The Candidate Experience Enigma
Candidate Experience must be one the most talked about topics to grace Talent Acquisition agendas in recent years. Statistics show how best in class candidate experience can add to the bottom line.
You read about how much candidate resentment can cost your organisation, and what candidates expect from your brand. There are copious amounts of ‘Candidate Experience 101’ resources available, and yet, being able to create an excellent candidate experience remains an enigma.
I am now going to add to the plethora of candidate experience content, as many of my friends and colleagues are having negative candidate experiences as I write, and real examples have been brought to my attention, which is both alarming but also not unexpected. It should be on the top of every organisations agenda to solve, and it should not be this hard.
So why is it still the most inadvertently neglected subjects in many organisations? Perhaps it is on the top of the Talent Acquisition agenda, however, this enigma is far from being cracked and here’s why.
Candidate behaviour impedes organisations’ ability to drive excellent candidate experience
From recent observations in developing regions, such as South Africa, with unemployment at its highest levels since 2005 (26.7% in March 2016), job seekers are desperate for work and will apply for any job for a chance to become employed to put bread on the table. The same holds true in countries like the UAE, where socioeconomic conditions in South Asia drive substantial attraction to the country, and job seekers are drawn to a ‘job for life’ promise in large corporates.
Notwithstanding unique candidate behaviour in developing regions, there is no exception to candidate behaviour the world over. Job seekers do not read the requirements, simply do not believe the organisation requires ALL listed skills and experience, or at the very least, simply apply in order to be added to the magical ‘database’, in the event someone happens to stumble upon their profile.
The reality is, no matter how high candidate experience is on the agenda, candidate behaviour will challenge your resources and processes. Candidate behaviour will generally result in more irrelevant applications per job advert than expected, which in some cases I have seen, can end up in the 1000’s. Technology and 'Sourcing Science', where used, should assist in reducing these numbers, however it is often impossible for the available recruitment resources to act on every application. The result being, good candidates are lost in a database, not actioned timeously, or not at all. Irrelevant candidates, don't think they are irrelevant, and expect a response at the very least. Ergo, a negative candidate experience.
Hiring Manager behaviour impedes organisations’ ability to drive excellent candidate experience
Hiring manager and recruiter expectations are generally misaligned when it comes to Talent Acquisition. Most recruiters reading this will agree. Most hiring managers will disagree. Here is a typical recruitment cycle scenario I have seen many times, and potentially the clue to this key element of the candidate experience enigma:
- Hiring manager needs the job advertised yesterday – The thinking is once the action is off their desk the responsibility for the rest of the process becomes that of the HR department.
- Hiring manger wants a 100% skills match - They know exactly what they want/need. The job description is a different story, and still seems to be an HR responsibility in many organisations. In some instances, the job description is an existing document, ‘dusted off’ and re-used for advertising purposes. The issue is often that hiring managers are not given the tools or know-how to measure a candidate's job fit, so the default is to hire at 100% skills match or not at all.
- Passive sourcing ensues - Many organisations simply wait for candidates to apply, whilst the hiring manager is anticipating the 100% matched candidate to appear as part of this process.
- Candidates are 'kept warm' - Through inevitable second and third rounds of sourcing in parallel to interviews, often with no updates until the hiring manager makes next step decisions. It is at this point that hiring manager expectations and the originally instructed job criteria are identified as being mismatched.
- Hiring manager is likely to change job criteria during the process, and the recruiter goes back to the proverbial drawing board.
- Additional interviewers are brought in at final rounds often because hiring managers are not comfortable making the hiring decision. Often these 'face fit' stakeholder interviews are a mere hiring decision validation, rather than a candidate engaging process and they can draw out a process by weeks, while interviewer availability is obtained.
- Hiring decision is made! For the offered candidate, the euphoria of being offered the job, would most likely neutralise any negative experience, however for the candidates who do not get the job, many never even get feedback.
From a candidate perspective, hiring manager behaviour would have lengthened the time they are in the process, they would have been without updates for lengthy periods of time and would have been interviewed by a number of 'late entrant' interviewers who would have asked them the same questions and not shared any further interesting or engaging facts. Ergo, a negative candidate experience.
Recruitment cycles take longer than anyone thinks
In years gone by, country/regional managers, department or functional leads had sufficient budget and hiring authority. Hiring decisions were often made in isolation at business level, where the process was owned and candidates were offered on the spot. If a candidate was available, they would even start the following day, and HR’s role was to facilitate the paperwork.
With the advent of globalisation, more strategic HR business partnering, tighter control & governance post Global Financial Crisis, and some industries required to self-govern the process of hiring 'fit and proper' individuals, many approval and decision authorities have been pulled up to higher levels in organisations. Approvals, budgets and pre-employment background checks have never been so prevalent as nowadays and these have added significantly to the cycle time. The changes were more evident and globally accepted in the Banking sector for example, but depending on which survey’s and statistics you read, cycle times are reported to be up to double as long as even five or six years ago.
Candidates think recruitment cycles are shorter than they are and candidates don’t understand the hiring process complexity in global corporates. Organisations assume candidates would understand the process and red tape necessity, and in many instances, corporates rely on their brand to keep a candidate's interest. That age old assumption that if a candidate wants the job badly enough, they will walk over coals to get it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ergo, a negative candidate experience.
Here is what you can do to improve candidate experience knowing what you know now:
- Pre-empt candidate behaviour
You can positively influence candidate experience in your organistaion, by pre-empting candidate behaviour in the candidate pool you are likely to be attracting from. Review historical application rates, analyse candidate survey responses, speak with recent hires or industry colleagues. By understanding what your application rates and quality are likely to be, you can adjust job adverts, select specific sourcing strategies and ensure your recruitment/HR team is resourced adequately to manage responses.
- Put the candidate first
Put yourself in the candidate's shoes. Review every step of your process with the candidate in mind. "How will a candidate perceive this step"? "What will the candidate be expecting at this stage"? "How will the candidate react to this correspondence"? All too often we design processes for our own convenience or to meet internal system requirements. If you look at it from a candidate's perspective, it always feels different.
- Manage expectations & communicate
This is an easy one, but many organisations fail at this. Use the communications tools which are part of the recruitment process to personalise messages to the candidates. The most common auto-respond email or Applicant Tracking System (ATS) response is something like: "Thank you for your application. If you do not hear back from us in 2 weeks, please assume you have not met the criteria". This is simply shocking and unacceptable in my view. Use every automated communication tool to inform the candidate how long that step in the process might take. Inform them what you need from them and engage them from a brand perspective.
Once again, pre-empt candidate behaviour and assume long, wordy replies will not be read. So keep them short, snappy, informative and change the tone, content and call to action as the process steps require. That way candidates will feel more informed, know where they stand and buy into the process. That said, nothing beats responsive phone or face to face communication, so where relevant and practical, speak to your candidates!
Let us not forget the hiring manager here. Recruitment processes are often built with the assumption that hiring managers know how to identify, interview, assess and select candidates. Manage their expectations, coach and partner. Ensure your organisation has robust assessment tools in place to help hiring managers identify and hire the best candidate in the market, available and willing to join, at the price your organisation can afford. Think about the support the hiring manager is given to hire at say a 70% skills match, with the training & development to close that gap? Again, do this with the candidate, as well as the ultimate business goal in mind.
Measure, Analyse, Adjust
Many organisations do measure candidate (and hiring manager) satisfaction, but many do very little about the results. If you don't already measure your candidate satisfaction, do! There are many free survey tools out there such as SurveyMonkey, ZOHO and surveygizmo, which allow you to build custom surveys. Many have integrated data export and analysis functions and be deployed via social media platforms on mobile.
Perhaps the most popular method these days for measuring experience or satisfaction, is through 'Employee Net Promoter Score' (eNPS). This is a derivative method of the original NPS, and is used by organisations to determine levels of employee engagement by understanding the mix of Promoters (9-10), Passives (7-8) and Detractors (0-6). It is done by simply asking one key survey question - example: "On a scale of zero to ten, how likely is it you would recommend this company as a potential employer"? The eNPS Score is calculated as follows: NPS Score = % of promoters – % of detractors.