What is Candidate Experience? Definition, Key Components, and Strategies


The employer-employee relationship has transformed dramatically over the past decade. The power in recruiting, which has historically rested with employers, has now shifted to the candidates. Chalk it up to a tight labor market or the rapid pace of disruption, but there is little doubt that great recruitment is largely an experience-driven process today.

Table of Contents:

What is Candidate Experience?

Candidate experience is defined as the perception of a job seeker about an employer, based on the interaction during the complete recruitment process. This includes all points of contact during recruitment – job search, the application process, interview process and onboarding.

In other words, any candidate experience improvement strategy involves evaluating every single touchpoint through which a candidate comes into contact with a prospective employer during the recruitment process and their feelings about the same. This may include something as simple as a phone call with the recruiter to more complex concepts like the user-experience on the careers page of the company website.

Candidate experience begins long before a candidate applies for a job. According to an IBM survey, 48% of the recent candidates surveyed, had previous interactions or relationships with the hiring organization before they applied for a job. These interactions and relationships included having friends or family working there, general awareness around the organization’s brand and reputation, being a customer and having worked with the organization before. Unsurprisingly, only 2% of the candidates had a negative impression of an organization before they applied for a job.

Thankfully, as recruiting becomes more digital, HR leaders have the opportunity to leverage recruiting technology solutions and tools to design a consistent candidate experience. To understand how technology can influence the candidate experience, let’s look at the key components of candidate experience.

Providing a compelling candidate experience is no longer just an option; it is a business imperative with very real consequences. For example, a poor candidate experience cost Virgin Media over $6 million in lost revenue in a single year. On the other hand, a positive candidate experience can drive business growth. According to IBM, candidates who’ve had a good experience with a company are more likely to become new customers, whereas bad candidate experiences take a toll on your brand.

So, before we talk about how you can improve the candidate experience using some key strategies, let’s identify its primary components.

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Candidate Experience: The 7 Key Components

Candidate experience follows the recruiting funnel and with increasing automation, you now have more touchpoints with the candidate to influence their experience.

Let’s start at the very beginning and go through all the key points of interaction:

1. Job Search: A candidate’s first interactions with your organization will be either through social media, job advertisements or through the careers page on your website. Ensuring that your careers page is easy to find will save your candidates time and effort. This is the first step in a positive candidate experience journey.

2. Job Application: In addition to making open positions more discoverable, it is also important that your instructions to candidates filling out applications are clear and concise. For candidates who land on your site through job boards, the job description and the application instructions are vital.

3. Communication: One of the most frustrating things for candidates is the lack of communication from the employer once they have applied for a job. According to a recent survey by CareerBuilder on how employers could improve candidate experience, nearly a third of the respondents stated they would like more communication during the recruitment process. Candidates would appreciate a simple text or an email even if they are passed over during initial screening.

4. Feedback: If a candidate has been shortlisted by an employer, regular status updates will keep them engaged in your hiring process. It could be an automated message telling them of the next steps or a call by the recruiter informing them of the shortlist. Either way, communication is key during the recruiting process.

5. Interview: An interview is your best opportunity to really get to know your candidates and evaluate whether they’ll be a good fit for the job. It is also an opportunity for the candidate to get to know the organization a little more. A positive interview experience is vital to convincing candidates to join your organization. Using a structured interview process will help you make decisions clearly and avoid confusion. Repetitive interviews with multiple people will confuse candidates and add on to the hiring timeline. Speed is of the essence here as candidates are feedback-hungry after the interview process. Inform them of your interview process in advance – whether it’s a video interview or an in-person interview and give them an idea of what to expect. After all, for candidates, interviews are the one place where they want to showcase their skills and knowledge.

6. Onboarding: Onboarding is the final candidate experience touchpoint, and what could be a more memorable day for a candidate than their first day? Onboarding is your opportunity to deliver on all the promises made during the hiring process. Mountains of paperwork, lack of socialization with the team and vague instructions are all indicators of a bad candidate experience during onboarding. Following a strategic onboarding plan will set up your latest hire for success at your organization from day one.

7. Analysis: In order to optimize recruiting efforts and to improve the candidate experience, objectively analyzing, looking into insights and tweaking the candidate journey is essential. Analyzing backend ATS (application tracking system) information and candidate behavior data, albeit time-consuming, can be of big help to fine-tuning the hiring funnel.

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5 Candidate Experience Strategies for Improvement

Now that we’ve established the key components of candidate experience, the next key question is – How can you improve this experience?

Here are the key strategies you can start employing to improve candidate experience:

1. Applicant Tracking Systems: Applicant tracking systems or ATS are crucial to streamlining and speeding up your recruitment process. Most ATS solutions offer career site integrations and make it easier for candidates to apply for jobs from either social media, job boards or through career web pages. An effective ATS also offers a seamless mobile interface that helps candidates complete their application from their mobile devices.

2. Candidate Relationship Management Systems: Candidate relationship management systems (CRMs) automate communication with the candidate after they have applied for the job. Mature CRM solutions integrate seamlessly with ATS and help you build active and passive talent pools which keep candidates engaged. Additionally, CRMs also enable you to send personalized communication at scale to guide candidates through your recruiting process.

3. Interview Tools: While in-person interviews are still relevant, offering a video interviewing option lets candidates know that you value flexibility. Video interview management tools allow you to share an inside view of your organization’s culture to the candidate and they also reduce the time spent on phone calls. Video interviewing also makes the hiring process more objective and data-driven, considering it’s the same set of questions every candidate is asked. With technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) becoming more common across video interviewing platforms, you can now also evaluate if a candidate would be a good culture-fit for your organization.

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4. Onboarding Strategies: The candidate experience does not stop at conducting the perfect interview. Through the processes of selection and onboarding, the individual is still a candidate (albeit selected or shortlisted) and not an employee per se. The ease with which background checks are conducted, the promptness in feedback and turning out the offer and the convenience of joining formalities, all contribute to the candidate’s perception of the organization in the final leg of the recruitment journey. Smooth onboarding processes that do not bury the candidate in a pile of paperwork and actually allow them a glimpse of life at work, make a big difference.

5. Induction Mechanisms: Once onboarded, the candidate is finally an employee. That said, the shift from being an employee on paper to actually becoming a productive, well-adjusted employee takes a few months and that is where the processes of induction and orientation come into play. These processes could either validate the candidate’s decision to join the organization or make them feel that they have made a blunderous mistake in choosing the company over others. This is the window for the organization to make the new recruit feel welcome, motivated and to show them that their candidate experience was simply a precursor to a meaningful employee experience.

Delivering a great candidate experience does not have to be complicated or expensive. Just evaluate your current recruitment practices, identify where candidates drop out and improve your strategy to plug these gaps in delivering a great experience.

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