6 Tips for Improving the Candidate Experience (and Why They Work)

How do you stand out as an employer of choice in a competitive job market? Building a strong employer brand that reflects what your organization is all about—from your work environment and core values to your team culture and the overall employee experience—is crucial for capturing the attention of top talent. 

A key component of your company’s reputation stems from how candidates are treated during the recruiting process. At the end of the day, the promises you make through your brand content, messaging, and interactions will only be impactful if you provide candidates with a positive experience through every stage of the hiring process (including the dreaded rejection email). 

People talk and they’re inclined to share their experiences as candidates—good or bad—with their friends, family, and peers both in-person and online. According to the 2019 Talent Board North American Candidate Experience research report, 76% of candidates said they share their positive experiences with their inner circle and 71% said they share their negative experiences. 

While a lower percentage of candidates said they’re willing to share a positive experience (50%) or negative experience (36%) publicly in places like social media and review sites, the numbers are still significant. Negative candidate experience doesn’t just affect brand impression, it affects whether or not people even want to apply in the first place. 

We teamed up with Blueboard for a webinar with three industry experts to discuss their strategies for how to make sure the candidate journey reflects your company culture, values, and employee experience. Watch the full webinar here and keep reading for their candidate experience tips and insights.

The Candidate Experience Starts With First Impressions

“The candidate experience really begins at the first point of contact with a potential recruit,” says Shannon Ferguson, Head of People at Blueboard. Whether a person is just browsing for jobs or getting acquainted with your company through your careers page, they’re going to come away with some sense of your culture, your values, and how you treat your employees. It’s up to you to make sure candidates are engaged and feel like they’re invited to become a part of your story. 

At Blueboard, this starts with being mindful of the language and the photos they use on their job site—specifically, not using gendered language or homogenous imagery to represent their workforce as a whole, which can have the adverse effect of making people feel unwelcome. “We want to figure out how we can swing the door open as wide as possible and invite everybody in,” says Ferguson. 

As a key channel in the candidate journey and one of the first places candidates look when they’re researching places to work, your careers page is like an extension of your company. There’s a huge opportunity at this early stage to actually show candidates what’s important to you as an organization. One of our partners here at The Muse, Paychex, has a video from their Muse profile embedded right at the top of their careers page. It features employees talking about their team-oriented culture, having supportive managers, and having the freedom to run with new ideas.

For someone looking for more information to help them decide whether or not to apply, a video like this can help them envision a day in the life. And because this video is also featured on The Muse, there’s a connective thread across channels so candidates are getting clear and consistent messaging. 

Set Expectations Early in the Journey

When someone enters the consideration phase of the candidate journey and is thinking about whether they want to take that step and submit an application, they’re also entering somewhat uncharted territory. Every company is different and for candidates, that means not always knowing what to expect from the interview process if they make it to that stage.

What happens after an initial phone screen? How long is the on-site interview? Will there be a take-home assessment or even a presentation before getting a final offer? 

Rather than waiting until someone applies for an open role, Blueboard addresses these questions directly on their career site, outlining what to expect from their interview process so people can be informed from the start. Not only does this enable candidates to feel better prepared and understand what they need to be thinking about ahead of time but it also provides a level of transparency that’s often missing from the candidate experience at this early stage.

Use Content to Support Candidate Communications

When a candidate converts to an applicant, clear and consistent communication becomes even more important. Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon for a candidate to apply for a job and never hear back from the company beyond a generic auto-reply. In the 2019 research report from Talent Board, 30% of North American candidates said that they had not heard back from employers two months after they applied.

That’s frustrating—it takes a lot of time and effort to complete and submit an application and candidates that fall into the “black hole” are often left with a pretty negative impression of how a company might treat their employees. 

Something as simple as your automated “Thank you for applying” email can be updated to offer more clarity. It doesn’t just have to say, “Thank you for applying. Your application is under review.” You can take it a step further and include more personalized content, which sends the message that you’ve put thought into how you want people to experience your company and that you’re excited for them to learn more. 

“Since some recruiters just can’t realistically write back to every applicant personally, the auto-reply is even more important than ever. And if there are ways to customize that in a way that will keep an applicant hooked on your brand, that’s a really great win for you,” says Sarah Hisiger, former Enterprise Client Success at The Muse.

When candidates apply for a role at the hospitality company Lyric, for example, they get an automated email confirming that their application has been received and directing them to Lyric’s company profile on The Muse to watch a testimonial with one of their employees. Once someone lands on that page, they can continue to click around and explore. 

This can also be used as a screening tool for candidates who make it to the phone screen or interview stage. If someone naturally mentions content from The Muse or can provide feedback when asked about it, it’s a pretty good indication that they took the time to engage and are genuinely interested in joining your team.

Interview With Intention to Find the Best Fit

Think about your interview process: What are you aiming to learn about a candidate? What do you want a candidate to learn about your company? 

It’s important to be intentional in how you conduct interviews because a one-size-fits-all approach might not be effective in helping you find the best-fit person for a specific role. At Blueboard, the interview process has a core set of components:

  • Hiring managers conduct an early-stage interview to assess a candidate’s skills and experience and screen for cultural indicators 
  • Founders meet with the candidate to share their vision for the company and assess motivators and career goals
  • A take-home assignment is given to get a sense of how a candidate will behave as an employee (i.e. how they think, write, and express ideas)
  • Onsite culture interviews take place with diverse members of the team to get perspectives from junior to senior-level employees across the organization

But it doesn’t always happen in that order. Depending on the role they’re hiring for, Blueboard designs the interview process in a way that uncovers the data and insight they need to make an informed decision for that particular position. For example, a more technical candidate might do a skills assessment earlier in the process if certain hard skills are preferred versus a position where soft-skills might take precedence.

Make Meaningful Connections With Candidates From Start to Finish

As an environmentally conscious company, Avocado Green Brands focuses on cultural indicators that align with their core values. They look for people who are innovative, sustainable, and responsible, but they don’t necessarily have a predetermined list of questions that they ask every candidate. 

“I always try to approach the interviews as very down to earth, very transparent and honest,” says Manuel Tafoya, Director of People and Culture at Avocado Green Brands, “Ultimately, what we’re trying to find out is who the person is and do they align with what we’re trying to build for the future.” 

This philosophy of relating to people on a genuine level applies to the company’s entire talent acquisition process—including how they turn down potential employees. Tofoya’s team operates with three pillars in mind: 

  • Lead with empathy: Let the candidate know as soon as possible if they’re not being considered—and do it over the phone. Taking the time to call someone and let them know personally is a direct reflection of how a company treats its employees. 
  • Be intentional but honest: You can keep it short and brief but always be transparent. If it was a difficult decision to not move forward with that candidate, connect with them on LinkedIn or exchange contact information for the future. They might make a great addition to your team down the line. 
  • Ask for feedback: Improving your talent acquisition process is crucial for growth and you can learn a lot from the people who have been through it. 

Rejecting a candidate doesn’t have to mean jeopardizing your company’s reputation. It can be an opportunity to forge a connection, learn in real-time, and still leave candidates with a positive impression of your culture and values.

Give New Hires a Warm Welcome

The candidate experience doesn’t end once a job offer has been extended and accepted. If anything, this is the time to make sure a new hire continues to feel valued and confident in their decision to join your team. 

At Blueboard, once an offer letter has officially been signed, they alert the wider team and encourage hiring managers to call the candidate and say congratulations personally. People throughout the company often add the new hire on Linkedin with a short note welcoming them to the team. After that, there’s a high level of communication with the new employee to answer questions and share things like the onboarding schedule. 

New hires are also invited to partake in Blueboard’s rewards program to enjoy a fun activity and get acquainted with the product before their first day. 

At Avocado Green Brands, they present all new employees—whether they’re hired in the manufacturing facility or their location in Silicon Valley—with a welcome box that includes a nice letter, plus some of the materials that go into crafting their unique mattresses. 

Extending a warm welcome is an opportunity to leave a lasting impression on new hires. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, it just has to be authentic to who you are as a company. 

Providing a thoughtful and informative candidate experience isn’t just good for brand perception. It allows you to make strong connections with potential talent and hire people who trust you as an employer. Ultimately, those employees might just become your biggest advocates and choose to stay with your company for many years.