A Model of Candidate Experience

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Sofas. Probably the last thing you would imagine to be at the forefront of candidate experience but you’d be wrong. I recently caught up with Ben Gledhill who is the Talent Acquisition Manager at Sofology and creator of a very interesting model for candidate experience (see below).

They are on their way to becoming a fully digital omnichannel retailer and are doing lots of cool stuff with tech for their customers as well as for their candidates.

You can listen to my interview with Ben below, or read on for a summary of our conversation. Also, be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

You’ve rebranded a couple of times, has this impacted your employer brand?

We used to be called CSL back in the day. We then moved to Sofaworks and last March, we fully rebranded to Sofology. If we look back to the CSL days, we were very much what I would call a typical retailer. We had the stores, you would go in, buy a sofa, and that was it. When we rebranded to Sofaworks, we really kind of changed our mantra in terms of how we treat customers. So all of our retail advisors, they’re not on commission, they’re now on a bonus which is triggered by customer reviews using an NPS, which is obviously quite interesting because obviously that’s how we rate our candidate experience. And we started to really go down the digital route. So, for example, we had a huge investment in 3D imagery. So now a customer can go onto the website and see his or her sofa in all types of shapes, and colors, and sizes, and all the rest of it. And we’re really wanting to become the leading digital omnichannel retailer in the sofa industry. We just want to make the process of buying a sofa a little bit more bespoke to the customer. Our mantra is “Feeling at home on a sofa you love.” So we’re mixing our great people, our great products, and the best of technology. Kind of mixing it all together just to give the customer a little bit of a different experience.

What is your definition of candidate experience?

So it is definitely something that’s kind of evolved, in my eyes, over, I guess, my career and definitely the past couple of years. So I guess, maybe five, six years ago it was just a case of you had an ATS, you had an application process and candidates would apply. You offer or reject them, and then you just go back to the beginning. Then you do that all over and over again. With the real emergence of employer branding, the kind of social media-heavy world that we live in now, things like a company’s reputation, and more importantly, the impact that candidates and recruitment can actually have can impact on the consumer brand, as well. It’s so, so important now. So I guess for me candidate experience isn’t just about giving candidates good feedback. It’s not just about making sure that the hiring manager has training. It’s about the end-to-end process of building the basis of a good employee journey throughout the process but also, if you are a rejected candidate, making sure that they become brand advocates. So they don’t only praise your recruitment function but they also praise your organization as a whole as well. Which if you are a consumer brand, it can have a huge impact on your profit or, potentially, loss.

What inspired you to create a model for candidate experience?

I like to simplify everything and really break it down into very easy chunks because I think a lot of people use a lot of bingo-buzzwords and they use very long, strategic terms that don’t really make any sense. So when I joined the business, one of the first things that I did was to really break down the candidate journey using Post-it notes. Sounds very simple but actually, it’s really, really effective and I know a lot of other organizations have done this to really see where we touch the candidate. So, we could touch them on Glassdoor, we will touch them on our website, we’d touch them at interview, and to just really get a real grasp of what that looks like. And then once we knew what that looked like, then we could say, “well, actually, we can tweak our Twitter account to make sure that it’s got good content on. We can tweak our careers website to make sure there’s a downloadable PDF of the hiring cycle so the candidate knows exactly what will happen to them, right down to – “do candidates get an email to notify them of when they will hear from us? Or do our candidates get verbal and written feedback?”

I guess my real inspiration for creating the model was I just couldn’t find a template or a model to work from or use as almost like a term of reference. And I’m a big fan of the work that Gerry Crispin has done and the Candidate Experience Awards, both in Europe and the U.S. And so I took the feedback that we get from our own candidate surveys, some of the feedback that those guys have collated last year, and I looked at the real process that the candidate will go through. So, it starts off with the brand awareness – “what do they know about Sofology? what can they understand? what can they find?” And actually, comparing that to, “what do they want?” So it’s probably the biggest bugbear for a candidate, is not knowing what the process looks like.

So very easily, when we remodeled our careers website last year, we created a couple of files which shows, very simple in a matrix form, what role goes against which assessment technique so they know exactly how they will be assessed, and what will happen through the process. So “what does a pre-screen involve? what does a psychometric test involve? If they are successful, what does the onboarding process look like?” Because for me, at one point or another, we’re all candidates and we all go through the process. So if we can give candidates as much information as we can, hopefully, that will not only inform them but it will alleviate our workload because you’ve given the candidate all the information that they need. So it’s just really about taking this gigantic journey that can look a bit, “wow, this is a little bit scary!” and just breaking it down to really easy, manageable chunks that people can go away, work on a project, come back, slot it in and it can work really well.

candidate experience model

Where should the typical company start?

I think, from my experience of Sofology, because I always think that you can’t really tell other people to do things if your own house is not in order. I think for us, it was very much around the careers website. I don’t think it was up to date enough. I don’t think there was enough information on there for the candidate to make a real conscious and objective decision to apply. I think that the interview and assessment process can be very mix-and-match to what you’re looking for. So, for example, “why does a senior candidate need to go through very basic questions?” On the flipside of that, “why does a junior candidate have to go through a three or four stage interview process?” But I think the big one for me is the actual application process. It’s the “how do I submit a CV? how do I submit a LinkedIn profile?” And I think at the moment our application process is around about five to seven minutes with about four or five clicks. We have taken that down a lot. So, for example, a lot of feedback was, “I haven’t got my national insurance number,” so we took it out. So it’s just the little tweaks like that because, for me, everything needs to mirror the consumer way of working. So I think last week, I ordered something off Amazon. It was two or three clicks. So there’s no reason why an application process for a candidate should be any different.

When making it simpler to apply, is there a risk of too many applications?

Well, I guess that’s why you have to be really, really careful with what you’re saying on, not only your website but things like Glassdoor and things on your social media. So we have purposefully tried to make our job adverts as realistic as possible because, without wanting to sound disrespectful, we want to attract the right candidates and deter the wrong candidates. Because at the end of the day, if we make a mis-hire, it will affect the business but more importantly it will affect the candidate as well, because they’ve had a little bit of a blip on their CV. So, we take a lot of time ensuring that the information on the website, when we’re updating our Twitter account, and when we’re writing our job adverts, they are close to the bone as possible in terms of that realistic image of the organization.

Because you do get a lot of candidates that will spray and pray. They’ll apply for any job. So that’s why we’ve introduced our new way of advertising jobs. But on top of that, working with our ATS provider, we’ve also included screening questions. So that’s another way of telling the candidate, “Look, these are the really essential things that we need, guys.” So we’re not wasting our time but, more importantly, we’re not wasting your time as well.

How can we measure candidate experience and make sure that we use the data well?

Because everything that we try to do is as a people-team function, we try to mirror what the consumer business does. So we landed on an NPS survey that each candidate, regardless of role, will receive at the end of the process. And the reason why we did this was we wanted the most realistic image or results of the data that’s possible. Because if we got the data after the interview, candidates might be a little bit happy and, “Yeah, it’s really, really cool and all the rest of it,” but we wanted to get the survey data after they’ve been told they’ve either been successful or unsuccessful. So every candidate will get an email. They will get a text message informing that the email has been sent to them. And the questions that we ask, it’s a mix of both qualitative and quantitative data, which means that we’ve got some numbers to play around with but, more importantly, we have some data that we can actually take away in terms of text and actually look at. So, some of the questions are, “How would you rate the feedback provided during the recruitment process? At the interview, what impression did the company representatives give?” Quite simple questions, but the main one which is key is, “Overall, how would you rate your experience during the recruitment process?” Zero is poor and 10 is excellent. So for me, that’s a good little employer brand metric in terms of, “What do you think of us as an employer assessing you?”

And when we first kicked off the process, we had a lot of negative comments because there was probably a lot to fix. But, as time’s gone on, we’ve managed to take away things and improve them. So I guess, for us, the two biggest things was the feedback. So now, every candidate that applies will get a notification. They will get feedback as to whether we will progress or not progress with a little bit of detail there. But after the actual face-to-face assessment, they will get full verbal feedback but they’ll also get access to further feedback from the hiring manager if requested, just to help them in their next application, or job search or whatever. And the second one was around hiring manager capability. So we had a lot of negativity around the actual individual capability of our hiring managers so what we did, we created a very simple hiring manager training module as part of our learning academy. With things like “interview,” “etiquette,” “how to structure a competency-based question,” “how to probe without being aggressive.” And all of a sudden, you started to see the individual’s scores for our assessors go up, and up and up. So, as with the process as a whole, it’s about taking a problem, breaking it down, looking at a sensible solution, and then moving forward and implementing it.

What employer brands inspire you in terms of the candidate experience?

I’d be a fool not to mention Virgin Media. And I’m a big fan of Neil and Graham’s work, and obviously the guys at Ph.Creative, and they’ve done some really good stuff there. I think some of the CandE winners have done some really excellent stuff. I think it was T-Mobile who’ve done some really cool graphic work that candidates can download and have a very simple process in front of them. I think, rather than picking out individual ones, I think it’s just any organization that is very honest and open about how they manage candidates. And I love any organization that has open dialogue with a candidate. So I think a few organizations now are employing real live chat on their career site. They have fantastic turnarounds of questions being asked on the likes of their Twitter account, their Facebook account. I think that’s great because, at the end of the day, candidates are humans and humans love human interaction. So if I can just go onto Twitter and say, “Hi, recruitment team. Thinking of applying but duh-duh-duh,” whatever the question is, and within, say, two or three hours, I have a reply back from Zoë who works in the recruitment team, that’s just fantastic. So I think there are some really, really cool organizations out there that are using the best of technology but not forgetting that human element, as well. So I think that’s really good.

What’s the next big thing in this space?

I did a talk last year and somebody asked me the very same question. I think the big thing will be really managing your silver medalists and candidates and ensuring that they become a brand advocate. So I think that’ll be a really, really important thing to ensure that that actually takes place. I’ve seen a lot of articles and blogs around persona, base, candidate journeys and personalization, whereby if you are a project manager, you might have this process, if you’re a developer you might have this process. I think that’ll be quite big. Hopefully, touch wood, and with a lot of organizations, I think application processes will get a lot faster. So you’ll see a lot more companies saying that you can submit your portfolio, if you’re of that ilk. You can submit a LinkedIn profile if that’s necessary. And I think employer brand and candidate research will absolutely dominate, so I think the more effort that you put in at the front end of the process, will enable the candidate to make a much better-informed decision of whether to apply or not. So yeah, I think those things will kind of really get kind of stronger, and companies will invest more and hopefully see the ROI at the end of it.

Follow Ben on Twitter @RecruiterGuyNW and make 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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