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Crafting an Exceptional Candidate Experience: Key Strategies

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If you want to hire the right people for your positions, it's important that you provide candidates with a good experience.

While the hiring process is an exciting time in a company, it is not without its challenges and there is a risk of a poor candidate experience creeping in.

When it comes to hiring new employees quickly, most companies will consider automation and mass candidate marketing.

However, you will notice that your applicants' ratings, either in your surveys or on Glassdoor, will drop as a result.

And why?

Because there is a misconception that good candidate experience and rapid hiring at scale are mutually exclusive.

But that's not true!

During my time at a FAANG company, I doubled the number of employees in EMEA while simultaneously doubling our candidate feedback score.

In this article I will explain how my team and I achieved this. But first a brief definition.

What is the candidate experience?

Candidate experience is the experience candidates have as they go through your hiring process.

It is influenced by factors such as communication, duration, difficulty, quality of conversations and efficiency of the entire process.

Why is the applicant's experience important?

Making the effort to create a positive candidate experience has many benefits:

  1. More new hires
  2. Better quality of applicants
  3. Make better hiring decisions
  4. Save time and resources internally
  5. You create a stronger employer brand.

It can even impact employee engagement and retention, as your employees will be paying attention to how you treat applicants - some of them might even make their own recommendations!

How to create a great candidate experience

Here are my strategies for balancing scale and candidate experience so you don't feel like your company is treating candidates like numbers in a lottery drawing.

When considering the following points, it's important to think about all the touchpoints you will have and how you can best use them to foster relationships between your company and candidates.

Create a clear talent plan

It seems simple and may not be directly related, but it's important to start with a good talent plan, either at the beginning of the quarter, the year, or even after a funding round.

Sit down with all of your business leaders and schedule a time to discuss the state of their team and how business goals will impact the resources they need.

In my conversations I always address the following points:

Current competency resources

  • What comes easy to you and what are the strengths of the current team?
  • Who are the superstars, is there a potential candidate on the path to promotion and do we need to add to the team?

Skills gaps

  • What is the team struggling with?
  • What needs to be adjusted, what needs to be developed within the team (possibly in collaboration with the learning and development department)?
  • Who is not providing the desired services and needs to be replaced?

The job descriptions and structured interviews rely on this information being correct.

There is often an urge to reuse old job descriptions, advertisements, and interview questions, but I encourage you to review them and see if they are truly useful for these settings.

It will save you a lot of time if you don't have to constantly revise the job description.

Are we hiring to respond to growth or are we hiring to create growth?

This is a very important distinction. Typically, teams like product, engineering, or support are hired to respond to growth, while commercial teams are there to create growth.

Be sure to speak with management to ensure there is a balance between the two types of hires (revenue-generating tasks should almost always be a priority!).

What happens if we don't hire employees?

This is a good foundation for everyone - talent and companies - to understand and keep track of the impact. In this way, talent can search for the right employees and management can react flexibly in its decisions.

Prioritizing between roles

If there are multiple roles and you work with many business partners, you won't be able to fill all roles at the same time - especially if you start filling more than 30 roles, each of which requires a lot of procurement effort.

Getting the business leader to prioritize at the beginning will help you prioritize yourself and the talent team as you move forward.

This way, when you want to advertise a role, you can avoid wasting candidates' time by approaching them and then freezing the role, or having to rework the role over and over again throughout the process.

Wasted time is a leading cause of poor candidate experiences, followed closely by frustrating interview processes.

If you want to dive deeper, check out my article on creating a sustainable hiring plan.

Make it a collaborative endeavor

If any of you have worked for an Amazon company, you may be tired of hearing this question, so here's a revision: "What would we need to get there?"

You should have a rough idea of numbers like graduation rates, e.g. For example, your company could have 4 commitments for 5 offers. Once you know the exact number for your business, work backwards - a pyramid instead of a funnel.

This will give you a rough idea of the scope of the work. Then you can start applying them to your favorite project management tool - Kanban for an overview or Gantt if you're looking for e.g. have a short-term hiring wave.

Below is an example of a Kanban board of mine with at least rough numbers you're aiming for.

The next step is very important - share the project plan with the HR manager and the hiring team!

Make it a collaborative endeavor and invite them to participate. In this way, you can help them become more responsible.

Everyone needs to know what's coming up on the calendar, and if the company needs to scale, everyone needs to make hiring an absolute priority, and that means knowing how much time to devote to the hiring process.

No matter how streamlined, hiring is a time-intensive process, and hiring together will help share the load and improve the experience for everyone.

Make interviews efficient and engaging

When I talk about efficiency, don't immediately think that the interview process has to be rushed - not at all!

But if you're expanding quickly, you may need to conduct a lot of interviews, so it's important to make the most of the time you have.

Below is a simple guide to show you what to look for to ensure your applicants have a positive experience.

Step 1: Standardize the interview process.

This allows you to quickly compare applicants and minimize the appearance of bias.

Step 2: Review the questions you ask in the interview and the timing at which you ask them.

Start with the questions that will tell you about the skills you have considered essential for this job and then work your way to the more desirable skills. This will take you from qualified candidates to the best applicants.

Make sure they are well-designed questions that aim to get to the bottom of the experience. When in doubt, always ask what, how and why.

Tell me about a time you closed a particularly difficult client? What was difficult about him? How did you turn the situation around? Why did you choose this path/information/strategy and not another?

Step 3: Review reviews

Make sure each assessment is fit for purpose and appropriate for your role. It must be challenging, but not too time-consuming for either the applicant or you to complete.

For more information about targeted, engaging interviews, see my article on job interviews.

Don't forget the basics

With all the talk about efficient interviews, remember that the interview is the crucial point when it comes to candidate experience.

This is where candidates spend most of their time with you, and even if you didn't have the time to create a fancy careers site with interactive elements, you can make up for it with an engaging interview.

That’s not to say the interview should be easy! Most applicants prefer interviews that challenge them and make them think about their field, so the advice above for interviewing effectively still applies.

What I want to draw your attention to, however, are the basics that if you get it right you probably won't get effusive praise, but if you get it wrong you will get the criticism you deserve.

Always pay attention to:

  • Introduce yourself and your work in the company.
  • If this is the first conversation, also introduce the company.
  • Provide the context you want to talk about in this conversation
  • Reassure the applicant, whether online or in person, that they can take a break to drink water or go to the bathroom if they want to. We're all human
  • Make sure you have read the applicant's resume beforehand and are prepared with the questions that are relevant to them.
  • Make sure you are on time (even a little early if you are the host)
  • Keep track of time and make sure the candidate has time to ask questions.
  • Smile and be curious about the person you are talking to!

It seems simple, but I always experience situations where these things are forgotten and it always shows.

The above points cost nothing but can earn you a lot of experience points with applicants as many employers leave out the above points and try to compensate with flashy career pages.

Set up some automations to increase efficiency

Please note the use of the word “some”!

The usual formula is: the more time a job seeker has spent interviewing with the hiring manager, the more you need to give them feedback, guidance, and attention.

It's a two-way relationship: when you give candidates good feedback, you help them and your team improve.

Among the many applicants, will there be 1-2 who will take advantage of this?

Yes, but there will be all the others for whom you made a difference by humanizing what can sometimes feel like a very stressful job search.

Modern Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and recruiting software offer all kinds of automation options, some of which you can use here:

  • Bulk/Scheduled Emails - can be used for rejections, notifications or arranging next steps with candidates
  • Managing career pages for a good first impression
  • Application questions - including a few simple questions to tick can help streamline the application process
  • Chatbots that can answer some frequently asked questions from applicants
  • Surveys about applicants' experiences - automated at certain points in the application process (my recommendation is at the end).

For example, you can automate common rejection reasons when reviewing resumes - perhaps the applicant doesn't meet the talent requirements or lives in the wrong time zone. You can create a few templates for the most common reasons.

It may take two seconds longer to find the right reason, and although there is a fear that applicants will become defensive or complain about their supposedly negative applicant experiences, in most cases, rejected applicants will appreciate that you have their examined the situation and responded to it.

This reflects your company culture and will help them know whether to apply for your next positions!

You can also automate some emails as you route a potential candidate between stages and follow-ups. So you can e.g. For example, in the initial planning email, include a pre-recorded video/loom (or other video interview tool) explaining to candidates what the next step in their interview journey will be.

I've found that it's useful to create a visual representation of the process for applicants - like a map!

Know when not to automate

As previously mentioned, the more time candidates spend interviewing, the less automated communications they should receive.

Once they are at a later stage, you should be on the phone and interacting with them (this could be you or the hiring manager).

You need to find out if the new employee is excited about the job. Enthusiasm is not the same for all applicants, so you should take a closer look at the applicant's motivations!

Be curious about the people and expectations of applicants, because they could soon be your colleagues! This will also be helpful later in the job offer phase.

Give proper candidate feedback

Feedback is very important for 2 reasons:

  1. It gives candidates something to work towards
  2. Hiring managers and hiring teams need to understand the reasons behind their rejections. This means they can no longer say, "You're not a cultural fit for us" without explaining why. Sometimes the answers to the question “why” aren’t particularly good, so talent acquisition needs to be done a bit. I hope you don't find anything bad out of this, but it's entirely possible!

In the EMEA region, with the advent of GDPR-driven DSARs, feedback can no longer be denied, allowing applicants to request all of their information including their forms and scorecards.

Make sure hiring teams are aware of this so they really think about why they are moving someone forward or rejecting them. Get them to present it as a business case.

Even Amazon can no longer claim that they don't provide feedback - I should know because I've handled DSARs there!

Check applicant feedback and evaluation forms regularly

Check applicants' scorecards regularly to see if they are meeting the requirements!

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Has an appropriate business case been presented?
  • Is there a clear record of the questions asked and the answers given?
  • Are they sufficiently detailed?
  • Does the final conclusion agree with the overall feedback or are they biased somewhere?

All of these points will give you an idea of where you may need to intervene and correct interviewers who are not questioning candidates evenly or giving them a poor experience.

A sentence of three in a 45 minute interview makes me question whether anyone was paying attention during the interview!

You can control a lot about the process, but the interactions during the interview make up the majority of the candidate's experience. You need to keep track of it and point it out when you see it not up to standard.

When you speak to the applicant after the interview or in the final stages, ask them how they found the interview so far.

Bonus Tips

Remember that you are more likely to leave a negative review than a positive one. Make sure you leave fewer people with a truly negative experience and keep an eye on the feedback.

Will one or two applicants be dropped during the process?

Maybe - no process is perfect - but you don't want to be known as the company that never gets back to you, favors only the candidates who go through the process, and leaves the others out in the cold.

Some bonus tips:

  • Hold fewer meetings: If you have considered the above points and the HR manager and the hiring team are on the same page, consider holding fewer meetings. If you have more than 4 positions with the same hiring manager, you may need to have 2 meetings per week, otherwise keep it to one.
  • Don't skimp on planning. Give yourself 10% more time to plan than you think you need.
  • Pick up the phone and call the person. I know you think that you are very busy and don't have time, but if a call only takes 3 minutes (like a cancellation or something) - just do it. If you put in the effort, you can handle so many calls in half an hour!
  • Stay on top of hiring metrics and data. Use a project management board, e.g. Kanban, as a source of truth about whether you are meeting milestones on time. If this is not the case, sound the alarm sooner rather than later and get support from your team or HR managers (have them get it too!).

Remember that improving the candidate experience, even when scaling quickly, doesn't mean making hasty decisions or conducting easy interviews. It means you have a smooth hiring process and conduct your interviews on target.

Enhancing the candidate experience while scaling recruitment operations is crucial for talent acquisition success. Utilize collaborative planning, efficient interviews, and meaningful feedback to attract and retain top talent. Consider IceHrm for streamlined recruitment processes. Join us in revolutionizing hiring practices.

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