The Candidate Experience: How to Get it Right

March 22, 2023


The role of the candidate experience in hiring

Whether you’re a job seeker or a recruiter, the hiring process can either leave you feeling elated, empowered, and excited or dejected, frustrated, and maybe even a little bitter. The problem is, when the experience lands candidates into that latter category, it has a negative impact on a company’s ability to hire top talent. That’s because top candidates these days have options. They won’t tolerate a poor experience, so they may drop out of a hiring process or reject an offer if their first impression isn’t up to snuff. Perhaps even worse, they’ll spread the word. 72% of candidates who have a negative experience will tell others about it, creating a ripple effect of bad press in the market.

This probably isn’t breaking news to hiring managers or candidates. What is new, however, is the way COVID-19 has changed the playing field. While we know the pandemic has fundamentally changed the world, including the dynamics of the job market, we can’t underestimate its impact on candidate tolerance. Across the globe, people are recognizing that time is short, and they’re simply less willing to put up with bad experiences.

The result? The world of hiring is becoming more candidate-driven. Millennials used to get a lot of flak for entering the job market with what seemed like an undeservedly entitled attitude. Now, even the older generations are recognizing that they actually do have a right to a positive and respectful work environment. Candidates should know that these are acceptable expectations to have of a company. Especially considering the fact that we spend a third of our lives at work.

I talked to two of my favorite people who have both turned down incredible jobs because of a poor candidate experience. One’s a millennial (we’ll call her Millennial Misty), the other is one of the best CMOs in Seattle (we’ll call her Superstar Sandy). Both are adamant that if their first impression of a company through the recruiting or interviewing process doesn’t align with the values the company claims to have (and that attracted them to the role in the first place), then they’re out. I also got my partner, HR recruiting rock star Chris Englin, to weigh in on some of their hot takes.

Here’s what it all boiled down to: a list of do’s and don’ts for employers and candidates navigating the job market. 


DO: Write a clear, honest job description.

DON’T: Waste candidates’ time with a job description that sounds good but isn’t really representative of the job.

When job descriptions aren’t well-written, they attract the wrong candidates, which ultimately wastes everyone’s time. What’s more, it can lead to some seriously dissatisfied (see: bad press-spreading) candidates. That’s because as Millennial Misty puts it, “there’s nothing more frustrating than going through the time-consuming, often emotionally draining hiring process only to find out that the job you thought you were applying for is not actually the job they’re hiring for.”

Avoid the unpleasantness with a well-crafted job description. Applicants deserve to have an understanding of what the job would look like and what it will take to be successful in that role, so go beyond just a list of duties. Spend the time to include what the person in that role is expected to accomplish in a year, who they’ll work with to achieve those things, and what type of person is most likely to succeed. The goal is to have someone read your posting and say, “Wow, it looks like they read my resume and wrote this job description just for me” – that’ll give you the best candidates and not waste the time of folks who don’t fit the bill.

DO: Set candidates up for success.

DON’T: Leave them in the dark.

Candidates don’t want to dive into your hiring pool if the waters are murky and difficult to navigate. I was disappointed – nay, horrified – when Superstar Sandy recounted an experience of going into an interview loop without knowing who would be on the other end of the Zoom. The lack of transparency, she said, “challenged my patience and challenged my time.” Even worse, the inability to effectively prepare for the conversations meant “The only one who got anything out of it was [the employer]. I signed off knowing I didn’t want to work there.”

If the goal is to stump your candidates and test their patience, go ahead and throw them into the dark, deep end. But if you want candidates to show up as their best selves, treat them like humans and throw them a line. Even if your interview scheduling is automated, take the extra time to customize those invites and give candidates the information they need to succeed. The names and titles of who they’re meeting with is the bare minimum, especially if you only have one hour to impress a top-notch executive that has the potential to transform your organization.

DO: Screen like a human.

DON’T: Screen like a robot.

Candidates for more senior roles expect a privilege that comes with years of experience and a reputation that precedes them: they’re not going through an automated screening process. Superstar Sandy admits “I have no chance in [heck] of getting through a system. That’s not how I write my resume and that’s not how I present myself.” If you screen like a robot, especially for more senior roles, you run the risk of weeding out great candidates who expect their experience to speak for itself.

When recruiting for less senior roles, automated screening tools won’t catch the intangibles that make all the difference. Younger professionals are looking to build their experience, and their short resumes often don’t reflect their worth. Unless a role can really be described by a collection of bullet points (some do, most don’t), your best shot is getting a real human to assess their potential for success and growth at your company.

DO: Recruit for longevity.

DON’T: Obsess over “time to fill” metrics.

This one comes from Chris (and I concur wholeheartedly): recruiting is hard. Successful recruiters need the technical skills to do the job and the people skills to develop relationships with candidates. In-house recruiters are also often up against aggressive “time to fill” metrics that throw that second, people-centric skillset out of balance. And yet, it’s what gets people in the door. Chris’ advice to recruiters is this: “If you want to find quality, diverse candidates, who will stick around, you need to increase your time to fill. You need to spend the time developing a personal relationship with candidates, because those are the ones that will progress and thrive in an organization.”

DO: Walk the walk.

DON’T: Talk the talk.

Alignment goes both ways. With candidates, you expect what you see on their resume and what you get in an interview and post-hire to align. The same goes for employers: candidates expect alignment between what you say and how you act. If not, they won’t come work for you.

Millennial Misty walked away from a dream job, “because there was a disconnect between what they said their culture was and what they showed me it was.” She spoke of how throughout the hiring process, she’d “been fed this story of how important relationship building was, and how much they valued the people at the company. And yet I couldn’t believe how awful the candidate experience was. If this was how they treated me through the recruiting process, how would I be treated as an employee?”

Well, Misty, probably not so good. This now takes us to our advice for candidates as they go through the hiring process:


DO: Trust your gut.

DON’T: Tolerate disrespect or dishonesty.

Candidates expect recruiters to be culture ambassadors for their company. If they get a sense during the hiring process that the culture doesn’t align with their own values, or that it wouldn’t be a place worth spending their time, they’re going to walk away.

Superstar Sandy says she now takes a play out of the millennial book, “Time is short. I’m not signing up to work with just anybody anymore.” She’s walked away from top-notch offers because if she’s going to spend time away from family and friends for work, it has to be worth her while. Her advice for candidates? “I’ve never had to rely on my intuition like I do today. If you go into interviews and they’re disrespectful, or their reactions are disingenuous, that tells you everything you need to know.”

DO: Advocate for yourself.

DON’T: Get pushed around.

This one’s from me. You know your worth and you know how you deserve to be treated. If you’re not being set up for success throughout the hiring process – whether that’s not getting the names of people you’re interviewing with, or not being told the salary of the job you’re applying for – ask for it. Sometimes, it’s just a detail that got missed along the way and a company is happy to pass that information along. Other times, it’s intentionally left out and they won’t provide it. You’ll never know if you don’t ask. And yet the answer just might tell you everything you need to know.

You don’t have to go it alone.

Hiring is hard, for candidates and employers alike, but you’re not alone. We’re here to provide expert guidance to our clients and candidates so both can have the best possible experience. It’s why we help our clients craft job descriptions, conduct searches, and screen candidates. We’ll even train clients on how to conduct thoughtful, respectful interviews that will get them – and candidates – what they need out of the process. It’s also why we spend time with our candidates preparing them for interviews so they can put their best foot forward. If you’re looking to hire or looking for your next opportunity, give us a call or drop us a line. We’ll do what we do best so you can have the best possible outcome.

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