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Columbia Business Monthly

Enhancing the Candidate Experience

Sep 01, 2017 04:03PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Dr. Robert E. Ployhart
Professor of Business Administration, Darla Moore School of Business

We see the job market heating up in the current economic environment. At the time of this writing, the unemployment rate is approximately 4.4 percent in the United States and just 4.0 percent in South Carolina. This is generally seen as good news for the economy, but for employers, it also means greater competition for talent. This, in turn, normally means that employers become “talent constrained” as they have difficulty attracting and retaining employees. Firms then attempt to compete by raising wages, offering hiring bonuses, and enhancing workplace perks. 

Yet one of the most impactful and cost-effective ways for an employer to differentiate itself from competitors is to enhance the candidate experience. The candidate experience refers to the types of interactions and encounters a job candidate has with a firm, from the time the candidate begins to consider applying for a job to the time a hiring decision is made. The candidate experience thus refers to how candidates feel about their interactions with recruiters and hiring managers, organizational staff, the firm’s website and application materials, the types of selection tests, interviews, and so on. The candidate experience is similar to how customers experience a firm’s products and services, except that the focus is solely on the experience as a job candidate.

Enhancing the candidate experience is critical for a number of reasons. Candidates who have a more favorable experience are more likely to:

  • Remain in the selection process and accept offers (if one is provided)
  • Perform better on the job
  • Remain more loyal to the firm
  • Spread positive word-of-mouth to others (even if not hired or accepting a job)
  • Have positive perceptions of the firm’s brand and reputation
  • Remain a customer of the firm

Let’s look at some hard numbers. Various industry reports find that when candidates have a negative experience:

  • More than 70 percent will share their negative experience online
  • Approximately two-thirds will not recommend a firm’s services or products
  • Approximately half will refuse to remain a customer of the company

Given these organizational consequences, it is surprising that firms provide such a poor candidate experience. Most candidates are never informed whether their application has been received. Rejected candidates rarely learn that they have been rejected. Candidates like to know where they stand in the hiring process and how long the process will take; no news is taken as bad news and leaves a very negative impression. 

If talent is important to a firm’s success, and there is high competition for talent, then enhancing the candidate experience is something a firm can do to create a competitive advantage—especially when competitors do it so poorly. Enhancing the candidate experience does not require sophisticated or expensive hiring systems. It starts by recognizing that candidates are real people who should be treated respectfully at all times. The following practices have been shown to work best:

  • Provide a complete explanation of the hiring process, including tentative schedules, timelines, and when candidates should expect to hear feedback.
  • Explain how the process is job related and focused on job-relevant competencies. 
  • Offer the name and number of an actual human who can respond to questions or concerns.
  • Ensure the feedback and correspondence is respectful and reasonably informative. 
  • Keep the process as simple and fast as possible (but not so simple or fast that it sacrifices quality). 
  • Remember that candidates are people and that applying for a job can be a stressful experience. Anything a firm can do to reduce anxiety and stress will be viewed favorably, even if it’s impossible to eliminate the stress.
For candidates who are rejected, it is very important to explain how the process was fair, job-related, and gave all candidates an equal opportunity to perform. If there are a number of strong candidates, it may also be worth noting that many good candidates do not get hired, and so one should not take the rejection decision personally.
Providing too much detail can increase legal risk so always have one’s legal counsel review any correspondence. 

Research has consistently shown that rejected candidates respond favorably to these suggestions. Even rejected candidates will more easily accept the decision, maintain a favorable perception of the firm, and plan to continue to be a customer of the firm, if the rejection decision is adequately explained. Imagine the positive word-of-mouth that can be spread digitally on networking sites such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Facebook, when candidates provide their positive experiences. Enhancing the candidate experience is simply the right thing to do for business, ethical, and legal reasons.