5 Actionable Steps to Improve Your Company’s Candidate Experience

Empathy. Compassion. Decency. Common courtesy. These are words and phrases used in many social media posts describing key missing ingredients in a jobseeker’s candidate experience.

Do you bake empathy as a core value in your hiring initiative, recruiting program or talent acquisition leadership approach? Are we failing as employers to account for this necessary element?

As we speed through the digital age, turbo-charged by COVID-19, the human factor within hiring programs is diminishing at an alarming rate. Generic, electronic correspondence reigns supreme!

I’m not suggesting we collectively need a company representative hold a heartfelt discussion with every applicant. But I’m proposing you provide simple feedback, responses to inquiries, and closure with candidates, who are genuinely interested in your open positions and waiting for an update.

This is the minimum degree of empathy your hiring process needs. Simple human interaction can make a huge difference in a candidate’s experience.

A woman looking at the monitor and talking to candidates online.

My Personal Journey

People are not commodities and should not be treated that way. Like many jobseekers, I came through a challenging job search of my own in 2020. I experienced being ghosted or never received any follow up after hours of interviews, assessments, discussions and presentations. Of course, this was extremely disappointing. But enlightening at the same time.

With more than 20 years as a talent acquisition and recruiting professional, I was always under the impression that the candidate experience across the industry was subpar. I have tried to do my part to raise the bar.

Wow. I was not even in the same ZIP code as reality.

The candidate experience across all industries—except a handful of experiences—is dire. It’s much worse than I imagined. This has renewed my commitment to improve candidate’s experience for any talent acquisition (TA) program under my purview.

Frustrated female employee rubbing head during work.

Overcoming Objections to a Better Way

So, are you doing your part?

This is where my talent acquisition colleagues bristle and get defensive, explaining how high their workload is and how they can’t possibly get back to every applicant. I hear you. I am you.

I do agree that it’s impossible to provide a personalized response to every single candidate who simply applies to an open position. If a recruiter is managing 20 open positions and 100 candidates apply to each role, it isn’t feasible to give meaningful contact to 2,000 people.

However, it’s reasonable to expect a recruiter to close the loop with those who have invested time in an interview process. In most cases, it’s as simple as sending a response to a follow-up email, letting the individual know he or she is no longer in consideration. That’s the minimum expectation to improve candidate’s experience—a basic level of empathy.

As a talent acquisition leader who has led TA programs, delivering thousands of new hires annually, I expect an elevated approach from my team that goes beyond minimum standards. Yet, I also recognize hiring volume can make candidate experiences inconsistent.

I understand most employers are under the impression that their overall candidate experience can be better. But taking the extra step, asking for feedback and measuring it, is the true test. Many organizations talk about enhancing their candidate experience, but too few appear able to make any headway and evolve past good intentions or ideas.

You shouldn’t claim to be “building a world-class candidate experience” without evaluating each stage of the process and actively working to improve the areas where it falls short.

Employees discussing on overcoming objectives.

Make It an Empathetic Experience

On the frontline, recruiters often drop the ball, because giving bad news stinks. My opinion: There’s a lack of leadership holding individual team members accountable, and that’s a huge part of the problem. It’s a simple concept, and good leaders will insist on an empathetic approach to follow up. Recruiters must be held accountable for a minimum standard.

With that as a premise, let’s discuss how we can potentially make a positive impact.

Here are five actionable steps you can take to improve candidate’s experience in your organization:

Step 1: Recruiting Team Leadership

As I said before, bad news isn’t easy to share. But recruiters must embrace it and get good at it. Without a talent acquisition leader on the ground committed to an optimal candidate experience, you will struggle to create a consistent experience for your candidates.

Insist on good follow up from your recruiters, especially for candidates who have invested time in multiple interview rounds, rescheduled calls, built presentations, completed assessments, traveled and jumped through hoops to accommodate short-notice scheduling.

Some recruiters are naturally great at it. So, leverage them to mentor others and create best practices collateral.

Recruiting team members joining hands with folded wrist.

STEP 2: Take to Heart Candidate Feedback

Don’t just assume poor feedback from a candidate about your hiring process is just a disgruntled person who’s salty, because they didn’t receive an offer.

Take time to speak to these individuals. Hear them out. Show empathy by listening to them talk through their experience, as this can help improve deficiencies in your hiring workflow. You may learn your process has gaps or team members have areas needing development.

This personal discussion may save you from another poor online review or a scathing social media post. Embrace empathy!

STEP 3: Measure the Candidate Experience

Use surveys to assess how you are doing. Build a new hire survey for every new hire to complete as part of your onboarding process. If you do this correctly, you can generate accurate feedback on each stakeholder or group (HR, recruiting, interviewers, etc.). You can even create a scoring system and KPIs, which can be used as a performance metric.

Additionally, consider building a survey that’s available for external candidates who participated in your hiring process, but weren’t hired. You can expect mixed feedback here, but that’s okay. Use the external feedback to look at trends or outliers. This data can help you improve in areas where the workflow may be disjointed and identify specific areas where you can improve the journey for your applicants.

Employee working with laptop on measuring candidate experience.

STEP 4: System Training

Be sure your recruiters know how your applicant tracking system’s auto-response process works. Teach them when it’s appropriate or not appropriate to use auto-responses to preserve a candidate’s experience.

I have received auto-response rejection emails from companies that were still interested in me. This happened because a recruiter created a new requisition and closed the old job for internal administrative reasons, inadvertently engaging the auto-response function.

This was an unfortunate mixed message. It created anxiety for me as a candidate.

STEP 5: Personalized Approach

Some applicants have invested significant time in your process and deserve a more empathetic approach. If they reached the final round and weren’t selected to get an offer, I recommend a five-minute call to share this news, allowing them to react.

It’s not easy, and you may hear some choice words. But this can make a difference and is a respectful approach, which may salvage a candidate for a future role. Pay it forward. It isn’t all about today.

Recruiters can also gain credibility and enhance their personal recruiting brand.

happy employee online interview can improve candidate's experience


Infusing empathy to improve candidate’s experience requires leadership to reinforce its importance and act when recruiters ghost candidates or leave them hanging.

A world-class candidate experience takes extensive commitment and dedication. It doesn’t materialize because everyone wants it. Remember, my point of view spans both sides: The jobseeker’s perspective and the recruiter or hiring stakeholder who intimately understands how various, unanticipated scenarios can impact and improve candidate’s experience.

I’m committed to an empathetic approach to hiring. Are you?

Happy employees smiling and shaking hands after a successful hiring process.

Here’s some good news, as your hiring volume swells and threatens to break the workflows you thought were strikingly scalable. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are advancing and adding more value, ready to positively impact the recruitment industry.

Conversational AI bots can already help at various stages of the process, especially with those high-touch, low-value tasks like basic screening questions, interview scheduling or standard inquiries about your organization’s benefits or policies.

These bots can also begin to add a human factor, if used correctly during the scheduling or auto-response stages. When they speak on behalf of a stakeholder who the candidate interacts with, it provides a credible experience for your applicants. If you’re overwhelmed by volume, I encourage you to research recruitment AI tools and consider an investment in 2021.

You can start learning more about how innovative technology can simplify your recruiting, hiring and onboarding processes. Just inquire about System Soft Technologies’ Talent Solutions and our automated technology solutions.

In the meantime, tell me about your experience as either a jobseeker or an employer. I’m eager to read your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author: Ronald R. Fish Jr.

Ron Fish serves as the Talent Acquisition Leader at System Soft Technologies. Ron has more than 20 years of know-how as a talent acquisition pro and is known throughout the industry for setting the bar high when it comes to building high performance teams. His passion for spearheading innovative talent delivery strategies, diversity hiring initiatives, talent branding, talent acquisition process transformation, improve candidate’s experience, and hiring projections and forecasting ranks just above his love for hiking the trails in the hills and mountains of North Carolina.