Think about the past several résumés or applications you received at your organization. Surely you didn’t hire everyone. What would the candidates who were not hired say about your process? Was it a pain? Were they kept in the loop, including about their rejection?

What about the ones who were hired? Would they say the process was easy, or did they have to jump through hoops? Were you accurate in describing the culture and job to them?

All of these things, and more, make up the candidate experience, and it’s important for your organization to get it right. “Candidate experience is pretty much like customer care. Just because someone wants to ‘buy’ your product doesn’t mean that you can rely on a transactional experience being enough,” says Neil Morrison, director of strategy, culture and innovation at Penguin Random House. Helping your candidates develop an emotional connection with your organization will build your reputation as an employer and brand, he says.

Here’s what you need to know about candidate experience and how you can get started on improving it at your company.

Candidate Experience Has Many Components

Where exactly does candidate experience begin and where does it end? It’s hard to say. It encompasses many aspects of the hiring cycle.

“Candidate experience starts before an individual decides to apply,” Morrison says. It includes the call to action that inspires them to search for a job at your company, the information available to them as they research the organization and how easy it is for them to express interest in a position, he says. “It then goes all the way from application management through recruitment and assessment, to the point of offer or rejection,” he says.

How long has it been since you were hired at your company? Has the process changed? Something as seemingly minor as a new background-check or drug-testing vendor can change a candidate’s experience from positive to negative, or vice versa, depending on how the candidate is treated and the ease with which the processes are completed. “Organizations should map the entire experience in exactly the same way they look at a customer journey and figure out how they can ensure a consistently positive experience,” Morrison says.

Candidate Experience Affects the Bottom Line

It’s important to get it right because, positively or negatively, it reflects on your organization. It may not change your reputation much if one or two people spread information about a negative experience, “but if you’re consistently getting the experience right — or wrong — then it is going to start to get known locally, or even nationally. With candidates having more and more ways of sharing their experiences online, it can soon have a very real and direct impact on your commercial and employer brand,” Morrison says.

What about rejected candidates — why bother to impress them? Well, which of these would you rather see in a review about your company online?

  • “It was such a pain in the neck to go through their online application. I couldn’t get anyone to call me back. They rescheduled my interview twice. Ugh. I’m glad I wasn’t hired.”
  • “XYZ Company said I wasn’t the best fit for this particular position, but they may have something better for me in the next couple months. They were very easy to work with and respectful. I hope I hear back soon.”

You’d probably prefer the second review. Even if they don’t write it online, rejected and hired candidates can still influence family, friends and others about your organization and alter perception about your products and services, Morrison says. They can encourage people to buy or make them not want to. “A good candidate experience can pay dividends long after the recruitment process is finished,” he says.

Audit and Improve Your Candidate Experience

The good news is that candidate experience doesn’t have to be difficult to discern and may involve some easy fixes. Here are some ways Morrison says you can begin to improve:

  • Perform an audit. Begin with Googling your organization and searching for new jobs. Are they easy to find on your website? Submit a test application or résumé. Note any glitches or cumbersome technology. “It’s worth a company going through their own application process on a regular basis just to check how it all works. It’s amazing how seeing it from the other side can shape the way you think about your own approach,” he says.
  • Survey candidates. Add a feedback form to all pieces of recruitment and the application process. Ask candidates what could be improved, Morrison says. “This has two advantages: It gives you great and informative data and it also enhances the candidate experience in itself as you get kudos for asking,” he says.
  • Communicate more. People searching for jobs are anxious and excited. They want information, and in Morrison’s opinion, communication is often the worst area of candidate experience. “Applications go into a black hole, communication is intermittent and not enough companies give good quality feedback — which is critical to a good candidate experience. Set aside time each day to respond to candidates,” he says.

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