Every recruiter should walk a mile in a candidate’s shoes.

Chances are they have. Chances are even better that at least one of those experiences turned ugly.

Imagine you’re the editor of a recruiting publication and have also served as an adjunct professor at a prominent university. You’ve recruited, hired, and managed many people. You’ve also had more than one baffling candidate experience.

As a former editor, you respond to a vaguely worded ad with an editor’s job description. The location is close to where you’ve always lived and worked. In two weeks, the publisher responds. The publication was quite familiar with your work and was also part of a group affiliated with your former employer. The group had even asked you to come back into the fold at one point.

Like shooting fish in a barrel, eh?

Famous last words: “We’ll let you know”

After the initial call, you spent three days of your time talking with principals and firming things up. One of those days required an in-person meeting at the publisher’s office. You just devoted many valuable hours to the process and afterward, you hear nothing from the interviewer. No status updates. No thanks for your time.

A week passed and you reached out to the publisher who responded that they were “far down the road with another candidate, but nothing final yet.” In closing, the publisher added, “We’ll let you know.”

Famous last words.

No one ever did let you know, but you found out through the grapevine — not from the interviewer — that the position had been filled. To make matters worse, they hired someone who had a lot less experience than you.

Painful and true circumstances such as these travesties occur too frequently in the HR and Talent Acquisition universe.

Companies must avoid these recruiting practices — at all cost. Furthermore, those costs can be staggering. Not only do unpleasant trials leave a bad taste in the mouth of potential employees, but such experiences take a toll on your bottom line.

The messages your recruiting practices are sending candidates

The Talent Board’s 2016 Candidate Research report found that 41 percent of global prospects planned to take their business elsewhere because of a miserable candidate experience. Perhaps you feel this scenario won’t apply to your business. Think again. In 2014, Virgin Media lost $5.5 million when approximately 7,500 applicants switched subscription services after being treated disrespectfully throughout the recruiting process due to their poor recruiting practices

Bad HRBut we don’t have 130,000 applicants per year, you say. Well, it’s all relative.

Don’t expect things to get any rosier on the hiring front. When the process flows smoothly, candidates don’t take to the Internet to extol the virtues of your talent acquisition team. Make a few missteps, however, and you’ll feel the wrath.

A whopping 72 percent of mistreated recruits have either posted negative reviews on job boards or have shared their harrowing stories with friends, family, and colleagues. The message? Don’t walk away from the company in question. Run away. And run fast.

You can’t afford to lose customers, and you can’t afford to keep open positions unfilled.

Fortunately, you CAN take action.

If you’ve received negative feedback on your candidates’ experiences or simply feel that your recruiting practices could use an overhaul, read on.

Streamline the application process

Candidates complain about having trouble merely getting out of the gate. Some application instructions confuse even the most seasoned job hunters. Applicants will quickly sour on the process if presented with lengthy, convoluted details on how to apply.

Condense the instructions to a few simple bullet points. Make it easy to jump in and get started. Don’t require a password to log into the site either. People get clubbed over the head with multiple password requirements every day.

No one wants to spend a lot of time filling out an application. A person’s attention span is 8 seconds, purportedly less than a goldfish. Thus, having applicants trudge through the initial phase of the hiring process won’t bode all that well for conversion rates. Around the 10-minute mark, prospects might no longer be able to ignore their Facebook notifications and the application sits on the back burner.

You should test the average time it takes to complete an application. Like a concise resume, keep it at one or two pages in length.

BNY Mellon recently cut the time it takes for job seekers to complete an app. They shrank completion time from 18 minutes to three minutes by reducing unnecessary information required for submission. Consequently, the company has witnessed measurable success in the number of hires they’ve made from their proprietary platform.

Fostering a humane hiring process

Does anyone like to wait in line? The answer is almost always a resounding “NO!”

Imagine the way a candidate must feel after they apply for a job and wait for weeks, hearing nothing but crickets. Slow or no post-interview follow-ups register as a major issue for recruits who languish while bills need to be paid, and to an employer’s detriment, competitors move in.

Don’t be one of those companies who vanishes after a quality prospect meets with a hiring manager, because it’s a lose-lose situation.

The steps to winning again aren’t that complicated. It simply requires better execution and recruiting practices on the part of the recruiter.

In the movie The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone’s adopted son and personal lawyer, Tom Hagen, rushed back to New York from a Hollywood dinner before finishing his dessert, because as Hagen put it, “Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately.

Candidates don’t think any differently.

In order to clear their minds and move on to the next opportunity, candidates want to get bad news as soon as possible. So do them a favor: Send out a rejection letter (or email) the minute you’ve decided that they’re not a good fit.

It’s better to face cold reality than have prolonged false hope.

When there’s keen interest on your part, keep the lines of communication open. Interviewers receive thank you emails from candidates all the time. Turn the tables; thank the candidate after each round of the hiring process.

A most gratifying gesture would be to send an acknowledgment the day after the interview. That note will help keep a recruit engaged and perhaps prevent them from seeking another opportunity.

How to conduct a smart and sensible interview

The face-to-face interview is the grand arbiter of many job seekers’ anxieties. Some candidates love them. Other folks would rather stick needles in their eyes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For example:

  • Pre-interview conversations should extend beyond directions to the meeting site. Let the candidate know if they need to bring anything besides themselves- resumes, portfolios, work samples, etc. Nothing feels worse than getting blindsided by an interview requirement that was never communicated.
  • Start the interview on time, because 20 minutes seems like an eternity to a candidate who is mentally locked-in to pitch their prowess at 11 am. Making someone wait conveys the sentiment that they are just not as important to the company as they’d hoped. It’s not the best foot to put forward.
  • Break the ice. Recruiters should make every effort to eliminate bias, but conversing a little bit about last week’s Game of Thrones episode never hurts matters and breaks the ice. Those chats put everyone in the room at ease and make a perfect segue for the business to come.

From candidate to employee — great onboarding is the key

You’re hired. Who doesn’t want to hear those words?

After all the twists and turns of the recruitment phase, the offer has finally been made.

Once the position has been accepted, start the onboarding process immediately. Communication becomes critical at this stage. As strange as it seems, a great many candidates wander off to competitors in the period between acceptance and the first day on the job.

“Minding the gap” refers to safely navigating the space between the railway platform and the train. Employers would be wise to apply the analogy to the post-offer time frame, lest some of those ideal candidates slip into the cracks.

So keep the fire burning. Brand matters for candidates as much as it does for customers. Welcome packets with additional info and a small gift are a nice touch. In addition to those things, back and forth emails with a few periodic phone calls to check in and answer any questions that may linger help immensely.

Time is always at a premium but the more attention lavished on top talent, the greater the chance they get to that first day and stick around for years to come.

The Final Say on smart recruiting practices

Ultimately, nailing the candidate experience comes down to smart recruiting practices, including details, planning, and some added time and effort. Managing the bulky, repetitive stages of the early recruitment process can prove cumbersome while also trying to onboard top talent.

From a candidate’s perspective, the career search can often be less than pleasant. A Silicon Valley-based recruiting firm conducted a poll that equated the job hunt with a root canal, ranking only behind the death of a loved one and divorce in terms of physical and emotional duress.

Find a way to ease that pain. This includes:

  • Primarily, recognize that a candidate may be taking time away from a current job to fulfill your requirements. Use that time judiciously to build rapport. Let them walk away feeling massaged and not maligned.
  • Create deadlines for communicating status and/or next steps. Stick to those timelines. Letting recruits twist in the wind creates anxiety and increases the odds that they may seek another opportunity.
  • Finally, if you’ve found the right fit for a position, engage that candidate immediately after an offer has been made. Give them a sense of belonging and set the stage for a fruitful and rewarding career.

Fixing your recruiting practices and paving the path with genuine and timely interactions will ensure that your company attracts, hires, and retains the best talent available.

Thomas Tracy

Thom Tracy is a human resources and employee benefits consultant who regularly writes about topics such as recruiting, career advice, real estate, and investing. You can follow him on Twitter @ThomTracy or LinkedIn