A Kickstart Guide to Candidate Experience

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

With most candidates being rejected in any given recruiting process, plenty of people will have things to say about your company – good, bad and sometimes ugly. One way to improve what is being said, is to focus on the candidate experience.

I’ve chatted with Kevin Grossman of the Talent Board to get some details. Have a listen below, keep reading for a transcript and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Who are you and what you do?

I am the President of Talent Board, which is a non-profit research organization, all about improving candidate experience around the world, as well as improving the recruiting processes from pre-application and onboarding. Our research is focused on employers as well as their candidates.

What is the definition of candidate experience?

A lot of people have said a lot of things about candidate experience, also pretending that it’s important but not as important as it’s played out to be, but it really truly is though. So, from our perspective, candidate experience is about every single touch point, any touch point, any time throughout the recruiting process, which a lot of the time loops back on itself. Whether it’s on researching a job and “don’t apply” or “do apply,” “make it to interview” or “get disposition immediately,” it affects everything that we do. And our whole thing is that we’re all perpetual candidates all the time. So we don’t discriminate, at least from a mission and research perspective, the difference between an applicant and a candidate. We’re just all candidates, period.

How is candidate experience similar to customer experience?

It’s very similar because, again, one of the things that we found, year over year with the candidate experience research in companies around the world, is those that have made the jump internally that are a primary customer for recruiting. Not for the business necessarily, but for recruiting it’s the candidate. It’s not the hiring manager. It’s not executive leadership. It’s not other team members in recruiting. It’s the candidate. So making that jump and being able to then apply everything that applies in recruiting is focused on your customer, then it makes things a lot easier to make those incremental changes that improves that experience.

Which comes first, candidate experience or employer brand?

From my perspective and from what we do at Talent Board and just my experience in the space, it’s always candidate experience first. I think if I’m completely tuned out of a particular brand and never in my life have I thought about being interested in them, I may be interested if I’m embarking on a career search and I come across a brand that I’d be interested in and fascinated by and want to know more about, or maybe I had a friend who said, “You know what, Kevin? Listen, I know you’re really miserable in your job. You should check this company out.”

It’s always candidate experience first because it’s through that filter and that perception of what makes a difference, whether or not all the work that you did at employer brand does make a difference, because it is subjective still at the end of the day. So all these things are important that we do in recruiting, but it still comes back to candidate experience, from my perspective.

Tell us about your candidate research reports?

Every year with the research that we do, we ask the employers around the world a series of questions about their recruiting process and how they see their own candidate experience, so a self-assessment. And then for those that want to continue to the next round, they may also target a population of their own candidates, most of whom didn’t get the job, because we’re measuring what 9 in 10 of us experience, which is not getting the job. And even though there is a higher population in our research, the majority of them are again those who didn’t get the job or were still on process when they finished, when they completed the research report.

Last year globally, we had about 400 unique companies participate and 220,000 candidate responses over that actually. We take that data, run through our own analysis and do a lot of different correlations and poking and prodding at it, and kind of sift out the insights and the takeaways every year.

What stood out in your latest report?

  • Referrals are bigger than they’ve ever been, not just for companies, which it’s always been an important part of the hiring process for recruiting teams big and small. But now, candidates are leaning on their networks even more than they’ve ever had before. In fact, that’s gone up about 14% from 2015. That’s a big jump for candidates. You know, we’ve been harping on each other for years now to build and leverage our networks. Well, candidates seem to be doing that more.
  • Communication feedback loops, this continues to trend this way every year and it’s not unique again this year. Companies that are investing more in better automated and human communications, because obviously early on in the process, there’s a lot more automated messages that go out, particularly when they’re dispositioned. But when there’s more thought process put into that strategy, when there’s more touching of candidates throughout.
  • Also not providing feedback, which I know varies what you can and want to say around the world, the United States is heavy on the compliance side, so you have to be careful what you tell candidates of why they’re not moving on. But just giving them something that’s, what I like to call, specifically ambiguous — which is always a big hit at our workshops — and then asking for feedback, that’s a big difference right there. Candidates that have an overall 5-star experience on a Likert scale of 1 to 5 — meaning pretty darn good overall — and most of whom again didn’t move on or get the job, they’re getting asked 30% of the time for feedback, which is really, really huge, except those on the other end of that, they have a 1-star report, overall candidate experience, 88% of them aren’t being asked for any feedback at all. Huge missed opportunity there.

Do you see any regional differences in candidate experience?

I can tell you on a big-picture level that candidate experience is pretty universal, meaning whether it’s positive and negative experiences, candidates are dealing with this all over the world.

Some of the bigger differences, for example, are that companies that participated in the CandEs by industry, there was a larger population of both technology for EMEA companies, interestingly enough, than even US or APAC companies, especially more than the US, which I thought was interesting, almost 10% more on the technology side.

A couple of other differences as well, which is also the makeup of job type, because companies, when they’re targeting their candidates, they ask their candidates, “What job type did you apply for?,” and it was everything from contract to internship to all the way up to senior management.

So there was definitely a big difference between a lot larger or hourly population in the North American data and a much, much smaller in the EMEA data. There’s also just some regional differences in recruiting as well, but another big difference there just with the job type is that there was a much larger population of entry-level on the APAC side than there was in EMEA, again, just the differences in who they’re targeting. And there was also interesting distributions of gender, much larger on the millennial side in APAC and EMEA than in the United States. In the United States, there’s much more of a bell distribution, at least.

And again, these are companies who are targeting their candidates, and that’s based on the data that we’re collecting. And then if I just jump for a couple of other particular things is that when on the onboarding side, this was another big difference. And again, there’s going to be more differences and similarities coming out later this year. There’s a lot more compliance-oriented and automation on the onboarding side in the States, much more so than anywhere else in the world, and I think that’s another interesting thing to point out.

What companies do candidate experience right?

Before conversion, before getting the candidates to apply for any job, there’s more companies like Questrade and Capital One and Delta Airlines and many others that are investing in some kind of customer service up front, answering questions to potential candidates about what it’s like to work there, the jobs, who they’d be working for. It’s in a variety. It could be done on their career site, like even a live chat, either done usually not 24/7 on the recruiting side but blocks of time during the week. Risk Management Solutions where they will answer questions for potential candidates directly by recruiters and people that worked there already because they hire a lot of PhDs.

Questrade is a Canadian financial services company. They do a lot of blog Q&A. They use social channels as customer service channels like a lot of consumer brands do now today. So I think to me that’s fascinating, because again, that goes back to making the mindset of the candidates are their customer and this is how they’re managing them, like you would your buyers, your consumer buyers, right?

What’s the number-one pitfall to avoid with candidate experience?

To not do anything. We do workshops and educational webinars and things all throughout the year, and one of the things I hear again and again is, you know, “Gosh, I can’t touch everybody. I can’t make everybody happy. You know, even we try to bring closer everybody, it’s hard to do.” Well, it is a big task, but as much as you can do it and as much as you would invest and being consistent about it, and making sure that expectation setting is clear and communication is clear. And even asking for feedback while you can, not just for new hires, it goes a long way with fairness with candidates. That’s really all we want. We’re gutted that we don’t get the job, but if you are clear with me and you treated me fairly and then you said, you know, “Sorry, we’re not going to pursue any further,” I get it. It’s the way it works and that’s what makes a difference.

How can we measure ROI on candidate experience?

Right now, after 6 years of doing this research globally, we can show that candidates that have an overall 5-star experience, most of them again didn’t get the job at the end of the day. But through our research, they, 64% of the time, are willing to increase the business relationship with that company that they applied to. Now, that means apply again, it means buy stuff if you’re a consumer-based business, and then it means refer, which is the big one.

So that’s a huge potential increase to the bottom line over time. And there are companies today — AT&T, many others — that especially are really working hard to try to quantify what that is, because it will vary from company to company and industry to industry, but you know, it could be into the millions of dollars. Like there’s an example with Virgin Media that it’s a pretty well-touted case study now that they actually did the quantification, and it was millions of dollars in lost revenue, consumer-based loss revenue, based on a poor candidate experience. These are companies that participate in our research are doing the same things today, and we’ll be able to have more of that research out there.

The other issue, that 64% are willing to increase, that’s the good news. 41 percent says they’ll sever the business relationship. That means they won’t buy stuff, they won’t apply again and they won’t refer. And I always like to use this quick example. And I thought of Lockheed Martin in here. They’re a multi-year winner, they’re always working hard trying to figure out what to do better like many companies are. If I’m an engineer and I go through Lockheed Martin‘s process and I have a horrible experience, I’m not going to not buy military equipment because I didn’t get hired or because I didn’t move on, but I’m going to tell my engineering friends that I had a crummy time and recommend them not to apply and go through that process.

So even if a portion of that 41% put their money where their mouth is, there could be significant revenue and eventual revenue if the referrals aren’t there. So that’s the impact that our data can show now.

What’s the next big thing?

When I think about the investment on the employer side of technologies that help them do recruiting better, onboarding is a big one. Video interviewing, even though it’s still not as adopted as we would all and I would even think it would be by now, continues to grow in investment, CRM definitely. So you’re talking again about the employment brand on recruitment marketing side. There’s a huge push, and that’s going to continue to grow over the next few years, I mean, companies really being serious about how their brand is perceived in the market and promoting it as such through very targeted recruitment marketing strategies like smart marketers do with their programs and products and services today. So that’s the thing I see the most happening over the next few years.

Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinWGrossman, download the North American Candidate Experience Awards Research Report now and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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