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‘Candidate experience’ more about interview experience than past work history

‘Candidate experience’ more about interview experience than past work history

“Our Human Resources Department is looking into ways to improve the “candidate experience” for job applicants — people who are applying for jobs or in the process of being interviewed for jobs at our company. What are the best ways to get information on candidates’ “experiences” with the recruitment process? If we conduct surveys, won’t the data be biased — if the candidates are waiting on offers or anticipating rejections?”

Thought-provoking questions, for sure. We certainly hear a lot about the “customer experience” and are frequently asked for our opinions on products or services, but we’re not in the habit of thinking about the “experiences” of those applying or interviewing for jobs. We usually ask about the result: “Are you getting another interview?”  “Are you getting an offer?” or “Why did you get rejected?”

But “candidate experience” is continuing to gain attention among recruiters and employers who are still struggling with finding and attracting the right candidates for jobs in this post-pandemic era. The effort is not only about understanding candidates’ experiences with recruiting and interviewing; it’s also about tracking and measuring them, through surveys.

Can you really measure candidate experiences and do it accurately? Yes, but it’s not easy.

“Accumulating comprehensive and impartial data regarding candidate experience can be challenging,” says Jill Chapman, director of Early Talent Programs at Insperity, an HR solutions company. “Candidates might withhold candid feedback due to concerns of its impact on their chances of employment, or they might selectively offer feedback on aspects of the process.”

Still, if a company is willing to take a “holistic” approach, acknowledges the challenges and uses the information in conjunction with other recruitment metrics, measuring candidate experience can be worthwhile, she says.

One of the concerns prompting the push to look at candidate experiences is that “resentment rates” — a measure of negative experiences with the hiring process — are up again for the second year in a row across the globe. Research conducted by the Talent Board, a Santa Cruz, Calif. non-profit organization, showed that while job candidates seemed to understand employers’ challenges during the pandemic, they are still resentful.

Some of the reasons include problems with the length of the recruiting process, the “disrespecting” of job candidates’ time, and the fact that salaries frequently don’t meet expectations. “Candidates feel like they’re not being heard,” says Susan LaMotte, founder, chief executive and principal strategist at exaqueo, an employer brand consulting firm in Charleston, SC.

She told the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) in an interview that the data “shows that “that we’re not really making much progress on candidate experience.”

The Talent Board research pointed to several “core best practices” to achieve a positive candidate experience, including providing consistent communication during the process, setting expectations, asking for and providing feedback, being transparent and accountable and ensuring a high level of fairness.

How each step is handled can affect a candidate’s perception of the company’s brand. “Employer branding is more vital than ever in today’s recruitment world, due to a climate of staff shortages across a range of sectors,” says Yves Schneuwly, group chief commercial officer at Coople, Europe’s largest online platform for digital staffing, in an email. “For this reason, candidate experience has become universally important – no longer limited to just high-profile positions.

“While we’re all familiar with monitoring employee experience, many businesses are unaware of the importance of tracking candidate experiences. This can be a big reflection on the public perception of a business, with those that are notorious for having an unpleasant hiring process are more likely to struggle with hiring for future roles.”

And public perceptions are not helped by the fact that the majority of applicants who go through a recruitment process will be rejected.

“Companies need to find the balance between appearing as an attractive employer while still having the flexibility to decline candidates without having a negative impact on that person’s brand loyalty or purchasing habits,” said James Killian, global head of candidate experience solutions at Qualtrics in a Forbes article in 2021.

Navigating that balance successfully can pay off. Research by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute showed that job applicants who do not receive a job offer are 80 percent more likely to apply again if they already had a positive impression of the company.

One key factor affecting perceptions is the failure to communicate consistently with candidates. The Talent Board study reported that 58 percent of candidates surveyed in 2022 said they received an automated “thank you” message after applying and some 34 percent reported not hearing back from employers two months after they applied and only 7 percent reported receiving a notification that they’d been rejected.

The statistics are particularly “discouraging,” since more employers than ever are using automation technologies to strengthen and streamline the application process, Talent Board President Kevin Grossman told SHRM. “The fact that more than a third of candidates are still waiting after two months to hear about their application status seems like a major — and fixable — issue.”

Only about one quarter of the 200,000 candidates the Talent Board surveyed said employers asked them to share feedback about their experiences with the recruiting process. Among those who were asked, about 40 percent did it after the candidates were hired and some 20 percent were asked at every stage of the process.

When it’s done successfully, the feedback can be used to “restructure” key elements of the recruiting process including putting together “engaging job descriptions” that appeal to relevant talent, Schneuwly said.

But he acknowledged that gathering objective feedback from candidates is a challenge by itself. “It can sometimes be difficult to gather objective feedback from candidates that have been rejected for a position — as this could cause them to feel bitter towards the company and therefore leave biased feedback.”

Besides the problem with potentially biased feedback, employers should consider other factors in developing a measurement strategy, said Chapman from Insperity. That includes the need to make a significant investment in time, energy and resources, and deal with subjective information. “The candidate experience is deeply subjective and can vary based on individual viewpoints and expectations,” she says. “What might constitute a positive encounter for one candidate could translate as negative for another.”

But on the plus side, favorable candidate experiences can elevate an organization’s employer reputation, Chapman says. “Recommendations and online reviews from candidates who underwent positive experiences can attract more talent.”

Gaining quantifiable data enables the company to “pinpoint areas of concern” within the recruitment process and make “data-driven improvements,” improving efficiency and reducing wasted time. With a transparent and well-defined recruitment process, the company will attract candidates who are genuinely interested in the role and resonate with the company’s values, she says. “This, in turn, can result in the recruitment of high-caliber talent.”

Managers at Work is a monthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by email at [email protected]