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Are We Overthinking Candidate Experience?

helpwanted-1024x768I’m finding an inordinate volume of dialogue in recent times regarding theexperience of things – user experience, viewer experience, consumer experience, patient experience, traveler experience; and yes, candidate experience. I guess we’ve come to thrive on labeling stuff so we can carve out panels for discussion, conferences, award ceremonies, and certainly blog posts to rehash old things made new again. We’re funny like that, humans. Take corporate culture (please). Business has been around for a few centuries, right? No one ever talked about culture, or someone being a cultural fit (or having to be a cultural fit to get hired), even 20 years ago. You were offered a job because you knew someone, or you had skills and experience the company desired, or you demonstrated that you could actually do the work – or some combination therein – not because you fit into the company’s culture as defined by the contemporary label we toss around. And, as far as candidate experience was concerned, the company treated you with respect during the hiring process, or they didn’t – that was your experience. You decided, good or bad and sans a label to define it. Yes, we’re funny like that. We love to give things a label so we can mill and refine them into oblivion. That’s progress!

It’s Getting Real

I’m not writing to say that candidate experience is not a real thing. It’s very tangible, and if you are not paying attention, you’ll find yourself losing great candidates to those who do. In fact, it’s so real that, not only have we labeled it and defined it, now candidates actually feel entitled to it. Yes, top performers no longer expect to simply be treated with respect and decorum. They actually measure and compare the experiences they have while interviewing for jobs. Is that weird? I think not. In fact, I believe it’s something we’ve always done, the difference being that it now has a name. And, with that name comes experts, thought leaders, delineation, gradient and guidelines. We should be careful about labeling things, lest we create a lot of unnecessary work. Or maybe that’s why the job market is tight – because we invent things to which we pay attention and to which we pay people to pay attention. Fascinating, in my view.

We Did It Before We Named It

Hasn’t candidate experience been around since the beginning of business as we know it? I can recall the first corporate job for which I interviewed. Yes, it was in a time before candidate experience entered our vernacular. They had someone who seemed very organized schedule the interview. Upon arrival I was given a tour (aerospace manufacturing facility) and then escorted to the department (IT). I was scheduled to meet with three people – hiring manager, director and a technical peer. Everything happened in a very orderly fashion, right on schedule. After the interview, I was escorted out and told what to expect as a next step and in what timeframe I should expect it. I received a call, as promised, and was offered the job verbally followed by a written letter. A background check ensued and in a few weeks I was onboarded, also in a very orderly fashion. My office was ready along with my computer and a first week training schedule. Snap! And it didn’t have a name or any particular initiative to drive or measure it. It just materialized organically.

What Happened?

That brings about my main point. What happened? I can only surmise that we either got so bad and unorganized in this seemingly simple process that we had to invent candidate experience so that someone would pay closer attention, or top candidates started expecting more – that is, the talent market for high performers got so tight that corporate America was forced to create an experience designed to woo them, court them and make them feel wanted. Or maybe, like in so much of the human endeavor, our progressive nature led us to create something that didn’t need creating. Here’s a thought… did our social connectivity through sites like Glassdoor create a competitive landscape for candidate experience to which we simply couldn’t forego special attention? College sports may have led the charge long before it came into vogue in the business world. I propose that it started in the early-90’s in that crazy period we called the dotcom era – you remember, when cars were being given as signing bonuses for even mediocre tech talent, because there were so few to be found. Still, nothing indicating we had a name for what a candidate experienced – we were just begging the talent to come hither and would pretty much do anything to attract, including some things I would like to forget. I digress.

Just the Facts

Here’s what we need to know. Yes, what a candidate undergoes when they encounter your company during the hiring process is important. To believe that anyone with a high-demand skillset doesn’t have multiple options is just naïve, and yet this naiveté persists. Managers who still believe that good engineers should just be happy to spend a day interviewing with the team and should hold their horses while being jerked around for weeks thereafter in a less-than-organized recruiting process are living in some bizarro world where only Feldman resides. It’s akin to seeing the outside of someone’s home – usually an indicator of what’s going on inside. Most candidates with options run away.

Candidate experience, if we’re going to call it something, is simple blocking and tackling. Most candidates I encounter don’t want any special treatment, but everyone has natural inclination to expect respect. Do just these things and you’re ahead of the game.

  1. Prepare. Before you contact a candidate, do some homework. Make sure you know exactly why you are contacting the candidate and, based on what you know (online profile, portfolio, resume) make sure you draw some relevance to what it is you’re selling. This means not spraying email to your entire database of email addresses while looking for a big data quadricorn. It also means being courteous during a first encounter – “this is who I am, this is why I’m contacting you, do you have a few minutes or is there another time we can schedule so that I can convey something special that you may be interested in.” Being prepared during the first encounter will go miles beyond what most recruiters do.
  2. Know. This is a no-brainer but I’ve received so many calls where the recruiter can’t answer any questions, can’t convey a coherent value proposition, and can’t even tell me anything about the manager or team I would be working for (how do they work, how many are there, what makes someone successful, etc?). Yes, this goes to preparation as well, but these are basics. And, if you can’t empathize with what it is I do for a living, then have a recruiter who can call me back.
  3. Anticipate. All positions are different. In your prep you should anticipate the questions that are sure to be asked by good candidates. Talk with your hiring manager – they can help here. Also, anticipate any rebuttals you may need to leverage if someone pushes back – not interested, not a good time, stop calling me. Whatever you do, leave a professional fingerprint on the communication. Good recruiters don’t give up easily, but they also know when to acquiesce.
  4. Educate. This is a big one, but fundamental. Have a brief discussion with your interview team to make sure everyone follows 1-3 above. They should all be prepared to receive candidates, on-time and with knowledge. The hiring manager owns this ultimately, but recruiters should reinforce. Make sure the manager is available first, and if all possible to greet the candidate. This is huge. It shows care and ownership. Convey this to the hiring manager and make sure that he or she understands the importance of being punctual and that the same is conveyed to the team.
  5. Decorate. Lacking a better verb, the point here is to find the best room in the house in which to interview. That doesn’t mean the engineers’ huddle room with leftover pizza, ripped sofas and beer stench in the 70’s shag carpet from the weekend kegger/hackathon. If you have a place you put customers when they visit, that’s a great interview room (hopefully). Candidates should be treated as well as customers.
  6. Communicate. Before, during and after. Make sure a candidate knows how to get to your office, knows what to do upon arrival, knows what to expect during the interview, knows who to expect during the interview, and knows what to expect after the interview. Again, best case scenario is that the hiring manager has first and last touch of the candidate during an onsite encounter. Otherwise, the recruiter should be a point person for all other communication. If there is a single fly in the recruiting soup, this is it. Lack of communication not only kills good candidates, but spreads like wildfire across an employer’s brand. That’s another discussion, but trust me, it’s bad.

This sounds like a litany of labor just to ensure a good candidate experience. But wait, there’s more. The experience doesn’t stop at hire or even first day. In fact, onboarding is big piece. We don’t have room here, but some companies do a decent job of getting candidates through the interview and hire process only to be dumped on a desk upon arrival with no direction, no purpose, and no plan. What many companies fail to recognize is that this hire is still, by all measures, still a candidate and still checking you out – only now you’re paying them to do it! When it comes to a full-cycle recruiting and hiring process, this is the ball that most often gets dropped because talent acquisition gets them through the door but the business has to take them the distance.

Ahh, the Simplicity

You don’t have to hire an expert to have what many would describe as a great candidate experience – one that will certainly add points to your employer brand over time and will gain you the respect of all candidates, not just the ones you hire. It’s these simple things, the basics, the no-brainers, the fundamentals. Do these and you’re already ahead of most talent competitors, and by miles. You don’t have to attend any conferences on candidate experience, and you certainly don’t have to aspire to win a Cande award. These are good things and I’m not implying otherwise – why shouldn’t we learn more and recognize good behavior. I’m simply of the belief that we’re not entitled to awards for doing the things we are supposed to do. Is there a Razzie version of the Cande? Now that would be entertaining, and something to which we could all contribute.

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