What Does It Really Mean to Be Candidate-Centric?

Low unemployment, war for talent, everyone’s after the same people. We all know the state of affairs. But do we know how to get ahead of them?

Well, yes, partly. We know, for instance, that it’s important to create a top-notch candidate experience. It’s no secret that people will drop out of your process if their experience fails to live up to their standards. Which naturally begs the question: How do you raise your standards to live up to your candidates’?

Plenty, it turns out. For starters, you can improve your technology. However, better tech won’t solve your biggest challenges. If you’re relying on software to do all your heavy lifting, your problems might get even weightier. Ultimately, the best way to provide a terrific candidate experience is to become candidate-centric.

That means that the interests and objectives of your candidates should primarily drive your hiring process. Here’s how:

1. Create Greater Ownership

We have found that an ownership model encourages recruiters to prioritize candidates’ interests and needs, rather than the reqs they have to close.

  • Give every recruiter responsibility over a set of vacancies. They will scope applications and interview candidates that align with job requirements.
  • Grant candidate ownership to recruiters. When recruiters interview candidates, they have ownership over them until they’re hired or rejected.
  • Allow any recruiter to close any open job in the organization. If the job is not technically listed as theirs, they can communicate with other recruiters to make sure that hiring managers aren’t being deluged with an overflow of candidates from multiple recruiters.

Imagine that you are tasked with recruiting a backend software engineer. When you talk to one of your candidates, you find out that the person is actually very interested in moving into a DevOps position. What do you do?

The candidate has formed a relationship with you, so you continue as the main point of contact for the person, which improves the candidate’s experience. And if there’s a DevOps job available in the organization, you can close that opening if the candidate is interested in it. In other words, you focused on the candidate’s needs first.

OK, you might be thinking, what about your backend developer job that’s still empty? It might take you another week to produce a second suitable candidate, increasing your time to fill. 

The solution? Do not use time-to-fill as a KPI. It drives the wrong type of behavior. Instead, measure quality of hire (via performance metrics), candidate experience (via candidate surveys and Glassdoor), and number of hires. And be sure to stay minimalistic and use data to drive the behavior you want.

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2. Focus on Competencies

Let’s say that you are a candidate actively looking for a job because you don’t like the job you have. You’ve realized it’s too technical for you, so you want a job that plays more to your interpersonal skills. So you start your job search only to discover that every job you want requires five years of experience! Now you feel stuck in a job that you don’t like, and you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it. What a mess!

The solution is to hire people according to their competences (what they can do) and not their background (the experience they have). Hiring by competences can be challenging, since you are not relying on credentials, like five years of experience or a degree in X. However, you are far likelier to attract and hire the talent you want by focusing on what it takes to actually do a job. This means that you have to make sure that:

  1. All jobs have a defined set of competences associated with success in a role.
  2. You can actually assess for those competences.

This can mean a lot of work for recruiters and hiring managers, both of whom will have to work closely with each other to make sure that the position is well-defined and the assessment strategy is sound, but this investment will pay out many times over. Such a candidate-centric approach enables you to hire candidates who are more diverse, who will be more engaged, and who will perform better.

3. Redefine Being Consultative

We’ve all heard the benefits of being consultative within your business: Don’t be an order-taker, push back, make sure you can be a partner and a trusted advisor to the business, right?

Well, what about being consultative with your candidates? Can you become a trusted advisor to them, as well? I think the answer is: Hell, yeah you can! Here’s how:

  • Interview in-depth. Talk to your candidates for at least an hour before they move forward to next steps.
  • Ask the right questions. Instead of asking, “Why are you interested in this job?” ask candidates, “What do you want for your next step in your career?” Broader questions will enable candidates to tell you about their long-terms goals and values, while narrower questions might yield superficial answers.
  • Listen carefully. Being consultative is always about listening. Find out deep needs behind words and true desires behind answers. 
  • Open more doors. If a certain job doesn’t seem like the right fit for a candidate, consider presenting several other roles, describe them briefly, and ask the person to rank them by interest. 

Everything I’ve described here are efforts we’ve been making in our company toward creating more of a candidate-centric process. I’d love to know what you are doing in your own organization. Feel free to leave a comment below!

Denise Dresler is director of talent acquisition at Avature, a HCM software provider. Since joining in 2012, she has evolved in a variety of positions: as a consultant, she helped customers design and implement TA technology solutions to meet their strategic initiatives; after four years, she brought her recruiting expertise in-house and became Avature’s talent-acquisition leader. In her current role, she delivers high-quality hires by designing workshops and trainings pertaining to Avature's TA strategy. She also works closely with business leaders and the talent-management team to foster Avature's employer brand.

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