7 Ways to Provide a Good Candidate Experience

Candidates know that making a good first impression is critical. They also know that their first impression of their potential employer is an important element in their decision. The little stuff ? timeliness, courtesy, and respect for privacy ? say more about the company than the shiny brochure or user-friendly career site. The overall experience a top candidate has throughout the recruiting process can make the difference in which offer he or she will take at the end of the process. Yet, many recruiters don’t give much attention to creating a positive candidate experience.

There are so many avenues to impress or offend a candidate during the course of the recruiting process. Believe it or not, there are countless candidates who tell a story about a company that didn’t give them time to use the restroom or get water at an on-site interview. Other candidates talk about the company that got back to them within a day of the interview, and they remembered that positively even if they didn’t get the offer. Candidates talk. Many times, top candidates in the same geography and industry know each other. And it’s the negative stories that usually come up. Candidates may walk away saying, “If that’s how they treat people, do I want to work there?”

It’s easy to forget the little stuff, but in this tight job market there’s every reason to remember. “Robust hiring continues,” wrote the economy reporter for the Christian Science Monitor on August 2, 2006. “If the economy is slowing down, as reports appear to indicate, it seems no one told the human resources department.” If recruiters are unwittingly losing candidates or starting them off on the wrong foot, now’s the time to stop. Here are tips to ensure you are providing the best candidate experience at each step in the recruiting process:

Initial contact: If you are contacting someone about an opportunity, don’t leave a message that could expose your contact as a job seeker to his or her current employer. Recruiters often do this inadvertently. For example, leaving a message with an administrative assistant is a risk for the candidate as the assistant may work for more than one person and/or may not be discreet. This puts a bad taste in the candidate’s mouth (or worse), and the situation can easily be avoided. Even sending a specific email is risky. Most companies monitor email and all consider it company property. One reason employers might be looking? To check for violations of non-compete agreements. Don’t expose your candidate.

Screening: If you are doing a phone interview or first-level screening with someone who still has a job, be on time and don’t take too much time. Set expectations up front by telling them how much of their time you will take. That way, they will be comfortable enough to tell you if they have an obligation at work that could interfere. Also, before a call begins, ask a candidate if he/she needs to close the door. It’s the little things. They’ll appreciate you respecting their current duties and privacy.

On-site interview: Many details can go right or wrong at this point, so here is a comprehensive list of the potential problems for which you should watch.

  • Be aware if you are asking people to use their vacation or paid-time off. That time is very valuable to people, so make sure it is necessary before you ask.
  • Try not to ask a candidate to come the next day. You are forcing them to call attention to themselves at the office, which could compromise their current situation.
  • Unless you intend to conduct the interviews all in one day and make the decision at the end, keep on-site interviews to half a day. It allows the candidate to keep up their stamina.
  • Let people know who they are meeting with and make sure those people are prompt. Some companies give an agenda.
  • Be sensitive about keeping candidates in public spaces for extended periods of time. Employees or clients may recognize them and that could compromise the candidate’s privacy.
  • As mentioned before, some candidates don’t even get bathroom breaks. It usually happens when interviewers come one after the other, and no one is overseeing the whole process. It is the recruiter’s job to set that schedule and ensure the candidate has time for nature.
  • Candidates don’t expect to be fed, but if it’s a daylong interview, there should be an opportunity for them to get lunch.
  • No matter how long the interview, offer water or a beverage.

Feedback: Give feedback within a 24- to 48- hour period. It is fine to communicate through emails, but it’s best to ask the candidate the ideal way to get back to them. If you expect to take longer than two days, let them know that. And if nearly two days have gone by, and you don’t yet have a decision, let candidates know that, too.

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Second rounds: It’s very common for people to have multiple sets of interviews, but it is a good rule to only ask a candidate back a second time if you are serious about him or her. Round two is for finalists. If you have to interview the whole pool of candidates twice, you didn’t accomplish much in the first round. Candidates will appreciate that you didn’t waste their time.

Negotiation: People have very different opinions about how an employment offer should be handled, so it can be easy to offend. In general, be open about salary range and encourage candidates to be open about expectations. Quickly get to an offer that is the one you want. Long negotiations are a big turn off. Keep the negotiations to one round and encourage the same of candidates. Time is precious. As a rule, avoid low-balling as a way of testing candidates. It’s a poor way to start what you hope will be a lasting relationship.

Start date: Typically, people need to give two weeks’ notice before joining a new company. Unless there is a clear urgency to get started, many new hires will request a week off between positions. Do it if you can. It is a good investment. They can recharge their batteries and start on a fresh note. They’ll be grateful.

Recruiters want positions to close, and the candidate experience is an important factor. If you are a recruiter, guide your hiring managers and vendors to keep their eyes on this ball. If you are on the vendor side, coach your client to have the “candidate experience” in mind at all times. And if you are a top-notch recruiter looking for a job, this will be one of your skills to sell. The theme to creating a good candidate experience is this: time is a precious commodity, a secondary currency. Use it wisely.

Top candidates want the whole package. If a candidate is given a choice between comparable companies, and one provided a stronger candidate experience, the decision is a no-brainer.

Jill Zoromski ( contact at keith.swenson@capitalhgroup.com ) joined Capital H Group, a human capital consulting firm, in 2003 after 20 years in human resources roles in the financial services industry. She created the national recruiting practice for Capital H and runs the centralized recruiting center in Milwaukee.