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The Candidate Experience – 10 Things You Can Do To Make It Great

‘The Candidate Experience’ refers to the experience a candidate has from the moment they first read your vacancy ad, to the time they receive a rejection or a job offer.

In the current era of hundreds, if not thousands, of applications for single jobs, many candidates are receiving pretty rubbish treatment. 

Why does this matter to you, a hiring manager, business owner or HR professional? Consider the results from these recent large surveys: only 19% of candidates were more likely to buy from or use the services of the company they’d recently applied to, and 38% said they were less likely to. Eighty-three percent of applicants said they’d shared their experience with friends and family, with only 37% saying they would recommend the company.

In short, not only does the way you relate to candidates affect your chances of securing the best talent, it can also have a huge effect on your company’s brand. These survey results are out of the US, but a focus on candidate experience is arguably even more important in New Zealand, where the market is so much smaller.


We were recently contacted by a high-profile ICT company who wanted us to help them find their next Financial Controller. At first pass, the position sounded great (sexy high-growth company, loads of opportunity to influence the direction of the business etc), however; we knew the back story. The company first advertised the role themselves seven months ago, then went on to list it with several agencies (we lost track at five). We had been speaking to candidates for months who’d applied for, or worse, had interviewed for this role (some had attended three interviews) and never heard back. There seemed to be about four different versions of the job description floating around.

The take-home message was that here was a company whose board was incapable of making decisions and who treated candidates less like potential employees or consumers, and more like someone who they’d never have anything to do with again. And these were people who were in positions with their current employers where they were potentially responsible for making a decision on whether or not to use this company’s services!

Of course, this is a worst-case scenario and one you should be at pains to avoid, but why not aim to distinguish yourself from your competition by striving to deliver an excellent experience from start to finish?

Yes, it takes time and resource, but if you’ve got the gift of the gab maybe you could make a case for funding it from your company’s marketing budget!


  1. BEFORE YOU LIST YOUR ROLE, GET ALL YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW. Get your recruitment budget and salary approved, and get agreement on the job description and candidate profile from ALL possible stakeholders. Don’t try and sneak a new hire through, hoping once the execs see how brilliant your candidate is they’ll approve the salary, or mark our words – it will come back to bite you hard! In these belt-tightening times, you can expect scrutiny from above for even lower level roles, and often at the eleventh hour. Be proactive in getting everyone’s commitment, or risk leaving a trail of highly peeved candidates in your wake.
  2. IF YOU’RE PLANNING ON USING AN AGENCY, CHOOSE WISELY. Things to consider: How well do they understand your role – are they experts in your field? Imagine them talking about your company to a potential employee – would they do a great job of representing you? What processes do they have in place to communicate with applicants?

    If you’re using an agency exclusively, have a clear agreement on a deadline for results – you should expect them to treat your role as a high priority. If you’re using multiple agencies, we suggest using a maximum of three (and really, that’s pushing it). Make sure everyone is going to market with a consistent message from you. Remember, an agency not only represents candidates to you, they also represent your business to the market, so you need to make sure you are happy with them!
  3. WRITE A GOOD AD (OR ENSURE YOUR AGENCY DOES). It should clearly and unambiguously convey what your company’s about, what the candidate will be doing, and what you’re looking for. Sure, you’re going to get a few (alright, many) supermarket checkout operators who are going to apply to your CFO role no matter what your ad says, but the majority of people are applying because they genuinely believe they fit the criteria.
  4. HAVE A CLEAR ROAD MAP OF THE HIRING PROCESS, AND COMMUNICATE IT EARLY AND OFTEN. This way all parties in the entire process understands exactly what they need to do and when. Nobody is left in the dark. This will make it easier on you in the long run. 
  5. RESPOND TO ALL CANDIDATES WITHIN 48 HOURS. With today’s technology, there’s no excuse not to send an automated confirmation email at the very least.
  6. GET BACK TO CANDIDATES WHO DON’T MAKE THE LONG LIST AS SOON AS YOU MAKE THAT DECISION. Often this less-than-pleasant task is left until the role is closed, but candidates will appreciate being told as soon as possible, rather than being left hanging.
  7. KEEP OTHER CANDIDATES REGULARLY UPDATED ON THEIR PROGRESS. Sometimes, for reasons out of your control, you cannot employ right away or you’re busy with other projects in the midst of your hiring one. Keeping people up to date with where you are in the process and what their progress is will alleviate any negative feelings they might have towards you if they don’t hear from you for a while. 
  8. MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION AT THE INTERVIEW. Make sure reception knows to expect your candidate and gives them a warm welcome. Be professional – turn up on time and make sure the interview doesn’t run over, particularly if they’ve taken time out of their work day. Be an enthusiastic ambassador for your company (sure, all companies have a few warts, and you don’t want to paint a false picture, but if you can’t think of anything nice to say, why are you there?).
  9. SEND A THANK YOU EMAIL AFTER THE INTERVIEW. Candidates are frequently advised to do this, but why not do this as a hiring manager? We have a client who is a very busy CFO, but who makes a point of doing this with all candidates he meets. It generates terrific goodwill and you can bet those who didn’t get the job still came away with an excellent impression of the company.
  10. GIVE PROMPT, DETAILED FEEDBACK TO UNSUCCESSFUL LONG-LISTED CANDIDATES. A good rule of thumb – the more time the candidate has invested in your process, the more time you owe them. A short phone call or an email to someone who just sent their CV and a cover letter, something more substantial for someone who’s had to navigate an in-depth online application, and a decent phone conversation to anyone who’s attended an interview.

    If this all sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. Do the smart thing and farm it out to a professional specialist agency – we can recommend a really good one!

Do you have any good tips on how to make potential new hires feel all warm and fuzzy? Share it with us in the comments below. If you’re about to go through a rigorous hiring process, check out our 4 Interview Mistakes That Will Stop You From Hiring Top Talent.

About the author

Angela Cameron - CA, CPA

Executive Director

A chartered accountant by qualification, she is a recruitment leader by nature.

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