How companies can avoid a poor candidate experience

In a competitive job market, companies must learn how to avoid a poor candidate experience. Here are some best practices to follow.

While layoffs have hit various industries, job seekers still have the upper hand when applying for positions. That means HR leaders can't afford to ignore the candidate experience.

The interactions job seekers have during the recruiting and hiring process -- from the initial contact with the company to onboarding -- all matter. HR leaders must educate recruiters, hiring managers and others on making sure job seekers feel good about their experience. A great candidate experience translates to a wider talent pool and a better reputation. A poor candidate experience works in just the opposite way: It costs companies great candidates, who often publicize their bad experience. Poor candidate experiences can even result in losing customers for consumer-dependent businesses.

The idea that companies can create a great candidate experience is one of the central themes author Kevin W. Grossman, president of Talent Board, a nonprofit that seeks to improve conditions for job seekers, tackles in Candidate Experience, co-authored with Adela Schoolderman.

Here, Grossman shares some of the most common mistakes companies make with recruiting, how the Great Resignation has affected the process and why email auto-replies are always a mistake.

Can you summarize, for people who might not be familiar, how you think candidate experience has evolved over the past few decades?

Kevin W. Grossman: It hasn't. That's a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but it's also very serious. Consistent and timely communication and feedback are the things that make the biggest difference every single year, regardless of what the world looks like.

Kevin W. Grossman headshotKevin W. Grossman

The things that have changed, though -- obviously recruiting tech has gotten more mature and sophisticated, from conversational AI to text-based contacts. The things that have changed are the technologies that actually empower and enable employers to be more timely in their communication.

With the past couple of years since pandemic year one, it's been more of a candidate market. It still is. So, their expectations have been a lot higher since the pandemic, too. One of the things we measure is candidate resentment -- so candidates who say that they'll never do anything again with that employer because they had a poor experience. That has always been the highest in our data in North America -- mostly the U.S., but Canada included. But it's creeping up everywhere else.

For consumer-based businesses, the poor candidate experience could translate into me not wanting to be a customer anymore, either.

Book cover image for 'Candidate Experience'To learn more about this
book, click the cover image.

Have more companies prioritized candidate experience since the Great Resignation?

Grossman: We all went through our own existential crisis the past three years, and the fallout from everything kind of accelerated what was already happening anyway. People leave jobs all the time. The dramatic acceleration, though, is people going, 'I don't have to do this anymore.' Even if they're taking a hit financially, they say, 'I don't have to commute two hours one way anymore.' Let's be clear, not everybody can work remotely, so that's not necessarily going to be a perk for potential candidates if you have to be on site in the plant. But the leverage is there for candidates.

Companies that are doing things [right are the ones that] let candidates know if they're not qualified. 'Thank you very much. Best of luck to you. Maybe here are some other jobs to consider down the line.' But doing that within one to two weeks after the candidate applies, not waiting weeks, which is what happens.

And then, fast forward to people who are getting screened and interviewed. Are status updates happening? And then if I get to the final stage and I'm not selected, am I getting some feedback as to why? That is one of the biggest positive differentiators every year in our data, is candidates getting feedback.

Can you discuss further some steps that companies can take to improve the candidate experience, based on trouble spots that you see frequently?

Apply for your own jobs. You may say, 'We're making candidates do this?'
Kevin W. GrossmanCo-author of 'Candidate Experience'

Grossman: I would recommend doing an audit of all their candidate communications. Like the autoresponder that goes out that says, 'Thank you very much for your application. If you're qualified, we'll be in touch' -- kill that one. It's just not helpful to anybody. In our data, 34% of the applicants in 2022 still were waiting to hear back after one to two-plus months. Be more definitive about that language [of when they'll hear back].

Apply for your own jobs. You may say, 'We're making candidates do this?' If you're giving them an assessment right after they finish the application, were they warned that it's going to take 30 minutes to complete and are you telling them something after an assessment that may be valuable to them? And then what am I doing for people that I'm making offers to and hiring, keeping them nurtured and engaged until they start?

Ultimately, doing this will improve your selection and hiring. Because it's not just about being happy and nice for happy and nice's sake, right? You want to make the right hires at the end of the day, and we would argue improving your candidate experience helps you improve your selection and hiring process and not losing people that could be a quality hire. That's key.

Editor's note: Responses were edited for length and clarity.

Dig Deeper on Talent management

Business Analytics
Content Management
and ESG