Improving the Online Candidate Experience

Finding talented individuals with the strengths, competencies and experience necessary for success is challenging. Engaging them and convincing them to apply is even more difficult.

Often, it is the end-to-end candidate experience the company provides that makes the difference, according to 2013 data compiled and analyzed by the Talent Board, a nonprofit talent management research firm where the author works.

Today’s candidates are more informed and connected than ever. They know what a good candidate experience should be and won’t hesitate to talk about a negative experience with their peers and social networks.

In the three years the Talent Board has conducted its candidate experience research survey, the organization has received responses from more than 75,000 candidates. And while the broader trend has stayed mostly the same — candidates want to be treated with respect throughout the recruiting process — Talent Board research has revealed several trends in how recruiters and companies are addressing the importance of a positive candidate experience.

Improved Communication
Broadly speaking, exemplary talent acquisition organizations in 2013 took a more proactive position on communicating with candidates (Figure 1). These companies consistently encouraged — and in several cases required — recruiters to communicate with candidates about their status, a contrast to the two years prior, in which many organizations did not require recruiter communication with applicants.

Though it was encouraged, almost 60 percent of organizations surveyed in 2012 did not require recruiter communication with candidates. In 2013, that percentage sank to about 16 percent, with an increasing number of organizations requiring recruiter communication either with a standard script or by providing detailed reasons.

Additionally, beyond the automated “thanks but no thanks” letter, more organizations are spending time investing in a personalized message or even a phone call. Roughly 17 percent of organizations surveyed in 2013 said they require detailed and supportive reasoning in their feedback to candidates, compared with just 7.6 percent in 2012.

Making these simple adjustments, the data suggests, is seen as a way to not only enhance the company’s reputation but also to encourage candidates to apply in the future. These candidates will also be more likely to convince peers to apply.

The positive direction on candidate communication is amplified by the reality that the average applicant volume per position has nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to Talent Board data. What is equally interesting is that the higher volume of applicants doesn’t necessarily equal a higher volume of unqualified candidates (Figure 2).

In fact, 2013 data suggest that while 48 percent of applications received are still not qualified for the position, that percentage is much lower than it was in 2012 (71 percent) and 2011 (68 percent). Recruiters are faced with pre-recession applicant volumes and the imperative to create a positive experience for all applicants regardless of qualification.

Today’s workforce is composed of multiple generations. However, there was no major difference in what each generation expects from the candidate experience in terms of response, support and quality feedback, the 2013 data found. Nor was there a difference in the reaction of these candidates, positive or negative (Figure 3).

Despite the continued conversation about the need for businesses to adapt for Generation Y with different workforce styles, the results of the 2013 data suggest the recruiting process requires the same level of detail and attention across all generations.

Technology and the ATS
A common complaint raised by recruiters is their dislike of the applicant tracking system, or ATS — what most companies use to organize and track large volumes of candidate information. According to historical Talent Board data, candidates also often voice dismay with common online application systems.

In most instances, a career website created three years ago is now obsolete and an unnecessary burden to candidates, data suggests. That extensive job application form designed to capture everything ultimately turns away great candidates and frustrates others.

Moreover, there is a shared dislike from both sides of the recruiting equation of the technology used to broker the job posting, applicant submission and the workflow activities necessary to record hiring decisions.

While the overall market view is negative toward the recruiting technology experience, the Talent Board survey data from 2013 and 2012 suggest a stronger embrace of several other recruiting technology options.

Figure 4 reflects the percentage of organizations that either had in place or were exploring different recruiting technology options between 2012 and 2013. The top performing organizations in 2013 all used an ATS for recruiting, while 98 percent mentioned using background verification providers — up from 85 percent in 2012. These companies also embraced interactive technologies like video interviewing and mobile applications.

Additionally, the latest trends in technology are tailored to engagement. This is reflected in 2013 Talent Board data, where there was a greater than 10 percent increase in use. These forms of technology include assessments, candidate relationship management, onboarding, video interviewing and mobile.

The results from the past three years show steady improvements in the online candidate experience, with the trend expected to continue in 2014. As the data suggests, recruiting continues to become more competitive, meaning the candidate experience can make all the difference.

Elaine Orler is the chairman and co-founder of the Talent Board, a nonprofit research organization. She can be reached at