Charming your future employees – expert weighs in on best practices for positive candidate experience

Aiva Strelca 27.06.2023
Candidate experience illustration

Candidate experience plays the leading role in finding the best-fitting addition to the company. And in light of the global talent shortage, candidate experience has become more crucial than ever. Today it’s often less about finding the right fit and more about finding a fit

Despite the unenviable situation that many companies are in, it turns out – employers often hinder their chances of hiring a great employee. 

How? By not paying enough attention to the candidate experience. 

In your defense, employers, it’s not always intentional. Some practices have been there for years. And yet it doesn’t mean they’re serving the needs of today’s hiring process.

To discover the red flags in the recruiting experience and what to do instead, we talked to Astra Pudāne, a talent acquisition specialist with 10+ years of professional experience. Here’s what we learned.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Why is candidate experience important in the first place?

First things first: why is thoughtful and well-organized candidate experience that important? 

“It provides a glimpse into the company culture,” Astra says. “The better applicants understand your company’s inner climate, the better they understand whether they want to be a part of it.” 

Thus, creating a pleasant and well-thought-out candidate journey is about making your company leave a positive first impression and attracting the best-fitting candidates. 

User experience = candidate experience

Besides Astra’s deep expertise in recruitment and talent acquisition, she is genuinely enthusiastic about bringing much-needed change into today’s recruitment process. 

One of the recent turning points in her career was diving into the world of user experience (UX) a few years ago and learning how UX practices can be applied to talent acquisition. “I do believe that each interaction starts with a user experience and, ideally, a personalized approach,” she writes on her website.

Astra Pudāne, talent acquisition specialist

Three biggest recruiting experience mistakes

So, what are the biggest mistakes employers make when recruiting new employees? Astra names three:

  • Lack of human contact & personalization
  • Silencing company culture via automation
  • Ghosting the candidates

Let’s take a closer look at each of them!

1. The absence of human contact and a personalized approach

Creating and managing candidate experience can be burdensome, especially if it’s a large company. Thus, to maintain efficiency, auto-replies, email-only communication, and other practices that don’t involve one-on-one human interaction with candidates are common. 

Astra says that the lack of human contact within the candidate experience is one of the practices that employers should reconsider. Candidates value personal interaction. Sending a personalized (even if slightly) email creates a better climate in the recruiting flow and will leave a nice impression of your company.

Not so much a red flag, but a practice to wince about is sending the same message to all of the candidates without adding as much as their names. Personalization takes time and resources, but it goes a long way in providing a great candidate experience. “It can be as little as an extra sentence added and addressed personally to the candidate.” 

Another thing with personalizing emails is that, especially in large companies, people sometimes apply for several positions. Receiving the same “thanks but no thanks” email, say, ten times, can feel inconsiderate. 

“Template answers provide zero feedback to the rejected candidates on why others were a better fit. While it may not seem that big of a deal from the company’s perspective, this cultivates an increase in unfitting job applicants,” says Astra, explaining that candidates may try to apply for the same position if you don’t provide feedback on why they weren’t selected. “It will increase the workload of your HR department while the amount of well-suited applicants will remain low.”

2. Automation silences the voice of company culture

Automation is undoubtedly necessary. It saves us time, energy, and money. However, according to Astra, automation in the candidate experience can sometimes be harmful.

“Automated emails and calls, online personality tests, and similar measures stifle the voice of company culture. Automated candidate experience is easier to manage from the company’s perspective. But it’s nearly impossible to find a match if you don’t show the candidate at least a glimpse of your company culture.” 

Astra adds that it doesn’t mean ditching automation for good. The important thing is remembering to introduce candidates to the culture of the workplace. Even little things, such as personalized greetings or a super short phone call, can go a long way.

“Not giving a taste of the company culture creates a risk of hiring a candidate who’s not the best fit for your company. And that’s not in the best interest of both you and the potential employee.” 

3. Ghosting the potential employee

Yes, it’s a thing. One of the big red flags in candidate experience is ghosting potential employees.

“The infamous in case of a positive outcome, we’ll let you know within X days/weeks is common among employers. Thus, if the candidate doesn’t receive a message within a certain time slot, it automatically means that the employer isn’t interested. But most candidates want more than that. They want to know if the application was considered or if it was a mismatch right away,” Astra tells me. 

She adds that, again, it’s understandable – HR and talent acquisition resources are limited. But in that case, automation can come in very handy. Any message is always better than no message at all. “Candidates often thank me for getting back to them and providing feedback even if it’s minimal, which confirms its importance.”

Ghosting candidates leaves a very unpleasant impression of the company. In times of talent shortage, chances are that if the candidate isn’t a good fit now, they might fill a different position later. Thus, burning bridges is not the best idea.

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How to improve candidate experience?

Now that we know what not to do, let’s learn more about good practices, which, according to Astra, are the following:

  • Updates on the application status
  • Candidate segmentation
  • Mapping out the recruiting experience
  • Onboarding early on

1. Regular updates and a point of contact

First and foremost – communication is king for a great candidate experience. Whether you go for automated processes or personalized practices, candidates will highly appreciate regular updates. 

Some companies have implemented tracking systems where the candidate can see the status of their application. According to Astra, it’s something every company should consider implementing. In addition to that, a once-a-week update email or message on the candidate’s status is a great practice.

“It’s also important that the candidate has a point of contact available in case of questions. Ideally, it’s not just a formality, and the company’s contact has the capacity to communicate with the candidate.”

Astra adds that people are very different. Some are at ease with waiting for weeks until they receive an answer from the company, while others want constant updates on the recruiting process. Thus, if you want to hire a high-qualified professional, adapting the frequency and type of communication could be a deal-breaker to keep the talent interested.

2. Segmentation of candidates

Another piece of advice Astra gives is categorizing the candidates by their professional fields and job positions. This is especially important if the company proactively seeks employees and contacts relevant candidates via LinkedIn or other platforms.

“Tech candidates, for example, can be very different from one another. It’s a good idea not to throw all developers, system architects, testers, and scrum masters in one box, as the job specifics are quite diverse. Don’t make the mistake of offering an irrelevant position that matches a completely different skillset.”

While it’s all about individual preferences, approaching potential marketing department employees will likely differ from approaching developers. And to make the candidate experience as pleasant as possible, taking into account the specifics of the field you’re targeting is a must-do.

3. Mapping out the recruiting journey

When going somewhere we haven’t been before, it’s nice to have an overview of the journey to make us feel more prepared. The same is with candidate experience. “It’s one of the best practices – mapping out the upcoming process to the candidate from the very beginning.” 

Giving the candidate a clear overview of what they can expect during the selection process, what the steps are, and what happens in scenarios A, B, or C will make them feel less stressed and enhance the company’s reputation. 

How this overview material looks is up to you as long as it helps the candidate understand what comes next – after submitting their application, after doing the test task, after the first interview, etc. So, it can be an infographic, PDF document, a simple email, or any other format.

4. Walking the last mile – onboarding

When creating a pleasant recruiting experience, we cannot forget about the last episode of the process – making the candidate’s onboarding pleasant, too. 

“Many practices can be implemented in the onboarding process to make the new employee feel more welcome. It doesn’t have to be grand. Ask the newcomer what their favorite snack and drink are and send a little welcome pack to their address before their first day. Small yet lovely gesture.” 

Astra adds that another good practice is to send some practical information to the candidate before his or her first day. “Divide the info into several chunks and send it via email. It’ll help them avoid feeling overwhelmed by the all-new-everything on their first day of work.” 

In other words, it’s important to ensure the employee feels that the company is as excited to have them on board as they are excited to join. This can significantly contribute to the new employee’s engagement. “Send a photo of the team with some names and facts about the current employees. It’s a way to make the new employee feel like he or she is already part of the team. And again – it lessens the first-day anxiety.”

Most importantly – set clear expectations

Creating a pleasant candidate experience requires time and resources. But it’s how you land the best-fitting additions to your company. Astra stresses that many candidates analyze the recruiting process thoroughly when making the final decision of whether to accept the job or not. And in times of talent shortage, you cannot afford to lose a great candidate, right?

Another reason for putting extra thought into the candidates’ journey is the importance of setting clear expectations. When applying for a new job, you often have no idea what to expect from the hiring process. HRs have a fantastic opportunity to set expectations beforehand to avoid candidate frustration. Again – it’s not only about making it smooth and sweet for the candidates but also about your company’s public image/employer brand.

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