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How to design a great candidate experience

6 min read
When you develop good relationships with the people who apply for your jobs, you’ll hire quality employees. Candidate relationship management will help you develop, organize and nurture those connections.


“Today’s candidate that you turn down may be tomorrow’s candidate, or maybe tomorrow’s client or some other connection.” says Jay Meschke. So it pays to treasure every candidate, successful or not, and keep that connection going. You can do this with candidate relationship management (CRM).

What is candidate relationship management?

CRM is a system that recruiters use to nurture their candidates and manage their experience. It’s the sum of all the interactions a candidate has with you as a potential employer, across the whole recruitment cycle, from job ad to interview to hire (or not) and beyond. The CRM software system is populated with all your candidates, active and passive, and everyone who has previously applied for a job with you. It’s a comprehensive talent hub.

It’s different from an applicant tracking system (ATS), which is a tool, often required by compliance, that manages each applicant for a specific position along their application journey.

It’s crucial that you manage all candidates well. For those who join your company, it sets the tone for their employee experience – how engaged they’ll be and how well they’ll perform. For those who are not successful, you’ll leave a good impression that may make them want to reapply and recommend you to other people.

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Why is CRM so important?

Gone are the days when recruiters hired a person for a job, then dismissed all the unsuccessful candidates, never to be heard from again. Enlightened recruiters cultivate a ‘talent pipeline’ – a pool of potential employees who may be:

  • Current employees who are promotion prospects
  • Active candidates who are qualified and ready to fill a position
  • Former candidates who narrowly missed out on a hire
  • Freelance and gig workers

Other benefits of good CRM include:

  • Strengthening brand equity, as you get a reputation for being a caring, inclusive employer
  • Introducing the company culture as forward-thinking and employee-centric
  • Reaching out to great people you already know who may be laid off from other companies’ mergers or restructuring
  • Demonstrating you value good talent and are willing to recognise and nurture it
  • Identifying where talent might be dropping out in your recruitment cycle
  • Analyzing demographics of your candidates to ensure diversity and inclusion

The 5-point CRM strategy

There are five strategic stages of the candidate relationship: discover, attract, engage, hire and nurture. A good CRM system will be able to help you at each stage:

  1. Discover: You’ll be able to profile your candidates, based on their resumes, assessments, and interactions. Then, run new positions through your CRM system to see which previous or passive candidates it brings up. Aim for the top tier first. Your system will also highlight which recruitment channels (job postings, social media, LinkedIn) are most suitable.
  2. Attract: Promotion of your employer brand, corporate social responsibility initiatives, and PR events will raise awareness of job opportunities. Now is the time to reach out to passive candidates on the CRM system to notify them of upcoming events and positions.
  3. Engage: Continuous candidate engagement is crucial for your CRM process. This is where the CRM should be able to integrate with your applicant tracker system. Automation comes into play here: personalized, regular, transparent communications (email, SMS) about candidates’ applications, notice of interviews and honest feedback if they were not selected. Make it accessible (e.g., functional across all devices) and high touch.
  4. Hire: Your employer brand, expressed through your CRM, and your knowledge of all candidates, helps both parties know what they’re getting into. Some CRMs use a ranking system to rate candidates’ skill sets and cultural fit. Candidates feel nurtured in the process, and you also have a well-vetted talent pipeline to choose from. CRM analytics is  also useful to measure how well your hiring strategy is going: which channels yield the best applicants, how many employee referrals come in, and how many good people you hired.
  5. Nurture: Just because a candidate didn’t get this job, it doesn’t mean they won’t get another one. By giving feedback, retaining details, and keeping in touch with your ‘near-misses’ you’ll develop a relationship that, when an opportunity arises, a candidate will feel comfortable applying for. As a result, you’ll also build your talent pool.

Best practices for candidate relationship management

CRM systems can have so much automation that it’s easy to forget that, ultimately, you are dealing with real people. Thus, best practice is based on emphasising the human experience:

  • Acknowledge every candidate: it takes 3-4 hours of someone’s life to complete a job application. Yet 65% of people say they rarely, if ever, receive communication about their application status. Candidates with poor recruitment experiences are more likely to leave negative ratings on employer sites such as Glassdoor. Make it your mission to communicate personally and regularly with every applicant.
  • Bring some humanity into the process: Everyone deserves basic courtesy. While most people accept a ‘thanks for applying’ to an initial application, once people have been through some interview rounds they deserve to be ‘courteously declined’. Providing  feedback, suggestions for developing skills or experience, and/or an honest assessment of the candidate’s chances of being considered for another role, all make the process much more human.

Keep the door open: It’s estimated that only around 25% of talent managers stay in touch with unsuccessful candidates. Sure, it would be hard work to interact with everyone on a personal level. But your CRM system can do much of this contact for you when adding all your candidates to it as a talent database. And platforms such as LinkedIn offer a way to keep in contact effortlessly.

Download our candidate experience survey template