How to improve candidate experience: a guide for small businesses

Anna Roberts

Nov 2017 ⋅ 5 min read

Cartoon of a smiling man using a laptop with a speech bubble reading 'applied' above it

Finding the staff you need to run your business isn't easy.

The first step is getting your job ads seen by potential candidates.

Then, you need to convince them to apply.

And after weeks or months of tests and interviews, your chosen candidate might turn down your job offer.

In other words, at every stage of the application process a chunk of your candidates will decide not to proceed, leaving you with a much small pool of talent to draw on.

There could be numerous reasons for their decisions (not of all of them within your control), but it's important to realise that the application process itself might be putting them off.

The nature of the recruitment process from the applicant's perspective is also known as the candidate experience.

If you find that you're losing a high proportion of candidates throughout the recruitment process, it could be that your candidate experience is to blame.

Today, we look at how to address this problem.

But first: why bother?

Why candidate experience matters

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If candidates find the application process frustrating, they won't be quite so enthusiastic about the job anymore. They might not even bother submitting their application.

On the other hand, an enjoyable, streamlined process will encourage the applicant to proceed and maybe, eventually, accept your job offer.

Beyond that, candidate experience is important for a number of reasons:

  • It affects whether the applicant will apply for any vacancies at your business in the future
  • The applicant will tell their friends about their experience, potentially persuading or dissuading them from applying for roles at your business
  • The candidate might discuss their experience on social media
  • Once the applicant starts work, their candidate experience will impact their initial engagement levels in their new role
  • It can differentiate your company (and employer brand) from others

Overall, a positive candidate experience will boost applicant numbers in the short and long term, and a negative experience will drain your talent pool.

How to Improve Candidate Experience

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Stage One: The Application

Imagine you're a job seeker and you're looking for a new marketing manager role in your local area.

You've exhausted your network, so you head to a job site like Indeed or Reed and type the role name and area into the search bar.

You're met with pages upon pages of results.

Once you've sorted out the filters, there are still dozens of adverts to look through.

Skimming through the ads, you find one that looks promising. You submit your CV, but then you're redirected to a long application form that wants you resubmit all the data in your CV. It's not worth your time, so you move on.

This is just one of the ways that companies fail on candidate experience at the very first hurdle.

If you think this aspect of your hiring process could use some work, here's where you can make the improvements.

  1. Add personality to your job ad. Make your company's brand shine through to set your advert apart from others.
  2. Make your application page mobile-friendly.
  3. Shorten the application (or at least give a time estimate if you must use a long form).
  4. Only ask candidates to fill in an application form or submit a CV, not both.
  5. Provide a space where candidates can submit a cover 'letter'.
  6. Don't hide the salary or wage.
  7. Reduce the list of required skills. Don't make your advert overly daunting.
  8. For CV uploads, don't set a stingy file size limit - this will frustrate candidates who've included high quality images within their CV.
  9. Ensure the application process is accessible, for example, by offering an alternative way to complete the application.
  10. Provide an email address for applicants who want to ask additional questions about the role.
  11. If you require personal information during the application, explain why you need it.
  12. Send a confirmation email once the application is submitted, explaining what happens next.

Stage Two: Narrowing the Field

Maybe your issues aren't anything to do with the initial application process, and are everything to do with what happens next.

If you've done any job searching recently, you'll know that the majority of applications are met by silence.

A follow-up email might coax an apology and a polite rejection from the company, but in most cases you'll hear nothing at all about an application that might have taken hours to complete.

Don't be that employer. Instead, make it your mission to keep lines of communication open and make the journey from application to final interview as painless as possible.

  1. Explain the process, including a rough timeline.
  2. Send a text message or email confirming the date and time of the upcoming interview(s).
  3. Always communicate 'next steps' after each stage.
  4. Try to get in touch with candidates within a few days of their application.
  5. Provide clear instructions for every task or interview (eg. how long to set-aside for the interview, specific task requirements, parking/transport details).
  6. Provide information on interviewers.
  7. Explain the format of each interview.
  8. Share company information openly, such as scope for progression, what a typical day looks like and details on the team they'll be working with.

Stage Three: Making an Offer

The final stages of the application process provides candidates with a lasting impression of your company - so it's critical that you leave things on a high.

  1. Inform applicants of the outcome as soon as possible.
  2. Provide feedback to rejected candidates in an honest but constructive manner.
  3. Provide an avenue for rejected candidates to seek further feedback in case they have any queries or concerns.
  4. Call or email the successful candidate to discuss salary, hours and so on as soon as you have made the decision.
  5. Send out the formal offer letter promptly, via first class and/or recorded delivery.
  6. Don't offer a lower salary than you previously discussed.
  7. Get in touch again before their start date with information on onboarding and what to expect on their first day.

Stage Four:  Start Date and Beyond

Your new employee may no longer be a candidate, but as far as they're concerned, the candidate experience extends to cover the onboarding process and those initial weeks and months at your company.

Employee onboarding is a skill in and of itself, but at the bare minimum, be sure to prepare the following ahead of their arrival:

  1. Make sure everyone in the office is expecting the new employee.
  2. Set up their workspace the day before their arrival.
  3. Set up logins for email and other software in advance.
  4. Consider assigning a 'buddy' to the new employee who will help them learn the ropes.
  5. Provide an employee handbook.

Final thoughts

Out of the points we've covered in this article, we recommend choosing a handful to work on immediately, and several more to address in the months ahead.

Improving your candidate experience should be an ongoing process. It'll take time before your hard work pays off and you start to see the benefits we talked about at the start of the article.

But the most significant change you can make is to think about the application process from the candidate's point of view, instead of solely from your own.

A candidate-friendly approach might cost a little more cash up front, but it'll certainly be worth the investment in the end!