New Research Reveals Candidate Expectations During Pre-Application Stage

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Jan 31, 2023

Last year, a startling 75% of companies reported having difficulty recruiting qualified candidates. It doesn’t matter how skillful or experienced your recruiting teams are, they can’t simply turn up the dial on the world’s talent supplies. However, you do control two of the most crucial dials on your talent acquisition machinery: communication and engagement.

Communication and engagement are essential to building strong relationships with promising candidates and keeping them in your talent pipeline. This is true even when talent is plentiful but, with talent getting scarce (and only predicted to get scarcer), there is now a whole new level of urgency, including in the earliest possible phase of your recruiting process (pre-application).

Of course, there are dozens of communication and engagement tactics, and there is an even greater number of job- and career-related messages you could leverage to draw candidates’ attention and maintain their interest. The question is, where to begin? Which tactics and topics are most effective for engaging the right talent for your organization?

Starting Points

Talent Board’s 2022 candidate experience benchmark research shows that candidates want three things from potential employers prior to submitting an application:

  1. A clear understanding of a company’s culture
  2. Insight into the employee experience
  3. A sense of connection with the overall brand

Only after having all three do many people feel comfortable enough to apply to a job these days. This is because they’re looking for more meaning and fulfillment in their work than they’ve experienced in the past. As a 2022 McKinsey report states, “It is no longer a surprise that people seek more from their employers than just a paycheck and a safe place to work. A preponderance of evidence suggests that ‘good work’ also means satisfying employees’ psychological needs,” including feeling valued by their organization and having a sense of belonging at work.

Let’s look a little more closely at these three items:

Company culture. Nearly one-third of the North American candidates surveyed said they wanted more information about company culture when researching jobs and potential employers. Spread this information far and wide across your company’s careers site, in job descriptions, on your company’s social media pages, and in your other employer brand marketing materials.

Also, speak candidly to issues such as diversity and inclusion and why people want to work for your company; nearly 30% of the candidates we surveyed wanted more details on both of these topics. Also be sure to highlight your company’s values, as 48% of candidates identified values as the most important content they looked for during their research in 2022 (up an incredible 109% from 2021).

Employee experience. Candidates want to work for employers that support and value them. It’s therefore important to showcase both the formal and informal ways your company does this — e.g., your people policies, professional growth and development initiatives, internal advancement opportunities, career tracking and guidance, and work-life balance.

And don’t forget your most persuasive “voice” regarding your company’s employee experience: your current employees. Job seekers trust your employees three times more than other sources to provide credible information on your company’s employee experience. Companies that have the best recruiting outcomes are often those that post employee testimonials, videos, and other types of employee-authored content across their careers sites, social media, and employer review sites.

Connection with your brand. The great thing about addressing the two previous items is that they help to create this third one. The more you share about your company’s culture and the working lives of your employees, the stronger this sense of connection will be — even if a candidate has never had a direct experience with your brand.

It’s also important to remember that candidates may already have existing relationships with your company, as consumers, for instance, or current or previous employees. Even with these individuals, transparency and honesty are key in marketing your employer brand. They want to see and hear about the real heart and soul of your company, and they want to see their own experiences reflected in your materials.

Of course, it’s not just the pre-application phase during which communication and engagement are important. Unfortunately, many employers continue to stumble over communication in the middle and later phases of recruiting.

More than one-third of candidates in 2022 were still waiting one, two, or more months to hear about next steps after applying to a job (that’s up 48% over 2021). Additionally, an astounding 60% of employers don’t ask for candidate-experience feedback after a person is hired (and 13% don’t ask candidates for feedback of any kind during or after candidate experiences).

These are serious missteps, as post-application communication and giving/asking for feedback are proven to raise candidate-experience ratings and keep potentially worthwhile candidates in your talent pipeline. Feedback loops, in particular, are a powerful differentiator of the most highly rated candidate experiences in Talent Board’s 11 years of research, conveying greater overall fairness and respect for candidates.

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