Which Comes First: Employment Brand or Candidate Experience?

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Feb 23, 2017

Is a strong employment brand important? Yes, it can be. Is candidate experience important?  Yes, it can be.

For the last several years, at the end of the year, we were showered with predictions for what will be important in TA the following year. For many, many years, these two concepts have been at the top of those lists. That’s good. Many companies have made huge strides forward both in brand and experience. I’m thankful for organizations like The Talent Board putting so much effort into measuring candidate experience, and celebrating it publicly. Having led teams that have won CandEs in the past, I can assure you the process is thorough and takes into account all candidates’ experience, not just the ones who got hired.

This is important, and this is the thrust of my article today, because if you and I sit down to chat in five years, we’re still going to be talking about the importance of brand and experience in TA, and asking, “why doesn’t everyone get that?” Therefore what I intend to do is to give you a road map to improve both, one that is based on common sense, and doesn’t involve a huge financial investment in new technology or tools.

Lesson 1: Brand Follows Experience

Do not waste your time trying to build a strong employment brand on the back of a poor candidate experience. It will never be sustainable or truly effective (see: common sense). If employment brand and candidate experience are on your to-dos for this year, start with experience. Why? No matter how awesome you think your brand is, and no matter how much flash and splash you have out in the world about it, if your experience sucks, it steals every bit of the equity you’ve built with your branding. To make matters worse, the loss of equity is exponential.

Several years ago, Forrester Research put out a book called Groundswell that explains that in an interconnected world, and it’s only become more interconnected in the last nine years, negative experiences are shared and consumed from a much higher number of people, and that “groundswell” does more to shape your brand than you realize.

Think of how we use Yelp for example, or Amazon reviews, before we make buying decisions. No matter how awesome your brand is, bad candidate experience will be communicated, quickly reach a critical mass, and soon your new employment brand will be “liar.”

Lesson 2: How You Treat the Least Among Us Is What Matters

10 years ago, I did a research study on candidate experience, and I found the majority of companies truly lacking. What was surprising was they were lacking on little things that were completely in their control, that they chose to ignore. The “experience” effort was almost entirely directed at the finalist candidates.

Conventional wisdom says that makes sense. You want to close the deal. I get it. What we forget is that almost everyone we interact with as a candidate does not get the outcome they desire. Let that sink in for a moment. Even if you only average two candidates per requisition, then 50 percent of the candidates involved did not get the outcome they desire.  For most organizations, it’s in the 90s, and probably the high 90s for many roles.

As I mentioned above, I did the study 10 years ago, so a lot has probably changed.  Technology has improved, and we have heard the “candidate experience” drum being beaten for well over a decade, but alas, it is still horrible.

One of my pastimes is to apply for positions for which I am not qualified to see how other companies respond. I like to keep an eye on the competition, and if you buy me a bourbon sometime, maybe I’ll even tell you my go-to pseudonym, so you can see if I’ve applied to your company. What I continue to see is horrible candidate experience for rejected candidates. If you get a response, it is almost always an automated email with a generic canned response.  That’s if I even get an email. It absolutely astounds me how many companies offer no comment and no closure for candidates who take time and make an effort to apply. And, yes before you ask, I do check my junk/spam folder.

So here’s an easy trick to set yourself up as superior: don’t use the canned response that’s built into your ATS. Most systems will allow you to create your own response. Thank the person for applying. Tell them you are humbled that they considered your company.  Simple. If you want to be a real hero, give them a way to engage back with you if they want … a real email address to respond to, or a phone number, not a address. Remember that they applied, they felt that being a part of your company would make their life better in some way, and they just had that taken away from them. Treat them with respect, and they will become some of your biggest advocates and brand ambassadors.  One of my favorite metrics is referrals from rejected candidates, so help rejected candidates sing your praises.

Lesson 3: Use Rejected Candidates to Help Inform You of Your Employment Brand

Employment brand can and should be developed from a number of perspectives, but the one we almost never consider is our rejected candidates. I love that during the CandE evaluation process they ask to contact rejected candidates. We as TA should be doing it as well. It’s simple, and there are free and easy survey tools you can use. Ask them if they would refer others to work for you. Ask them, why or why not. Ask them what they liked about the process and what they would improve on. Remember they are talking about their candidate experience with others!

Your brand may be about how fun a place to work you are, or, how you are all about innovation and disruption, or the enviornment, or whatever, but if you can’t treat candidates decently, does it even matter, or is it even true?