The Candidate Experience – A Timely Reminder

Shaking hands

As we enter one of the busiest times of year for hiring HR professionals, the question of how to attract the best talent surfaces once again. Organizations continue to drive enterprise-wide transformations fueling the need to review internal talent capability and evaluate whether to upskill or upgrade talent to meet future goals. This is top-of-mind for CHROs and CEOs alike.

Where talent mobility is not possible, what can you do to ensure you are attracting the best talent? How do you remain memorable? What is the easiest way to lose a qualified candidate…? To a large extent, the answers to these questions come down to candidate experience.

Below are some common experiences I’m sure we can all relate to.

“I was pleasantly surprised once I had the chance to meet with the team… I found out so much more about how the organization works and what drives the leadership team. They were all so passionate. I wasn’t able to feel that from their website.”  

“While on the face of it the role is intriguing, it doesn’t seem that HR and the business are aligned on some of the key deliverables…they seem to be quite far apart.”

“I’m sure he was in a taxi or maybe an Uber… I could hear a radio in the background, and he didn’t seem engaged. I think he was rushed.”

“We only had 25 mins as she was late and then had to leave early.”

There are many more examples that I’m sure are running through your mind right now. We talk a lot about the importance of employer branding and EVP, listening to what the person on the street is saying about our company. Yet all the hard work and time invested to build a positive and consistent message is for naught if the interview experience is rushed, ill-planned, and lacks robust follow-through. First, second and third impressions are important, and they do last. Word of mouth is powerful, and technology has of course given us a megaphone where we once whispered our discontent to only those closest to us.

To break it down, we look at the core stages of a candidate experience. When does the experience start and finish?


Know thyself

“To know thyself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Socrates 

The most progressive companies are also those that know themselves best. HR plays a key role in identifying behaviors that an organization values, and in building and defining success profiles. Having a clear picture of not only the technical skills that are required but also the culture fit is critical to starting on the right foot. This is especially important during times of organizational and culture change. Taking an internal survey to gauge what current (and your most successful) employees believe to be the purpose, culture and values of your organization will help you address how to approach the hiring process.

It’s all in the message

HR should be looking to partner with marketing, internal communications and PR teams to deliver a consistent message to the market. That means also knowing who you are targeting and what the necessary hooks might be. Organizations driving successful employee experience programs have seen positive results when treating their employees like customers. That level of research should be a key starting point when starting a search for new talent. Is your company message consistent with the realities of the day-to-day working life?

Know your audience

It is no good having a powerful message if it does not reach the intended audience. It is key to play where they play, to be omnipresent in the groups they visit, to connect with people or companies they follow, and to see the industry news that grabs their attention. Equally important is the platform you are reaching them on—mobile technology is a critical consideration. Craft your messaging in a way that is easy to digest on a mobile device. If your mobile platform is clunky, not interactive and does not offer a good user experience, it needs work.

Consistency of messaging

Great strides have been made using AI and machine learning technologies to remove unconscious bias from job descriptions. Is this the case with all your messaging? Your company advertisements? The text on your website? Consistency in the message is key. Candidates accessing your company pages, reading reviews on company performance, strategic plans for the years ahead… this should all feel like all the dots are connected. It sends a clear message that the company has ‘one voice’ and makes it easier for candidates to assess whether the mission and opportunities on offer match their goals.

Who has this responsibility?

It really is a collective effort. While the Talent Acquisition team may be delivering the message, the ingredients of the message should be agreed in partnership with the business, HR Business Partners and Talent Management leaders who are all assessing the organization’s capability needs.


The interview process

It is important to understand that candidates are also interviewing you. As search professionals we advise all candidates to put in a good amount of time to research a company, its key stakeholders and to come prepared with questions. Are you putting in the same amount of time and effort? Those of you who take on talent acquisition responsibility as part of your duties will know that it quickly becomes a major part of your role and investment of time, so it needs to be time well spent. Some simple but key things to remember:

  • Be on time. It sounds obvious but first impressions count, and candidates view tardiness as a reflection of you and your company’s perceived importance of the role and him/her as interviewees. Where this may not be possible, notify the candidates as soon as possible. Don’t have them sitting around twiddling their thumbs and thinking about another potential employer who was punctual.
  • Be Present. Turn that phone off, or at least to silent. Notify peers that you are unavailable for the prescribed time and commit your full attention to the candidate. It is much easier than you think to notice when you’re only there in spirit and not truly engaged.
  • Ask the right questions. Focus on questions that will help you hire for the company, not just the role at hand. It is unfortunately quite common that candidates are hired because they fit the skills requirement only to find out six months later that culturally the match was just never really there. Building in separate ‘culture interview’ into the process can go a long way to a) making sure there is a fit; and b) demonstrating to a candidate that this is important to you and you value their fit to the company, not only the position. The interviewer does not need to be a person in the team. Think about having an employee from a separate part of the business attend who can discuss the company culture (and its evolution if the organization is going through a period of change). Companies like Novartis and Campari have demonstrated success with this approach.
  • Set the scene for next steps. Be clear about any next steps for a candidate. Managing expectations is key to building trust and transparency.

How is technology helping?

The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don’t really even notice it, so it’s part of everyday life.” – Bill Gates

Mobile interview updates are essential and if this can be done in a more personalized manner, all the better. Companies have seen a good uptick in engagement by utilizing chatbots to help guide a candidate through a process, enable them space to present feedback, and highlight key timelines in the recruiting process.

Automated interview scheduling software is another key tool for any recruitment team. It helps to drive a process forward and remove the risk of losing a candidate because of slow response time. This is particularly important for high-volume hiring where the investment of time from employees could be better spent elsewhere.

There really is no substitute for video calls. For a busy interview panel who may not all be present or able to attend, a recorded interview can go some (not all the way) to helping paint a picture of fit.

More than anything, technology aids continuous engagement. With competition so fierce for the top HR talent, keeping candidates focused on your opportunity above all others is essential to landing that game changer.

Storyboards and Virtual Reality – A Day in the Life Of

Some of the most progressive companies share videos put together by employees which help candidates visualize what it would be like actually work at the company as a further step of the hiring process. We’ve seen platforms that start the day with a business challenge and walk through how different HR leaders and functions might pull together to solve this. General Mills used Oculus Rift to good effect when giving a virtual tour of their headquarters. Take this to the next level and you can already feel how it would engage a potential hire.


The importance of feedback

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

With the HR function often given the “people” tag by the business, one might assume that all HR professionals are communications experts. We all need some help in this area, and the easiest way to assess the quality of feedback is often to turn it around on yourself. Ask “Would I be happy with the quality of that feedback if I was interviewing for the job? What would I want more or less of? Do I know what is going to happen next?”

Sharing negative feedback is as important, if not more important

This is particularly true if you want to leave a long-lasting positive memory of a candidate experience. Helping a candidate understand where they may have fallen short in terms of skills or how they might improve their communication style or interview technique not only demonstrates a level of awareness you have regarding your organization’s needs, it also demonstrates how you value the commitment of your time (and the candidate’s time!) to ensure there are some positives that can be taken from an interview. Helping an unsuccessful candidate improve their performance in future is a great way to ensure your brand is viewed positively and remains memorable.

How to share feedback

Personally, I feel this is where technology had its limitations and where over-reliance on it can cause an initial positive experience to quickly turn into a negative one. A ‘human’ phone or video call is recommended to deliver feedback. Whether this be direct or through a third-party search firm, offering candidates an opportunity to discuss feedback (and a subsequent platform to share it with the company) demonstrates a company’s value of that individual’s investment of time in the interview process.

Innovations around feedback surveys and the creation of online platforms for these are a great way to improve the interview experience and should be utilized whenever possible.

Where there are multiple stakeholders involved in the candidate experience

Gather all feedback from the entire interview panel before sharing feedback. Being drip fed titbits of information could send the wrong message about the communication style of the company. Ensuring that a candidate sees the importance you put on collecting all stakeholders’ views also demonstrates how you as an individual and the company value collaboration.


The points highlighted above are neither new nor particularly revolutionary, but in our busy lives we often overlook the obvious. As human beings we all value communication—we want to feel respected and that our commitment and investment of time was worthwhile. The outcome is as important as the journey.

In summary

  • Market your EVP in the right way to attract the specific target audience you desire.
  • Invest in the right technology and messaging platforms for interview scheduling and feedback.
  • Prepare just as you would expect a candidate to.
  • Respect the time and effort candidates put into the process.
  • Feedback is essential. Whether it be positive or not, it will shape a candidate’s view of your organization.

I leave you with a final quote:

“Our first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment, which means that we can change our first impressions… by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions.” – Malcolm Gladwell





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