What’s New and Fresh in the Candidate Experience? Absolutely Nothing

As the leader of Talent Board and the Candidate Experience Awards, I’m often asked about the evolution of the candidate experience. What has changed in the decade that my organization has researched these experiences? What’s new and fresh?

Frankly, I could answer these questions any number of ways. I could talk about the succession of recruiting technologies that have streamlined candidate experiences over the years. Or how the application process alone has undergone a series of transformative shifts. Or the ebb and flow of candidate resentment over the past decade and the forces driving it. Or how the “power” in the jobs market has shifted from employers to job seekers and what that means to the candidate experience.

I could also talk about how in the early returns from our 2022 candidate experience benchmark research program, candidate resentment is down 29% from 2021, and candidates’ willingness to refer is up 10% from last year. That’s definitely a positive trend, and we’ll see where it all ends up when the program closes August 31 and we begin our complete review of all this year’s data.  

As I said, I could reply in many different ways. But I usually answer by saying that what’s new and fresh in the candidate experience is…absolutely nothing.

That might sound glib, but I’m actually trying to be helpful. I’ve found that people who ask what’s new in the candidate experience typically don’t want a history lesson. What they really want is to know what’s happening today. More specifically, they want to know which recruiting tools, strategies, and best practices support the most successful candidate experiences right now. They’re interested in learning how to differentiate their company in today’s fiercely competitive talent market and how to better engage qualified candidates.

That’s why my “absolutely nothing” response isn’t as silly as it might seem. It cuts right to the heart of this basic fact: The qualities that made up a great candidate experience a decade ago still make up a great experience today. And job seekers continue to crave these qualities from potential employers:

  1. Frequent and respectful communication
  2. Insights into your company and its culture
  3. Plenty of feedback

1. Frequent and Respectful Communication

Each phase of the candidate experience offers employers critical communication touchpoints: pre- and post-application, for example; before and after interviews, screenings, and evaluations; even during the job-offer phase, where poor communication can still cost you a great candidate. 

Employers that take advantage of as many of these touchpoints as possible — letting candidates know where they stand and what’s next every step of the way — are going to be the real winners in the competition for talent because they’re offering the kind of respectful experience that candidates are eager to return to again and again, even after they’ve been rejected for a particular job.

Now that talent shortages are a real concern for so many employers, recruiting teams are raising their communications game, taking steps to be more informative and responsive across the entire candidate experience. They’re using chatbots and more advanced conversational AI tools, text messaging, employer branding and marketing campaigns, and good old-fashioned emails and phone calls to keep candidates engaged. And they’re communicating through an extensive array of channels and platforms, including job boards and specialized talent communities, LinkedIn and other social media, and their own careers sites and employer marketing materials.

This surge in candidate communication is a welcome sign. Just a few years ago, many employers were getting away with less-than-stellar (if not downright poor) communication. Candidates would apply to jobs and never hear back. Others would email or call recruiters and still not receive a response. Others, lucky enough to get a chance to interview, would end up being ghosted by recruiters or hiring managers when interview time rolled around.

Some of these missteps are still occurring, of course, and they add up to one huge lost opportunity. In fact, Talent Board’s research shows that 11% of North American candidates voluntarily removed themselves from the recruiting process in 2020 because of poor communication. That’s literally hundreds of thousands of candidates whom employers never had the chance to meet or assess. 

But the situation isn’t all bad. Back in 2017, Talent Board’s research revealed that more than half (52%) of all North American candidates were still waiting to hear back from employers more than two months after applying to a job. In 2021, this percentage had been substantially reduced to 23%, a welcome improvement.

As with so many aspects of the candidate experience, there’s no formula for great communication — but great communication is a hallmark of every great candidate experience.

2. Insights Into Your Company and Its Culture

Employers sometimes make the error of thinking that candidates only want to know about a job’s responsibilities and what it pays. That’s simply not the case.

Talent Board’s research clearly shows that job responsibilities and compensation are just scratching the surface of what candidates want to know. 

For instance, 35% of North American candidates last year said that the most important content when they’re researching potential employers is related to company culture, and 26% said they wanted more information about diversity and inclusion initiatives. Our previous research also revealed that:

  • 32% of candidates want to know why people want to work for a company
  • 27% want to know why employees stay with a company
  • 22% want to know a company’s values

Yes, candidates care about job responsibilities and compensation — a lot. But they also want deeper insights into the organizations they may be working at. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the fallout from Covid and the Great Resignation and their lasting impacts on the talent marketplace. 

As McKinsey & Company partner Bryan Hancock stated in a recent article on ChiefExecutive.net, “Nearly two-thirds of U.S.-based employees have told us that Covid-19 has caused them to reexamine their individual purpose—what they’re doing in life and work and what they want to be doing in the future.” And a recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that candidates today “are increasingly looking to join organizations that have a greater purpose beyond profitability.”

Employers that want to effectively engage best-fit candidates (those who are closely aligned to the organization, its mission, and the jobs it offers) need to keep all of this in mind in their talent attraction initiatives. They must make clear to candidates exactly what their businesses are all about — that is, how their jobs lend meaning and purpose to employees’ lives, as well as the roles their employees play in helping to achieve a greater good.

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3. Plenty of Feedback

As Talent Board’s research has shown again and again, giving candidates feedback and requesting it from them are hallmarks of the world’s highest-rated candidate experiences. The top 10 CandE Award-winning companies, for example, all provided feedback to candidates in 2021.

Giving feedback helps candidates understand why they’re moving or not moving forward in the recruiting process. Constructive feedback actually raises candidates’ perception that they’ve been treated fairly even when they aren’t moving forward. This, in turn, raises how positively they rate their experiences. 

The same is true of asking candidates for feedback about their experiences; it raises positive perceptions and subsequent ratings because candidates appreciate being made to feel that employers care about their opinions.

Sadly, employers are missing out on key opportunities to give and receive candidate feedback across the recruiting process, and they’re missing out on a powerful set of benefits as a result. Here are some insights from our 2020 and 2021 benchmark research:

Missed opportunities. Only 2% of employers in North America bothered to ask candidates for feedback during the pre-application stage, and another 2% asked for feedback post-application (but prior to an interview). Gathering feedback at these crucial stages could help employers significantly improve their talent attraction efforts. 

Just 18% of employers asked candidates for post-interview feedback; and 60% of candidates received no feedback from employers after being rejected following a screening or interview. 

Most shocking of all, only 44% of employers asked for feedback after candidates had been hired, and 16% of employers never asked candidates for feedback at any stage of the recruiting process.

Giving feedback to candidates. When employers gave candidates feedback at any point in the recruiting process in 2021, candidates’ willingness to refer others increased nearly 25%, and their willingness to increase their relationship with these employers (including applying to future jobs and purchasing their products and services) increased 36%.

Asking for feedback. When candidates were asked for their feedback after the application process, they were 38% more likely to apply to future jobs with those companies. When they were asked for feedback following an interview, they were 74% more likely to refer others to those companies. And when candidates were asked for feedback at any point during the screening and interviewing stage, there was a 93% increase in their “great candidate experience” ratings.

Historically, the quality of the candidate experience has improved over the years Talent Board has been researching it. This improvement has come about for a number of reasons, including the sheer hard work and relentless dedication of recruiters and TA professionals. 

Recruiting technologies have also helped to streamline candidate experiences and make them more personalized, while reducing some of the legwork and heavy lifting for TA teams. But as many of the preceding data points make clear, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. 

I have a feeling, though, that no matter how things change or how much improvement is made in the next 10 years, those “old and stale” qualities that make up today’s great candidate experiences will still be around. And they’ll be as fresh and desirable as ever.

Kevin W. Grossman is the president of Talent Board and the Candidate Experience Awards. Founded in 2011, it’s the first nonprofit research organization focused on the elevation and promotion of a quality candidate experience with industry benchmarks that highlight accountability, fairness and business impact.

Kevin has over 22 years of domain expertise in the human resource and talent acquisition industry and related technology marketplace. He’s been a prolific industry writer since 2004. His first business book on career management, Tech Job Hunt Handbook, was released in December 2012 from Apress. His second book, The Business Impact of Candidate Experience, will be released in 2022 by Kogan Page.

Kevin holds a B.A. in psychology from San Jose State University, is an HCI certified Talent Acquisition Strategist (TAS) and Human Capital Strategist, and has learning certificates from eCornell on HR Analytics and Diversity and Inclusion.

 

 

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