White-Glove Treatment Guarantees a “Wow” Candidate Experience for Exceptional Applicants

When hiring managers demand that we must land truly exceptional candidates, recruiters need to realize that it takes much more than the standard candidate experience to really wow and excite them. Instead, you must provide white-glove treatment that leaves a powerful impression that convincingly demonstrates that your firm really is different.

If you have an internal executive-search function, you already use a variation of the white-glove treatment for these executive candidates. This candidate-centric approach is specifically designed to impress, so that when new hires are asked, “Why did you say ‘yes’?” they cite at least two white-glove candidate-experience components as top factors that helped sway their decision.

Even if you’re not going to design a separate white-glove “super candidate experience” specifically for an exceptional candidate (EC), you might find that a sprinkling of these “white-glove actions” throughout your standard hiring process will significantly improve your social-media candidate ratings. White-glove actions are so impactful on candidate acceptance decisions because they are memorable and candidates will tell their friends about them.

Here are some white-glove action items to consider, separated into the different steps of the hiring process: 

Across the Board Characteristics of White-Glove Candidate Treatment 

Often, the typically harsh non-responsive “don’t call us” approach to applicants violates almost every tenet of basic customer service and customer relationship management. So the white-glove treatment must be based on these foundation tenants.

  • Applicants are prioritized. Follow the approach taken at the elite customer line at the airport/bank/hotel. And make it clear to candidates and to others that they are prioritized and are getting special treatment that is memorable. This helps to let them know that they are valuable to the firm.
  • Constantly manage impressions. The primary goal is to manage candidates’ impressions so that they believe that they will be treated as employees just as well as they are when they are still candidates.
  • Use a CRM process. It’s important to use a CRM process and software so that every detail of the impression will come across smoothly. And that means intense attention to detail.
  • Be highly responsive. The key is to be highly responsive to questions and issues. Whenever possible, a 24-hour-response target should be used.
  • Personalized treatment. Personalized treatment makes the candidate feel special. So whenever possible, don’t make a process appear to be canned or bureaucratic.
  • Speed. Exceptional candidates have multiple choices. So your decision process needs to be at least as fast as your competitor firms. Often these exceptional candidates need to be hired between one and 15 days.
  • Be data-driven. It’s critical that you survey samples of applicants and all new hires in order to find out which elements of the hiring process impressed and which ones caused exceptional candidates to have negative thoughts.
  • Avoid transmitting “we don’t need you” arrogance. ECs expect to be welcomed, wanted, and needed, so they don’t like it when anyone tries to even slightly degrade their past experience or value.
  • Not keeping your promises. ECs see not meeting even a single promise or deadline as an indication of how the company operates.
  • It’s more like a professional conversation. Two-way communications are essential, so the hiring process should seem to candidates to be more like an extended professional conversation than a bureaucratic process.
  • Current references. The most egregious deal-breaker is prematurely making an EC’s boss aware that they’re looking for a job.

White-Glove Actions Before You Start Hiring

  • Maintain an “evergreen requisition.” Sometimes an EC becomes available when there is no open requisition. In those cases, have a pre-approved, “always open evergreen requisition” that allows you to seize on sudden EC talent opportunities.
  • Designate an EC recruiter. When possible, designate and train a recruiter specifically to handle ECs.

White-Glove Actions Immediately After They Apply

  • If you have reached out to find them, don’t immediately require a résumé. At least initially accept a LinkedIn profile, and avoid having to wait for the EC to update their résumé.
  • Immediately contact surprise applicants. Once identified as ECs, immediately call applicants and let them know you value them (if they are referrals, ask the referring employees for help).
  • Ask them about their timetable. Don’t be subtle; ask each EC how long before they expect to make a decision.
  • Immediately answer EC applicant inquiries. The period right after applying is critical, so have a 24-hour response rule.
  • Expedite them talking to the hiring manager. ECs expect to quickly talk to the decision-maker, so expedite that.

White-Glove Actions Before the Interview

  • Don’t keep them in the dark. Fully educate them about what will happen during the interview process. Including your goals, what will happen, when and why. (Johnson & Johnson is the benchmark).
  • Give them team profiles. ECs want to learn from the best. Provide a packet of short LinkedIn profiles covering key team members.
  • Schedule around their availability. They may consider being forced to meet a manager’s schedule as revealing your under-assessment of their value. So make interviews convenient for them and minimize the times that they need to lie to their current boss.

White-Glove Actions During the Interview

  • All interviews in a single day. Try to complete all of an EC’s interviews on a single day.
  • Who attends matters. Who attends their formal interviews leaves an impression, so persuade the powerful to attend and participate.
  • Treat them as equals. Before starting interviews, ask them what information they need and who they need to meet with before they can make a decision. And then personalize the process.
  • Reduce the number of interviews. Google research revealed that after two interviews, very little assessment accuracy is added, and after four interviews with a single individual, almost no assessment value is added. Also, limit the number of interviewers to four people for scheduling ease.
  • Plan on spending half of your time selling. Do some significant assessment outside of the interview, and spend that time selling the candidate.
  • Avoid questions already answered in their résumé. Don’t make it obvious that you haven’t completely reviewed the résumé.
  • Avoid generic interview questions. These are seasoned professionals, so avoid generic interview questions (weaknesses, why are you superior to others, brainteasers, etc.).
  • Eliminate repetitious questions. Don’t waste time repeating the same interview questions across multiple interviews. This gives the impression that your interviewers don’t communicate with each other.
  • Only ask questions that predict job performance. Google has a validated question generator. Try to focus on giving them current and upcoming problems to solve.

White-Glove Actions Immediately After the Interview

  • Introduce them to executives. Show them their value by introducing them to at least two executives or senior managers.
  • Set up one on ones with team members. Let them find out the real story from their peers, with at least one meeting with the most respected team member.
  • Show them your best work. Yes, risk giving away secrets by letting them see the most exciting things the team/company is working on.
  • The best want to make a difference. When possible, physically show them specifically how their work will make a difference. This is a critical step.

White-Glove Actions Feedback After the Interview

  • Ask for their feedback. Before they leave the building, ask for their feedback on the interview and what issues they still have to resolve.
  • No waiting. Make sure that you provide direct feedback within two days after a formal interview.
  • Personalized feedback. Because they know their value, exceptional candidates expect mostly positive and personalized interview feedback (not generic or negative).

White-Glove Actions Making the Final Selection Decision

  • Limit consensus hiring decisions. Avoid it because it takes much longer. And it will likely cause you to lose innovators who almost always make one decision-maker nervous.
  • Use a weighted checklist for post-interview assessment. It minimizes unconscious bias and EC assessment is quicker when interviewers don’t have to figure out what criteria to use.
  • Don’t let a single manager reject them for organizational fit. Because of their high value, don’t let a single hiring manager reject them for the entire organization (hiring committees or bar raisers). instead, pass them on to others.

White-Glove Actions During the Offer Process

  • Ask them what they need to say yes. Knowing and meeting their job-acceptance criteria makes an offer less likely to be rejected, so ask them directly, “What do you need to have, including money, before you can accept an offer?”
  • Be willing to change the job. Showing some willingness to customize the job itself will dramatically increase your chances because the job will be more personalized and it shows your flexibility.
  • Add a surprise “wow.” Add at least one unexpected “wow” to the basic offer, including work-at-home options, pick-your-own-project, and sign-on bonuses.
  • Allow offer acceptance on their smartphone. Make it easy to instantly say yes from anywhere.
  • Exploding offers. These are powerful monetary incentives to encourage ECs to make an acceptance decision quickly (because the bonus goes away if they don’t decide quickly).
  • Allow top employees to encourage them. Peer acceptance is a key decision factor, so encourage your best to sell to them.
  • Sell their references. During their reference calls, spend a little time selling their references on the opportunity (the best often consults a reference before deciding).

White-Glove Actions After the Hire Is Completed

  • Maintain a relationship with a talent community. If an exceptional candidate drops out or chooses not to accept, convince them to join your talent community. Or assign an employee and a recruiter to maintain a relationship with them for future hiring and referrals.
  • Conduct success/failure analysis. After every EC hiring success and failure, continually improve the process by identifying the problems and the critical success factors.

Measuring White-Glove Treatment

  • The percentage that dropped out. The percentage of exceptional candidates that dropped out before the final interview (less than 30%).
  • The percentage that accepted the offer. The percentage of exceptional candidates that accepted the offer (higher than 75%).
  • Would they apply again? The percentage of candidates who say they would and the percentage that actually apply again at the company (higher than 80%).
  • Did they join our talent community? The percentage of ECs that were not hired who actually joined the talent community (higher than 50%).
  • Would they recommend a friend? Based on their experience, would they recommend that a friend apply (higher than 75%).
  • List any “wows.” List any extremely positive things that they would tell their friends about.
  • List our deal-breakers. List any negative factors that cause them to rethink whether they wanted to work here.

Once you do the business case and realize that exceptional candidates who turn out to be top performers might produce as much as 10 times more than the average new-hire in the same job, you quickly understand the need to elevate executive-candidate treatment to the white-glove level. Incidentally, if you want some tips on white-glove treatment, consult with your own customer-service professionals who deal with elite customers on the business side. You will find that their process model fits perfectly.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, please take a minute to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn and subscribe to ERE Daily

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

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