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Mastering The Art Of The Candidate Experience

Mastering the Art of the Candidate Experience


Did you know that a candidate's experience could make or break your organization's brand and recruiting efforts? Continue reading to uncover how you can best align your approach to meet today's candidates' expectations.

“Candidate Experience” is a trending topic in recruiting circles. That is: how to assess candidate experience, improve candidate experience, ensure processes align with values throughout a candidate’s experience… you get the idea. But maybe we should start to imagine our own company’s candidate experience by starting with something different: a candidate’s expectations.

Let’s examine these expectations with the following scenario:

You left two beverages out on your kitchen counter overnight. You take a sip from the first and find that it’s water. You sip from the second, and its coffee. For most of us, the water on the counter seems much too warm, and the coffee next to it seems much too cold to drink, even though they’re both the same exact temperature. The reality is that our expectations of both water and coffee affect our experiences more than we think. As Talent Acquisition (TA) professionals, we are always striving to deliver a positive candidate experience, and the most successful recruitment processes are designed primarily around delivering on the candidate’s expectations.

Just as one would expect a cup of coffee to be hot, candidates also expect that any company recruiting them will attempt to make the experience as simple and stress-free as possible. It could very well be the difference between a great candidate accepting or declining an offer to join your team.

World’s Best Cup of Coffee: How to engage potential candidates and have them choose your cup

“Candidate experience” can be a nebulous term, so it is important to begin with a potential candidate’s expectations in mind. Are you aware that the candidate’s experience starts from the moment they click on your job posting? Every candidate expects a job description to include a list of responsibilities and a list of desired qualifications, but how does your job post set you apart from your competitors?

An effective job description does more than describe the job; it allows candidates to envision themselves in the role. It engages them on practical and personal levels and invites them to imagine themselves as integral parts of the team rather than cogs in a giant wheel. Consider the following excerpts from Software Developer job descriptions currently posted on LinkedIn:

Opportunity #1- We are seeking a skilled software developer to join our team. The successful candidate will be responsible for developing, testing, and maintaining software applications. They should have a strong understanding of programming languages and frameworks, as well as the ability to work collaboratively in a team environment. The software developer will also be expected to troubleshoot and debug software issues and provide technical support.

Opportunity #2- Join our dynamic team as a software developer and play a pivotal role in shaping the future of our cutting-edge software solutions. As a key contributor, you will have the opportunity to create innovative, high-quality software applications that solve complex business problems and drive impactful outcomes for our clients. You will collaborate closely with cross-functional teams to gather requirements, design software solutions, and develop scalable applications that align with our business goals. You’ll also take ownership of the entire software development lifecycle, from concept to deployment, ensuring robustness, scalability, and maintainability of the codebase.

Each example includes only four sentences, but the second description is much more effective. Why?

Because the first description reads like a cup of room-temperature coffee. It delivers the bare minimum of the candidate’s expectations. Every software developer can expect to “develop, test, and maintain software applications.” This is like telling a Starbucks Barista that he/she can expect to pour both hot and cold beverages each day.

The second description delivers much more information about the position and what this person will bring to the team. It goes above and beyond the minimum requirements and expectations: it delivers a value proposition that allows prospective applicants to imagine themselves in the role. This coffee is much hotter than that first cup, and many more people will want to take a sip.

Taking that First Sip: Meeting and exceeding expectations

The next step in the candidate’s experience is when they take the time to learn more about the potential employer, view your social media, and evaluate the company itself rather than just the opportunity. They’ve smelled the coffee and the mug is warm to the touch. What will they uncover when they get their first real taste of your company?

Once your LinkedIn job post has piqued the candidate’s interest and they go to your company website, will they see that the job description from LinkedIn exactly matches the one on your website? Candidate experience starts well before the first phone call, and it is critical that potential candidates have their expectations met by your company’s online presence and branding/marketing.

Look at your online presence as if you were seeing it for the first time, as a candidate would. Assess all your public marketing platforms, from your website to social media posts to press releases and even a Google search of your company. Are your company’s core values easily found? Does your online presence embody those values? Finally, do you believe that your online marketing sets the appropriate expectations for your candidates and allows them a glimpse of what they’ll experience by working for your company?

Good to the Last Drop: How your team can maintain a positive candidate experience

While the candidate experience begins with your company’s online presence and marketing, the onboarding starts from the first phone call with your TA team. Regardless of whether the candidate applied to your posting or is hearing about the role from your team’s direct outreach, the first live conversation with somebody from your company is their first experience with your company culture; it is vital to ensure that your TA team is accurately and consistently communicating and embodying your core values. The first and most important of those values should always be transparency.

The goal for every initial candidate conversation is to set their expectations about the role, the company, the interview process, target compensation, and what to expect from each successive step forward. If the interview process is lengthy, discuss that on the first call. If the company is offering slightly less than market-rate compensation for the role, discuss that on the first phone call. It is imperative that your recruiters gain the trust of the candidates they work with, and that starts by being upfront and honest about the role and the process. Many candidates expect a recruiter to be vague or downplay some of the less-desirable aspects of their recruitment process or the potential role being discussed. Going back to our original analogy, every candidate will appreciate it if you let them know that the coffee you are giving them might be a bit too hot at first.

That said, it is always a best practice to try and improve your own recruitment processes so that there are fewer hurdles for candidates. For example, you should minimize interviews with multiple rounds, repetitive questions, or large group panels that require unanimous approval prior to meeting with decision-makers. These practices increase your time to fill and turn off candidates who might otherwise have been interested in accepting your position.

No Bitter Aftertaste: How to end each candidate experience positively.

Ninety-five percent of candidates will not be offered the job for which they applied. Knowing that most candidates’ experience will fall short of their expectations and end in disappointment doesn’t mean that it is any less important to maintain a professional and transparent experience throughout the entirety of the process. While it is difficult to deliver the message to a candidate that they have not been selected for a role, it is imperative that your TA team be sincere and transparent as to why the candidate was not selected. While TA Teams have no obligation to inform the candidate who made the decision not to move forward, it is incumbent upon the recruiter to let the candidate know why the decision was made. It will help the candidate to address areas of opportunity for growth and advancement.

Final Thoughts: Reach for the hot cup of joe

In each stage of the recruitment lifecycle, the candidate’s experience is shaped by his or her expectations of both the recruiter with whom they are working and the company with whom they are interviewing. It is equally important for TA professionals to streamline processes so that expectations are met. We should only serve cold water and hot coffee, and if we don’t, we should let our candidates know why.

It is also worth mentioning that the market is cyclical; it will most likely turn again when we least expect it. When the market is slow, re-evaluate your internal retention strategy with current employees. This way, employees are not looking for the first new opportunity that comes their way when the market becomes active again. Retention starts with a great candidate experience.

Finally, recruitment marketing and branding are essential to candidate experience and expectations. If you are unsure of the effectiveness of your recruitment marketing efforts and want to add a little sugar and cream to your hot cup of joe, ORS offers a comprehensive Recruitment Marketing Assessment that provides key insights into online marketing, brand representation, and social media presence. The assessment is designed around industry-leading best practices to ensure the expectations of all potential applicants are met and exceeded. Feel free to contact us if you would like to learn more by visiting this link.

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