Five hallmarks of excellent candidate experience for the 2020s

Last year was a year like no other. The pandemic nearly shut down recruiting in the Spring and dramatically changed how leading companies recruit, use digital technology, and communicate with candidates. Companies that ignore these winning trends to improve the candidate experience in 2021 will continue to be ghosted and unable to attract the best candidates.

For the past nine years, The Talent Board has been measuring changes in the candidate experience and awarding best performing employer awards. I have reported on their research heavily in my book, Hack Recruiting, and continue to track their research and insights.

Measuring the experiences of 152,000 candidates across 133 companies in North America, the 2020 Talent Board Research Report found that great candidate experience increased from 25% to 31% since last year, an increase of 24% from 2019. Interestingly, the resentment rate fell from 14% to 8%. So what caused positive associations to climb in 2020 while negative impressions plummeted?

The Talent Board concludes that when recruiting resumed in 2020 after the start of the pandemic, employers were forced to adopt a much higher transparency level than under normal circumstances. Employers had to inform candidates in their pipeline that hiring was on hold and many needed to communicate new protocols for virtual interviewing and hiring. Many hiring organizations were more empathetic than usual with candidates on their websites and in their messaging. In short, job candidates had more transparency, which translated into a better experience for them.

The Talent Board’s years of research lead them to provide five tips for an excellent candidate experience:

First, communicate consistently. Hiring organizations should communicate consistently with candidates across the hiring process, from pre-application to onboarding. The Talent Board recommends a mix of automated tools at the hiring process’s front end and human interaction (especially in the later stages). Communications is the primary differentiator for a suitable candidate experience.

Regarding automated tools, The Conference Board reports that the use of chatbots in recruiting has increased by 15 percent since 2019, and chatbots have had a significant impact. The number of candidates who are “Extremely likely to refer others” increased by 25 percent when a chatbot answered questions on the career site and increased by 29 percent when a chatbot answered questions during the application process. Chatbots have provided the means for clear communications early in the process when before there was nearly none.

It is no surprise to learn that video interviewing has climbed by 129 percent since 2019. The number of candidates reporting a positive experience increased by 51 percent when they were provided with a video giving them information about what to expect from a digital interview.

Second, set expectations. Hiring organizations should set expectations for when candidates can expect to hear back from them and what is coming next in the process. What is most critical is the follow through. So set realistic expectations that you can achieve.

Third, ask for and provide feedback to candidates. Incorporating opportunities for feedback makes the process more engaging and personal, The Talent Board reports,. The feedback candidates will most likely give you may be negative, but the fact that you ask for it increases their positive impressions. Besides, providing feedback to final stage candidates is essential: let them know why you will not pursue them any further.

The Talent Board reports that the number of candidates reporting a positive experience increased by 15 percent when they were given specific feedback on their job fit, and by 20 percent when they were given feedback on an assessment they were asked to take. Candidates know that you are deciding based on their assessment results. Being transparent about what the assessment reveals increases their perceptions of fairness. Follow up the feedback with some tactical advice based on the assessment results that they can implement moving forward.

Year after year, Talent Board benchmark research shows that communication and feedback loops are the ongoing differentiators of a more positive candidate experience. This year, 34% of participating employers said they ask for feedback after a candidate is hired, which is down 15% from 2019. The good news is that the proportion of employers asking for feedback after applying and interviewing has increased 80% and 21%, respectively, from 2019. The percentage of companies that don’t survey candidates didn’t change.

Fourth, embrace transparency and accountability. The more transparent and accountable you are with candidates, the better their experience will be. They would rather hear you say that you have put hiring on hold than not hear back at all.

The Talent Board’s research shows that what is measured is improved. About 77 percent of companies do not align candidate experience to recruiter performance or incentives. However, that is not true of the Talent Board’s North American Candidate Experience Award winners. Half of the 55 winners of the 2020 Candidate Experience Award measure candidate experience regularly and incorporate it into their recruiter dashboards (with or without performance incentives), which is up 11% from 2019. Monetary performance incentives for recruiters among all companies are up 100 percent in 2020 from 2019, from five percent to 10 percent. Almost all companies do not have dashboards for hiring managers. (Something I recommend employers implement.)

Fifth, ensure a fair process. Most candidates will not feel happy with your decision. After all, no one wants to be rejected for a job. But they should leave the candidate experience feeling that they were treated fairly by your decision-making process.

How you interview has a significant impact on perceptions of fairness. On average, Candidate Experience winners have a competitive edge in candidates’ perception of satisfaction about presenting their skills and experience (five percent difference) and feeling that the job interview process was fair (eight percent difference). Candidate Experience-winning companies conduct structured interviews 23-percent more often compared to other companies. Structured interviewing is essential, as it relates directly to the candidates’ overall perception of fairness in the process and ensures more consistency from the interviewers and the selection criteria. By contrast, Candidate Experience-winning companies conduct unstructured interviews 64 percent less often compared with all other companies.

Structured interviews are significant in many ways. In my book, Hack Recruiting, I recommend using validated assessment and structured interviews because they significantly improve a company’s ability to hire better candidates who perform at higher standards and reduce substantially recruiter and hiring team bias.

There are two other findings of the Talent Board that I believe are noteworthy before concluding this summary of their report. The first is understanding why candidates withdraw themselves from the recruiting process. The three top reasons are:

  1. Their time was disrespected during interviews.
  2. The recruiting process took too long.
  3. Salary didn’t meet expectations.

The pandemic has hidden that the United States is in a labor shortage for most (non-hospitality and travel) industries. Companies struggling with ghosting should always treat candidates like customers, lean out their recruiting processes to move quickly, automate them as much as budgets allow, train their interviewers, make sure your compensation is at industry and regional market-levels, and measure results.

The second is that the recruiting organization has changed. During the year of the pandemic, more companies insourced their recruiting, relying less on recruiting process outsourcing firms (RPOs), which were down 31 percent in 2020, from 16 percent in 2019 and 11 percent in 2020. Companies continued the trend of centralizing recruiting as opposed to decentralized recruiting. Centralized recruiting increased by eight percent in 2020, from 63 percent in 2019 to 68 percent in 2020.

The pandemic has changed much in recruiting. The trend to improve the experience of candidates, using more chatbots and digital interviewing, and the use of more structured interviews is a good one. Companies need to follow the example of The Talent Board’s Candidate Experience winners.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at 

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