What is candidate experience? This popular buzzword is actually one of the most important factors for attracting talent. That’s because the candidate experience definition is “how candidates feel about your company once they experience your hiring process.” And these candidate ‘feelings’, whether good or bad, influence candidates in their decision to apply to your company or accept your job offer.

So, a good candidate experience will make candidates feel good about your company after they see how you treat them. A better candidate experience might make them eager to share their good feelings with others, helping build up your reputation. On the other hand, a bad candidate experience will make candidates lose respect for you, both as an employer and as a brand.

The most common complaint candidates have about their job application experience is that companies never get back to them:

Poor candidate experience negatively impacts your employment brand. Stats from Careerbuilder’s 2012 nationwide U.S. candidate survey

Responding to every candidate’s application is the easiest way to solve this complaint. But crafting a good candidate experience in recruitment involves more than that. It involves a mindset shift that focuses on respecting candidates’ time and designing your candidate experience to be as painless as possible.

Here’s how to improve candidate experience at each stage of the hiring process:

These are some candidate experience best practices:

Make sure you’re hiring to fill a real need

Disorganization breeds bad candidate experience. Organization and planning breed good candidate experience. Being well-organized starts with planning your hiring strategy by identifying gaps you need to fill — and who would be best-suited to fill them. Candidates will have much better-defined job duties and a better candidate experience, as a result.

When to conduct a skills gap analysis

Write clear job descriptions

Screenshot via U.S Small Business Administration
  • Tell candidates the title of your Hiring Manager, for context. A lot of people leave their jobs because of a bad relationship with their direct manager. It’s best to tell candidates who their manager will be, to help them with their research and give them more context for the seniority and growth opportunities of your open role.
  • Make management responsibilities obvious. If the role you’re advertising for has management responsibilities, make them explicit. ‘Manager’ job titles are in-vogue and don’t always translate into responsibility for direct reports. If your manager-level employees actually have to manage people, let your candidates know.

Make it easy for candidates to apply to your jobs

Indeed Mobile Job Application

  • Avoid restricting file uploads to small sizes. If you offer a file upload option for resumes and portfolios, be generous with your file size limit. Some formatted resumes and portfolios are large files, because they showcase high-quality images and artwork. Candidates will feel more positively towards you, and your application process, if they don’t have to compress their file sizes and skimp on their quality standards.
  • Allow for free-response answers and URL links. If you can’t offer large file size limits for file uploads, offer candidates the opportunity to submit URL links to work samples that are too large to upload in PDF format. It’s also a good idea to offer free-response fields for candidates to copy and paste writing samples or add a few more details that they didn’t have an opportunity to cover in other parts of your application form.
  • Make answers ‘required’ only if they’re really required. This saves candidates’ time and can also help speed up the application review process for recruiters and hiring managers, so they can get back to candidates faster. This improves the efficiency of your entire hiring process and returns better time to hire and time to fill metrics.
  • Don’t ask for salary history as a required field. Savvy job seekers know that they shouldn’t answer salary history questions, if they want to maintain the upper hand in salary negotiations. Making current salary a required field, with a drop-down menu or ‘enter numeric values only’ criteria, will annoy these candidates. Asking for salary history also perpetuates the gender pay gap, and is illegal in some states, so you should probably avoid it altogether.Salary history job application
  • Send a confirmation email when candidates’ submit their application. Acknowledging candidates’ applications is a good practice, even if you send a generic thank you email. To stand out and help candidates feel more prepared for interviews, send candidates a copy of their application. This adds an extra layer of personalization to your confirmation email and helps job-seekers keep track of what information they sent you. (Which can be helpful when they’re tailoring their resume and writing unique answers for lots of job applications.)candidate-experience-confirmation-email
  • Avoid candidate reference numbers, use names instead. Sometimes application confirmation emails include cryptic candidate reference numbers. This sends the message that candidates are numbers, not people. It’s best to avoid it. That way, you avoid candidate confusion and keep your communication tone personal.candidate-experience-dont-use-candidate-reference-numbers
  • Do a test run by submitting an application yourself. There’s nothing like user testing to see if things are unclear. Send in a sample application and check to see what your email templates look like, from a candidate’s perspective. It’s also a good idea to ask a colleague to submit a test application, to see if there are any user experience glitches that a fresh pair of eyes can uncover. This is a good way to determine what a great candidate experience looks like.

Related: Frequently asked questions about candidate experience metrics

Follow-up early and often

Communicate with (and thank) candidates during each step of the hiring process

Give candidates information about what to expect at in-person interviews

Tell candidates:

Related: Structured interview questions: Tips and examples for hiring

Give candidates your full attention at interviews

Prepare for interviews by:

Then, when it’s time for the interview:

Tell candidates if you’re no longer considering them, as soon as you can

Sending a clear rejection message is much better than giving candidates the silent treatment. The best rejection messages end things on a positive note and offer to provide more specific feedback to candidates, who are often interested in learning from their interview experience with you. Wish candidates well, offer to keep in contact and, if you think they would be a good candidate for future roles, tell them that you will consider them in the future.

If you want to keep certain candidates in mind for future openings, keep track of them

If you tell candidates that you will keep them in mind for future jobs, make sure you have the infrastructure to keep that promise. Applicant tracking systems can help you keep high-potential candidates in mind by providing a searchable candidate database of previous applicants, replete with social media profiles and a detailed history of your interaction with each candidate. You can snooze candidates, set reminders for future dates and use tags to add context to candidates’ profiles that can remind you of their availability and future job interests:

Screenshots via IWA

Be open to giving (and receiving) feedback

Companies are often wary of offering to give specific feedback to rejected candidates, for fear of legal issues. You can address those fears by structuring your feedback carefully. Candidates appreciate specific information about their applications and, if they advance to later stages of the hiring process, they are more likely to expect specific, personalized feedback delivered with candor and kindness. This kind of feedback can help candidates approach their job search in a more strategic way and can help them figure out whether they would like to pursue another job opportunity with you.

It’s also useful to ask candidates to give you feedback. A candidate experience survey can help you structure your questions and keep yourself accountable for improving your candidates’ experience. But, if you ask candidates for candid feedback — be prepared to offer them the exact same thing in return.

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