9 Practical Questions and Answers about the Candidate Experience

August 20, 2014

When a candidate declares her interest in your company and applies, her subsequent experience could result in either a ‘fan’ who goes out of her way to find and encourage others to apply…or, not.  Because of this huge impact on your employer brand, candidate experience will become one of the most important steps of the hiring process in any company.

Recently, I moderated a candidate experience webinar with Christina McClung from Capital One, Amelia Merrill from Risk Management Solutions, and Heather Tinguely from Microsoft. The panelists discussed how they treated everyone they touched, measured the candidate exprience impact and aligned their performance to their business – you can listen to the full recording of the webinar here.

Some of the highlights were:

-       Chat rooms that emphasized 2-way communication and transparency

-       Recruiter and hiring manager training to ensure consistence

-       Practices that let candidates know they got up to bat and were listened to

-       Policies that inform candidates when they are not selected and why

-       Surveying every candidate after the position was filled and tying their feedback to the recruiter’s scorecard.

Here are some of the great candidate experience questions that the audience asked and everybody should consider:

Q1. Should recruiters accept a LinkedIn connection request from candidates who are in the recruiting process and are not yet an employee?  What type of negative/positive impact could this make if the person was not selected for the role?

As a full-time and even a contract recruiter I would accept any person I had ‘touched’ in the recruiting process, offer feedback within my capability and what is allowed by my employer, and be honest about restrictions in our relationship. I would also push hard for the candidate to follow a company LinkedIn Group, Fan Page, or Talent Community where he or she can have honest dialogue with the employer. Risk Management Solutions, for example, offers a chat room.

Yes, there are candidates that you connect with and you will never hire. However, there is also a significant number of candidates who might yet be hired when they are more competitive and who, until then, could be encouraging others to consider you. Be nice to them. The Candidate Experience Awards data indicates that 60% of all the applicants you have are predisposed toward you and believe they already have a relationship with you. Build on it.

Q2. Is there an obligation to explain specifically why a candidate is not chosen to move forward?

No, there is no obligation because there is no legal standard. That said, the willingness to do so can pay dividends and the inability to do so can have a measurable downside.

Lawyers would be the first to argue that the risk in saying something wrong is too high for the company to take. They are wrong.

Trained and compassionate recruiters who accept the risk, engage all candidates, and find time to manage detailed feedback to finalists, will discover they are meeting a world-class description of a recruiter who can attend to the needs of all stakeholders in the process.

Our webinar panelists make the case that as a practice we should offer more feedback than we currently do, to the extent it is practical. If not, candidates will not get better at interviewing, will fail to re-apply when they are more competitive simply because they don’t know what that looks like, and they won’t understand why they may be applying for jobs they are not qualified for and continue to waste their time and ours.

Q3. How do your organizations handle driving improvement programs at a regional/local level - feedback is so unique depending on the market where candidates are applying.

There is no question that differences in how we treat others have a cultural component – by region and country, and so on. Also, issues arise in how experience is viewed by gender, race, disability, veteran status, level, age. Who said this was easy? But there are core practices we can only hope are universal (we hope to prove it sooner rather than later).

The answer is to collect data: the one question any firm can ask is a net promoter score question like,  “Would you refer others to [company name]?” If the answer is “no,” dig deeper. If “yes,” try and understand what you are doing right and don’t stop. Capital One asks every candidate who applies (whether they go forward or not) that one question and 80% respond. They can slice and dice by region, facility, type of job and…recruiter.

To the extent that the candidate’s experience is different country by country, our panelists feel they can improve it as they would any program through listening to the ‘voice of the customer’.

Q4. When does the "candidate experience” officially change to the "employee experience?” Who owns onboarding in partnership with the Hiring Manager? Recruiting? HR? Combination?

Onboarding is a shared ownership between Talent Acquisition, Talent Management and Hiring Managers, with all the problems in communication and handoff that entails. You raise a great question, however, in that the candidate experience shouldn’t be ‘better’ than the environment they will work in otherwise you may be promising heaven and selling them into hell.

The panel adds that this also depends on company philosophy. At RMS for example, there is a joint ownership between HR and TA until the 90-day mark. Onboarding is the responsibility of both teams.

Q5. Describe what would improve the hiring process for your next hire.

Tell them what the job entails beyond the job description: describe the style of management of that specific hiring manager; the collaboration styles of the other people who work for her; how many people in the last 5 years who continue to develop and grow in the company have worked for that manager; and how long someone on average stays in the job. Oh, how about telling them what the money looks like before they apply…and definitely before you ask what they make.

Q6. Do you face any challenges in getting hiring managers and/or the organization to see candidate experience as important?

Yes, unless the top dog brings it up first, or you did when you were interviewing (and made it a condition of taking your job). Left unsaid, it’s always going to be the ‘sale’ not the attitude and behavior downstream that people will reward even if they say its important.

But remember it wasn’t too long ago when some firms didn’t care whether the customer was satisfied…as long as they bought, that was enough. Now, you can’t buy anything without having someone wonder if you are happy and willing to share that with others. There is a reason. We need to measure our candidates’ satisfaction with the same discipline….then hiring managers will have the data and won’t overlook this part of the hiring process.

Q7. Surveys: How automated is the survey process (for candidates) and reporting once it has been set up? 

Some firms, like RMS send the survey out after the interview. Others after the position is closed or the person informed of the outcome. AirBnB embeds the link to their survey in every recruiter’s email signature.

Q8. What is the ideal ratio of open reqs to recruiters in order to avoid work overload?

For many, many years every study has shown that the average number of reqs should be between 25 and 30 per recruiter. That said, the variables are unlimited: type of job, scarcity of position, level, number of different hiring managers for the same job, and so on. One interesting way to examine this issue across some of these variables is to analyze the difference between recruiters in terms of “total compensation recruited”. Someone recruiting 20 professionals making 70k each would be equivalent to someone recruiting 7 at 200k.

 Q9. How do you avoid the “I never heard back” black hole that a lot candidates get stuck in?

Easy. Require EVERY recruiter to send out an email to EVERY candidate who applied within 48 hours of filling the position. No exceptions. No keeping 2 finalists warm. With an ATS, writing a solid message, searching for the emails of all candidates, and merging in a personalized way shouldn’t take more than 10 seconds.

One better.

Calculate what the average time to fill a position for each job family and post it publicly along with the job description. Instead of arguing about post and pray perhaps we should try a little promise and deliver.

Gerry Crispin, SPHR is a life-long student of staffing with a long resume of service to the profession of recruiting. He is one of the co-founders of the TalentBoard, the 501c non-profit, that is driving the research surrounding the candidate experience with a growing number of practitioner, vendor and consultant volunteers. Gerry’s day job is Chief Navigator and co-founder of CareerXroads, a peer-to-peer network of corporate recruiting leaders who share practices and strategies.

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