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What is candidate experience, and how can you improve It?

10 min read
From crafting a job ad to exchanging interview feedback, find out how to give your employment candidates a great first impression and a positive experience, whether or not they take the job.


What is candidate experience?

Candidate experience is how a jobseeker feels about an employer, based on all the interactions they had when applying for a job at the company.

Candidate experience covers all the following recruitment touchpoints:

  • Job ad: the advertising and description
  • Job search: visibility on career sites, social media, your website’s careers page
  • Job application: instructions, forms
  • Communications: after application, shortlisting, interview, accepted/rejected candidates
  • Interview: in-person, video, telephone
  • Feedback: what you thought of the applicant, and what the applicant thought of you
  • Candidate relationship: broadening your talent pool

Learn how candidate experience is the first step in the employee lifecycle

What makes a positive candidate experience?

When you’re doing the following things in your recruiting strategy, it’s likely you’re offering a positive candidate experience.

  • Clear communication
    There’s nothing more disheartening than putting time and effort into a job application, only to receive nothing but silence in return. When someone’s prepared for and attended an interview, not hearing back from a potential employer and having to chase them up is even worse. For a positive candidate experience, it’s essential that applicants receive a clear signal from you, their hiring manager, about their status in the recruitment process, whether that’s ‘yes’, ‘thanks, but no’ or ‘we’re working towards a decision’.
  • Frequent feedback
    Offering feedback after interviews is a great idea. But why stop there? Ask candidates to tell you about their experience during the hiring process, and follow up with them to find out more if answers suggest that it was less than good. Not only does it make them feel valued and heard, it will help you continue to improve your hiring process and deliver better candidate experiences in the future.
  • Above-average efficiency
    Bureaucracy, confusion, mixed messages… they all add up to a terrible first impression of your company. As we mentioned before, an efficient process and reliable infrastructure doesn’t only make the candidate experience better, it can save your company time and money too. If you’re not sure where the pain points are in your current process, gathering candidate feedback with a short survey can shed light on what you can improve. One fresh pair of eyes is helpful, but a whole set of high-quality data from many candidates is priceless.

Why is a good candidate experience so important?

You might be thinking that candidate experience affects only a small number of people, not enough to make a big difference to your business. But there are a few reasons why you should invest some time and energy in making candidate experiences positive.

  • You’ll be more attractive to high-quality candidates
    There’s no denying that the employment dynamic has shifted. With increased visibility of jobs, a normalization of job-hopping, and emerging skills gaps, particularly in the tech sector, the best candidates have their pick of employers. And no matter how high the starting salary is, they’re likely to be put off taking a job offer if the candidate experience was poor or they’ve heard bad things from others.
  • You’ll strengthen your employer brand
    Yes, the number of people applying to work for you is relatively small, but each one of them has friends and family, colleagues in the same sector, and possibly recruitment consultants who will hear how it went. Job interviews are memorable events and people will be telling the tale of your good (or bad) candidate experience long after the event is over.
  • You can hire faster
    Hiring is expensive, as any business owner will tell you. The resources needed to advertise jobs, select candidates, complete paperwork and conduct interviews equate to time and money that isn’t being spent on revenue-generating activities. Having a smooth and efficient hiring process doesn’t just benefit candidates, it takes a load off you too.

The 7 stages of candidate experience

1. Job ad

This is the gateway to your hiring process. The best ads shout out to high-quality candidates why your job is worth applying for. To write a great ad, you’ll need to understand fully the role you’re putting out there. Talk to the team that a new hire will be joining for their shop-floor take on what the job involves day to day. Write a punchy intro to your business that showcases your company values, then a clear job description that includes the job title, salary, benefits, location, the role and responsibilities, and qualifications and skills.

Double check there’s nothing misleading, that you haven’t oversold the role, and you have covered all the skills a candidate needs. And avoid negatives such as ‘don’t/only apply if’ – you could deter a great applicant who doesn’t quite match the spec.

2. Job search

However you put your ad out there (job boards, recruitment sites, social media, local press, word of mouth with existing employees), the first place an interested candidate will look is your website, specifically, your careers page. This is your opportunity to showcase your employee value proposition (EVP) and employer branding. Make sure the page is easy to find, is chock-full of useful and relevant information, and answers all your candidates’ FAQs. And list the vacancies on offer with links to apply.

3. Job application

Candidates can spend 3 to 4 hours preparing and submitting a job application, and many give up if the forms and process are too long-winded. A convoluted application process is a marker of poor candidate experience. Make it easy to apply, on all devices, and your application forms are clear and concise. Apply for your job yourself to test the process.

4. Communication

When a candidate has spent hours of their life researching your company and submitting an application, the most off-putting thing is silence from an employer. Lack of communication not only contributes to poor candidate experience, it can also damage employer branding as word gets round that a company ignores applicants. Candidates appreciate even the simplest of texts or emails, and with automated, personalized processes, there’s no excuse for not keeping every applicant in the loop.

5. Interview

A good, well-structured interview process, with great questions, stays with a candidate long after it is over. A bad interview experience stays in cyberspace – 72% of job seekers say they share details of negative experiences online.

An interview is the opportunity for the candidate and business to get to know each other and showcase skills and opportunities. Spend more time showing candidates around, whether with tours, open days and events than a face-to-face traditional interview. They’ll learn a lot more about the role and company culture that way. And respect candidates’ time – interviewers showing up late or not at all, and appearing disengaged during the meeting is poor show.

6. Feedback

A job application process is a hefty investment of time and effort, so it’s not surprising that 94% of applicants want to hear interview feedback. Timely feedback helps not only applicants, but your company, to grow. Constructive feedback to unsuccessful candidates will make them more inclined to apply to you again. And asking for feedback about your recruiting process is valuable for informing and improving your candidate experience.

7. Candidate relationship

When you say ‘we’ll keep your details on file’ – mean it! Chances are your silver and bronze candidates would also have been a good fit for your organization, so keep them sweet and you may be able to call them back in for another position. Treasure near-miss candidates with plenty of positive feedback, connection on LinkedIn and social media, invites to networking events, and recruitment emails. Recruiting from an existing talent pool is cheaper than starting from scratch.

Strategies you can use to improve the candidate experience

If you get the following things right, you’ll deliver a great candidate experience:

  • Clear communication
    Your candidates are human beings with hopes, dreams and ambitions. Treat everyone as such, with clear communications from you about their status at every step of your hiring process.
  • Survey every candidate whether they were successful or not
    Send a short survey, and you could also give a follow-up call to sound out their experience. If you’re not sure where the pain points are in your current process, gathering candidate feedback can shed light on what you can improve. Not only does this make candidates feel valued and heard, it will help you continue improving your hiring process and delivering even better candidate experiences in the future.
  • Include hiring in your employee experience program
    Using automated reporting, applicant tracking systems and user-friendly dashboards, you’ll be able to track metrics that matter to you; focus on significant moments right at the start of the employee journey; Collect, collate and analyse data using a single cloud-based platform; and gauge progress and track improvements using like-for-like data over time.
  • Streamline your hiring process
    An efficient process and reliable hiring infrastructure doesn’t only make the candidate experience better, it saves your business time and money too. Create checklists for your standard procedures (interview preparation, call screening), use email templates for each stage of the process, and personalize them. And probably most important of all, invest in quality people analytics software to recruit, train and retain the best.

Learn how candidate experience is the first step in the employee lifecycle