Blog Candidate Experience How to Improve Candidate Experience: A Step-by-Step Guide
Banner image for creating a positive candidate experience

This step-by-step guide teaches you how to improve candidate experience with all the knowledge, tools, and processes you need. 


Candidate experience has become something of a buzzword in the recruitment industry, as the recruitment process has become more and more about impressing the most talented candidates, and convincing them to join the business.


Learning how to improve your candidate experience has been continually growing in importance as a result, and involves making subtle and instrumental changes throughout the whole hiring process.


Still have questions? Book a free demo with us and we’ll show you how it works in more detail.

What is candidate experience?

Candidate experience means what it says on the tin – how those applying for roles in your business experience your brand. This experience can take place at any stage in your recruitment process, from the initial marketing of your vacancy all the way to onboarding your new hire.


It can also be greatly affected by the processes you put in place in each of these stages.


Why candidate experience matters

According to a PwC survey, around 42% of HR professionals want to make the employee experience better. This all starts with how you treat these employees throughout your recruitment process – but why is learning how to improve candidate experience so important?


Your employer brand

72% of candidates who have a negative experience will tell others about it, so making sure you treat every candidate with respect will help protect your employer brand – and yes, that includes candidates who are not at all suited to your vacancy or to the business generally.


Gif of man on phone saying 'it's just uh you need to have a lot of experience'


A poor employer brand can actually deter talented candidates from applying for future roles, which has the potential to damage your business long-term.


Making simple changes to your communications, such as acknowledging receipt of applications or letting candidates know if they’ve been declined, can go a very long way to making sure you protect your brand and keep attracting talent to your business


Retaining talented candidates

The most talented candidates tend to already be in employment, only passively searching for new roles. You want to continually keep these candidates engaged and interested in your company and future opportunities, and learning how to improve your candidate experience is a good way to stand out from the competition.


Alternatively, if you’re providing a very poor applicant experience that makes candidates feel undervalued, the chance of them dropping out of the process, or simply rejecting your offer is much higher. This can have a huge impact on the time and resources you spend recruiting, and the quality of applicant you eventually hire.


How to improve candidate experience

Because candidate experience is affected throughout the whole recruitment process, there isn’t one quick fix. Luckily, there are now multiple inexpensive technologies, tools and processes you can put in place at each stage that greatly enhance it.


1. Accurate and appealing job descriptions

Candidates don’t want to go through the troubles and trials of an interview with you, only to discover the role and opportunity has not been accurately described. Making sure your job advert is truthful and yet as appealing as possible, is a primary way to excite candidates, and avoid drop offs.


Use the right job title

Choosing the right job title has a huge impact on the outcomes of your online advertising, but also needs to accurately reflect the role.


For example, you may want to describe a marketing manager role in events as an ‘Events & Marketing Manager’ rather than simply ‘Marketing Manager’; this gives candidates a clearer insight into what the role involves and whether they are suited for it.


Striking the right balance between the job title that applicants are searching for online and what the actual full job title is should be a serious consideration.


Outline the position responsibilities accurately

Be upfront about the essential requirements of the role, as well as your company values and goals. This will help avoid applications from candidates who don’t match the skills, cultural values or behavioural alignment necessary to work for your business.


Avoid too many ‘essential’ requirements

While outlining the essentials for the role is important, make sure to only list requirements that are absolutely essential. Research has shown that a long list of essential requirements can be very unappealing to candidates and lead to a negative candidate experience, particularly for women.


It’s better to have a separate list for anything else that is ‘highly desirable’.


eBook Download Banner on how to write a job advert


Limit the use of obligatory language

Research has found using obligatory language like ‘you must/will have’ can lead to a negative candidate experience and dissuade talented people from applying to your roles.


Instead, try and use advisory language, replacing with suggestions like ‘you should have’.


Avoid unconscious bias

You may be using unconscious bias in the way you write your job adverts which can completely change a candidate’s experience of your brand.


There are plenty of ways to ensure you’re avoiding language that is too gendered or subtly discriminatory, leading to a better perception of your brand.


Sell the opportunity

Creating an exciting candidate experience means selling your opportunity. Consciously or subconsciously, every person reading your job ad thinks ‘what’s in it for me?’.


Every job ad needs to talk about the 3 most influential topics:

  • Opportunity for career progression
  • Working environment and culture
  • The potential rewards available


Make sure you touch on each of these topics.


2. A simple and efficient process

60% of candidates quit a job application in the middle because it’s too long or complex, so making your process as simple and efficient as possible is vital for a great candidate experience.


Simple and efficient ways for creating a positive candidate experience


Avoid platform redirects

When you redirect job applicants from your chosen job advertising channel to a careers or pre-screening page, this can really interrupt the flow of their experience.


Research by The Recruiting Unblog found 45% of those searching for jobs on Facebook will immediately drop-off if they’re taken away from the platform, so avoiding this by keeping your initial application phase on the same platform is essential.


Most modern ATS systems now provide parsing software as standard, so that a one click application process can be provided and thus removing all drop off at the application and capture stage.


Avoid lengthy pre-screening

Your initial screening process should be as quick and simple as possible – very few candidates want to spend too much time filling in forms and completing lengthy tasks.


Once again, automated CV parsing software is invaluable for this, so that pre screening questionnaires are issued to the applicant after their application is received. To complement this, many ATS systems provide AI, machine learning and predictive analytics tools to automatically screen applications for suitability.


This can remove the need for pre-screening all together. Let the AI screening and ranking software help you pinpoint your most talented applicants quicker and avoid wasting precious time reviewing unsuitable CV’s.


Use interview scheduling tools

There can be a lot of back and forth on dates and times that suit both parties for an interview, often complicating and lengthening the process.


Using an interview scheduling tool that lets candidates pick their own interview slot and automatically blocks out your digital calendar is a great tool to overcome this.


Keep track of your pipeline

When you lose track of where a candidate is in your recruitment process, this naturally extends it. A good recruitment management software lets your whole team access information on candidates, so you can move them through your pipeline quickly and effectively.


For example, the Smart Recruit Online platform lets you leave individual notes, choose statuses that reflect where candidates are in the process, and give them star ratings.


Collaborate on recruitment projects

One of the best ways to move your recruitment process along efficiently is collaborating on hires. This ensures everyone involved has their say on the best candidate for the role, and avoids any delays or miscommunications.


Collaborating is made easier with recruitment management software, which gives everyone access to the same candidate information and updates.


3. Communication with candidates

Poor communication from recruiters is one of the biggest causes of a poor candidate experience, with 63% of candidates agreeing prospective employers don’t communicate adequately.


Communicating properly increases the chance of winning over prospective candidates and retaining their interest.


Creating a positive candidate experience through communication


Communicate early

A Talent Board report found that 53% of candidates say they don’t receive a response from employers until 3 months after applying. This is far too long if you want to retain the interest of the best prospective applicants, and of course gives your competitors the chance to swoop in and impress them instead.


Make sure you’re communicating at this vital stage by using automated communication technology – this lets you set up workflows for each job role that automatically acknowledge applications, thank candidates and give them extra information to build their interest in your opportunity right from the get go.


Communicate quickly

You should try and communicate quickly with candidates at each stage; this ensures candidates remember your brand, shows you value their time, and sets you apart from the competition.


Stages like acknowledging applications, screening requests, rejections and interview requests should be sent as soon as you can, again using automated communication technology to make things a bit easier.


Communicate regularly

Touch base with your best candidates regularly, even if you have no updates, so they don’t feel forgotten or ignored. As a guide, candidates should receive communications at every 3 days between stages of the recruitment cycle.


There are now so many ways to do this efficiently with communication technology like email, SMS, phone calls and video calls at vital points in the process.


This is also useful if you’ve set any additional tasks for candidates, as you can prompt them to complete these and ask if they need any help.


For example: You might use email to confirm receipt of an application, alongside an SMS to ask applicants to look out for your email (a very high % of emails go into spam folders). You can also prompt them to complete additional tasks, or simply wish them good luck.


Phone calls can then be used to check in with candidates, and ask if they require any additional help.


Be courteous

It probably goes without saying that being courteous to every applicant is hugely important from a candidate experience perspective. This means consistently thanking candidates for their applications, time, and completion of any additional tasks you set.


You should also reply courteously if an applicant drops out of your recruitment process, as you still want to leave a positive impression.


4. Access to information

Giving candidates adequate access to information on your company, role, and recruitment process will help eliminate any doubts or questions they have, and improve your candidate experience.


The company

Doing simple things like providing a website link, company brochure, and social media links is invaluable for giving candidates more information on your company.


Making sure that these company assets are high quality is also important – you don’t want to send candidates to a poorly designed website where they struggle to find the information they need. It is also important to maintain as much control as you can over the quality of information that they access about you.


Creating a positive candidate experience through information access


The opportunity

Make sure the applicant is sent both the job advert and the job specification ahead of their interview. You can even outline what key competencies you want to explore with them on the day.


Doing this also helps minimise interview anxiety and avoid any miscommunications about what is expected in the role, so candidates aren’t left surprised or disappointed in the interview.


The team

Finding out more about the team can help alleviate candidate fears and is particularly powerful if you intend to introduce them to the team during the interview. A link to relevant LinkedIn profiles or a professional internal profile of the manager with a picture and a picture of the team is enough to give an insight.


A short video of the hiring manager explaining what they are looking for, why they are recruiting, and why the best talent should come and work for them is a great way to invite applicants into the company window and alleviate interview and job anxieties.


You could even invite applicants to join company groups on LinkedIn and run live sessions on specific roles if there is enough interest, with anyone able to join and members of the team are encouraged to contribute.


The interview

Over 60% of the population hate doing interviews, so limiting any fear around this stage is key for a great candidate experience. You should provide details by outlining the interview process, replacing any doubts with a positive and realistic overview of what will happen on the day.


This may include things like: how long the interview will take, who they will be meeting with, what they need to bring or prepare, where you are located with instructions on how to get there, any relevant information on entering the building and parking, and so on.


During any onsite interviews, giving a tour of the facility or a short company presentation at the start is a great way to ease the candidate into the interview process, so that you get the best out of them on the day.


The process

Providing candidates with a step-by-step breakdown of what to expect from your recruitment timeline and updating them at each stage is particularly useful when it comes to how to improve your candidate experience. Give this to candidates in the first stage and stay true to it.


5. Humanise the experience

Thanks to recruitment technology and automation, there are now plenty of great ways to make the recruitment process more efficient and free up time for the recruiter. Naturally however, this makes the process considerably less personalised for the candidate.


Candidates want to feel valued and appreciated, so humanising the process where and when you can, has a big impact on the candidate experience.


Personalised automation

Automation in the early stages of recruitment is invaluable, especially when you have a high number of applications and don’t have the time to reply to each and every candidate. This doesn’t mean you can’t give these communications a personal touch though.


Make sure you mention the candidate’s name, the role they’ve applied for, and send across some additional information on the role and company.


This is also a great place to send video content on your company background, and really pique the candidate’s interest.


View of someone on their laptop and phone


The two-minute call

Once you have your final shortlist, this is when you can really humanise the experience. A representative from the company should call the applicant, introduce themselves, ask if they have any questions, explain what happens next, and wish them luck in the next stages of the process.


This helps build a relationship and gain a candidate’s trust, which is vital to the candidate’s experience. It also differentiates you and improves the chances of the candidate completing any additional tasks as they can ask questions and believe it or not, it improves the probability of them actually showing up for the interview too.


Human email addresses

Contacting candidates from a real, human email address rather than an info@ or careers@ email subtly humanises the candidate experience. Rejections in particular from these kinds of emails can feel detached and robotic, only adding to the rejection.


Additionally, when candidates see it is a real person contacting them, they are more likely to respond quicker.


6. Make the process about the applicant

Of course when we’re focusing on the candidate experience, making the application process about the applicant is vital. It’s now as much about the candidate assessing you as it is about you evaluating them and the further you get into the process and towards that final shortlist, the shift continues in favour of the applicant.


At the interview

More than 50% of your interview should be about the candidate. This is because you’ll have most likely already screened them, and indicated what your essential and desirable criteria are in the job advert, and the candidate will expect you to explore that further anyway.


You should try and outwardly tell the candidate from the start that the interview is a two-way street, and that they will be encouraged to evaluate you too throughout the course of it. This will make it clear that you care about their experience, and most candidates will appreciate it and feel more at ease.


Phone calls

In your initial phone calls with a candidate (and you should have at least one!) ask them what they’re ideally looking for and why they’re willing to consider a move into your business.


This sets the tone that you’re interested in their motivations and needs, and is a great subject to bring up in the interview, or even if you eventually make them an offer as an incentive.


View of two women on phones


7. Cover travel costs

If covering travel costs feels uncomfortable to you, just imagine how it feels to candidates (particularly if they’re only passively searching for a new role).


Offering to cover any travel costs to interview makes a very positive statement to prospective candidates, even if it’s just £5 for a local journey. It says you value them and their time, and that meeting with them is important to you. It will also differentiate you from other companies who are most likely not doing this.


8. The interview itself

A LinkedIn survey found 77% of candidates base their final decision on their interview experience, so improving your candidate experience at this stage is crucial.


Interviewing for creating a positive candidate experience


Interviewer training

The way the interviewer presents themselves and the business during an interview can make or break the candidate’s experience. You should give any interviewers proper training on best practices and keep the process as effective as you can.


Key ways to do this are:

  • Shadowing experienced interviewers in the business
  • Having an experienced interviewer sit in on their first few interviews
  • Make interviewers aware of unconscious bias and how to avoid it
  • Seek professional interviewing help via courses or training seminars
  • Standardise the interview process and structure and agree in advance what you are evaluating them against


Avoid interviewer fatigue

Having too many interviews booked in at once can become tiring and stressful for recruiters, leading to interview fatigue. Interview fatigue has many negative outcomes for the candidate experience, and can cause you to lose top talent if the interviewer seems tired, distracted, or disinterested.  It’s also unnecessary, as initial screening can be done remotely.


You can avoid interview fatigue by only moving the strongest candidates to interview, using a combination of talent attraction and candidate screening tools.


You can then make sure you’re avoiding too many back-to-back interviews using an interview scheduling tool, with the interviewer staggering their availability.


Remote interviews

If you’re conducting your interviews remotely, there are some small but effective things you can do to improve the overall candidate experience:


  • Provide candidates with how-to guidelines, explaining how to join the meeting, the date and time, the number of interviewers and how long the interview will last.
  • Make sure the background of your video is clean and professional, and the video lighting is clear.
  • Try not to stare at yourself too much and instead focus on the candidate.
  • Try to avoid any technical difficulties by joining a test meeting to check your camera and microphone beforehand.


On-site interviews

When conducting your interviews on-site, this is a great opportunity to make a good impression on candidates and increase their excitement around your role:


  • Give them a tour of the facility
  • Show them a short company presentation at the start of the interview to ease them in
  • Introduce them to other members of staff on-site
  • Start off with an informal chat to get them comfortable


9. Measure your candidate experience

Once you’ve put all these changes in place, measuring your candidate experience is important so you can pinpoint any poorly performing areas of your recruitment process and improve them.


Gif of man saying 'our survey says'


Candidate experience survey questions

What better place to understand your candidate experience than from the candidates themselves? You can create a candidate experience survey yourself using an online survey tool distributed online for both successful and rejected candidates to fill in anonymously.


Some examples of useful questions to ask are:


  1. How satisfied were you with the communication from the recruiter? (very satisfied – very unsatisfied)
  2. Based upon your application and interview experience, how likely are you to recommend this company as an employer? (very likely – very unlikely)
  3. What do you think would have made our hiring process better?
  4. Overall, how was your hiring experience with this company?


Candidate experience metrics

Looking at key metrics in your recruitment process is another good indicator of your current candidate experience. Some metrics you may want to consider are:


  • Drop off rate: Are most of your candidates dropping out of the process? This suggests a poor candidate experience, and looking at where this tends to happen can be useful.


  • Time to accept offer: Do candidates often need time to mull over your offers? Or worse, frequently reject your offers? This could be because you didn’t excite them enough throughout the process.


  • Conversion rate on job ads: Are you getting clicks on your job ads, but low conversions? This could be because your brand doesn’t come across the way you want at that initial stage.


If you’re getting negative feedback on your candidate experience surveys or find your key candidate experience metrics aren’t where they need to be, then it might be time to make some more changes to your recruitment process.


How can we help?

Now you know how to improve your candidate experience, where do you start?


Our talent acquisition team and award winning platform help take the effort out of recruiting.

  • Communicate with candidates easily using automated responses and email templates
  • Keep track of each and every candidate
  • Use interview scheduling software, video tools, and more


Interested? Book a demo with us and we’ll show you how it works.

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Smart Recruit Online

August 6, 2021

We offer an award-winning talent acquisition platform, that combines an ATS with a powerful job board multi-poster. Our platform helps you quickly find and hire the best talent online for less with a range of tools designed to help you run a successful recruitment campaign. We use extensive research and an understanding of human behaviour to keep our business and technology at the cutting edge.

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