“Candidate experience” feels like it’s been a talent buzzword for a while...and it feels especially buzz-y recently.
HR channels and outlets like RecruitingDaily and Talent Board are kicking off 2019 by hosting webinars and posting thought leadership articles that claim that yes, candidate experience has been a hot topic for years now, but this is truly the year of the candidate. According to these sources, hiring processes that prioritize candidate experience need to include:
Speed. Respond to candidates quickly without unnecessary delays.
Communication. Be honest and empathetic towards your candidates.
Transparency. Share information and be available.
Here’s the thing — in an age of readily-available information (Google) and instant response, things like speed, communication, and transparency have become what a candidate expects when applying for the job. Simply doing what a candidate would perceive as the norm is a poor definition of candidate experience.
Are you delighting your candidates by going above and beyond expectations, or are you simply meeting minimum expectations? Either way, even the best of intentions will fall flat without the proper process in place.
Candidate Experience as Hospitality: Creating a Candidate Experience That Adds Value
When it comes to candidate experience, there’s a lot we can learn from the hospitality industry. Just as this vertical’s prime objective is to create an exceptional experience for customers, as talent acquisition specialists, our prime objective should be creating an exceptional experience for job seekers.
In LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s podcast, Masters of Scale, he interviews with Shake Shack’s founder, Danny Meyer. The way in which Meyer defines the word hospitality can give us a better sense of how we can approach candidate experience:
Hospitality, as I define it, is very simple. It all comes down to one preposition: "for." If you feel like the other guy did something for you, that's hospitality. If you think about every single transaction you go through in life, you don't necessarily feel like they did something for you. In fact, sometimes you feel like they did something to you. And by the way, if you ask for your salmon rare and I bring it to you rare, that's not hospitality. That's what you expected. Hospitality might be that I remember and I don't even have to ask you.
Are you doing things “for” your candidates, or are you simply meeting their expectations? When you simply meet candidate expectations, you miss an opportunity to create an impression of your employer brand that leaves even rejected applicants as happy customers. 46% of job seekers with a negative candidate experience take their loyalty elsewhere — as both a customer and an applicant. 72% of candidates who have had a bad experience told others about it, either in-person or online.
Maybe your candidate experience isn’t as negative as Virgin Mobile’s, which found that a bad candidate experience was costing the company $5 million annually. But if you’re simply meeting expectations, if your candidates merely feel “meh” when exiting your talent pipeline and you leave absolutely no impression whatsoever, is your brand’s “forgetability” any better?
Truly delighting candidates means taking a hospitality approach. It means being “for” them, rather than simply meeting expectations. This requires providing an equitable exchange; applicants give up a lot when they apply for a job. They willingly hand off so much personal data — detailed resumes, answers to applicant tracking system (ATS) knockout questions, cover letters written with time and care — and when they get nothing in return, it can be disheartening.
Job applicants willingly hand off so much personal data — detailed resumes, answers to ATS knockout questions, cover letters written with care — and when they get nothing in return, it can be disheartening.
When you’re not learning from the lessons of the hospitality industry and being “for” the candidate — providing them something of value — applicants feel like they are on the losing side of an exchange of information.
So how are you making your candidate experience valuable for job seekers? How are you providing an equitable exchange at scale? Our dependence on convenience and efficiency may be getting in the way.
“The Tyranny of Convenience” and Its Impact on Candidate Experience
Last year, Tim Wu wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times called “The Tyranny of Convenience.” The piece went pretty viral (well, as viral as an opinion piece can go), because the article articulated a sentiment that many of us have experienced. In the 21st Century, in the Western world especially, convenience is heralded above all. Convenience has the power to make previous ways of doing things unthinkable. The author gives the example of a washing machine; laundering clothes by hand now seems like a ludicrous idea, even if it may be cheaper.
The advent of the washing machine would have fallen under the “first wave” of convenience, a product of labor-saving devices that were invented in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Think instant cake mix and the microwave oven. Coincidentally, this is when resumes became a staple of hiring practices (more on that in a second).
The “second wave” is happening now. The way one expresses oneself becomes a matter of convenience — as convenient as choosing which picture to post on Instagram. As Wu says, “Its format and conventions strip us of all but the most superficial expressions of individuality.”
The tyranny of convenience, and how it limits self-expression, extends to hiring.
The resume emerged as a staple of job applications in tandem with the first wave of convenience for a reason. Resumes allowed employers to efficiently narrow down a pool of candidates without meeting with every single applicant. Consequently, candidates are constrained to express their work ethic, personality, and potential on a singular page of written text. All for the sake of convenience.
What is critical to understand about Wu’s piece is that he doesn’t condemn convenience. He praises feats of convenience for the ways that these movements have liberated people to engage in more “human” activities. The first convenience wave freed people to enjoy more leisure time, and therefore take up more hobbies.
But the ways in which hiring practices have become more convenient for candidates and employers have not made talent acquisition any more human. Besides resumes, one-click applications on LinkedIn or a 500 character text field asking candidates to explain what makes them unique don’t do much more in terms of candidate self-expression.
These methods may be convenient (for both applicants and employers), but when candidates feel as if they can’t demonstrate their true self, they become frustrated. Savvy applicants who understand that you as an employer are opting for convenience will keyword-optimize their answers with buzzwords that the screening bot will surely pick up. Ultimately, employers don’t get a full or accurate picture of the applicant. Convenience trumps predictability.
When convenience resorts people to a piece of paper or a name in an ATS, candidates don’t feel as if they are being treated as humans, and candidate experience plummets. The baseline level of humanity that a candidate expects — empathy, communication, transparency — are not intrinsic to the processes that make hiring more efficient, like resume screening bots and ATS pipelines. We poked a little fun at the beginning of this blog post — obviously candidates want you to be transparent and empathetic towards them! — but when these basic elements of humanity aren’t built into your processes, a lot of work needs to go in to being intentional about prioritizing candidate experience.
The baseline level of humanity that a candidate expects — empathy, communication, transparency — are not intrinsic to the processes that make hiring more efficient.
It seems like an oxymoron — by making our hiring processes more efficient, we have to put more work into ensuring candidates receive a positive impression of the employer brand and still want to work for you.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! We assume that we have to design our hiring process for efficiency, and build candidate experience on top of it. But what if it could be the other way around?
Building a Process That Prioritizes the Candidate and Convenience
For many talent acquisition teams, a “good” candidate experience means creating as many touches with the candidate as possible. Senior talent acquisition consultants at Booz Allen Hamilton, for instance, have said, “We believe in a ‘high-touch’ recruiting experience, where recruiters communicate consistently by phone, text or email the status of an individual’s candidacy at each stage of the process.” Stacy Zapar, founder of Tenfold and The Talent Agency, advocates blocking off a set period of time to do this every week.
But when you’re a company like, say, Southwest Airlines, that receives a job application every two seconds, texting every candidate is not so feasible. It's certainly not convenient. And how much value is a text really providing a candidate?
Convenience and candidate experience don’t need to be in opposition. There are organizations who have set the example that talent acquisition processes can be designed for efficiency and candidate experience.
At Greenhouse OPEN’s 2018 conference, Employer Brand Strategist Lane Sutton (who works for companies like Disney) shared his experience of creating a great employer brand for job seekers.
For one company he consulted for, his team created an email list of every person who applied for a job at the organization, and nurtured them with a monthly newsletter that highlighted the company’s culture. The emails saw a 54% open rate (for context, the average email open rate is 24.88%).
The organization learned that job seeker interest was not one-and-done. As a result, they built into their hiring process a step that automatically added every job applicant to an email newsletter specifically designed to uphold employer brand, even when a candidate was rejected for a job. The process was automatic (convenient), but the campaign was driven by a value-adding candidate experience. Now interested job seekers got a sneak-peek into the company culture, something they didn’t have before.
Creating an experience that provides value for candidates doesn’t have to just look like constant communication between the employer and the applicant, either. Manuel Heichlinger, LinkedIn’s Senior Manager for Talent Acquisition, has said, “The best companies want to help their candidates to succeed and are making the most of emerging interview techniques. These include using online assessments to give a more holistic picture of the candidate.”
"The best companies want to help their candidates to succeed."
Online assessments, when used correctly, can provide you as an employer the best of both worlds — convenience and candidate value. Obviously, they’re convenient — the results of a valid talent assessment can give you a rich understanding of applicants’ soft skills and behavioral competencies, which can become a more predictive replacement to resumes as a top-of-funnel shortlisting tool.
Assessment providers, however, don’t always get the candidate experience part right. Applicants may be asked to take a long and arduous assessment, but are met with nothing but a “we’ll be in touch” landing page — a black hole. The result is a pretty frustrating experience for job seekers, who have spent time and energy applying to your company without so much as a promise that they’ll ever hear from you. Candidates receive no value.
In order to provide an excellent experience, online assessments have to provide some sort of applicant-facing output. No, this doesn’t mean you have to tell them whether their assessment results were or were not a match to the role’s requirements, but there are other ways to leave candidates feeling good about themselves and your organization.
Content that helps job seekers as they continue on their job search, or an output that helps applicants uncover something about themselves that they might not have previously known, are just a few ways that assessments can provide a value-adding candidate experience. Plum, for instance, provides every single person who takes our talent assessment with a unique profile that outlines their top talents, tailored career advice, and opportunities for development. Candidates receive valuable feedback that they can take with them whether or not they reach the next stage of the hiring pipeline, all while requiring no extra bandwidth from recruiters and talent acquisition professionals.
Whatever you do to design your hiring process for candidate experience, whether it’s building it around a top-of-funnel talent assessment or prospecting job seekers from your existing talent pool for other jobs through a culture newsletter, it’s critical to keep in mind that a solid candidate experience does not have to come at the cost of convenience and efficiency. If it does, you’re probably expending recruiter time on trivial things that simply meet candidates’ expectations, rather than exceed them.
However you build your hiring process, remember: candidates who are genuinely interested in working for your company are eager for a way to express how valuable of an asset they will be. Resumes and LinkedIn single click applications just won’t cut it.
Even if a tool like an online assessment requires a little more time and energy from the candidate, they're more often than not willing to put in the work in order to give you a true and holistic picture of their strengths. And if they're provided a value-adding output at the end of it all, whether they proceed to the next hiring stage or not, applicants will only leave with a positive impression of your employer brand.