The Job Interview - Providing a Great Candidate Experience

"I'm sorry… Why are you here?"

There are thousands of articles, blog posts and "how-to's"  advising job seekers how to prepare for a phone screen, a video interview, and in-person job interview. But what about the other side of that desk or conference table? The hiring manager, recruiter, HR manager,  and others tasked with interviewing and evaluating candidates?  

How well do employers handle the interviewing process from a candidate's perspective? For the most part, not great. A quick check on will confirm this.

For the past eight years I've produced and hosted TotalPicture Radio, covering many HR and recruiting conferences, recruiter meet-ups, attending community meetings of job seekers, and speaking at library "career nights." Believe me, there are many more horror stories than positive ones when it comes to how candidates perceive they were treated during (and after) the interviewing process. The quote I began with is no joke. The fact that candidates don't hear back from an employer, even after a day of interviewing on-site is no joke.

However, there are many companies working hard to make things considerably better for candidates, and I've had the good fortune to learn about them as a member of the Candidate Experience Award Council, The CandEs.

CandE winners are investing time, attention, plus a good deal of thought and resources to delivering a good-to-great candidate experience throughout the attraction, interviewing, and hiring process. I decided to reach out and ask a few of the CandE winners what they do… differently.

I spoke with Melissa McMahon, Vice President, Talent Acquisition at CDW. She noted, “We take a very practical and simple approach to managing the candidate experience at CDW."  The “keep it simple” approach seemed like a good idea to me, so I asked her to expand on the company’s approach to the candidate experience and their “simple” philosophy. McMahon replied, “It might sound basic, but we set very high standards of respect and consideration with the ultimate goal of valuing each person who shows interest in joining our company. These are not just words, this is the expectation of how we treat one another at the company and that same consideration should extend to our candidates. This includes timely follow-though with candidates at all stages of the interview process. We want our candidates to know that we value them, their skills and experience and also their time.  Candidates want to know that they have thoughtfully been considered.”

Marvin Smith, Strategic Talent Sourcing Consultant at Lockheed Martin Corporation, responded to my request with the following advice: "If you want to provide a different candidate experience than the competition, then you must be different than the competition.  The social media revolution has set expectations that a person interested in employment with an organization should have transparency into the interview and hiring process. Most ATS’s (applicant tracking systems) are not designed to meet the candidates’ expectations, rather they are designed to govern the integrity of a transaction.  Great tension is created when transaction does not align with social expectations - the very people that we are trying to assist are negatively impacted by the process.  The answer, is to walk your talk.  Establish the expectations for the candidate experience with the initial engagement and communicate the candidates’ status at each step of the interview process." 

I met with two recruiting leaders at Deloitte, (a three-time CandE Award winner), Tracy Ferry, Future Workforce Solutions Lead, Best Practices & Innovation, and Jen Powell, SPHR Market Awareness and Brand Cultivation Lead. They shared with me a candidate's evaluation (interviewing for a “Consulting Manager” position).

“The process was very organized and the company offered many resources for the candidates to prepare. There was someone there to shepherd the way at each step. There were recruiters who handled arrangements and scheduling by phone and then there were people that served as hosts and interviewers while at the actual in person interview”.

Of course, all of the companies participating in the Candidate Experience Awards care about improving their candidate's experience, are active on social media, and monitor sites like regularly - not so much  to "see what people are saying," so they can play damage control, but to see where they can make improvements in their hiring processes. The focus is not us versus them: It's us learning from them.

According to Tracy and Jen, Deloitte's recruiters spend a considerable amount of time preparing for on-site interviews: “Our recruiters do their best to ensure that hiring managers know who is coming through their door so they are prepared.  Interviewers are provided with candidate profile packets that go beyond a resume and can include white papers, notes from previous phone conversations and other interview feedback.  Our hiring managers do their best to put themselves in the candidate’s shoes – tailoring the candidate experience as they view the interview through the candidate’s eyes.  In addition to the process itself, interviewers are encouraged to be prompt in providing feedback to recruiters to ensure that we can get back to candidates with decisions as quickly as possible”.

You want to hire A players? Treat them as A players.

Transparency is top-of-mind with many of the CandE Award winners. John Wilson, Founder and CEO of WilsonHCG told me, "Through every part of the hiring process, it’s important to remain transparent and personalize the experience. My philosophy is that its better to hire a ‘10’ as a person and a ‘7’ in skill-set than it is to hire a ‘7’ as a person and a ‘10’ in skill-set. You can always train skills but you can’t make someone a better person. This is why it’s so important to have an honest conversation and genuinely engage with candidates.” John's litmus test for determining if the candidate had a good experience: “The difference between a positive candidate experience and a negative one is whether you can ask the candidate – hired or not – if they would refer others to your organization and you get a ‘yes!’”

Chris Hoyt,  Director, Global Talent Engagement & Marketing at PepsiCo (another three-time CandE Award winner), participated in a recent webinar with Elaine Orler, Chairman and co-Founder of Talent Board, the founding organization of the Candidate Experience Awards. When asked, "From a recruiter point of view what are the must-have's to create a great candidate experience?" Hoyt responded:  "The number one piece  - I hate to give the canned response - is empathy. I think it's a little deeper than that too. It's the realization that these are not just consumers on the other side of those applications, but these are people… When we keep that in mind and remember that we're actually working with people on the other end of this ATS, or at the other end of this CRM, and remember from an engagement standpoint, I think that just makes all the difference. I'll bet every one of us can remember applying to a job, or chasing a job we were really excited about - whether we got it or not, and the feelings you go through… And then remembering that this is a human experience - this is a relevant experience with people on both sides."

Responding to Hoyt's remarks Orler said, "Walk a mile in their shoes. For every organization, if you get to the mindset as a recruiter where you are frustrated because you have candidates - its time to take a step back…  Because the reality is… what we're asking people to do in order to promote themselves to us as a candidate, we always have to ask ourselves if we're willing to give them back the same amount of time and attention."

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Comment by Matt Charney on June 18, 2014 at 11:40am

Thanks for another great post, Peter. This is a must read for recruiters (and candidates, too). Appreciate your experience and expertise. Keep the good stuff coming.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on June 18, 2014 at 5:01pm

@ Peter: IMHO for every company that indicates a real desire/willingness to treat ordinary, unconnected candidates with professionalism, courtesy, and value their are many more who don't care. We know of major companies that routinely treat regular applicants like crap- when is the last time you heard of a SVP of Staffing disciplined/fired explicitly for doing so?

Comment by Peter Clayton on June 18, 2014 at 9:18pm

Keith, what you describe is exactly the kind of behavior, attitude, and culture the Candidate Experience Awards is trying to influence and change. I think this long, terrible recession we've just finally come through helped to foster many bad actors out there - believing it didn't matter how they treated job applicants because there were so many of them. 

Comment by Keith Halperin on June 19, 2014 at 2:21pm

Thanks, Peter. I appreciate the work that you and many others have done to help with the CandEs Awards (last year I modestly contributed through reviewing the employer questions). At the same time, providing awards to those motivated to prove that they are doing what EVERY employer should do will have little effect in changing the behavior of the many employers who DON'T CARE. Giving companies awards for not polluting or not discriminating (if such awards exist- they probably do) does little to prevent other companies from polluting and discriminating. I recognize change takes time, but isn't it time to turn up the heat on the worst offenders?

Frederick Douglass said:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”



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