The "Candidate Experience": There isn't one...

If you are involved in resourcing, whether in house or on the supply side, you won't have failed to have noticed the big shift and conversation around direct resourcing.  You will also, I’m sure, have come across many conversations about the candidate experience, or lack of it – see here for a cracking summary on how bad organisations can be in this department from @lisascales of Tribepad

I’m very interested in this subject for a number of reasons and in pursuit of this interest, I set out to find out what was being said by thought leaders with a knowledge greater than I, and also to seek out and find examples of organisations that are addressing this issue head on.  Maybe even find some interesting and creative developments in the market that are aiming to dramatically increase the quality of experience for the poor downtrodden candidate.

But, despite my best efforts, the results of my search can only be summed up thus:

*cue tumbleweed…………..*

This seems odd.  As someone who is immersed in social networks, I do hear a lot of feedback, but it struck me that this is mainly candidate’s themselves bemoaning their lot at the hands of recruiters – mainly supply side it has to be said, but there are some truly awful employer side examples.  Linked in is also humming right now with such tales, but again, its mainly driven by the candidates themselves.  A search on LinkedIn groups for “candidate experience” for example brings up precious few appropriate options.

What I was looking for was more akin to what you might find if you Googled ‘social recruiting’ or something similar - really high quality dialogue between the people responsible for the candidate/employer brand and or those that are proffering solutions.  Instead, what you get when you google “candidate experience” pales in comparison.  Go on, try it.  The results when I tried in June were underwhelming.

There were some positive signs.  Gerry Crispin and the guys at CareerXroads seem to be starting a bit of a movement – check out their report.  They are also collaborating with a number of others to form the Talent Board, a non profit organisation that is all about championing the development f the (Positive) candidate experience.  They have recently announced the Candidate Experience Awards to raise the profile of the issue.

NOTE: Twitter is slightly different although it is only recently that the subject has gained traction here too.  I did a search on the term “Candidate Experience” in June and found only a handful of responses.  Since then, and having encouraged one of my clients to engage on the subject through hashtags etc, the volume has increased significantly.   A search today shows a somewhat more active stream of activity and ...

But all this great stuff is very embryonic, and seems only to be making traction in the US.  What about Europe?  BP have popped a stake in the ground and appointed aHead of Global Candidate Experience as part of a wider initiative to refocus the resourcing effort.  But similar examples are few and far between.  Is it so early days that not enough people are taking it seriously and no real solutions to the issues are yet being developed?  Or is it just that we don't really give a damn?  Perhaps we have yet to wake up to the fact that candidates are customers are employees.  They are all the same.  In previous years, organisations could keep them nice and separate thank you – “oh no we don't want those guys talking to each other!”.

Thankfully, those lines are now being blurred and an organisation can no longer control (Despite the fact that they think they can) who talks to who about what.

So, come on folks, if you have any insight, opinion or examples of who is doing what, id love to hear about it.  Leave a comment here or contact me on twitter at @garelaos.

Also, you might be interested in a group started by some good friends of mine on LinkedIn – Candidate Experience Matters – aimed at those in organisations whose role and responsibility actively encompasses candidate experience.  It's only new but pile on in if this subject is of interest to you and lets get the conversation started.

Views: 677

Comment by Ivan Stojanovic on September 27, 2011 at 9:40am

I am testing LinkedIN Job Seeker Premium account in the last
few weeks, and as a part of that process I applied for a number of jobs that
LinkedIN suggested. Most of those would lead me to some external web sites, out
of LinkedIn to some Taleo’s and the rest of them. Some are really, really
horrible. There is 2 of them (out of 25 tested) that I actually did not figure
how to apply – so I send emails to the contacts in those companies. One replied
that it usually has issues when accessed with Microsoft Internet Explorer. It
was suggested to try some other browser. The other one did not accept my CV
because it was in .docx format. They accept only .doc. The .docx format has
been introduces a few years ago as a default extension in the Microsoft Word – the
most used text editor today. The company asked me to save it in the older
version of Word, with the .doc extension and try to upload it like that.


So far – the leading definitely is Oracle. I have no
affiliation with them, and never worked there – but their job application
process is second to none that I have seen so far. One screen captures all the
data…. I will write a full review of the top 10 at when I
am done.



Comment by Scott Corwin on September 27, 2011 at 9:51am

Unfortunately you are trying to gather information contradictory
to human behavior. People often take the time to complain but rarely take the
time to comment on positive experiences. An old saying comes to mind about do
something right and people tell 2 friends, wrong them and they tell 10. Now add
in that candidates that just had a positive experience likely got a job offer
and do not have the time to post – “wow I just had a wonderful experience with
a recruiter…” Much like the media negative gets reported while positive receives
little press at all. 


FTS feels both the candidates and clients experience is so important – we have made it our driving differentiator.  Personalized Experience, Exceptional Value. We focus on adding value regardless of the outcome. The following is an email example we get regularly from candidates:

“Thank you very much for your time today.  I feel much better.  Grazie, gracias, thanks. Yes, I did sense that you are a different type of recruiter and I am glad for that.  Keep up the great job, and if there is ever a need to provide some technical feedback for another ITIL candidate, please let me know.  I will be more than happy to talk to that person.”

Since there are few places to post this positive information we are in the works of creating a comment section on our website.

Comment by Gareth Jones on September 27, 2011 at 10:42am

@Ivan - very frustrating i imagine and an all too common story - the interweb is full of similar stories but not much else!  Oracle seem to be very much on top of direct sourcing and how to reach out properly.  They seem really to get the process of social interaction in the recruitment process.  Look forward to your review!


@Scott - i know what you mean but im not actually after that kind of information - im after the quality debate.   The old 2/10 customer stuff is very relevant and you are right, it means positive experience is rarely shared.  But thats no what im after.  Im after the thought leadership, the debate, the inhouse resourcing experts responding and talking about how we can make it better.  How we can shake up the ATS market to put candidate experience at the centre of product development, not on the never never list!  Thanks for commenting though.

Comment by Samantha Lacey on September 27, 2011 at 11:38am

So many companies design their recruitment process around what suits THEM, not the candidates. They don't consider how difficult and time consuming it is to fill out an application on their website and when it's pointed out they are almost proud of it. They seem to think that making it a little bit difficult means only the serious will apply. This seems stupid to me, the best candidates will not waste their time in a recruitment process where they are not treated well. They are used to being courted and looked after and simply won't put up with being treated badly.


The public sector in the UK is probably the worst example of this, it is a purely transactional and administrative experience and candidates are treated very poorly a lot of the time (Not all the time obviously, but it's a recurring complaint.)


Companies need to buck up their ideas or they'll be left with the dregs and those who recruit well and consider the candidate experience will end up with the "A" candidates.

Comment by Andy Young on September 27, 2011 at 11:56am

Hi Gareth,

Thanks for raising this topic that I know we are both equally passionate about. I think Ivan does hit on something in that human beings do seem more prepared to talk about what goes wrong, but I think that is understandable. We as recruiters (I don't see the point you are trying to make in differentiating between in-house or agency, but I'll come back to that in a moment..) need to recognise and fully appreciate that we are involved in big parts of people's lives.

Seriously - not everyone, but lots of people rely on us to help and support them through a process that in the end, directly or indirectly, will result in them finding a fabulous new job and career. Or even in some very real cases, just a job that means they can pay the mortgage and keep paying for the essentials. So it's no wonder that on just about every level you can think of, recruiters / resourcers play a critical part in helping, supporting and adding value to the lives of those we work on behalf of. Which is why when it goes wrong it impacts on them in such a real way. Their jobs are such a large and important part of who they are, they're identity. So we should not underestimate the role we need to play.

So what more can we do? So much I guess.


On one hand I like the initiative of a 'Candidate Experience Awards", but they already exist and the more powerful and meaningful for me is in meeting a candidate and listening to them first. I think it's all too easy to put a poster up in one's offices stating a vision for delivering a great candidate experience, but until you actually speak to a candidate on a level and as an individual then I think it can be all too easy to get tied up in marketing speak. So talk to them, don't just funnel them through one part of a process then another!


Which takes me back nicely to the in-house (direct) versus agency comparison. Completely irrelevant. Saying more "poor experiences" or even "better" / "good" ones for that matter is not comparing eggs with eggs. The balance is shifting, but the greater volume of roles have been via agencies and in-house is still growing. So of course the greater number of bad experiences will be via agencies. Though I would agree in part by saying that a commission based industry is always going to have one eye on the bottom line rather than the interest of the candidate.


Which leads me to my last couple of points.


RECRUITERS DELIVERING A GREAT CANDIDATE EXPERIENCE as our industry vision? YES PLEASE! I'd LOVE to be part of a wider conversation with you on how we can get the ball rolling on more of an industry level. BUT... this needs to be done in tandem with getting rid of a "salesy" commission based earnings structure on the agency side for those who intend to take it seriously. They are intrinsically linked and we need to make this a two pronged attack to succeed.  Also, on the client / in-house side, I've seen ATS / portals simply used as a method to "communicate" with candidates, but in truth to keep them at arms length. And that includes "big employers" I see on twitter advocating a great candidate experience. The reality can be very different! As employers continue to invest in such soft ware and infrastructures, perhaps part of their consideration might be investing in a process that also involves speaking directly to candidates. There seems to be an apparent assumption on the part of some that this part of the process is more about "taking people out of the process" rather than "helping and supporting them through it"...


Now, there's an idea... :-)

Comment by Francois Guay on September 27, 2011 at 2:36pm
A fantastic post and question. This is also a passion of mine. Companies, HR, recruiters need to remember that every candidate is also a potential customer, especially in the retail, food industries. If I am treated like a piece of crap, never called back, no feedback, or that I have to fill out 10 or so screens to submit my resume (I hate Taleo for this), then you can be sure I will remember you as company I could buy from and go shop somewhere else. As I wrote in one of my previous posts I believe recruiting can actually help companies get more customers by providing a better candidate experience. Companies need to take this bull by the horn and wrestle it to the ground for the companies that do will reap almost all the benefits since most companies do not give a hoot about the candidate.
Comment by David Johnston on September 30, 2011 at 12:35pm

Its interesting to hear discussions on improving the candidate experience and something that employers and recruitment agencies historically have been poor at. In my opinion there are two elements to improving the candidate experience. The first is the shop window, also known as career website. Whether you are direct sourcing through social media, advertising on job boards, using referral networks, mobile etc. ultimately a candidate will visit the career website.

At this point we need to think like a marketeer and not as a recruiter looking at the process and how we manage this. We also need to think about the candidate as a consumer and understand why people change jobs, what information they will want (active and passive). In short think about how you 'shop'. Think Amazon. When I was buying a new TV, I used Google to search for reviews. One of those links led me to Amazon. Alongside that product page, were reviews from customers, links to other similar products, videos of the product in action and suggestions of what else I might need. In short I had relevant information at my figure tips. I could also very easily search for other products by browsing and refining.


Transfer this to recruitment and lets start with attracting the passive candidate (always the Holy Grail in my 18 years in this industry). A company's 'experts' writes a blog about some new technology. This blog is linked to our career site and the employee Tweets the blog and posts it on some relevent Linkedin groups that they are active in. Several people click on this blog and read it on the website. Alongside this blog are links to other relevant blogs, prompts to sign up (we all do), related news articles from the company, but also alongside this there is a video interview with the writer, some jobs within this area of the business. In essence the career website is tapping me on the shoulder to say 'Hey do you like what you see? Interested in maybe have a look at some of our roles?


When this is an active candidate, we're displaying similar information whilst they are reading the vacancy advert. Helping the visitor understand what its like to become an employee, but providing them with information at a mouse click, rather than making them search for this info.


The next stage is making their application as seamless as possible and that means changing the method of integration, so we don't fall out of a content rich experience into Web circa 1998 with the standard method of ATS integration.

By creating this consumer orientated experience to attract and engage with candidates you raise the bar and then its all about how you continue to manage that experience after they have applied or registered. This comes down to the people, their attitudes and the technology to easily manage a database of candidates. The technology is available to achieve this, but the people involved are the real secret. I always follow the mantra 'Treat others in a way you would like to be treated'. 

If anyone reading this is interested in my thoughts on a candidate is a person and a consumer, you can read my blog article ... and watch for the new npower website which goes live in October. I've been passionate about this approach for years and its exciting to see that people are beginning to get it.

Comment by Gareth Jones on October 10, 2011 at 5:34pm

@Samantha -  thanks for the comments. It is true the process is appalling and some of the clunky processes we ask candidates to go through are totally unnecessary, especially given how smart tech can be these days.  I do think though that one issue we have to address is how easy it is for a candidate to apply these days.  Im passionate about the experience and managing it appropriately, but we have created a monster in that its all too easy for candidates to just click click and apply for jobs that are really not a good fit for them.  I do understand the desperation of candidates when they face unemployment etc, but the whole system needs recalibrating.  Better matching and assessment technology - but ones that deliver a managed process and a well integrated one - would help.  And agreed - public sector sucks at this in particular!


@Andy - yes we do both share the passion!  I totally agree, there is so much we can do and there is definitely a disconnect right now between what organisations appear to want to do or say they do, and actually what happens.  In terms of the inhouse/recruiter split, i was merely stating that there seems to be more complaints about lousy treatment attributed to the agency side.  In the feedback i have seen, corporates are particularly pulled out for ignoring candidates - the black hole! See my latest blog on here!  With agency, the feedback is more about poor treatment, as well as being ignored!  As you say, down to the commission based structures i guess.  


@francois and @David - you both touch on the issue of candidates as customers and you are spot on.  I wrote a blog 2 years ago that referred to an 'article' i had written in 2005 for our then website (before I started blogging!) which was about this exact issue.

Looking back, every word rings loud and clear on these issues even though it is now 6 years on since i wrote it.  We now have research to back it up - SHL's excellent summary report Candidates are Customers too completely validates this issue.  49% of the candidates said they had a bad experience and of those, 18% said they would no longer buy from that brand.  They went further and worked out the lost lifetime revenue of this lost customer.  So, a real impact on the bottom line.  

It will change.  Just like it did when customers gained a voice 12 years ago.  Back then, i had the same conversations with organisations who were largely ignoring their customers.  they didnt have to pay attention to them.  But as customers started to talk openly on forums and share experiences, things eventually started to change.  But really, the momentum towards really engaging with the customer and being smart about it has taken 10 years to happen.  It could take that long for companies to take the same approach with candidates.  And lets not forget existing employees.  they are treated quite badly too and also have a voice.  they will be heard soon enough.

Thanks for your comments folks - interesting stuff!

Comment by David Johnston on October 11, 2011 at 8:24am

@garethjones - Just read your referenced blogs and very interesting that we were essentially on teh same wave length over 6 years ago. Ironically it was the success I was having running the marketing at Nigel Lynn Associates that gave me the spark to move into this area. I genuinely believed if companies focussed on recruitment marketing in the same way I had for NLA and used a consumer marketing approach as well as the website technology we were using, it would make a huge difference. 


Here I am in a new decade and I'll be honest adoption of online technologies and marketing techniques has been a lot slower than recruitment agencies, however I believe we are at a tipping point and it the awareness is now there and adoption of this approach will start to increase.


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