Candidate Experience – yet another term for buzzword bingo, or is there more to it than that?
The candidate experience is part of employer branding. Employer branding, however, goes far beyond the mere external presentation of the company as an employer; it also has an internal effect and, for me, is part of the corporate branding, to throw a few more nice terms into the room for buzzword bingo.
The candidate experience includes the experiences that applicants have with a company before they apply, during the application process and beyond. Experience has shown that at this point the question arises: “But isn’t that all part of the Candidate Journey? Why add another term now?”. This question is justified, after all, it sounds similar. The Candidate Journey¹ encompasses the path, the journey of the applicant from the job search, to the application, through the selection process to the acceptance or rejection. It is not said for nothing:
“If someone goes on a journey, he can tell a story.” (Matthias Claudius, German poet)
The candidate experience is all about the applicant’s point of view, about the experiences they have during the application process. And that is why it is good if a company, or the people who deal with recruitment in this company, think about these experiences and above all about the effects they can have.
Phases of the Candidate Experience
It is possible to divide the Candidate Experience into 3 phases:
- the pre-application phase,
- the application phase and
- the post-application phase.
The pre-application phase includes everything that the applicant learns about the company in the run-up to the application. On the one hand there are
- reports from friends of the company’s employees,
- the image of the company,
- what products it makes,
- where can you find information (brochures, social media, job fairs, etc.).
An important point is also the website and the job advertisement, what does a company say with them? And, this should not be underestimated, what about evaluation portals? Here, too, potential new employees can get a first impression of the company.
If the company has been able to make a halfway good impression in advance, they are happy to get in touch or send an application straight away and the cycle of the selection process and the various rounds of interviews is set in motion. There are plenty of opportunities to gain experience here.
- What is the contact like?
- Are the contact persons in the company friendly?
- Do they answer quickly?
- Is communication open and clear, or does it seem to take an eternity to get answers?
- How do the job interviews go?
After the application phase there are two possibilities, a rejection or an acceptance.
- How is the rejection sent?
- What kind of impression does it leave on the applicant?
- Does it contribute to the company’s image account?
- What happens in the case of an acceptance?
- How do the contract negotiations proceed? Is the big stick unpacked and the negotiations really tough again or is it a togetherness?
Once the contract has been signed, the real work of persuasion begins. Can the tension or the good impression be maintained? The candidate experience does not end with onboarding². It’s like a relationship: in order to turn the feeling of first falling in love into a long-term relationship, it has to be worked on continuously. A candidate experience therefore runs for a very long time and does not end with the conclusion of the contract by the company.
Theory Meets Practice: Good Times or Bad Times?
So much for theory. What does it look like in “real” life, in practice? What goes well and what doesn’t go so well? To stay with relationships: if one of the two pretends in advance, things can go really wrong and a divorce is inevitable.
A very typical story from normal working life can start like this: a company presents itself as modern and open, the facade is right and in the job interview applicants get the impression that people are working together who have similar ideas and speak the same language. An employment contract is signed and suddenly there are changes in plans, “working on your own responsibility” becomes “doing the work” and sentences like “I don’t remember that, we’ve always done it that way here” are uttered. It should be clear that in such a situation motivation falls below zero and the positive experiences beforehand are no longer enough for a good and trusting working relationship.
But this is not about employer bashing, but about what works well and what approaches can be adopted. There are a few experiences that I have personally made that have stayed with me for a long time.
- When the first job portals appeared, I found a job ad that completely appealed to me. It was written in a completely different way than the usual 08/15 job advertisements and so – completely against my principles at the time – I simply wrote an application in the field where only the accompanying text was supposed to go. I wrote what moved me and interested me in the job, just from the gut and got an invitation to the interview, which lasted about three hours. After that, there was some back and forth writing, phone calls, a second job interview and then the employment contract was just a formality. In all the time I was with this company, there was just good communication and the external image matched the internal image.
- After the birth of my first child, I was looking for a job again after a move and kissed a few frogs in the process, but one company or person in particular stuck in my mind. I had applied for a job, a trial day was arranged and I got a call from the HR manager. He was very sorry, but the candidate who had been there that day for the trial work was 100 per cent convincing and they had decided in her favour. This was not good news for me, but the man was absolutely honest, authentic and thus left a good impression on me. Every time I drive past this company, I have to think about it and how this man managed to convey something negative for me really well after all.
- Then, of course, there are the applications where I am still waiting for a response or where there is a standard letter and only the names of the candidates are exchanged, or the job interviews that go along the lines of “good cop, bad cop”. You can do that, but you can also let it be. Because do I want to work somewhere where games are played?
- And then there’s the situation where commitments are made but they can’t be kept, but that’s not a bad thing if the reasons are communicated. This is important on both sides and for both sides. Sometimes life gets in the way and as long as this is communicated transparently and there is mutual understanding, then that is also fine.
What is involved in a good candidate experience or what helps to make the experiences on the candidate journey sustainable and good experiences? The larger a company is, the more important it is to have very clear processes and defined rules. But these rules also apply to small companies. One is to be authentic. If my company is conservative and has certain structures, a fruit basket and a foosball table in the lounge, which is then also not a chill zone, won’t help me. Only if I as an employer stand by my values do I have the chance to find the employees who really fit my company.
Authenticity leads to the next point: reliability. I respond to an application as a company and don’t make anyone wait or even beg for a response. I wouldn’t do that with my customers either, otherwise my appearance wouldn’t match the inside of my company.
To put it briefly: it’s all about communication. Clear, timely and open appreciative communication is the key, because it is about long-lasting effects of experiences that can have an impact on more than the applicants, namely on the reputation of the company.
Antje Tomfohrde works in the field of social media and communication and additionally as a freelance lecturer and e-tutor for social media. From her point of view, good communication, both externally and internally, is the basis of a company’s activities, whereby the employer brand is inseparably linked to the corporate brand.