Nov 1, 2011

The experience was exceptional.

I was impressed with the high level of professionalism.

Very professional interviews that provided me an environment in which I could be myself.

It made me want to work there even more.

Let’s hope that’s what your candidates are saying about your organization. Let’s hope that’s what they’re saying about your recruiting processes. But they may be saying stuff like this:

The worst and most unprofessional experience I’ve had.

You’ve yet to follow up with me.

The interviewer had absolutely no idea of what the position called for.

The reality is that candidates are probably saying things that cover both ends of the spectrum about your organization. What’s important is whether the first set of statements is more prevalent, or the second set is – and what you are doing about it.

There’s a lot of focus in our industry on finding and engaging passive candidates, developing a strong employment brand, using social media, and building talent communities, but a poor candidate experience can derail and minimize the impact of each of those efforts. My company did something about the problem.

We’re going to be talking more about this at the Spring Expo (March 28-30 in San Diego), but first things first. I think we’ve all heard of the so called “career site black hole,” and I have talked to many a candidate who has a story about moving through a company’s interview process, moving all the way to a final stage, only to never hear from the company again one step short of the finish line. Less anecdotally, CareerXroads publishes a survey every year about how a “mystery candidate” is treated by the top 100 Companies to work for as listed by Fortune. The results are eye opening. It reports that 79% of candidates who apply to a position expect that there will be some sort of feedback, but only 19% of the top 100 companies to work for let the mystery candidate know they were not going to get the job. The apply-process itself has become a barrier between job seekers and organizations, with only 48% of the organizations in the study having a process that takes less than five minutes to complete.

Anyhow, we came out of a two-day recruiting meeting last spring with a long list of to-dos, and at the top of the list was to improve the candidate experience. The key for us was developing a “Candidate Commitment,” and then develop processes to support the commitment. Our commitment is quite simple actually, and focuses on four main areas that are part of the candidate experience: Education, Application, Screening, and Interviewing.

Education: we have used social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Tumblr (blogging tool) to provide candidates with a closer look into our organization. We make a point not to use these channels as another way to just promote our job postings, but rather to provide content that a candidate may not find on our corporate career site, such as recruiting team activities, corporate events, relevant business news, candidate tips, and so forth. We’ve used video to provide a more in-depth look at some of the functional areas we do a lot of hiring for, as well as to provide a look at the lighter side of our culture.

Application: we worked with our ATS partner to reconfigure our “apply now” process. Now, we only require three fields to complete our process — first name, last name, email address — the minimum it takes to create a profile. Amazingly, almost every candidate includes a resume as well, but you get the point: we went back to the bare basics, and the result is a process that takes less than two minutes to complete for a first-time candidate, less for returning candidates.

In addition to improving the candidate experience, it also improved the ROI for our job board investments. I know it is not a very hip thing to admit these days, but the boards are actually still quite useful for us and an important part of our overall recruitment strategy, resulting in about 19% of our hires. Have you compared the data you get from your job board partners regarding traffic sent to your site with what actually lands in your ATS lately? I was shocked by the drop-off rates, and when I talked to two major boards recently about things, they informed me that our numbers were actually pretty good. Both stated that anywhere from a 50%-80% drop-off rate was typical! No wonder the job boards are talked about so negatively. Our industry may only be realizing 20%-50% of their potential because of the hurdles we create to completing our process.

Screening: we committed to following up with all of our candidates in a timely manner. For us that is 1-20 days. This may be a phone conversation or a “thanks but no thanks” email template, but we do not want anyone to experience the black hole. You may be able to commit to something quicker than 20 days, or longer than 20 days, but the point is to set an expectation and then meet it. It is fairly easy to develop strong communication templates. Every commercial ATS out there has functionality that allows you to send mass messages to your candidates that feel at least semi-personalized.

Interviewing: we work closely with our hiring managers to ensure there is a solid interview plan in place, and that the interview will be conducted in a balanced manner, allowing the candidate to interview us in addition to the information we seek from them.

Three weeks ago I had the privilege to accept one of the first annual “Candidate Experience Awards” on behalf of the Sage NA Recruiting Team. In talking with many of the other winning participants, clearly everyone recognized that we all have a long way to go. I am hopeful that the industry as a whole embraces the challenge to improve, and I am particularly excited to compete for the award again next year.

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