What Is Candidate Experience? How to Define, Improve and Optimize It

What Is Candidate Experience? How to Define, Improve and Optimize It

Mike Roberts

Candidate experience is defined as how job seekers perceive and react to employers’ sourcing, recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding processes. It has proven to be directly tied to recruiting performance, making it one of the most highly regarded talent acquisition topics today. Some employers have gone so far as to appoint professionals to lead the charge on measuring and improving candidate experience.

Improving Candidate Experience: Why You Should Care

Before the internet connected everyone and made information widely accessible, the costs of a poor candidate experience were not necessarily as high. If a job seeker had a poor experience during an interview a decade ago, for instance, she would be less likely to apply again in the future, accept a job offer, and buy that company’s products or services. She would also probably tell her inner circle about the poor experience.

That all still happens today, although social media as well as employer review sites have dramatically expanded the dynamic and size of our inner circles. And as a consequence, news of a poor candidate experience can travel much faster and further. Research shows that candidates who had a poor candidate experience are far more likely to tell others not to apply to a company, and may even write a negative Glassdoor review.

On the flip side, a good candidate experience can lead to more (sometimes better) applicants, hires, and referrals. It can also result in lower costs per hire and time to fill. The benefits of candidate experience are vast, and this article will continue to define candidate experience as well as discuss tips and best practices that will help you realize major improvements.

For further reading, here’s more info on the costs of a poor candidate experience.

Candidate Experience Best Practices: The 5 Things to Know

During a visit to the Jibe office this year, Gerry Crispin of CareerXroads and The Talent Board shared 5 steps to improving candidate experience, all of which can be applied to some degree to the sourcing, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding processes.

candidate experience best practices
For quick reference, below are the top five candidate experience best practices:

  • Set clear expectations from the beginning
  • Always listen to your candidates first
  • Exemplify fairness throughout every step
  • Provide some form of closure
  • Demand accountability

For a deeper dive into each of these five areas, check out this post. Keep these points in mind as you go through the rest of this article. Small adjustments to any phase of the recruiting and hiring lifecycle through the lens of these candidate experience best practices can add up quickly.

Know Your Candidates: Persona Building and Messaging

Providing an exceptional candidate experience requires understanding and knowing your ideal candidates. Where do they spend their time online? What keeps them up at night? What does success look like to them? Why haven’t they applied to your company yet? Imagine if there was a way to wrap your head around that…

Enter candidate personas.

A candidate persona is a concept taken from other areas of business like sales, marketing, and engineering. It is a powerful recruitment marketing tool that refers to the process of developing a fictional representation of your ideal candidate or set of candidates. The end result is usually a document that can be shared within recruiting teams and used to develop messaging. Some employers that undertake this exercise will create numerous candidate personas for different types of positions.

Creating candidate personas typically requires an inquisition via surveys and research into your ideal candidates’ backgrounds, ambitions, fears, challenges, and objections to your company. It also digs into how candidates like to be communicated with, which social channels they use, and more.

Candidate personas data can be found by interviewing current, past, and lost candidates.

This exercise is not something many recruiting teams want to initiate and see through, but we suggest doing it at least once because it typically uncovers something of interest. A deep knowledge of your candidates is imperative for providing a great candidate experience, from the content you create to attract and source candidates, to the interview questions you ask them and even the makeup of your benefits and compensation over the long-term.

For further reading, here’s more info on building candidate personas.

Aligning Your Recruiting (and Hiring) Funnel With the Modern Candidate Journey

So far, we’ve spent time defining candidate experience and sharing best practices. But before getting into the role of the recruiting funnel in candidate experience, you’ve got to understand the modern candidate journey.

Yes, there was a time when candidates found about new employment opportunities through newspaper classifieds. And then that process got taken online to job boards. A lot has changed since the launch of Monster.com around the turn of the millennium. In particular, the explosion of the world wide web, along with social media, and mobile technology have given way to a new era of informed decision-making.

Today, it’s completely common for consumers to conduct heavy internet research prior to making any decisions. For instance, something simple like choosing a restaurant has turned into a small research project for many individuals, involving review sites like Yelp, search engines like Google, social media sites like Facebook, and more. In that process, it’s not hard to rack up 15-20 digital interactions before choosing where to eat.

Likewise, the candidate journey has become less straightforward and more sophisticated.

Today’s candidates (especially younger ones) are less willing to just apply blindly to a position. They know there is a sea of information available through their social connections, employer review sites, news sites, career sites, and more. The candidate journey has adapted to the new connected world, but many employers have not adjusted their recruiting strategies to meet this new way of job seeking. As a result, candidate experience is taking a backseat.

Now, on to the recruiting funnel

Your team could use your candidate persona to reverse engineer the journey job seekers take prior to getting into your apply flow. This process could reveal many interesting things about the current makeup of your recruiting budget, and where funds are allocated in your recruiting funnel.

From a candidate experience perspective, let’s take a quick look at the modern recruiting funnel.

inbound recruiting funnel
Now companies have a lot of pressure to perform at the top of the (significantly wider) funnel. The top of the funnel has channels like social (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and more), employer review sites (Glassdoor, Vault, etc.), search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!), career sites and employer branding content, and more. Candidate experience must be considered in each of these resources.

Here’s more info on the top of the recruiting funnel.

The middle of the modern recruiting funnel can be thought of as a deeper, more informed time where candidates may be formulating an opinion about your employer brand and your corporate brand. They may not be ready to apply yet, but there’s some level of interest. Resources and channels commonly discussed in this phase of the funnel include more employer branding content, career sites, talent networks, careers newsletters, calls-to-action (CTA), job alerts, and more.

More info on the middle of the recruiting funnel here.

The bottom of the funnel typically refers to when candidates actually apply. This phase is associated with on-site job search, applicant tracking systems (ATS), ATS integration, apply flows, mobile recruiting, and more.

Here’s more on the bottom of the funnel.

There are many areas that comprise the modern recruiting funnel. The bottom of the funnel marks the hand-off from the recruiting funnel to the interviewing phase of the broader hiring funnel. Optimizing candidate experience at each part of this recruiting funnel is a complex challenge to pursue. Because it’s so digitally focused, it’s led many recruiting teams to start thinking and acting more like marketers. It’s also resulted in new disciplines such as employer branding, inbound recruiting, and recruitment marketing.

Here’s a quick video for reference on the connection between recruiting and marketing:

When thinking about your own candidate experience, you must create a plan to provide exceptional experiences at each of these phases.

Here’s more info on inbound recruiting and optimizing each of these phases.

Candidate Experience During the Interview Process

Interviewing and screening are major parts of candidate experience. Talent acquisition professionals would do well to work to improve and optimize these areas of the hiring process, just like they would for sourcing and recruiting. What’s the point of having an awesome apply flow or employer branding content if your interview experience turns candidates away?

candidate experience definition
Preparing your candidates and setting expectations for the interview process can go a long way. In The Talent Board’s Candidate Experience survey, they showed that 41% of candidates got no information at all prior to their interview (i.e. who they were going to be interviewing with, how long it would take, background details, etc.). Recruiting and hiring managers should agree on an agenda that can be shared with candidates prior to interviews (especially on-site interviews).

Questions asked during the interview are also something to take note of. Recruiters and hiring managers should avoid asking irrelevant questions, because candidates tend to perceive this as unfair. The further you get from the job description in your questioning, the worse it will be for your candidate experience. Some companies are providing ongoing interviewing practice and lessons for recruiters and hiring managers, so they can focus on asking the right questions.

Lastly, the simple step of providing feedback, or perhaps some type of follow-up after an interview is seen as a positive in the eyes of candidates. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, too (more on that later).

Here’s an in-depth article on improving your candidate experience during the interview.

Creating a Positive Candidate Experience While Hiring, Onboarding and Turning Candidates Down

Hiring, turning candidates down, and the onboarding process are crucial elements of candidate experience. Let’s discuss each.

The hiring process, and extending an offer, should be a positive mark on your candidate experience. Having everything prepared for this moment, along with the right compensation packages is important. Communication is key during this timeframe as well. Don’t let this process fall into the hiring “black hole.” The Talent Board revealed that more than half of candidates received an offer less than one week after their last interview.

Turning candidates down is a natural part of the recruiting and hiring process. However, many companies don’t do it very well, and that harms candidate experience. The worst thing an employer could do is to simply never respond to a candidate who interviewed. It’s a bit more accepted (but not advised) to never respond to candidates who apply. With the recruiting automation technology that’s available today, there’s virtually no excuse to not, at the very least, send an automated email to candidates who aren’t qualified or who won’t be getting an offer.

It’s advisable, though, from a candidate experience perspective, to deliver bad news “in person” (a.k.a. some type of email or quick phone call) whenever possible. This may not be feasible for every candidate, but those who interviewed could leave with a more positive perception of your employer brand and candidate experience if a recruiter provided a quick call and some feedback.

You may also want to employ recruitment marketing strategies or social recruiting strategies that aim to keep engaged the candidates who won’t be getting an offer or who may not be qualified at this time. This could be mean a personal invitation into your talent network. We’ve also seen some recruiters who invite every candidate to connect with them on LinkedIn in order to stay in contact for the future.

By many experts, onboarding is considered part of candidate experience. In this context it refers to the time between an accepted offer and the early days of an employees tenure at a company.

Companies that stay in contact with hires prior to their start date tend to score higher in candidate experience scores. Small gestures, such as an email or quick message can go a long way. Hopefully you’re in contact anyway, because it’s advised to have all required forms for employment sent in and completed prior to when new hires start their job.

Finally, the health of your onboarding process (new hire orientation, training, etc.) ties directly to the health of your candidate experience. Recruiters should be aware of this, and make sure new employees have a good transition into their jobs, because when that’s lacking talent acquisition teams risk ending up back where they started, filling that position again.

How to Measure Candidate Experience

We get the question all the time, “how do you measure candidate experience?” There may be no better method for measuring the quality of candidate experience than the Net Promoter Score (NPS).

NPS is a measurement system used by The Talent Board in their annual Candidate Experience Research and Awards. It was created by Frederick F. Reichheld, who was on the hunt for a quick but effective way to measure a customer’s loyalty to a brand. What he determined was that a person’s willingness to refer another to a brand correlated with company growth more frequently than any other indicator.

improving candidate experience
Using NPS is a relatively straightforward process. The scale typically ranges from -100 to 100, where -100 would be someone who would not refer another person to your brand. 100 would indicate the person would refer another to your brand. Zero is often thought of as a good score, while 50 or greater is “excellent.”

By asking the simple question, “would you refer this experience to another person,” and then aggregating and averaging the respective scores over time, one could understand the health of a brand and prospects for growth.

Those who would refer your brand are promoters, and those who would not are detractors (Net Promoters = % promoters – % detractors).

We can apply this methodology to candidate experience by asking the question, “Based on your experiences, would you refer a friend to apply to this company?” You could also ask a follow-up question to detractors that says “How can we improve the experience?”

There are a few challenges with using NPS, though. For one, you may get bias in your answers depending on when you ask this question. If you ask prior to making a hiring decision, the candidate may not want to answer truthfully. Some companies will send the one question survey out to all candidates following the submission of their application, while others will wait a standard time following the hiring decision.

Note that The Talent Board reported in 2016 73% of candidate respondents said they were never asked to provide feedback on the screening or interview process.

That’s a quick overview of measuring candidate experience. Here’s a longer explanation.

Candidate Experience Statistics to Think About

We’ll leave you with a few candidate experience statistics from sources around the web that we found in 2016:

  • The average candidate uses 16 resources while searching for a new job (CareerBuilder)
  • 73% of candidates start their job search on Google (CareerBuilder)
  • 44% of candidates subscribe to job alerts (Indeed)
  • 43% of candidates were able to view a progress indicator while applying for a job (The Talent Board)
  • 43% of candidates spent more than 30 minutes completing an application, and 12% spent more than one hour (The Talent Board)
  • 50% of candidates were asked about their job-specific skills during their online applications, and less than one-third were asked to take assessments (The Talent Board)
  • 53% of candidates received an offer less than one week after their last interview (The Talent Board)
  • More than 50% of companies never explain why gender or race questions are asked during the application process (The Talent Board)
  • 95% of recruiters think the quality of their employer brand impacts candidate experience (Jibe)
  • 79% of companies surveyed by The Talent Board had only 1-2 interviews per position, which was an improvement from last year (The Talent Board)
  • Less than half of companies surveyed by The Talent Board “strongly agreed” that they were asked mostly relevant questions during their interview (The Talent Board)
  • 70% of employers do not provide more than an interviewers’ name or background (The Talent Board)
  • 73% of candidates said they were never asked to provide feedback on the screening or interview process (The Talent Board)

Okay, now you’re on the right track toward providing a positive candidate experience. You know how to define candidate experience, put a plan in place to improve it, and show the value of your efforts in the process. Let us know what you think on Twitter @jibe.

If you’re interested in continuing your candidate experience education, then you’re going to want to check out our new eBook:

candidate experience best practicescareer site assessment