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Why A Poor Candidate Experience Can Destroy Your Business

I’ve trained literally thousands of ‘rookie’ recruiters in my time, and at some point in their induction I would usually ask them the following question:

Who do you think is more important? The client or the candidate?

After an awkward silence, unfortunately there was usually a clear majority voting for the client.


Somebody then usually responds with, “Obviously because they’re the ones paying the bill!

Case closed.

Hold on just a sec. Not so fast!

But without a candidate, you’ll never make a placement. And without a placement there will never even be a bill to pay!” I would then typically say before looking around at a room full of confused expressions.

The problem is that often this ‘rookie’ misconception doesn’t go away and in the minds of too many (even experienced) recruiters the candidate always comes in second place.

Hence the ‘not so positive’ reputation that many recruiters have out there in the candidate community. Please understand that this post isn’t about the relationship that recruiters have with their candidates. It’s focusing more on the experience that candidates have when dealing with employers looking to recruit directly, and the impact that a negative candidate experience can actually have on their business.

But I certainly can’t take all the credit for the information I’m about to share. One of my colleagues over at Software Advice (an online reviewer of recruiting technology) recently shared their latest study with me and it got me thinking.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone reading this blog post that the candidate experience is an integral part of the recruitment process that can impact how effectively an organisation is able to recruit quality candidates.

But when the team at Software Advice conducted their survey with nearly 400 respondents from around the world who had applied to a full-time job in the previous 12 months, the results were pretty eye opening … even for someone who has been banging the drum about candidate care for over 20 years!

Here are some of the key findings:

1. The top causes of negative candidate experiences

Unclear application instructions are the primary cause of a bad candidate experience, cited by 93% of job seekers. Extremely long application forms are the second most common cause of a negative candidate experience, cited by 90% of job seekers. Negative candidate experience But look at some of the other triggers for a negative candidate experience: minimal job description; no salary information; inability to make contact with the hiring manager.

Without wanting to sound too alarmed, this is pretty scary stuff. If you can’t provide a candidate with a detailed job description, then they will simply assume the position doesn’t exist and they will immediately lose interest, and you will lose credibility as an organisation.

Without sufficient salary information, candidates may spend time putting together a detailed application only to be let down (and becoming pretty p*ssed off) when they eventually learn how vastly different (in either direction) the salary actually is.

All that effort for nothing … And as for not being able to reach out to someone personally, this can be extremely off putting … especially for senior level roles when candidates will have questions and more often than not will want to discuss the opportunity before applying. It makes sense not to get your candidates off side before they even submit their application.

Some of these contributors to a negative candidate experience are very easy to rectify. It all comes down to being prepared well before you even advertise the role.

2. Suggested improvements to the application process

More than one-third of job seekers (34%) said that more communication during the hiring process would improve their candidate experience. The primary thing job seekers said would improve their candidate experience is a clear timeline of the actual hiring process (cited by 74%). Improvements to application process When recruiting talent for any organisation, communication has always been (and will always be) key. You need to make the candidate feel important and wanted.

If the candidate is kept in the dark, or only receives automated / electronic messages with no human contact whatsoever during the application process, what do you think they will start to believe happens inside the actual organisation? Are people kept in the dark? Are there no personal communication channels?

The best candidates will self-eject and look for another opportunity elsewhere.

3. The impact of communication on the candidate experience

This chart also reveals some pretty interesting facts about the way candidates think about the importance of communication during the recruitment process. Impact of communication Way back in the ‘90’s, when we couldn’t create automated email sequences to respond to candidates and we actually had to pick up the phone and speak to every single one of them, we were able to quickly gauge how a candidate was feeling … and respond accordingly.

Also there were no social media platforms for ‘irate’ candidates to share their frustrations and blacklist your organisation with everyone they knew.

Today, in 140 characters and a push of a button, if you’ve created a negative candidate experience, the world will know about it straight away and your employer brand could be tarnished. So you might want to implement more quality checks and protocol around the candidate experience.

Candidates aren’t mind readers. They genuinely want to be given as much information as possible before applying. And while some candidates may consider ‘no news to be good news’, others may consider ‘no news’ to mean they’ve been rejected. You don’t want them making the wrong assumption.

4. Put yourself in your candidates’ shoes

How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of some of your company’s automated email responses? Worse still, how would you feel if you just never heard anything after submitting your application to a company you had your heart set on working for?

Have you gone through your own application process first hand recently? I don’t just mean thinking about how the process works, but actually really going through it.

Go on – create a dummy résume and submit it through your careers page portal and see what happens. Is the résume submission process even intuitive? Can you apply via a mobile device? Are you asked to spend 30 – 45 minutes responding to a series of pointless questions?

What’s going through your head while you do this? Perhaps your thinking “this is 30 minutes of my life I’ll never get back“!

What about when you receive that automated response from no-reply@[your company].com that may as well say, “Thanks for taking 30 minutes to submit your application. You’ll probably never hear from us again!

Now think for a moment about how many candidates are actually self-ejecting from the process at this point during their application. What if the best talent aren’t even completing their application, choosing instead to abandon because it’s simply all too hard?

Trust me … a candidate is never going to accuse you of over communicating.

Far too many candidates are starting to feel disrespected and even resentful during the recruitment process. Whether you’re a business owner, hiring manager, or internal recruiter, it’s up to you to ensure that you treat your future potential employees with the respect they so rightly deserve.

Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years. Follow me @paul_slezak.

  • JW

    Great article, Paul. I’d add “negative interview experience” to the mix. Some examples….client interviewed candidates using Skype; candidate has webcam, but client did not. So — the interviewer could see the candidate, but the candidate could not see the interviewer. This was for a technical competency interview, and this was with a technology company. Candidate thought this was really odd, and when my client decided to pass on the candidate, the candidate’s response was “I’m OK with it, because I thought that interview was weird”. The other obvious example is having people participate in the interview process who are lousy at interviewing, and/or don’t like to interview. Candidates pick up on this, too….and definitely tell their friends/family.

  • David Hunt, PE

    The treatment of candidates is a sore point, and not only because I’m currently in the job market.

    Consider this essay I just read. I cringed when I read it – and not because I thought it was out of bounds… rather, because such things have happened to me, and because I can name several people off the top of my head who ALSO would relate similar experiences. Indeed, I would be harder pressed to find someone whose experiences in their job search would NOT echo:

    Multiply these experiences scores – hundreds – thousands of times, with people talking and sharing those experiences with others. Thus, the entire candidate reservoir is being poisoned.

  • Zack

    Currently in job market at the moment. Unbelievably shocking. Sheer arrogance, rudeness and I don’t care attitude coming from these people. Oh I mean employers. Candidates like one before with Skype video who could not see them. You cut the call then call back without video and pretend there are technical issues! Stop the must take their crap and suffer mentality. This is not the way to get hired. Set clear boundaries. I have ended interviews mid-way, halted applications and declined offers if there is not a good ‘fit’, i.e. employer cause for concern behavior. My self esteem is intact and I feel better about myself going forward which will result in job offers with decent respectful employers. Think about it from employer view. They know they are mistreating you and you are allowing them. How do you look like a viable or strong candidate?Ignoring the screamingly obvious always comes back to bite!

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