Experiencing the Candidate Experience: A Recruiting Reality Check

funny-reality-checkIt seems that, if the chatter from the HR Technology Conference and LinkedIn Talent Connect are any indication, that everyone in talent today is talking about Candidate Experience – and seemingly won’t shut up about this ubiquitous trending topic.

So, this whole Candidate Experience thing must be a big deal, right?

You bet it is.  Think about it.  The Candidate Experience has implications for every part of every employer’s hiring process. For example, if applying for jobs is harder than actually doing the job, what signal does that send to your applicant pool? What does it say about your company culture?

Sure, we’ve got enough “big data” to build an infinite amount of bar charts on time-to-fill and fancy infographics on “flow” and “recruiting optimization” or whatever visualization most of us need to make metrics mean something, but that doesn’t reflect the data that recruiters really need: knowing how your tools, processes and people stack up against your competition.

The answer is everything.

Candidate Experience: Auditing Your Application Process

candidate experience onlineIf you’re not entirely sure of the answer, there’s one way to get a very good idea of how you’re doing. Log off Twitter.  Close LinkedIn.  Stop sending spam to your “talent networks” or building “brand advocates” for a minute and do yourself – not to mention your clients, candidates and company – a huge favor and actually apply to some of your job openings.  Seriously.

Try it from the beginning of the application process and ride it through, as far as you can, to the end. See if you can get through to successfully submit to any of your posted reqs. Yes, I know for most of you, this is probably going to be painful.

Already done that? OK, nice work – you’re actually in the minority of recruiters who have survived this painful – but painfully necessary – exercise in candidate experience.

Pass “GO,” and try applying for jobs at one of your direct competitors, or at one of the recent companies recognized as CandEs award winners or really any company career site you come across online – they’re all more or less equal for the purposes of this particular exercise.  After all, there’s no better way to learn about the candidates experience than actually experiencing being a candidate.

Before starting to submit applications, you’ll probably want to block off some time, clear the cookies on your browser and sign out of any account, like Google, that explicitly identifies you as the end user.  Next, you’ll want to open a blank Powerpoint (or Keynote or Prezi, for all you geeks out there) to drop some screenshots into.  With me? Then you’re now ready to roll.

Next, pick a job – ideally, one you’re at least minimally qualified for and have some modicum of interest in learning more about. Pretend you’re an average job seeker and start where most of them go when they look for jobs: with a search engine.  Enter a job related keyword AND hashtag, and you’ll immediately return results from across social networks, job boards, and company career pages.

When you review these initial results, take a moment to notice if the job titles and locations are accurate.  This is, after all, likely the first thing most candidates see when they look for jobs online.  If you have to tweak the search a number of times before returning anything relevant, you’ve already identified one significant opportunity for improvement.

Also, notice if the job titles returned in your search results are truncated or otherwise shortened.  For example, is there an acronym that employers expect you to intuitively or implicitly “get” (e.g. “Spec” for “specialist,” or “BAE” for “Business Account Executive”)? If so, how did that keyword search work out for you?

Sucks, doesn’t it?  Yeah.  Welcome to the candidate’s world.

Now, when you finally find a relevant result returned with your search, consider this: would you actually click that link, much less apply, to any role in any company that has a strange acronym or specious abbreviation in the title if there’s another, clearly marked, well-branded job posting clearly delineated (like an “Apply From Indeed” or “Apply With LinkedIn” icon) as easy to apply?

It’s just something to think about – if only because it’s likely your competition already is, too.

Candidate Experience: Search or Seizure?

Next, it’s time to actually read the job description – which is something that relatively few candidates and fewer recruiters actually do.  But this is a learning exercise, so humor me and take the time to go through the boilerplate and bullet points.  The critical question: what the actual hell does the job entail?  If you think that recruiters and employers would at least make this basic question clear before posting a job, well, think again.

For example, Here’s an example of a gem I stumbled upon recently:

Employee Technology Experience Technology Specialist acts as the primary contact within Employee Technology Experience/Digital Workspace Services for our business partners that includes roles that focus on understanding current experience, defining technology experience design, identification and implementation of improved experience solutions and strategies as it relates to personal computing devices and technology.”

Whoa. That’s ONE sentence, and I’m out of breath from running through that particular run on.  I think this is a UI Job?  But maybe it’s an HRIS job?  Wait, I have an idea – I’m moving onto the next search result, along with probably almost every other potential applicant who’s even remotely qualified or hirable. We’ve got options, after all – unlike, say, the recruiter responsible for such a vacuous posting.

But, if you find one that’s at least somewhat clear on what the role involves (bonus points if it outlines the requirements and responsibilities, too – although that’s likely too much to ask for), then you’re ready for the good part.

Let’s hit apply!

Candidate Experience: Keep It Simple, Stupid

chewNow, typically, once you’ve determined to submit an application for a posted position, you’ll be required sign into a preexisting account in order to access the Applicant Tracking System. Creating these normally requires a simple e-mail or user ID, as well as choosing a password so that you can sign back in.  Don’t have one?  Well, you better click “new” and get ready to fill out even more blank fields – don’t worry, there’s more where those came from.

That’s why having an ATS with the capability to auto-populate or authenticate your information from a third-party site, like Facebook Connect or Google account, is so imperative to improving the candidate experience.

The simple ability to synch with social sites is a huge time saver, not to mention much less painful than the online root canal that is filling out page after page of required fields to apply for a single position.

Of course, as nice as these features are, it’s also important to offer a variety of ways applicants can apply – for instance, not everyone has a completed LinkedIn profile, and many people explicitly refuse to use Facebook for anything job related.  But go ahead and try applying for roles at a company that requires a manual application process and one that offers the ability to log-in using an existing social profile (or both for the same role, using different browsers and e-mails).

Which are you more likely to choose in the future? Yeah. Same goes for your candidates.

Of course, if you’re using an ATS that requires every one of them to go through your application process manually, including creating credentials and logging in before they can even express interest, you likely don’t have a whole lot of them these days.  But at least now, you’ve probably got a good guess as to why.

Surviving simply logging into the system is hard enough, but we’re just now getting to my favorite part of the application: assessments. Because the employer who makes you spend hours just to submit a resume into their system is likely too busy to actually reciprocate by taking the time to review said resume.  That’s why we’ve got to automate the screening process through adding yet another layer of unnecessary complexity.

You having fun yet? I know I am.

In fact, I applied for a job a few months back that was, for all intents and purposes, essentially a recruiting manager gig.  I mean, I knew enough about recruiting to at least figure that much out from the job description and that I was qualified. I even took the time to start the application process – one that I immediately abandoned once I got to an assessment that was absolutely ridiculous.  Seriously, I just stopped.

Because while the role sounded superficially interesting, I didn’t know enough about it – I just knew there was no way in hell I was going to answer 9 pages of random math problems involving train speeds or wholesale tire markups and margins.  Because obviously, applied algebra is an essential skill for any recruiters’ success.

Next!

Candidate Experience: Shining A Light On The “Black Hole”

help-wanted-now-hiringIt should come to no surprise to most of you that, 3 odd months later, that particular job is still posted. Of course, while I’m sure that as that employer frets about days to fill and stresses over sourcing strategy, they didn’t take the simple step of checking their system for incomplete applications. I’m guessing mine isn’t the only one sitting idle in there. In fact, I’d bet on it.

But supposing you did survive the assessment process and actually applied for a job (and have the automated confirmation e-mail to prove it) – then congratulations! You’ve just successfully completed a job that’s probably more complex and challenging than any job you’d ever apply for. So, what happens next? The answer, in short: typically, nothing. Cue the crickets.

Yeah, even after all that – the confirmation that your application is received is likely the last you’ll ever hear about said application.

Which is really bad, frankly.

With years of experience as a recruiter, I know that this “black hole” often ascribed to applications isn’t as simple as we often suggest – and that there are normally multiple issues in play; so many, in fact, that’s probably another blog post entirely. For now, let’s just say that if you’re one of those candidates who wasn’t referred in or directly sourced, your odds of hearing anything at all probably aren’t very good. Just a tip, in case you were going to take even more time following up – you’ve probably wasted enough of that as it is getting through the initial submission, so at this point, consider cutting your losses and move on.

Moving on, think about this scenario for a minute.  What if a candidate who was really well qualified for a job applied for it a while back, and received that automated e-mail saying, “Thanks but no thanks, but we are moving forward with another candidate.”

Right there, the fact that you’ve acknowledged they were no longer under consideration would put you light years ahead of most employers (hint: it’s as easy to set up and automate as the application confirmation one that you’re already sending).  But what if, at that point, those well qualified candidates immediately received another e-mail saying, “Thanks for applying – we’d like to speak with you.  Please click the below link to schedule.”

Pretty cool, right?

I thought so, too – at least when I received one from another recent application I’d submitted. But then I tried to click the link – and of course, it didn’t work.  So, I put my mad sourcing skills to work and tracked down the name and contact information of the recruiter of record to try to get some sort of clarification, or at least, a working link. The recruiter apologized, assured me the earlier was correct, and manually sent me another one just in case.  Naturally, that link didn’t work, either.  The point is this:

No matter how slick or sexy your tools or technology might be, all bets are off when your recruiting process is broken.  

The only sure bet is that until you fix those broken processes, you’ll never even hope to be able to fix candidate experience, either.

OK.  So, now we’ve gone through the whole application process.  That was so much fun, right?

Well, you need to try to do it all again – on your phone.  And then again, on an iPad or other tablet.  And, last but not least, try it from a computer at your local library or other publicly accessible machine – because your candidates are coming from all of these places, and each platform is critical for informing their experience.

I’m serious.  You better get going. Trust me, this is going to take some serious time.  But it’s going to pay off.  I promise.

Candidate Experience: What’s In It For Recruiters?

candidate experinence quoteThe thing is, when thinking about the Candidate Experience, you have to put in the legwork required to gain an intimate understanding of your entire process.  You’ve got to go through every scenario, every step, that you’re requiring of your candidates to see what they’re actually experiencing.

There’s a good chance if your process sucks, then this is the only way you’ll find the holes, because you can’t talk to those would-be candidates who simply gave up before even successfully submitting an application.

You’ll also need to intimately understand everything about the demographics of your candidates, and tailor your application process around the behaviors and habits of that audience.  You need to know where and how they’re applying, what devices they’re using and what keywords they’re searching for.

You need to know how likely they are to break out a calculator to answer idiotic assessment questions during their downtime or how likely they are to give up entirely and move onto applying for a similar role at one of your direct competitors. Talk about losing the war for talent without even putting up a fight.

Of course, once you’ve figured that out, you can start slicing stats and evaluating recruiting ROI by analyzing your agency spend, dicing drop-off rates from your ATS, and stacking those against industry and internal benchmarks to make metrics somewhat meaningful – and analytics actually actionable.

I know, if you’re like most talent acquisition professionals, you’re probably thinking that you don’t have the time for doing all this, or that somehow, the candidate experience doesn’t make any measurable difference in everyday recruiting and sourcing.  But it’s amazing what a big difference having a little empathy makes.

Having to go through the same process as your candidates should, if nothing else, give you a new perspective and new ideas on what you can fix in your process – not to mention, a new appreciation for the work your candidates put into looking for work.  The least you can do is return the favor.

And, if you take screenshots, build a Powerpoint and a few suggestions in there for fixing what’s broken, you might actually help improve the candidate experience at your company – something that, if every recruiter made a meaningful effort to do, would solve the candidate experience crisis once and for all.

But if you’re not willing to take the time to think about jobs from the candidate’s perspective or do the legwork to see what candidates really experience, you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. So stop talking about the candidate experience and start doing something about it – and there’s no better place to start than with process.

Now get going.  Good luck, and Godspeed!

23a2306About the Author: Nathan Vance is a talent acquisition strategist, sourcer, and blogger who believes everyone has the right to follow their passions and have meaningful careers.

Ever since he faced down the washing machine in his Japanese dorm armed only with a pile of laundry and a Kanji dictionary, he’s been tackling tough problems in innovative ways. His nine-year career in Talent Acquisition began at an internet start-up. He has gone on to use his customer-focused approach and marketing savvy to advise major tech, telecommunications, and aerospace & defense companies on how to identify and engage with top talent.

He currently sits on the Programs Committee for the Chicago USBLN and volunteers for The Lakeview Pantry.

Nathan lives in Oak Park, IL with his Boston Terrier, Loomis. Follow Nathan on Twitter at @nathansourcesor connect with him on LinkedIn.

 

Nathan Vance



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