After reviewing a number of recent studies of candidate experience, I have to say, I was struck by the significant perception gaps between employers and job applicants – both in terms of experience and expectations. These studies were real eye openers and I highly recommend reading them. Even if you don’t, I hope you’ll consider the following four key points I took from them. Despite all the talk in our industry about improving candidate experience, it seems we have a long way to go.
1. HR and Candidates Have Radically Different Expectations of the Application Process
According to a recent CareerArc study, a candidate typically spends 3-4 hours completing their application. Yet, most employers (72% of respondents) spend about 15 minutes reviewing each application. Nothing too troubling or surprising about those numbers, right?
Maybe not. But they are important.
Consider how that difference in understanding and personal investment sets up a very different level of personal expectation as the hiring process unfolds. In that same study, for example, most employers said they thought it takes only one hour for a candidate to research, prepare for, and submit that application.
Behind every application there is a job hunter (you know… that person who just sunk a half day – not just one hour – into trying to impress you).
For them, this experience means something else altogether. For them, from the minute they click submit, the clock starts ticking. How – and how quickly – will you respond?
That’s where things get ugly.
2. Responses to applications are often impersonal, late or non-existent.
And that does immediate, irreparable damage to the employer-candidate relationship. A new Decipher/FocusVision study on behalf of Indeed reveals that fewer than half of applicants (49%) of applicants hear anything from the employer within a week. The other 51%? They wait for weeks, months or forever.
Ok. As an HR recruiter or hiring manager, you’re busy. And from a purely logistical point of view, these numbers may not seem so shocking. They may even seem understandable. But here’s the thing:
This is not a logistical challenge. It is a very human experience. And candidates will respond to how they’re treated in a very human way.
3. HR responses to applications have long lasting effects.
For the candidate, getting ignored after going to all that trouble of gussying up the perfect application is about as disappointing (and emotional) as getting stood up for the prom. They’ll remember you (and not in the good way). According to the Careerarc study, candidates who do not receive a communication about their application are 3.5 times less likely to apply to your company again. And 72% of candidates who had a negative experience have shared their stories with others, in person, online or both.
And you are the face – and voice – of that experience.
4. You might be fixing the wrong things.
When asked would improve the candidate experience, 55% of employers responding to the Careerarc study named “improved online application and interviewing process.”
They seem to have formed that opinion without asking actual candidates.
Guess what 60% of candidates say they really need? “Better communication.” This strong preference is further illuminated in a Careerbuilder study in which fully 81% of candidates say that, if only employers would continuously communicate updates to their application’s status, their experience would “greatly improve.”
Do I think that upgrades to online application systems are a bad investment? Of course not. But regardless of the status of your online systems, you can improve your candidate experience starting right now.
Try these three changes to the ways you communicate with your candidates.
1. Make First Impressions your First Priority.
You probably can’t pick up the phone and make a warm, fuzzy phone call to each applicant. Maybe an auto-response email is the only realistic way to let every applicant know you’ve received their application.
But… and how can I put this? Please don’t let your legal department create the first draft. Give your marketing team a crack at it. Or, go crazy and hire a copywriter who’s a great listener and is able to capture the very best of your organizational culture in an engaging email. It will be worth the investment.
Not convinced? Consider the opening lines of this one from Trello, the productivity app company:
“Hurrah! We have received your job application. At least, we think it’s yours. It is possible that someone who thinks very highly of you is forwarding around your resume while pretending to be you. That’s not a bad thing, is it?
In any case, this is an automatic email, sent by a mindless robot, to let you know that we’re absolutely thrilled that you would be interested in working for Trello. We’re very honored…”
Why and how does this email create such a strong, positive first employer impression with candidates? Three reasons. 1. It’s honest about the fact that it’s bot-generated. 2. It’s engaging in a way that matches the personality of the Trullo organization. 3. It doesn’t leave the applicant dangling helplessly. Rather, in later paragraphs, it goes on to describe (in friendly, funny, easy-to-follow detail) exactly what the applicant can expect during the application review process – and exactly how to check in on their application in the meantime.
2. Over Communicate, throughout the entire process
In the CareerBuilder study, 78% of hiring managers believe their organization does a good job of setting expectations and communicating with candidates throughout the process. Those hiring managers should have asked their own job applicants. Fewer than half (47%) of candidates think employers do good job of communicating.
Are you willing and able to send personalized emails to each candidate, especially after you’ve whittled the stack down to your interviewees? If you can, you should. If you can’t, you can still do better than leaving candidates in the dark, left to wonder, agonize and grow increasingly disenchanted with your organization.
Commit to a communication schedule for all applicants. Treat it like a marketing campaign. From initial auto-response all the way through – until the offer is made and accepted and all other candidates get let down easy – everyone should receive warm, thoughtful, regular updates on the status of your process and their status within it. If your candidate volume is so high that you need to use templates for these, go ahead. Use them. But make every effort to keep the content clear and helpful and the tone warm, engaging and reflective of your culture.
3. Be Transparent to Build Trust
Most “jobs” pages these days do a decent job of explaining their mission and values and how to complete an application. But take a look at Google’s "how we hire" page. Notice how they put applicants at ease – and make them feel as if they’re already included – by telling them exactly what to expect in the process, including most of the interview questions. That’s impressive. But they take it to new heights, sharing helpful tips on how an applicant can really shine as a Google candidate. Spell everything out, in as much detail as you can, at multiple stages in the process. And devote some online real estate to highlighting the very best of what you have to offer. Check out this "benefits and perks" page by Catapult to get inspire.
The magic of these three steps is that there’s really nothing “magical” about them. They’re infinitely achievable. They’re not bound to software development budgets or anything beyond your own desire to do the one thing candidates are asking you to do: communicate in a welcoming way.
Respond immediately. Communicate continuously. Be transparent. And every candidate who experiences that royal treatment from you will, in turn, communicate positively about you.