Improve the Candidate Experience

Jul 15, 2008

An automated e-mail response, which roughly translates to: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” is the only communication most applicants receive after they’ve spent 15 to 30 minutes online filling out applications, questionnaires, and experiencing the frustration of pasting their resumes into boxes, (only to find the plain text version looks like it’s been encoded for secret transmission by the CIA).

The fact that most companies now acknowledge applicants by sending a generic e-mail is actually a significant improvement, according to the CareerXroads 2008 Mystery Job Seeker Survey, because some companies still don’t reply to applicants at all.

Annually since 2002, CareerXroads has engaged a mystery shopper, who applies online at the 100 companies named as the Best Companies to Work For by Fortune. This year, a record 78 employers sent an automated e-mail response after the mystery shopper applied, 22 didn’t respond at all, and only a handful maintained any type of communication with the applicant after the initial e-mail. In some cases, only the return e-mail address identified which company actually responded.

“The best and the brightest employers are starting to get it,” says Mark Mehler, co-founder of CareerXroads. “They are updating their technology so candidates can click in and see where they are in the process and they are making their online application process friendlier, because job seekers will go where they can apply in an easy manner.”

“Never Underestimate Negative Chatter”

A lack of empathy for the candidate was one of the first things Kristen Weirick changed, when the director of talent acquisition for Whirlpool launched an initiative focused on improving the candidate’s experience.

“Every candidate who comes into contact with your organization is a prospective customer,” says Weirick. “There’s an old paradigm out there among some HR folks and managers that this is an employer’s market, so applicants have to conform to our process. In reality, the application process is really an extension of your employment brand. You should never underestimate the impact of negative chatter in the marketplace.”

Weirick says that she’d heard stories about candidates’ mixed experiences with the Whirlpool recruiting process, so she knew there was room for improvement. She also realized that every applicant is a potential customer, because they all buy appliances. A poor experience with the company on any level could linger with the candidate and influence their decision the next time they purchase a home appliance.

Weirick focused on improving the experience for those applying for the company’s approximately 6,500 U.S. salaried positions. She separated the candidate experience into three buckets and focused on improving each candidate’s experience at every stage of the process.

“The applicant experience starts with their first touch point,” says Weirick. “If they apply on the website, visit our booth on campus or at a career fair, they get an e-mail response that sounds and feels like the Whirlpool candidate experience we are trying to achieve. Their communication is customized, based upon their experience level.”

Candidates who progress to in-person interviews are picked up at the airport by drivers, tour the surrounding community, and then tour the Whirlpool campus. First-time interviewers are thanked for their time and gifted with Whirlpool portable utensils; those who progress to a second interview receive a portable appliance and a thank-you note delivered to their homes.

“The third step is the close,” says Weirick. “Regardless of what happens, we want that candidate to feel good about their experience with Whirlpool, so we train our recruiters how to extend offers and regrets.”

Mehler says he often advises reluctant recruiters to turn down applicants by leaving voicemail messages during lunchtime or after hours. He estimates that 17 to 18% of applicants who interview in-person never receive final disposition about their status in the hiring process.

PepsiCo is one of several companies installing Web-based technology designed to extend the company’s employment brand into the courtship phase by allowing candidates to view their status in real time, according to John Delpino, director of executive staffing. Other companies are installing systems that provide instant feedback to candidates, as they submit responses to online qualifying questionnaires. The Web-enabled system (developed in-house) stops the hiring process immediately if the candidate’s response eliminates them from consideration, and the system then furnishes the candidate with a reason for the termination of the hiring process.

Weirick says that a lack of expertise, technology, or time just isn’t an excuse for recruiters failing to give candidates updates about their status or feedback as to why they were rejected.

“Most of the time when we extend regrets, we think we’re helping the candidate,” says Weirick. “Even if we’ve just conducted a phone screen, that candidate will receive a personal phone call and receive feedback within a couple of days; we don’t send an e-mail.”

At Whirlpool, recruiters are given extensive training about what type of feedback to give applicants and how to give it. Then, following the conclusion of the hiring process, every applicant receives a 20-question e-mail survey soliciting their perceptions about the hiring process. Weirick says the survey results are 90% positive, with only an occasional howler, and the feedback helps her measure the company’s progress toward the goal of extending Whirlpool’s employment brand through the entire hiring process.

“We think of ourselves as ambassadors for our employment brand,” says Weirick, “Our goal is to make sure that even those applicants we decline maintain a strong loyalty to Whirlpool.”

It’s no wonder applicants often have bad impressions of the hiring process, according to Joe Murphy, vice president for Shaker Consulting Group, because employers start out taking information from applicants, when they should be giving them information first. In fact, Murphy says that hiring processes which demand up to an hour from applicants, while giving them no insight into how well-suited they might be for the work or the environment, sets the stage for dissatisfaction.

Murphy’s firm pioneered the Virtual Job Tryout, which gives candidates an interactive preview of the job, the performance expectations, and the company’s environment, allowing applicants to decide if they want to invest up to an hour of their time applying. By recreating parts of the job online, such as giving Starbucks’ managerial candidates a preview of the operating statements, applicants can decide for themselves if they are well-suited for the position.

“When candidates are able to make an informed decision about a prospective opportunity, it improves their experience,” says Murphy. “Now they aren’t wasting time filling out applications and being frustrated by a lack of response, and companies aren’t collecting huge amounts of data that quite frankly, they’ll never use.”

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