Exclusive: How Airbnb Gave Its Candidate Experience a Makeover

March 27, 2014

Jill Riopelle was ecstatic - Airbnb just called with the job offer she so desperately wanted. Double-fist pump. Happy dance.

But then…


The written offer didn’t arrive the following week as promised.

Nor the week after.

Nor the week after that.

Zip. Nada.

Was it all a mistake? Jill’s excitement gave way to insecurity and confusion.

She eventually received the letter weeks later, and joined as a recruiter in 2011.

That year, Airbnb grew from 50 employees to 500 and the hyper-growth was taking its toll. “Candidates were falling through the cracks,” Jill, now Head of Recruiting, recalls. We knew we had to do something.”

Step 1. Drawing the roadmap of the ideal candidate experience

“First, we reflected on our own hiring experiences,” Jill explains. “We invited employees to share their best and worst hiring moments on the big whiteboard in the lunchroom.”

“Then as a team, with leadership participating, we brainstormed how we wanted it to feel at each point, mapping out the ideal process from both the candidate and hiring team perspectives.”

mapping the candidate experience

Airbnb mapped out the ideal candidate experience from start to finish.

Step 2. Investing in recruiter communication

In order to get into the candidate’s shoes, Jill's team applied to jobs at other companies and discovered Airbnb had the same auto-reply as everyone else – boring and generic enough to make your eyes glaze over.

“We really wanted a warmer first touch so we wrote a more compelling acknowledgement message, one that outlined next steps and suggested what candidates could do in the interim (watch company culture videos, read our FAQs, and more ).”


Some of the Airbnb FAQ for jobseekers

The First Airbnb Hackathon

 Airbnb does Mad Men

The team then created a library of well-written, on-brand templates that required minimal effort to adapt. This made it very easy for recruiters to communicate with candidates, and to keep their follow-up commitments.

“We knew the best candidates had options,” Jill continues, “so if we could speed up our process, we’d have an advantage.”

One easy fix was shifting the offer letter responsibility from HR to Recruiting, and it worked because the recruiters had more of an incentive to act fast. They were able to cut the time from first onsite to job offer significantly.

Step 3. Training hiring teams and fostering a candidate-centric culture

“We hosted ‘primp your profile’ lunches to help employees update their LinkedIn profiles,” explains Jill. “I’d remind them that candidates would land on their LinkedIn profiles no matter what – either by Googling them or searching directly on LinkedIn. That was usually enough to get them to take action.”

The team started recognizing ‘Interviewer of the Week’ at Friday meetings - someone who went the extra mile for a candidate. For example, the hiring manager who went on a Saturday hike to woo a top prospect received a case of PBR beer in honor of the team’s ‘ABR’ (Always Be Recruiting) mantra.

“Our goal,” recalls Jill, “was to have candidates walk away saying, ‘Wow - those Airbnb people are so smart and coordinated - I’m even more excited about the chance to work with them.””


Airbnb envisioned an ideal interview scenario.

Step 4. Coordinating the on-site interview process

“Previously we didn’t tell candidates who they would be meeting with because schedules always changed,” says Jill.

Interviewers used to ask candidates the same questions too. “Not only was that frustrating for candidates,” explains Jill, “but it made hiring decisions difficult because the team wasn’t getting a full picture of the candidate.”

Now the interview team establishes roles before a candidate comes on site, and Jill’s team preps them via calendar invites. For instance: ‘Super passive candidate. Had coffee with Mike three months ago. Have been courting ever since. Need to sell.’”

“Early on we also had a ‘cupcakes for feedback’ campaign,” says Jill.  “The first team member to submit candidate feedback received a delicious ‘you win!’ cupcake on his or her desk.”

Step 5. Making the candidate feel valued, especially when rejected

Jill and her team recognized that the best candidates were busy and often taking time out of high-impact jobs to interview.

“We wanted to demonstrate we respected the candidate’s time. One subtle but powerful touch was writing a welcome note to candidates on the white board in the interview room.”

The team also takes the time to show candidates around Airbnb’s offices. “Our space is such a big part of our identity,” explains Jill, “We use the tours to help candidates assess fit, and to help ease interview jitters.”

Take a virtual tour of Airbnb’s ‘insane’ San Francisco headquarters, and you’ll see what Jill means. Here is a peek:

airbnb office san francisco

“Now we reject candidates via email and invite them to call for feedback. It’s a win-win: it gives them time to digest, it makes the conversation more productive, and that in turn makes them feel more positive toward Airbnb.  We also give them a coupon if they get past a certain stage in the process, to thank them for the time they spent with us.”

As the number of people whom Airbnb doesn’t hire inevitably increases, Jill’s team is relying more and more on LinkedIn’s Talent Pipeline to manage those prospects and keep them warm.  “We’ve started to see many more second-time candidates, and friends of former candidates apply,” notes Jill. “That’s where we’re seeing real impact.”

What are your candidate experience best practices? We want to hear from you at @HireOnLinkedin. #candidateexperience 

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