At the end of every successful search is a happy candidate. What tends to be forgotten is that there are usually a few unhappy candidates as well. Hopefully, they’re just disappointed they didn’t get the job. But sometimes the discontent runs a little deeper. In short, they’ve had a bad candidate experience.
This matters. For a start, you might want to hire these people in the future. But even if not, no company needs people out there saying bad things about them…Often such reputational damage can be long-lasting. A couple of years ago, I worked for a UK bank who were struggling to attract bankers in the north of the country because of a disastrous hiring process undertaken ten years previously.
So how do companies guard against this? Easy. Don’t upset candidates in the first place. Obviously, you can’t offer every interviewee a job, but it should be relatively straightforward to avoid the following six mistakes…
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Mistake 1: Don’t Wait an Eternity Between Interviews
The most important aspect of any interview process is momentum. If a candidate provides good feedback on a meeting, you need to double down on that by scheduling the next stage as speedily as possible. And then don’t move it! We understand it’s sometimes difficult to align diaries, but too often senior leaders seem to think a candidate interview is the one thing in their calendar they can postpone or reschedule. Wrong.
The cost of dilly-dallying on that follow-up interview could be considered during the Candidate experience. In recruitment, absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. Candidates who are full of enthusiasm today might not be quite so enraptured next month. They may even have been interviewing elsewhere in the meantime. Wait too long, and they’ll drop out of the process altogether.
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Mistake 2: Be Clear About the Process and Don’t Change It
The question I hear most often from candidates is a bit like the one my kids ask me on long-distance car journeys. Are we nearly there yet? In both cases, it helps to be able to give a straight answer. The problem is, companies can be frustratingly vague about how long an interview process might take and how many stages it entails. For senior roles, it’s not unreasonable to schedule many rounds of interviews – that’s fine, but make sure the candidate knows this from the beginning. And then stick to it. Really, it’s just about managing expectations.
But each stage also needs to feel like it represents genuine progress. If multiple interviewers ask the same question, a candidate may feel they’re just going around in circles. Worse, they’ll develop a notion of their potential employer as disorganized and spoil Candidate’s Experience. In summary, decide who needs to meet the candidate, work out who’s going to ask what, and be clear about the process right from the get-go.
Mistake 3: Enable Candidates to Prepare Properly
There’s nothing more annoying than an underprepared candidate. But is it always their fault? They can only prepare if they’re allowed to. And this will depend on how much information they have. Is there a job specification, for example? Have they been told who they’ll be meeting and provided with a biography? If this is a follow-up meeting, do they know what the feedback was from an earlier meeting and therefore what points they’ll likely be quizzed on? Perhaps most importantly, have they been informed of the tone of the meeting? Occasionally, a candidate will be told they’re going into an ‘informal chat’ only to meet a barrage of competency-based questions. That’s a nightmare for everyone and crushes the candidate’s experience.
Of course, preparing a candidate is ultimately a job for your search partners but they can only do their job if they have the necessary wherewithal – that is accurate, detailed, up-to-date information.
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Mistake 4: Be Clear About the Process and Don’t Change It
For some reason, companies are usually a bit coy on the subject of remuneration until they get to the offer stage. We recommend the precise opposite to improve candidate experience. Say exactly how much you’re willing to pay from the very start. This has two benefits. Firstly, it sends out a very clear message that you’re serious about hiring; secondly, it means you avoid wasting time interviewing candidates who are out of range.
But here’s the other important thing – don’t suddenly change the pay at the last moment. It’s surprising how often companies do this. Of course, it’s tempting to see if you can get that stellar candidate for a few grand cheaper, but it’s also the perfect way to create a PR disaster. Having committed several weeks to the interview process, candidates will be understandably angry if it all seems suddenly to have been a waste of time, creating a bad taste during the candidate experience. Even if you and the candidate iron out your differences and come to some sort of compromise, they’ll be starting day one of their new job with a less than favorable view of their new employer. Not ideal.
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Mistake 5: Turn Off Candidates Promptly and Give Them Proper, Detailed Feedback
It’s slightly worrying how often and how fulsomely candidates thank us for getting back to them after a client interview. ‘Don’t all search companies do this?’ we ask ourselves…It seems not. Oh, everybody gets back to their favorite candidate, but what about the others? They still offered up their time and they’ll quite rightly want to know the outcome of their efforts.
Another related mistake is to turn off candidates and worsen the candidate experience without saying why. As recruiters, we can usually cobble together a few platitudes but far better if we can share precise, well-reasoned feedback. It won’t necessarily be flattering, but most candidates will appreciate a bit of candor. Not only does it provide closure on the process, but it also gives them something they can draw upon at their next interview. Better still, if you can season feedback with a sprinkling of praise (“They really liked X and Y but just felt you were a bit short on Z”) then that goes even further…
Mistake 6: Do Good News by Email and Bad News by Phone
In our tech-enabled age, there’s not much you can’t do via a computer. But can doesn’t mean should. If you want to tell a candidate they’ve been awarded an interview then by all means send them an email. But if you need to tell them they’ve been rejected, it’s far better to do it on the telephone. Immediately, you’ll come across as thoughtful, courteous, and compassionate – in short, all the values you’d want people to associate with your corporate brand.
Finally, never reject people on the same day they applied for a job. This sometimes happens with automated pre-screening systems. Very efficient, no doubt, but the optics are terrible. Most applicants will have spent an hour or more preparing their application, so to be sent a straight no almost by return email is bound to be dispiriting and may even be regarded as mildly insulting. The way around this is to build in a delay to the screening system whereby rejected candidates are only notified on day three or four. Better still, avoid automated screening systems altogether.