Strategy Safari: The Irony of Focusing on Candidate Experience

If ever there were a phrase that causes talent acquisition professionals to roll their eyes, it’s “candidate experience.” 

Born out of the desire to place the candidate front and center in the recruiting and hiring process, candidate experience has ridden on a rollercoaster of popularity with organizations, often correlated with the state of the economy. When there are more candidates than jobs, candidate experience goes by the wayside; when candidates have the upper hand, magically candidate experience is something organizations focus on. 

A Lesson From the Recession

No, not the current recession. The last one. When the 2007/2008 recession hit, some hiring managers took the attitude that they could treat candidates any way they wanted because jobs were so scarce. I worked in an organization that had a fairly robust, and frankly ridiculous, pre-hire assessment process (3+ hours!) for all positions, including entry-level. 

The company was also pretty unapologetic about it. 

The attitude was that if people really wanted to work at the company, they had to prove it by jumping through multiple hoops. When candidates gave feedback that our process was the reason they accepted a job elsewhere, the thinking was, “We aren’t a bad company. They aren’t bad people. They just aren’t a fit.” 

This was a Fortune 200 company that grew from 7,000 employees to 30,000+ in less than 10 years. It also had a remarkably high turnover rate — over 100% in some facilities, and around 80% in all entry-level positions. Hiring was always a priority. Yet the organization took pride in making it difficult.

Surprise! (Not Really.) Candidate Experience Matters.

As we all know, the recession didn’t last forever. Eventually, the job market became a candidate market in emerging industries and for niche skill sets. Candidates focused as much on the organization as they did the salary and job description. That is, they wanted to know if the company had a good reputation in the community, where it donated money, whether it recycled, etc. 

With this refocus on the organization’s behavior, the candidate experience gained importance. As well it should have. 

Surveys since then have supported the notion that how you treat candidates impacts not just the talent pool’s desire to apply but the business, as well. Consider the following stats:

  • Nearly 4 in 5 candidates say the overall candidate experience is an indicator of how an organization values its people.
  • 41% of global candidates who believe they had a “negative” overall experience say that they will take their alliance, product purchases, and relationship elsewhere.
  • 27% of candidates who had a bad experience would actively discourage others from applying to the company.

This last point can have a significant impact on your organization’s ability to attract the right talent. The rise of sites like Job Vent (RIP) and Glassdoor meant that not only did employees share what it was like to work at an organization, but candidates were sharing their recruiting experiences, too. And employers that kept a hoop-jumping mentality found themselves losing out on top candidates. Not only were people turning down offers — they weren’t even applying for jobs in the first place.

The Real Meaning of Candidate Experience

Candidate experience is just a fancy term for treating people the right way. Timely communication, transparency in the process, and fair market wages shouldn’t need to be part of some special initiative. It’s just how you should operate.

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It’s also worth pointing out that treating people the right way impacts your organization’s reputation not just for potential applicants but for potential customers, too. The neverending news cycle, and the rise of #metoo and Black Lives Matter, all but guarantees that sketchy hiring practices will be broadcast to a broader audience. And that audience will make decisions about their purchasing around how a company responds to an issue.

So what should you do with all this in mind?

Maybe nothing. You might have a healthy pipeline, your candidate feedback might be top-marks, and your reqs might be filled quickly with insanely qualified candidates. But in case you don’t work for that organization, a few suggestions:

  • Measure what people think about your process. This includes recruiters, hiring managers, applicants, and candidates. Get impressions at all points of the funnel. Identify the pain points throughout the process.
  • Fix the issues. It’s one thing to know you’ve got problems, but then you actually have to do something about them. You won’t be able to magically wish away all of them at the same time, so identify some criteria and then prioritize issues.
  • Own your part of the problem. Yes, the life of a recruiter is hard. You’ve already got a lot on your plate, so it may seem overwhelming to try to solve some of your company’s big recruiting challenges. Except, you don’t have to. Rather, take a good hard look at what you do during the day and find things within your control to fix. Set an example to others by saying, “Here’s what I am going to work on. What about you?”

Now, I know what you might be thinking. And you’re right, none of this is earth-shattering. But as the saying goes, common sense is not always common practice. If everyone did what they know they should be doing, then we wouldn’t have to call out candidate experience as a “thing.” So rather than rolling your eyes at the term, just go fix the issues.

I dream of a day when we don’t have to talk about candidate experience ever again because we’ve finally fixed it for everyone.

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Mary is a principal with IA, a boutique consulting firm focused on HR transformation. She is also a talent strategist and business leader with almost 15 years experience in helping organizations achieve their goals. After working on the operations side of start-ups and small companies, Mary landed in HR by way of learning and development, with extensive experience in leadership and organizational development, coaching, key talent planning, talent acquisition, performance management, business partnering, HRIS, process and policy creation, and instructional design.

In addition to her work within companies, Mary authors a leadership development blog called Surviving Leadership to continue the dialogue around the challenges of leadership – both being a leader and being led. 

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