Most Companies Stink at Candidate Experience

It’s useful to play the part of a candidate on other companies’ careers sites every now and then.  And on your own careers site. You learn some things.

I have done this lately.

Mostly, what I learn is the rarity of great candidate experience

Despite rhetoric to the contrary on the ‘why work for us’ page, the application process often leaves me with the distinct impression that the company has an exceptionally narrow view of great talent, believes I have an endless supply of free time to jump through administrative hoops, and, quite frankly, would rather I just leave them the heck alone.

And I’m not the lone grump on this point. The stories I hear from others are less charitable.

We know that finding and bringing on great, talented people is really important to business success. 

We build careers pages and other collateral that talk about our great culture and all the wonderful things that come with working at our place of business. We know that if we invested half the positive energy on candidate experience as we do on customer experience, it would be a game changer.  And, yet, poor candidate experience continues to regularly besmirch the most impassioned, well-crafted employer brand.

So what is going wrong?

First, let’s talk about what employer brand really is.  It’s not just about snazzy websites, slogans about values, lots of generous benefits, and a cool office space.  Those kinds of things are just signals.  Signals of the thing-that-matters-most to any smart, talented person considering working at your company.

This thing-that-matters-most is how people treat each other.

How people in management roles relate to the people who report to them.  How people in other parts of the business relate to people in other functions.  How people who control the finances treat all-the-people by valuing (or not) the intangibles that influence happiness.  How the people who build the systems and tools that all-the-people use to do business prioritize the energy, attention, and patience of their colleagues. How people help each other grow (or not). How. People. Treat. Each. Other. This is what really matters to the people choosing whether to join (and stay) at your company every day.

If branding is a signal of how people are valued and treated in a business, then their experience as a candidate is THE BIGGEST SIGNAL OF ALL.   Think about it.

Let’s say you run a software company. Your customer’s experience has only a little bit to do with your marketers’ and front end developers’ ability to execute flawlessly on well-defined brand guidelines.  Your brand is more than that.  Your brand is the sum total of all interactions a customer has with your business.

The same is true for employer brand.  Customer-facing brand and employer brand must meld.  Or it’s confusing.  These are portraits you paint with the same palette.  These are stories you tell with the same voice, each reaffirming the accuracy of the other.

Let’s go back to my impressions after running the candidate experience gauntlet at a few places.

I read a careers page that talks all rainbows-and-sunshine.  I am excited.  Wow!  What a great place to work.  I want to be on that team!  I have my resume ready to go and my LinkedIn profile all spiffied up. Then I find a posting that looks relevant to my experience and click the “apply now” button.  Now I’m treated to an interminable cut-and-paste experience seemingly designed to optimize the efficiency of your resume screeners.

Sigh. Well, OK, I get through that.  Then I get a short auto-email thanking me and letting me know I might never hear back from this place ever if I don’t measure up.  If, when I do hear back, which the law of numbers says I won’t a significant number of times, then the response is often delayed.  And so on.  If you aren’t familiar with this process, ask around.  Lots of people are. Very few of them will tell you happy stories about it. These are the stories that signal how people-treat-each-other at that business. Your business.

But we hold ourselves to a high bar, you argue and excuse.  We have so many applicants we just can’t afford to give the kid glove treatment to every schmo who applies. Besides, people are clamoring to work at my company.  At least, they should be, because look at how fast we’re growing! Why should I waste time and energy investing in the user experience of applicants (and employees, for that matter)?

Stop. Would you treat customers this way?

If you do treat customers that way and on purpose, then, please, carry on.  To the rest of you, wake up. To be clear, it is absolutely true that the energy and excitement of growth is really appealing. It draws people in. Leverage that! Relying on growth energy solely– not the greatest plan.  It leaves some very key practices to chance and incongruent with your intended employer brand. That’s magical thinking.  I’ve yet to see a business succeed in the long run on magic alone.

Don’t confuse holding a high bar for entry with a reduced need to treat people well and with respect.

Be clear about the high standards and still be nice.

What if a potential customer contacted your sales team or customer service team asking about a product or service that is similar to what you offer but, gosh-darnit, you don’t currently offer it.  Do you just ignore them?  Do you treat them with the disrespect that resounding silence signals?

Of course not!  You are respectful, you thank them, and you explain what it is you do.  In return, you hope this not-yet-customer will go and spread the good karma about you to other not-yet-customers.  That’s how customer experience builds brand.  And that’s why you have people in your business responsible for making great customer experience and consumer brand happen.

The link between candidate experience and employer brand is no different. Have you thought as carefully about who is in charge of employer brand and candidate experience at your business?

Employer brand is everyone’s responsibility, not just HR’s.

Marketing is a great resource and an obvious one because they are often responsible for consumer-facing brand. Product development can show you how to treat candidate experience as a product your business offers.  Customer service can provide practices and success criteria that can be shared by those who are on-the-ground responsible for the experience of every candidate—recruiters, yes, and also hiring managers.

Which leads to an important point about managers.

The biggest impact on candidate experience comes from all the people who manage other people.

Why?  Because people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses, even when they haven’t really left yet and are just taking it out on the company on Glassdoor.

Glassdoor, people.  Glass.  Door.  People read that stuff.  Especially the brighter ones that you’d like to hire.  If you think online experience sharing sites like Glassdoor don’t influence your ability to find and keep great and talented people, think again.

[pullquote align=”normal” cite=”Steve Jobs”]Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.[/pullquote]

To sum up, there’s a whole lot that goes into delivering a great candidate experience that accentuates your brand.  Your employer brand tells people a story about how-people-relate-to-each-other at your company.  People you want to hire and keep want to work where how-people-relate-to-each-other works for them.

Make sure you are telling  the story you want to tell during the whole candidate experience journey.

If you are growing fast, you can get away with shortcuts in candidate experience, mostly because so many other companies do it so poorly.  That’s what we call an underleveraged opportunity. It’s a foolish business leader that allows such an opportunity lie fallow.

Don’t be that guy or gal.  How embarrassing.

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