Candidate Experience: The Ultimate Guide to Building a 5-Star Process

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
November 25, 2021
min read

Candidate Feedback Template

Here at Applied, we care about candidate experience. 

Across over 500,000 applications, we have a 9/10 average candidate experience rating, including unsuccessful candidates.

We’re not saying this to show off, but as proof that the practices we’ll share below work.

And no, you don’t have to use a platform like ours to have candidates singing your praises - all of this can be implemented without spending any budget whatsoever.

Avg candidate experience rating w? Applied (chart)

Here’s why candidate experience matters

If your candidate experience is lacking, this could have serious, measurable consequences for your bottom line…

Consider these stats:

  • 1 in 4 candidates walk away from your process with a negative impression of your organization.
  • 1 in 3 candidates will tell their friends about their bad experience 
  • 12% will post on social media
  • 1 in 5 stop using your product or service

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 

In case the above stats weren’t concerning enough, further surveys around candidate experience suggest that the numbers above may just be the tip of the iceberg...

According to CareerArc’s research, 72% of candidates who had a bad experience told others about it.

Although the prospect of a handful of candidates boycotting your product/service may not sound too damning, this can start to add up at scale.

Virgin Media calculated that a bad candidate experience costs them $5.4 million every year.

However, if you nail your candidate experience, this viral effect can also work in your favour.

According to a Talent Board North AmericanReport, 81% of candidates will share a positive experience with family, friends, and peers, and 51% will share their positive experience on sites like Glassdoor or LinkedIn.

81% of candidates will share a positive candidate experience

Even anecdotally, we’ve seen for ourselves that by improving candidate experience in recruitment, candidates will - without prompting - share their experiences on social media...

Candidate feedback on Twitter

Candidate experience in recruitment - here’s what works

Make sure your job ads set expectations 

The first touchpoint most candidates will have with your organization is a job ad.

Perhaps the most simple, yet meaningful thing you can do to set expectations and set yourself apart as being transparent is to list the salary.

As you can see from the chart below, this is the single most important piece of information in a job description.

Whilst you obviously don’t want to attract candidates whose sole motivation is money, you also have to acknowledge that this information will help candidates make up their minds about whether or not the application is worth their time.

The most important information in a job description (chart)

Despite this demand for salary disclosure, so few organizations do this.

So, if you want to gain the edge over your competition, start listing the salary (even if just a range) in your job ads.

It’s not just salary you should be transparent about - 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 organization. 

Here’s an extract from one of our job ads for an engineering role:

About Our Engineering Team 

A note about our team: we place high value on trust, communication, ambition, empathy, accountability, user & data driven decisions, and have a bias towards action and curiosity.

We’re a team who:

  • Are passionate about making high-quality digital products that add real and meaningful value to people's lives
  • Can collaborate effectively, inspire those around them, and start from a position of empathy
  • Understand the business objectives, the needs of the broader team and work with product managers to prioritise accordingly
  • Are comfortable working in an early-stage environment, and the uncertainty (fun!) that change can bring. Get the right balance between beautiful code, and getting things done

You don’t need to go into detail about the nuances of life at your organization. A quick overview of how your team likes to work together and the values they embody will give candidates an idea of what life at your organization might look like.

As for the actual work they’ll be doing, we’d recommend listing a few bullet points detailing what a candidate's first 6 months would consist of.

Here’s how we did this for a Product Designer role:

In your first 6 months at Applied you'll:

  • Make big contributions to our product. You'll be working with the product and engineering team from day one and getting stuck into our scrum process from the very start.
  • Conduct user research independently and pre-empt some research using experience. Involve everyone in a culture of research, design, and testing.
  • Contribute to the product roadmap, facilitating team workshops and working to identify improvements to the product and then deliver beautiful designs to implement
  • Help shape our process - we love a good retro and continually inspecting and improving how we work is core to how we work as a team

At the end of your job ad, let candidates know what the hiring process looks like.

According to Careerbuilder’s research, 83% of candidates say it would greatly improve their overall experience if employers could set expectations about the recruiting process.

Tell candidates what the next steps of the hiring process will be and what might be expected of them.

Psst… we built our (free) Job Description Template to make crafting inclusive, high-converting job descriptions as straightforward as possible.

Inclusive job description template

Debias your screening process

Your standard CV screening process is biased, boring and doesn’t accurately identify the best people for the job.

Candidates know that bias exists…

This is why a 2016 study found that 40% of minority job applicants admitted to “whitening” their CVs.

And this isn’t just a case of candidates being cynical - there’s a wealth of research that tells us candidates from minority backgrounds tend to be disproportionately overlooked.

CV callbacks by name/photo (chart)

So, to optimize your candidate experience, you need to show candidates you’re taking steps to mitigate some of this bias. 

The first thing you’ll want to consider is anonymizing your screening.

Information like names, addresses and dates of birth can all trigger unconscious biases that cloud our decision-making.

Since we know bias training doesn’t work - the only way to prevent this from happening is to remove identifying information from applications altogether.

If you want to take debiasing up a notch, we’d recommend ditching CVs completely in favour of anonymous skill-based assessments (which is exactly what we do here at Applied).

One of the most predictive forms of assessment is work samples.

Although originally tested in the context of manual work - we’ve adapted this tried and tested means of predicting future job performance for office-based roles.

The basic idea behind work sample tests is to simulate the job as closely as possible in order to directly assess the relevant skills.

Example work sample

As you can see from the example above, scenarios are posed hypothetically, so that candidates are given the chance to showcase their skills, regardless of their experience.

Instead of a CV or cover letter, we ask candidates to answer 3-5 of these questions.

Although seemingly more labor-intensive for candidates, it turns out that people genuinely appreciate being given an opportunity to prove their skills rather than making assumptions based on their background.

Below is just a single review from one of our customers’ roles - but this is reflective of the feedback we tend to see across the board.

Applied process feedback

The status quo around candidate experience seems to be that the application process should be as easy as possible.

Whilst your hiring process should be as frictionless as you can make it, this doesn’t mean it should be easy.

Make no mistake - testing skills using work samples will likely cause some candidates to qualify themselves out…

But this isn’t a bad thing.

The purpose of any hiring process should be to identify the best person for the job. 

If a potential candidate isn’t passionate or skilled enough to answer your work sample questions, this’ll save you time later on in the process interviewing unsuitable candidates.

Use interviews to test skills, not personality

When it comes to interviews, the more objective and skill-focused they are, the better your candidate experience will be.

Interviews should be an opportunity for candidates to show you their skills and present the very best version of themselves.

As a hirer, it's your job to help candidates demonstrate their ability, rather than catch them out.

Whilst they might give you some idea of how somebody might perform should they get the job, education and experience are just proxies for actual skills… and fairly inaccurate ones at that!

Predictive validity of assessment methods (chart)

To ensure all candidates feel they’re being given a fair chance to show what they can do, you’ll want to add structure to your interviews to make them more uniform.

Ask all candidates the same questions in the same order.

Instead of asking about backgrounds or previous work experience, use your interviews to simulate tasks that would realistically occur in the job.
How to turn interview questions into work simulations

You can give candidates real projects or data to think through or even role play certain tasks like client meetings or presentations.

If you’re going to demand some work upfront from candidates, then make sure this is sent to them well ahead of time.

If your interview questions are fairly in-depth like the example below, these can also be given to candidates ahead of time.

For most roles, thinking on your feet won’t be a core skill… So why test for this if it’s not relevant?

Example case study

Keep candidates in the loop

Simply keeping in touch with candidates throughout the hiring process is an easy way of improving candidate experience.

Research shows that a lack of response from employers is the number one cause of frustration for candidates.

The result of addressing this is also pretty well documented...

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.

Whilst platforms like Applied will help you automate these updates, there’s no reason you can’t manually stay in touch.

Sending regular emails lets candidates know that you haven’t forgotten about them and that their application matters.

Even the knowledge that you actually want them to finish their initial application can make a difference to candidate experience - which is why we send reminders to candidates before our roles close.

Since surveys tell us that candidates appreciate you setting expectations, you should also email candidates ahead of their interviews, letting them know what kind of dress code and questions they should prepare for.

Similarly, it's also worth providing directions and confirming the time/date. Interviews are scary enough, without worrying about where to go on the day… clear up any details you think candidates could overthink or stress about.

Give personalized, useful feedback

Here at Applied, we believe that every candidate deserves feedback.

If you only take one thing away from this guide, then make sure it’s this - investing in feedback is probably the single most effective means of improving candidate experience.

Right now, very few employers give adequate feedback. 

Just take a look at the results of this poll we conducted in our Candidate Experience Webinar...

Webinar survey results (chart)

And this has only got worse over the course of the pandemic:

1 in 4 job seekers received mo response to applications during the pandemic

Most candidates are lucky to receive any updates whatsoever… so imagine the effect of providing useful feedback.

At Applied, we’re able to generate automated feedback through our scoring system.

For every work sample and interview question, we use a 1-5 star scoring rubric to objectively measure how closely the answers reflect the skills we’re looking for.

Example interview question with scoring rubric

We have three reviewers for each assessment round. This ensures that any individual’s biases will be averaged out, and the rule of crowd wisdom dictates that this generally leads to more accurate scores too.

These scores are then averaged out to build a candidate leaderboard.

At the end of the process, we’re then able to map candidates’ skills against the rest of the pool, so they know how and where to improve.

Here’s a snapshot of what feedback looks like through the Applied Platform...

Applied Platform feedback

Whilst your typical applicant tracking system obviously won’t enable you to generate feedback like this, you can still score candidates in order to provide objective, skill-based feedback.

The more closely you can give your feedback to a candidate's actual performance (as opposed to personality or background), the more fair your process will seem.

Whilst candidates you offer the job to are likely to rate your process more highly, it's the other 100% of unsuccessful candidates whose experience really matters.

Here’s how to write a rejection email that doesn’t leave candidates with a bitter taste in their mouths...

Note: when writing your rejection email, stay away from any language that suggests personality had anything to do with decision making ('we thought' or 'we felt'). 

Thank them for applying

Thank candidates for taking the time to go through your process.‍

Tell them how their skills compared

  • Which areas did the candidate strongly in? 
  • Where did they score below average?

Give interview feedback

For each interview question, simply list which skill was being tested and the candidate’s score out of 5.

  • Q1. [Summary of question/ skill(s) tested]
  • Q2. [Summary of question/ skill(s) tested]
  • Q3. [Summary of question/ skill(s) tested]

Can you refer the candidates to another open role?

If a candidate wasn't the right fit for a job but has strong skills, you could refer them to another open role they would be better suited to. 

Here at Applied, we've successfully hired team members who initially applied for a different role.

Here’s what unsuccessful candidates had to say about our candidate experience:

Candidate feedback on Twitter
Candidate feedback on Twitter

Applied is the essential platform for debiased hiring. Purpose-built to make hiring empirical and ethical, our platform uses anonymized applications and skill-based assessments to identify talent that would otherwise have been overlooked.

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