The Candidate Experience: 10 Experts Give Their Thoughts

Online Recruitment SoftwareCandidate experience; that old chestnut. For all the attention it’s been getting of late, there’s still an overwhelming number of companies who aren’t, haven’t, or don’t know how to improve.

Everyone and his brother has an opinion on candidate experience, and it can sometimes seem like everyone has something different to say. Who do you listen to? What if you listen to the wrong person? Who’s doing it right?

Not to worry. We’ve combed the web for the best of the best on candidate experience and summarized the thoughts of the experts for you. Put another way, we trawled through the most popular content, so you don’t have to.

We’ve pulled out the most common themes and written a handy summary for you at the end too, so feel free to skip ahead if you don’t want to read the whole thing.

Here’s what the experts have to say.

Lou Adler

‘Optimize Your Candidate Experience to Make Higher Quality Hires’

Founder and CEO of the Adler Group, Lou Adler, has authored numerous best-sellers and runs in-demand recruitment and HR workshops around the globe. It’s safe to say that he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the candidate experience.

In this popular piece from May 2015, Lou summarizes how important it is to create a great candidate experience, ‘CX’, and offers some tips to optimize yours.

Lou writes, “you hire great people the same way you create a great user experience for any product or piece of software. This starts with first understanding the user”.

For Lou, there are three foundational points that employers and recruiters must understand if they’re going to craft a candidate experience worth shouting about. They are:

  • There is a shortage of the best people in any field
  • Most of the best people aren’t looking for another job
  • The best will opt out early, unless the CX is world class

This echoes what we’ve written about before regarding skills shortages, and a candidate driven market. The blunt truth is, you need the best candidates more than the best candidates need you.

The key takeaway from Lou’s piece is this:

“Create a CX that targets the best, treats the best with respect and offers a job based on the candidate’s motivating needs. Then apply these same principles to every other candidate. That’s how you create an award winning CX and hire great people, too”.

For more in-depth discussion, check out the original piece.


‘Why The Hiring Manager Experience is More Important Than The Candidate Experience’

Offering industry leading recruitment news and insights, always have something valid to add to the conversation. This piece by Nicole Dessain is one of their most popular on the candidate experience, and rightfully so.

The premise of the article is this:

“Hiring managers are a key driver of the talent experience – how engaged they are in the process has a critical impact on quality of hire and retention. […] Developing strong relationships with hiring managers is the top driver of talent acquisition performance and four times more influential than all the other 15 performance drivers measured [by Bersin by Deloitte]”

The point Nicole makes is an incredibly valid one – most talent acquisition professionals, be they recruiters or HR professionals, have a fraught relationship with the hiring manager – but this can have a huge impact in terms of the candidate experience.

Creating an in-sync, seamless, transparent hiring process are critical elements of the candidate experience – but that’s impossible to do without having that dynamic with the hiring manager first.

If you want specific tips on improving your relationship with the hiring manager (And I’m sure we could all use them…) then check out Nicole’s piece here.

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Richard Branson

‘Treat People Who Don’t Get Jobs as Well as People Who Do”’

Ok, so this isn’t of the same ilk as the other posts we’ll look at here, but given his massive global success, Richard Branson seems like someone to listen to. A pearl of wisdom from someone who has built an empire worth over $5 billion – “companies should treat all people well [because] you never know when your paths will cross in the future”.

Richard shares a story of Sam Cox, an aspiring flight attendant who was unsuccessful at interview. He sent her a personally signed letter thanking her for her time, inviting her to try again in the future, and offering her a £20 voucher to put towards a Virgin flight or Duty Free.

A decade later, Sam ended up back within the Virgin Group, as Richard’s personal assistant. Small world, eh?

The point is, a small kindness costs nothing – and can reap dividends in terms of your brand reputation. Read the full story here.

The Undercover Recruiter

‘How Can Recruiters Improve the Candidate Experience?”

The Undercover Recruiter, another stalwart of the recruitment industry. In this piece they share and discuss an infographic by Qualigence, looking at the good, the bad and the ugly of the candidate experience.

According to TUR, three elements make up a poor candidate experience:

  • Poor communication
  • Poor organisation
  • Vague job descriptions

We’d probably add a few more to that list, but those are some of the biggest issues candidates have with the application process.

In fact, 34% of candidates state that they’d rate the candidate experience as better if the communication was better, with 28% complaining that they should be notified if they weren’t successful.

Not notifying candidates at all – that’s a far cry from Richard Branson’s personalised letter.

This piece echoes similar sentiments from the piece too, stating that 54% of recruiters feel hiring managers have unrealistic expectations, while 60% of hiring managers feel that recruiters just don’t understand the role. The outcome? The candidate gets stuck in the middle, and the candidate experience suffers.

Check out the whole infographic here.


Forbes – Meghan Biro

‘Employer Brand And Candidate Experience: A Mighty Fine Line’

Another popular piece on the candidate experience, Meghan is known for her insight into talent, branding and HR tech. Her piece opens with this killer line:

“What’s the difference between a great candidate experience and a deep, cohesive employer brand? Nothing.”

She goes on to elaborate – 78.6% of job applicants applied for a job because of their own personal research into a brand. Not what a recruiter told them. Not what a current employee told them. Not what they were spoon-fed.

In other words, everything that is “out there” about you has a direct, and massive, impact on the talent you hire. “Your brand influences talent acquisition”, as Meghan succinctly puts it.

Companies should focus less on creating an image of “this is what it’s like to work for us”, and more on “this is who we are”. The candidate experience starts much earlier – before candidates are even candidates at all – and having a consistent brand story is a fundamental part of the early candidate experience.

To quote Meghan, “at the foundation of candidate experience is brand – and not the other way around”.

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Social Talent

‘How to Drastically Improve Your Candidate Experience’

Social Talent have quickly established themselves as a voice to be heard in the talent acquisition industry, so it makes sense that this article is one of the most shared pieces on the candidate experience of the past six months.

The author, Siofra Pratt, shares the cautionary tale of Blockbuster, whose runaway success promptly turned into failure when they flagrantly disregarded customer preferences and clung to their old way of doing things. Siofra notes:

“Candidates are our customers and if we fail to provide them with the hiring experience they expect, they will find someone else who can give it to them, just as Blockbuster’s customers did”.

In this article Siofra looks at the various things that can go wrong with the candidate experience, concluding that the single biggest impacting factor is poor communication.

With that in mind, she shares the following practical tips to quickly improve the candidate experience, via Software Advice:

  • Improved communication
  • Notification if unsuccessful
  • Hiring process timeline
  • Human contact after application
  • Timely replies
  • Clear job descriptions
  • Progress updates
  • Application confirmation email
  • Shorter application forms
  • Clear Salary and Benefits
  • Explanation as to rejection

Simple changes that can have a big difference in terms of the candidate experience – worth trying.


Joshua Budway

‘Four Steps to Winning the Candidate Experience’

In the spirit of including a broad strata of people, Joshua Budway, VP of Talent Acquisition for Medallia, Inc. This piece is actually one of the most read of the past six months, so well worth looking at.

Joshua spoke recently at Talent Connect, LinkedIn’s annual business conference, and uses this piece to reemphasize the points he made at the conference. Echoing Meghan’s point above, Joshua notes that “from the candidate’s perspective, experience and brand are one and the same”.

He goes on to share the four steps that he led Medallia through to allow them to grow by nearly 160% in 2 years – in the middle of the Silicon Valley talent wars and despite not having the clout of the Ubers or the Facebooks.

Here they are:

  • Hit the wall – acknowledge what’s not working
  • Listened – set up comprehensive feedback systems
  • Setting candidate expectations – better communicate what candidates should expect
  • Created a clear vision – then sat back and gave recruiters budget to execute.

From Joshua’s perspective the main thing that comes through was to listen to candidates, and then respond to those insights. When you put it like that, the candidate experience isn’t complicated at all…

The most important thing – a recurring point in many of these pieces – was communication. The Medallia team found that one of the biggest factors impacting candidate experience was how they communicated their feedback.

Changing this was relatively simple – they started training their recruiters on how to deliver feedback better. They introduced shadowing systems, for new recruiters to learn how senior recruiters did it. Their legal team trained candidate-facing teams on how to be honest and transparent.

Joshua also makes an important point – that you don’t always have to give candidates what they want, to improve the candidate experience.

He tells of “a disconnect between what candidates were telling us and what we were willing to change “ in that the hiring process was too long, but acknowledges that this was something they didn’t want to change.

In this instance, the key was to clearly communicate with candidates so they knew what to expect beforehand, which solved the negative feedback problem. A simple thing, but panacea for those who’re concerned about pandering to their candidates’ every whim.

The underlying principle that Joshua highlights is this: listen to your candidates, then filter those insights back through the candidate experience to make candidates feel that “they really know me”.

If this summary has piqued your interest, you can read the whole piece here.

Talent Culture

‘Why Winners Invest In the Internal Candidate Experience Today’

Talent Culture offer a different take on the candidate experience in this piece, choosing to look instead at the internal candidate experience. For them, it’s great to focus on and invest in the external candidate experience – but we should also recognize that:

“We’re all perpetual applicants/candidates all the time. We’re all either being constantly re-recruited into [our] current organisations (engagement and opportunity) or recruiters out of them (attrition and opportunity)”

It’s about improving how you treat existing employees. About investing in training. About increasing opportunities for internal mobility. The importance of improving the internal candidate experience isn’t purely about retention, Talent Culture point out. In fact, most people simply do move on after 3-5 years – that’s a fact.

However, employees who are engaged and satisfied at work are much more likely to become a brand advocate – which means you’ll see an increase in referrals, which has a direct knock-on effect on your quality of hire, and on your employee retention.

The key, says Talent Culture, is trust. Quoting recruiting analyst John Sumser:

“When you use a referral, the trust is implied by the person making the referral. Everybody knows that what makes organizations fun, flexible, agile, adaptive and productive is the degree to which everybody in the organization trusts everybody else. Trust is the variable that makes your organization great or makes it fail.”

Read the full article here.

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Recruiting Daily

Does Anyone Actually Care About The Candidate Experience?’

Recruiting Daily are some of the best of the best when it comes to recruitment and HR insight, and their thoughts on the candidate experience are no exception.

The author, Ray Tenenbaum, focuses on breaking “the amorphous concept of experience” into its individual elements – naming the “Holy Trinity of Candidate Experience” as process, people and technology.

For Ray, delivering an exceptional candidate experience means “balancing these three disparate elements while continuously looking for ways to improve both individual results and collective outcomes”.

Through analysis of Talent Board’s Candidate Experience Report 2014 (widely accepted as the industry benchmark), Ray concludes that the most important of these pillars is people – recruiters, HR professionals, Talent Acquisition specialists.

“Once you get the people part right, the rest is pretty easy, pretty much”, writes Ray.

The question becomes, then, what constitutes the ‘right’ people? For Ray, it’s about embedding certain values in employees and recruiting teams alike:

  • Company values, mission and vision
  • Empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Promoting awards and recognition
  • Building tech savvy teams

In practical terms, Ray talks about the need to prioritize quality of hire as a hiring metric over the likes of time and cost per hire. He talks about getting senior leaders involved in the hiring process – because if you truly recognize that people are your greatest asset, you’ll recognize the strategic importance of doing so.
It’s about a commitment to quality. It’s about emphasizing a commitment to your people by placing them at the absolute heart of all recruiting processes.

The point Ray makes is this:

“It’s apparent that companies who have candidate experience as a structural part of their culture and organizational DNA demonstrate those values throughout the hiring and employee life cycle. While individual recruiters are obviously the primary arbiters of this experience, success starts with support from the top – and a continuous commitment to candidates from across the enterprise.”

In other words, you can’t ‘fake’ candidate experience. If people are at the center of candidate experience, they must too be at the centre of your organisation. Your company must embody a commitment to people at all levels, from hiring to retention.

“Candidate experience really isn’t about recruiting process, but instead, organizational mindset”, Ray writes, and his point is this – that you can’t hope to improve the candidate experience without cross-company buy-in. It’s about changing the mentality of people within the business, to promote a people-first, candidate-first ethos.

The technology, the processes – these things are important, the infrastructure of candidate experience, but cultural change is the key to driving real, practical improvement.

As Ray neatly sums up:

“In the business of people, if we don’t put people first, no fancy process in the world can fix what’s really broken. That’s all up to you”.

You can find the full article here.

What’s The Upshot?

We wouldn’t leave you high and dry without giving our thoughts on the above now, would we?

While each author brings their unique take on candidate experience, there are several points that are echoed throughout.

The most resounding point, as if you needed reminding, is how important candidate experience is. A good candidate experience means a better quality of hire, better retention rates, stronger brand, and more loyal customer base. It really does all start with the candidate experience.

The first step in doing that is to understand the user, to borrow a term from Lou Adler. Most of the pieces here mirror that sentiment – listen to your candidates.

Set up feedback processes and ask them honestly what you could improve. The 2014 CandE study found that a shocking 75% of candidates weren’t asked about their experience by their potential employer – so that’s an obvious place to start.

If you listen to your candidates, you’re most likely to hear that communication is your biggest fall-down. Siofra Pratt, writing for Social Talent, isn’t alone in noting that vast majority of candidate experience issues revolve around poor communication, from unclear application instructions to a lack of feedback.

One of the first things companies and recruiters can do to improve their candidate experience is improve how they communicate throughout the process. Take a leaf out of Joshua Budway’s book and train all candidate-facing professionals on how to deliver feedback. Create bespoke training programs designed to improve transparency and honesty.

Sending personalized letters and gift vouchers to rejected applicants, a la Richard Branson, might not be feasible for every company, but going above and beyond really can set your company apart.

Creating an exceptional candidate experience doesn’t have to mean compromising on the things you hold dear, though. You can have a long process, or a complex application procedure, or whatever it is you feel you need, so long as you communicate this clearly from the outset. Set candidate expectations, as Joshua says.

One of the most important points to emphasize is that the candidate experience shouldn’t be seen as a discrete thing. Meghan Biro and Ray Tenenbaum both cover this in detail, pointing out that candidate experience should be embedded, rather than an add on.

The point is that it can’t be faked. A positive candidate experience comes from a deep, cohesive company brand and is mirrored in every action that company takes.

Putting the candidate at the heart of what you do means creating a positive brand experience at every touch-point. Customers, current employees and candidates should all be treated alike – because a ‘candidate’ can come from anywhere, and lack of cohesion and in-authenticity will be noticed.

This is a point Talent Culture focus on – that employees and candidates are one and the same – employees are either being recruited to stay or being recruited to leave on a daily basis.

How you treat your internal candidate experience informs your external candidate experience. Your customer experience informs your candidate experience, as consumers become candidates and candidates become consumers.

All company touch-points feed into one another, so candidate experience shouldn’t be isolated. Creating a truly stand out candidate experience is about creating a truly stand out brand. It’s about knowing your candidates, absolutely, but it’s also about knowing yourself.

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