right things, you’ll not only be able to more effectively identify change, but also drive better outcomes and improved experiences throughout the recruiting process.

Don’t know what to measure? Ask your sales team how they measure success, or work with your vendor to see what other clients using their software are doing to quantify and analyze their recruiting results – it will likely differ slightly depending on system capabilities and functionalities, so unfortunately, there’s no pat answer to this question. Word to the wise: don’t fall for that “it’s all in our algorithm” shit, either.

UX and Candidate Experience: What Actually Works

I can recite the Golden Rule for you or tell you more about how you suck at data – or don’t have enough of it to make informed decisions – but at the end of the day, you want real results. And the only way you’ll be able to generate those results is by collecting and analyzing the data you need to drive the change you need.

You don’t want to drive away candidates for good, lose actual paying customers or get potential applicants scared away by horror stories of negative experiences applying for your jobs. You don’t want to be the recruiter who gets that “ick” face when referencing your employer, or pummeled by your hiring managers because you’re not getting any good candidates (they all dropped out after around 20 minutes of filling out unnecessary forms).

You want to create an awesome user experience, because this not only translates to improved candidate experience, but more than likely, improved candidates (and look like a recruiting rock star in the process). So remember: no hoops to jump through, no fine print to read, no ugly shit to navigate through. There’s already way too much of that in the hiring process as is.

By Katrina Kibben

RecruitingDaily contributing writer and editor.  I am a storyteller. A tactical problem solver. A curious mind. A data nerd. With that unique filter, I work to craft messages that strategically improve the perceptions and experiences of our clients, the people they employ and the candidates they wish to attract. I methodically review and collect research and insights to offer solution-based recommendations that meet the one-off, and not so one-off, recruiting and employer branding problems of today's global employers.