Candidate Experience 101: The Hiring Manager’s Complete Guide to Making Candidates Love Your Brand

9 min read

Have you ever wondered how companies like Google and Netflix became the Disney World of the talent community?

These star-studded employer brands attract hordes of top performers from all over the world.

But if you think you could never afford to recruit Google-level talent on a startup budget, don’t despair. There are plenty of ways to attract rockstar candidates when you’re not a household name (or even a leader in your market…yet!). 😉

From getting mobile-friendly to sharing clear company values, boosting the candidate experience really isn’t that hard—for many companies, the main challenge is simply giving their current recruitment processes a modern facelift.

This unmissable guide to a stellar candidate experience will teach you everything you need to know to get the candidates you need, when you need them.

What is candidate experience? And why does it matter.

Candidate experience is a catch-all term to describe the way job seekers, applicants, candidates and new hires think and feel about your brand. The candidate experience begins the moment a job seeker discovers your open role and continues throughout the application, interview and onboarding process.

In short, the candidate experience is a crucial aspect of the hiring process—and one that has gone overlooked for way too long.

“It seems too often the industry standard is a revolving door mentality—bring in 30 to 50 people each year, throw them at the wall and see who sticks,” says Jennifer Manske, Director of Operations at Lakeshore Wealth Strategies.

If you've been involved in hiring even for just a few years, you probably know exactly what Jennifer's talking about.

Today, there's a whole world of software, apps and all kind of fancy new tech to help solve that problem.

As Evil HR Lady Suzanne Lucas explains, the world of talent is changing. But if we want the right kind of change, we need to strike the right balance between the old and the new. Here's how she explains it.


There's a lot of pressure on modern talent professionals to do the right thing. 

The good news is, if you take it step-by-step, changing the way your candidates feel about your company doesn't have to be the uphill climb you think it is.

Tip #1: Create a candidate-friendly hiring process

We all know efficiency makes the world go around 🌎 —but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to get things streamlined.

Here are a few pointers to figure out where to start:

  • Make your job openings easy to find

Your first step is a Career Page. Got one of those? Great! 

But is your Career Page optimized? Is it easy to find in your site navigation—the header or the footer? Do you use a real call to action like Work With Us, or something less noteworthy like About Us? Some applicants need that bright sign on the side of the highway… it’s up to you to put it up for them.

  • Simplify your application form

Not all applications can afford simplification (looking at you, government jobs). But does any company really need applicants to type out their work history? Invest in an applicant tracking system that comes with a good resume parser and save everyone some major headaches.

  • Keep your process clean

If you’re going to be interviewing candidates over the course of two months, tell your applicants. Don’t forget they could be on pins and needles waiting for a next-day call—and your lack of clarity could mean they either contact you all the time, or march off onto the next thing a week after not hearing from you. If you’re running a tight, transparent recruiting ship, everyone leaves feeling good enough to come back when the time is right. So remember to:

1. Close out non-interviews

2. Stay in contact with your real prospects weekly

3. Remove old job postings

  • Get mobile friendly

45% of job seekers say they use their mobile device specifically to search for jobs at least once a day. Make the most of these mobile searchers by giving them a mobile-optimized application with:

  • One-click apply buttons
  • Applications with less than seven fields
  • No resume requirement. Ask for social media data or a link to more info, so candidates can get on your hiring radar in a snap.


Breezy's Career Pages are always responsive and mobile-friendly so candidates can apply quickly and easily from any device.


Tip #2: Tell your candidates who you are

Right. Now, you’ve got the basics down. Time to focus in on the details.

If you were a candidate, what would be those extra touches that make you genuinely eager to work for a company?

From personalized videos to honest feedback, it doesn’t take long to wow your candidates.

  • Add interviewer bios (or video!) to your site

You know what quality candidates love most about your About pages and employee profiles? The chance to get to know their potential interviewers. Smart candidates like to know what they’re walking into. When they can see their future manager cuddling with his beagle and talking about his day in a brief bio, they become instantly armed with relevant questions that can make the face-to-face interview way more fun and productive.

  • Add pertinent company information to your candidate emails

We'll be honest, offering a better candidate experience tends to coincide with a longer hiring process. If you're adding a step (such as a test project, in-person meet and greet, or personality screen), keep your candidates interested by sending regular check-ins. Score extra bonus points by sending company updates or blog posts they can reference during their second and third interviews.

  • Ask questions that make candidates feel awesome

Like impeccable directions, this question can turn any new candidate into a pro interviewee:

“Is there anything you didn’t get a chance to talk about today that you think we should know?”

This gives the candidate the opportunity they may need to walk out the door with confidence, which will make them feel awesome about your company even if they don't land the job.

  • Offer constructive feedback

The vast majority of your applicants will be rejected. It's just math. Problem is, that means hundreds of people per year will associate feelings of rejection with your brand. Give them a reason to appreciate your organization anyway. Offer honest, delicate feedback about why the candidate wasn’t suitable for the role, and how they could improve.

 

Applicants for positions at Unito can get to know the founders with a quick glance at the company's About page.


Tip #3: Treat your candidates like customers

Do you really want to secure the perfect candidate?

Let’s be honest, sometimes the answer to that question is ‘no’—and for positions that don’t require specialized skills, that’s ok.

But for the roles where you can't afford anything less than the best of the best, you’re gonna need to bring out the big guns.

  • Personalize your communication with candidates

If you want to secure top-shelf talent, you need to know who you're dealing with, so be sure to ask plenty of open-ended questions during your screening stages. Every interviewer should know the candidate’s aspirations, why they’ve chosen to interview, and what they're looking to get out of their next position. Make sure your questions are personal, relevant and unique to each team or manager by going over the full list before the candidate walks in the door (or fires up the video app).

  • Overhaul your onsites

If you’re planning to keep a candidate most of the day, take these tips from companies like LinkedIn and Airbnb to make candidates feel spa-day relaxed:

1. Provide them with a schedule of their day, complete with interviewer LinkedIn profiles and videos.

2. Text them their interview time and traffic conditions.

3. Give them a goodie bag to ease them through what will be a very long day.

4. Got a campus? Take a tour with them, so they can see what working with you is like.

  • Ask candidates to rate their experience

The best way to improve your candidate experience is to continue to ask candidates how they feel about it. If you use an ATS like Breezy, you can automate a candidate survey to go out to your interviewees after they’ve completed the process, and revisit answers monthly.

  • Say thank you

A little swag never hurt anyone! A branded mug with a note (“I noticed that you were drinking coffee the whole day!”) recognizes that your candidate has spent their valuable time with you. When you’re ready to welcome them to the team, a gift basket with their new name tag and a bottle of wine (“See you Monday!”) shows them how psyched you are that they’re coming aboard.


A truly swag-a-licious onboarding kit from Element Three.


Tip #4: Make remote candidates feel special

If your company is spread out over the state, country or even the world, hiring is a different ballgame.

Yes, your wider net means you could potentially find literally the best candidate in the world—but building rapport with them can be much harder.

Here’s what you can do to create an awesome experience for remote candidates:

  • Stand out from the crowd

A compelling job description and ad are of do-or-die importance when hiring remote talent. Remote workers can tell in a blink when a company does or does NOT have their stuff together.

Start by defining exactly what you’re looking for in your remote hire. Then, work on writing up a truly gripping job ad that will cut through the noise and catch the attention of your ideal candidates.

  • Put your values front and center

With remote hiring you need to make sure every aspect of your culture and performance expectations comes through with crystal clarity. 💎 

This is where your company values come in. 

Values are awesome—not only because they’re the backbone of your brand—but because they shed light on the vast grey area that sits between goals and expectations. A rock-solid set of values is what gives remote workers the guidance, confidence and creative freedom to make the best possible call, even while the rest of the team is still sleeping.

  • Always pay for the screening task

Once your remote candidates have seen your awesomely gripping job description and gotten genuinely jazzed up about your game-changing business values, now it’s time to move into the screening phase.

Here’s a couple pointers to remember:

1. Never EVER ask a remote candidate to complete a task without compensating them for it. You don’t have to break the budget, but you do need to show them you respect their time. You wouldn’t believe how many shadeballs and cheapskates are out there—a modest set payment is more than enough to set yourself apart.

2. Make sure the task is a real reflection of what the candidate will be asked to do, NOT a made up project. That way you’ll both get as clear a picture as possible of what it’d be like to work together.

  • Connect through video

According to the Harvard Business Review, 87% of remote workers feel more connected when using video conferencing. Plus, remote team leaders are more clear, intentional and authoritative when communicating through video because they don’t have the luxury of stopping by their team member’s desks after lunch. For positions with a high volume of candidates, try using video assessments to get a deeper understanding of the person behind the resume before you sit down to interview them.

Expert Rachel Hammerton, Director of Recruitment at Spark Lifecare explains how she handles virtual interviews:

Bonus tips: 5 simple ways to knock your candidates' socks off

We’re all looking for that little bit of something special, right? 

One sure way to create an unforgettable experience for your candidates is to simply show them you care.

Here are a few small ways to go the extra mile.

  1. Say thank you for every application

Between cover letters, electronic forms, resume pruning, and way too much more, your candidates have put hours into applying. That’s worth a simple ‘thank you.’ 

Set up an autoresponder from your email or ATS to immediately send out a brief email letting them know you’ve received their application. Bonus points if you set up another one to let them know when the position has been filled or check in with an update if it’s taking more than a week to get back to them. 

Trust us, an honest and heartfelt thank you will make a BIG impression on your candidates. 📧💓

  1. Drop the jargon

Following up is crucial but it won’t be nearly as effective if your follow-ups sound robotic or distant. This tip comes from HR guru Liz Ryan, who writes that so much of the old, super “business-like” way of talking is impersonal and just straight up unnecessary. 🙅‍

Liz recommends a more personal approach such as inviting the person to look at your company’s social media or mission statement. This subtle shift in tone can have a big impact on potential candidates or applicants who are used to being approached with a jargon-heavy copy/pasted message.

  1. Respond personally when you can

Many names will come across your desk and it may feel impossible to remember them all. That’s ok. 

A completely personal response is always best but if you just don’t have the bandwidth, use an email template with one personalized line that references the candidate’s qualifications, experience, or interview.

Most recruitment management systems make it easy to add personal notes about each candidate, but even if you’re using a homegrown system, it won’t take a ton of extra time to add a column for personal notes. 

(Pssst. If you’re a Breezy user you can easily add notes to each candidate profile.)

  1. Use a smart ATS

The hiring process has plenty of moving pieces and unfortunately, names and faces can easily get lost in the shuffle. 

A smart recruitment management tool can take the admin burden off your back so you can spend more time interacting with your candidates. 👍🏽

Here are some of the things to look for in a super smart ATS:

  • Is it fun and easy to use?
  • Does it integrate with your most-used job boards?
  • Does it streamline the application process for both you and your candidates?
  • Can it help you parse and engage candidates?
  • Does it come with a friendly chatbot who can help you communicate with candidates?
  • Is it fully optimized for mobile?
  • Can you easily send automated emails to all your applicants at every stage?
  1. Overcommunicate

When it comes to applicant happiness, there is one VERY easy way to set yourself apart from the pack: communicate, communicate, communicate!

Applicants always appreciate updates, whether it’s an acknowledgment you received their job application, a request to schedule an interview or a note letting them know they haven’t landed the job.

We know what you’re thinking: “There's no way I have time for that!”

We get it. With Breezy’s Stage Action feature you can set up automated actions that are triggered as you move candidates through the pipeline. These actions range from automated candidate messages to requests for team feedback.

Sound simple? That’s because it is. 😉

Pipeline Stage Actions in Breezy

 

Create a stellar candidate experience that brings in the best

Ready to make qualified candidates LOVE you?

From cleaning up your hiring process to automating your communication with candidates, the steps to an unbeatable candidate experience can be surprisingly easy.

But even though each of these steps is pretty simple when looked at individually, they can start to feel overwhelming when you put them all together. 

That’s why candidate management systems are your friend.

When your hiring workflow is on point, it’s so much easier to put all the pieces together and focus your energy on building a real connection with your best candidates. You'll see with greater clarity who your most qualified candidates are, using the right info from the right people. (No inbox digging required.)

So whether you’re at the beginning of your recruitment journey or looking to clean up an old hiring system, the trick is to get your tools in place first to make sure you have an awesome process that works for you and your candidates.

Ready to make qualified candidates LOVE you?

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