Creating a positive candidate experience

Joe Caccavale

7

July

2020

|

15

min read

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75% of job seekers consider an employer’s brand before even applying for a job.

If your employer brand isn’t nailed down, my guess is you’ve already lost talent to your competitor(s).

But the buck stops here.

The solution is a simple one: create a genuinely positive candidate experience, and your employer brand will improve… dramatically!

At the risk of blowing our own trumpets, let me share this stat with you: 

Across over 150,000 applications, we have a 9/10 average candidate experience rating.

No, this isn’t just showing off, just proving that what we’ll cover below works. 

 ... and no, you don’t have to use our platform to achieve this yourself we’re giving away all our candidate experience secrets.

This is how we’ll transform your employer brand by acing candidate experience...

The candidate experience guide

  • Why candidate experience matters
  • How to go about building a great candidate experience 
  • Step 1: Job Descriptions
  • Step 2: Screening
  • Step 3: Interviews
  • Step 4: Feedback
  • Keeping candidates in the loop
  • Why you should be showing your process is fair

‍What is candidate experience? 

Candidate experience covers a candidate’s journey from when they see a job advert through to sending the initial application, fielding interviews, and receiving (or not) the ultimate decision. And it’s massively important.  

Why candidate experience matters

Fact: 1 in 4 candidates walk away from your process with a negative impression of your organisation.

This is across all organisations, big and small, not just those with whacky, nightmarish hiring processes.

More likely than not, your organisation is no different.

The consequences of negative candidate experience

Then, of those disenfranchised candidates...

1 in 3 candidates will tell their friends about their bad experience 

Candidates bad mouth your company to their friends, and then those friends may well pass on the news about your lousy candidate experience.

And the friends of the friends may get the news - you see where I’m going with this?

12% will post on social media

This is where it starts going downhill, real fast.

P*ssed off candidates could have anywhere between 50-10k followers who now know not to bother applying to your organisation (and this is before thinking about shares/ retweets!). 

1 in 5 stop using your product or service  

Yep, you heard it right, some will never use your product or service ever again, nor recommend it.

I can personally vouch for this stat, having boycotted products following a shambolic candidate experience.

It’s worth noting that the numbers above don’t just apply to poorly performing candidates. These detractors aren’t just the people you wouldn’t have hired anyway!

So, if a role you’re hiring for has 50 applicants…

12 will have a bad experience

4 will tell their friends 

2 will post about it on social media/ leave review

10 will never use you again 

This is just for one role! How many open roles do you currently have? 

How many negative posts or lost customers would you accumulate over a year?


When it’s all said and done, a bad candidate experience damages your employer brand.

 This damage means that bridges are burned where candidates are concerned, which in turn makes it increasingly difficult to attract great talent.

Given that 55% of talent leaders claim they have an active employer brand strategy, can you really afford to miss the mark?

The importance of employer branding in recruitment

If your employer brand isn’t up to par, your competitors will attract the talent that you lose out on.

Source: Jaeanquart & McCarney


It’s not just the talent game you’ll be losing.

90% of people say they do online research before making a purchase.

It only takes one negative review to lose up to 22% of potential customers.

And it takes 4 positive reviews to negate 1 negative review. 

Now think back to how many roles you’re hiring for...

The good news is that positive candidate experience doesn’t require excessive (or really any) spending. 

This is how to get candidate experience right and build an employer brand you can be proud of. 

How to improve employer branding and create a positive candidate experience (according to behavioural science)

Building a strong employer brand through recruitment is straightforward. Here are the steps we’d recommend to making a genuinely enjoyable (and fair) candidate experience.

Step 1 - Your employer branding starts with your job descriptions

Hundreds of potential applicants will see your job description, but only a fraction of them will apply.

This is your chance to reel in talent and make a solid first impression of what your organisation is about - even for those who aren’t going to apply.

You want to appear fair and transparent from the outset.

The first thing to consider is fairly obvious: make sure what you’re asking for is realistic and fairly compensated.

Want an easy edge over your competitors? Specify salary!

You should also make sure you list all benefits and remote working options, the more information you freely share about the role and its perks, the better.

We wrote an in-depth guide to crafting the perfect job description, which covers how to list requirements, benefits etc. 

According to Linkedin’s data, the #1 obstacle candidates experience when searching for a job is not knowing what it’s like to work at an organisation. 

Chances are your competitors are missing the mark on this too, so here’s another opportunity to get the leg up.

Be frank about what it’s like to work at your organisation day-to-day.

What is the team like?

What is the culture like?

Nobody wants to step completely into the unknown, so put candidates’ minds at ease by painting a clear picture of what they can expect. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s not free lunches and inter-office slides galore, just be honest, why do you like working at your organisation?

Then, in a few bullet points, tell candidates what they’ll be up to in the first 6 months of the role - any projects they’ll work on? Daily duties?

In a similar vein, consider being upfront about what the rest of the process will look like. What stages are to come and what will they consist of?

In my personal experience, some of the worst candidate experiences have come from not knowing what was next and being presented with new hoops to jump through every time I thought I’d reached the end.

This is how NOT to sell your company


Key takeaway: sell your organisation by being describing what it’s like to work there, being upfront around what the role entails and specifying the salary.

Step 2- Give candidates a real flavour for the role using work samples

If you want to do something truly different from the rest of the pack, try ditching CVs.

It sounds a little radical but bear with me...

Putting candidate experience aside for a second - CVs just aren’t very good at assessing talent.

This is because they rely on education and experience, which have been proven to be pretty damn ineffective at predicting actual ability.

You can sink your teeth into the science of CVs here. We went DEEP on why CVs have to go here with a truck-load of research and data.

Now, circling back to how this affects your candidate experience, most applicants are fully aware that their CV is one of 100+ others, and that all it takes is someone with a degree from Oxford and experience working at Google (for example) to scupper any hopes of hearing back.


A candidate may have all the skills needed to do the job, but because they didn’t have access to the same opportunities as others, they’ll never hear from you. 

This is why work samples work wonders for your candidate experience - candidates will feel like they’re being given the chance to show their skills, rather than attempting to signal to them via their CV.

Work samples are job-specific, hypothetical questions/ tasks that are designed to simulate the role itself.

At their core, work samples are a means of testing candidates on the exact skills they’ll be using in the role. You’re essentially asking candidates to perform (or at least think and strategise) as if they’re already working on the job.

This gives candidates a genuine feel for what the role would be like, and enables you to test them on what matters: their ability to do the job.

Given that we scrapped the CVs process entirely in favour of work samples, candidates are made aware that the playfield is very much levelled, and that we’re not judging them on anything other than their skills. - we never ask about background!

We created a easy-to-follow resource on creating work samples, but here’s a quick guide to whipping them up anyway...

  • Think of the skills required for the role. Come up with 6-8 skills, this can be a mix of technical and soft skills.
  • Consider what situations have or would arise that would test these skills. 
  • Then, turn these situations into work samples by posing them hypothetically, e.g. “Say x happened, what would you do?” You’ll need 3-5 of these questions.
  • You can also use mini-tasks, a manager role may require candidates to come up with a strategy for a project, a content writer role may ask them to write a 300-500 word blog post or a sales position may get them to write an outbound email.
  • Finally, come up with scoring criteria for each question.  It can be as simple as 1 1-5 scale with a few points for each score, this way you’ll know exactly who to bring in for interviews.

So, let’s recap where we’re at so far...

Your job description is upfront about the role, hiring process and salary - candidates know what they’re in for and can see that you’re being as transparent as possible. 

They’ll then submit their work samples - no education or experience required, just a pure test of ability and passion.

*You should already see some impact on your employer brand at this stage. Look at these tweets from candidates that just applied using work samples. They weren’t prompted to post, this is the effect of having a positive candidate experience.

 Key takeaway: Less biased, more skill-based screening gives candidates the impression that they’re being given a fair chance to showcase their ability

Step 3 - Use structured interviews to test skills, not personality

Newsflash: candidates don’t appreciate your brainteaser questions.

For a candidate, there’s no feeling worse than when you sense an interview is purposely trying to catch you out and make you come unstuck (trust me, I know).

Interviews are meant to be an opportunity for candidates to present their best selves. It’s your job to bring out the best in them, not crack them like an egg.

Asking about education and experience is a roundabout way of assessing whether or not someone has the skills to do the job.

Instead of probing candidates about the in’s and out’s of their experience, test their skills yourself by asking work sample-style questions.

Candidates get a fair and equal chance.

You get an insight into how they’d actually work.

It’s a no-brainer, right?

For the most predictive, bias-free interview questions, use the same approach as for work samples.

Take real-life (or highly likely) situations and ask candidates how they’d tackle them.

You could work through a case study too.

Present candidates with a project to talk through, a sales pitch to give or even some writing to critique. What parts of the role can you simulate?

*The only caveat here is that for bigger tasks (like a presentation/ pitch) you should tell candidates about these ahead of time, having a big task like this sprung on you can be pretty daunting, and needing time to mentally prepare is not a weakness.

At Applied, we use structured interviews. All candidates are asked the same questions in the same order and are scored using the same criteria.

Not only would we recommend you do the same, but we’d also urge you to make this process clear to candidates.

If you’re putting effort in to create a fairer, more candidate friendly experience, then show off your hard work by letting candidates know how they’ll be assessed and that the process has been de-biased.

When it comes to ‘culture fit’ and personality assessment, you might want to have a serious rethink... looking for people who are similar to and would ‘fit in’ with current staff is a recipe for bad candidate experiences and a non-diverse team.

You shouldn’t ask candidates personal questions about what they’re like outside of work or their favourite Friday night tipple.

Not only is this extremely biased, but it also gives the impression that you’re only looking for a certain type of person, which is guaranteed to tick candidates off if they feel they missed out because of it.

However, you can still test for passion and mission alignment. If everyone is working towards the same thing with equal levels of enthusiasm, does it matter if they’re an Arsenal fan or not?

You should ask questions about why candidates want to work for you. Instead of looking for signs that they’ll be ‘a laugh’, make sure you’re assessing their alignment with the values and mission of the team and organisation.

One of our go-to interview questions is: Why Applied, and why now?”

Simple. Effective.

As a final point on interviews, leave a decent amount of time (min 15mins) at the end for candidates to ask questions.

Although ‘any questions?” is probably uttered in most garden-variety interviews, you want candidates to feel that a chunk of your time has been set aside to put their mind at ease and ask you anything. 

Again, the key is transparency, try to answer questions as honestly as you can.

Key takeaway: conduct started interviews that simulate the role and try not to ask about candidates' backgrounds.

Step 4- Feedback is the key to candidate experience success 

If you take nothing else away from this guide, at least give feedback to candidates!

It doesn’t cost a penny, and will sky-rocket your employer brand to God-tier levels...

Because no other organisations are doing it.

Poll results from our candidate experience webinar - only 23% of attendees said that gave thoughtful feedback

Candidates are lucky to get a generic “sorry you were unsuccessful” email, I myself would write off an application if I hadn’t heard back in 3 weeks. This April I received a rejection for a role I applied to back in October *facepalm*.

So, imagine their surprise when they receive personalised feedback that actually shows them how they did at each stage and what they could improve on in future!

Look at this chart below, this is for unsuccessful applicants! 

We didn’t have to bribe them folks - you’re looking at the power of decent feedback.

Feedback is goldust... and you’re about to give your candidates a 24kt bullion.


Your feedback should be strictly objective and skill-based.

Let them know which areas they were strong in, and which they could improve.

This is where the scoring criteria come into play.

If your work samples and interview questions were all scored, you can use this to paint a picture of how the candidate performed across the various stages and against the required skills.

Below is a snapshot of what feedback looks like through our platform.

Whilst this would be a pain in the backside to create just through Google sheets, you get a sense of how we keep it impersonal and solely skill-focused.

All candidates need to know is how they performed against the initial job criteria, and how they fared against other candidates (at an aggregate level of course).

Our feedback is automated through the Applied platform, which you can try for free here.


Key takeaway: Personalised feedback is extremely rare, do this and you’ll be well ahead in the employer branding game.

Download your (free) candidate feedback template 

We took the philosophy behind our automated feedback and built this template for you to use. 

We kept it as simple as possible so that you can give best-in-class feedback even when application numbers are high.

Keep candidates in the loop throughout the process

Keeping in touch with candidates to let them know whereabouts they’re at in the process and what comes next is an easy way to improve your candidate experience.

Talent Board’s research found that candidates who received notifications during the hiring process rated the candidate experience 50% higher than those who didn’t.

Sending regular emails/ texts shows candidates that you haven’t forgotten about them and that their application matters - you actually want them to finish their application and see it through.

You could start by emailing candidates a few days out from their next interview (or whatever the next step is) to let them know what to expect (what will the stage consist of?) and to re-confirm the time/ place any other details that candidates may fret over.

You want candidates to feel at ease - if they do, they’ll remember that feeling... it’s a rare one where hiring is concerned.

Therefore, if they don’t need to worry about the dress code, for example, let them know in your email. Clear up any details you think candidates could overthink or worry about.

Key takeaway: send regular comms to let candidates know what comes next.

How to improve candidate experience in recruitment 

So to sum up, here are the main ways you can improve candidate experience from a soul-destroying process to one in which applicants walk away feeling positive (regardless of the result): 

  • Use simple, clear jobs ads 
  • Replace CVs for work samples 
  • Use structured interviews 
  • Give feedback 

Impact of employer branding on employee attraction and retention 

If you follow these steps to creating a glowing employer brand, you’ll soon reap the benefits. Blind hiring is a clear, straightforward and fair process that allows your organisation to find the best person for the job; not only will they be the most capable at actually doing the job, but they’ll be more likely to stay around for the long-term. 

Apart from shifting to a blind hiring process, other strategies for retaining staff include improving company culture and investing in learning and development. 


Can you show that your process is fair? It’s worth making it known to candidates

As you saw from our data, even those who are unsuccessful will leave a positive review if they’ve had a good candidate experience.

This is largely due to the fact that the process is fair and inclusive.

They might’ve come up short, but they know this was not due to bias. They’ll also be given the feedback that proves they were reviewed objectively and shows them the areas they could improve.

If you can show that your process is fair, then make sure you actually say this in the job description, and at the start of each stage of the hiring process.

For most candidates, this will be a breath of fresh air.

An organisation that goes out of its way to ensure their hiring is unbiased and inclusive is a rarity and a talking point - so make sure you’re one of them and your employer brand will thank you for it.

The chart below shows the importance of diversity to employees. If you can show that your organisation cares about diversity and inclusion, you could potentially attract talent from other organisations who aren’t pulling their weight.

Source: State of Startups 2019

Applied was designed to put fairness and candidate experience at the forefront of hiring. To learn more about how we re-imagined the recruitment process, browse our resources, or jump right in with a free trial.