What is Candidate Experience?

What Is Candidate Experience?

Every day, fresh candidate experiences are unfolding millions of times across the world. Job candidates apply at companies and have their first positive, negative, or neutral experiences.

Here at The Talent Board, we’ve gathered more than a decade’s worth of research on candidate experiences during the hiring process. Based on Talent Board benchmark research, we’ve found the following fascinating facts about the candidate journey.

Every interaction matters, from the first piece of information found to in-person experiences.

Early impressions stick, meaning a perception starts early and persists through additional cumulative interactions.

Fairness is a priority because sentiments about fairness tend to permeate the process.

Behavior follows from perceptions, which means candidates with positive perceptions tend to form interpersonal bonds, refer other candidates, make purchases, and spread positive goodwill.

READ MORE: The Power of Benchmarking Your Candidate Experience

Candidate Experience Makes an Impact

What does this mean for your company? First of all, it means that every experience a candidate has with your company is an opportunity to reinforce positivity. By the same token, every negative experience has the potential to harm your company’s reputation.

It also means people are talking more about your candidate experience than you might realize. Job candidates tend to talk about their interview experiences with friends and family. When the experience feels negative, they talk about it.

If something is right or wrong with your company’s candidate experience, you’ll see the impact in your reviews on sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, Fairgodboss, Seek, and many others. You’ll also see people chattering about it on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and anywhere else they connect with people online.

Two-thirds of candidates share positive/negative experiences publicly.

Just one-third of candidates say they keep this information private.

READ MORE: Candidate Experience Global Research Reports

The Candidate Experience Journey

Candidate interactions happen during a journey that follows six main stages. This is known as the Candidate Experience Journey, and it’s been a well-known part of the hiring process for decades.

Candidate Experience Journey

Fewer than 10% of all interested job candidates are selected for jobs. So what happens to the rest of the candidates?

They form enduring opinions about your company. Every interaction a candidate has from pre-application (the attraction stage) through being rejected (the not-selected stage) impacts their perceptions of positivity, negativity, and fairness.

READ MORE: Candidate Experience Book

Candidate Experience Best Practices

Potential hires join your company’s experience in a variety of ways. They might apply online, seek out a kiosk, visit your booth at a job fair, or view an employment ad on their mobile device. They might even fill out an old-fashioned paper application in person.

What happens next is extremely important. Your reputation is at risk!

Most job candidates are rejected and never hear back from the employer. Our research shows that this creates an extremely negative experience for the rejected candidate. How to improve candidate experiences? Follow these best practices.

5 Tips: Candidate Experience Best Practices

  1. Follow up. Always follow up after any interaction like a live interview or video call.
  2. Keep promises. Never fail to follow up after specifically saying you’d do so.
  3. Benefit from the halo effect. Enjoy the positive feelings from making an offer.
  4. Set a positive tone. Get the hiring and onboarding experience off to a good start.
  5. Close the perception gap. At every opportunity, be mindful of creating a positive perception and not leaving the candidate to fill in the blanks with negative assumptions.

In the list above, the halo effect occurs when you make a candidate an offer and they develop a favorable view of your company whether they accept your offer or not. Preserve the positive benefits of this effect by asking them to recommend a friend or colleague in the future.

The perception gap refers to the difference between the company’s behavior and the candidate’s perception of it. For example, a company might have a policy of ending communications after rejecting an applicant. The candidate feels ignored and hurt, so they tell their friends and colleagues negative things about you.

Wondering how to measure candidate experience? Click the link below to use the Candidate Resentment Calculator, which helps companies face hard truths about why candidate experience matters.

DO THEY RESENT YOU?: Candidate Experience Calculator

What Impacts the Candidate Experience?

Many employers assume factors like the COVID-19 pandemic or the specter of an economic recession have a strong impact on candidates’ perceptions about finding new jobs. While this is true to some degree, our research shows that many other events have a much stronger influence on the overall candidate experience.

What’s On Your Candidates’ Minds?

  • Personal economic factors, like debt
  • Family/health concerns
  • Leadership changes in the C-suite
  • Mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing
  • Changes in the marketplace, products, services, and priorities
  • Social media and online reputation
  • Opinions of friends, family, and colleagues

Your candidates care about an array of factors that are both internal and external to your company. To put it another way, what impacts the business impacts recruiting.


READ MORE: Candidate Experience Case Studies

5 Candidate Experience Competitive Differentiators

You’re probably wondering how you can synthesize all of this information to make your hiring process better. Great news! There are five main ways you can use The Talent Board’s Research to learn how to create a positive candidate experience.

#1 Communicate Consistently

If there’s one thing that screams out for attention from our research, it’s this: Communicate, communicate, communicate! From pre-application through employee onboarding, stay connected with your candidates and don’t let them fall through the cracks.

Even if you aren’t planning to hire someone, reach out to them with a kind and caring message. Be professional yet personable, always treating someone as if they could become part of the company in the future.

#2 Set Expectations

Give your candidates a heads-up on what to expect during the process and what will happen immediately after the current message. What happens after the application? Screening? Interview? Onboarding? Set expectations early and often.

#3 Create Feedback Loops

Continuously ask candidates for feedback in surveys and research. Even if they don’t decide to participate, the act of asking for feedback shows you care about them.

Providing feedback is especially important for finalists who aren’t ultimately hired. These talented people are at risk of forming a negative opinion if you suddenly drop out of communication and ghost them.

#4 Be Transparent (and Keep Your Promises!)

Explain what happens during the hiring process and be open about the fact that you can only hire a small percentage of the people who apply. Our research shows that transparency tends to translate to higher positive ratings and a stronger tendency to re-engage with the employer in the future.

And remember: If you promise something, do it! Always follow up when you say you will, and always provide detailed information when necessary to maintain a positive interaction.

#5 Build a Perception of Fairness

Again and again, our research shows that the perception of fairness is exceptionally important during the hiring process. Most job candidates understand that companies can’t hire everyone, but they want to be assured of a fair and open process.

Rejection always results in the lowest ratings in our research. However, good communication takes the sting off of rejection, and a perception of fairness always leads to stronger ratings.

How To Improve Candidate Experience: Meet Ben.

We’d like to introduce you to Ben. He’s seeking a job at your company and he’s going to teach you a lot about the candidate experience.

First, you should know that the candidate journey is a perpetual cycle that loops back on itself again and again. Why? Because most job seekers don’t get hired for the first job they’re interested in.

In this case, Ben applies for a marketing job but is more qualified for a sales job, which is another role that’s also open at this time. But, like 50% to 60% of all candidates, Ben never makes it to the screening or interview stages for the sales job OR the marketing job.

This means your company rejects Ben for the marketing job, leaving him feeling frustrated. He has no idea that he’s qualified for the sales job that’s also open. What a missed opportunity.

Now let’s assume that Ben found out about the sales job somehow – perhaps through an ad or colleague – and he applies for it. He lands an interview, gets a second interview, but ultimately isn’t the perfect fit and someone else is hired.

Your company simply stops communicating with Ben, figuring the relationship is over. Once again, he’s left with a negative perception of the candidate experience. He never heard anything back from you!

Six months later, the sales job opens up again. Your hiring manager finds Ben’s resume in their files. They reach out to Ben, hoping for a positive reaction. After all, he was previously a finalist for the position.

Uh oh! Ben says, “No thanks.” You’ve already damaged your reputation with him, and he’s spent the past six months telling his friends, family members, colleagues, and social media followers about your company’s poor candidate experience.

What could you be doing differently? Continue reading below to find out more about how to improve candidate experience in recruitment.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Perpetual Candidate Cycle

Attraction: How to Create a Great Candidate Experience

The earliest phase of the talent acquisition process is the attraction phase. This is your first opportunity to make a connection and it happens before anyone ever applies. 

Remember, the attraction phase can happen anywhere at any time because the candidate experience is a 24/7 interactive experience. People are often passively looking for jobs, even when they don’t feel like active job searchers.

Branding is a built-in part of the process that permeates every aspect of the candidate experience. Your brand is a big part of why someone wants to work for you. Your culture and values must resonate with them to attract them strongly enough to apply

Candidate Experience in Recruitment

In an increasingly digital world, it’s easy to save time and resources by using applicant tracking systems. Plus, you can integrate screening, assessment, and recruitment nurturing tools that provide a richer hiring experience.

However, digital platforms are never a replacement for basic communication. Each year when we survey candidates for the annual Talent Board benchmark study, we find the same staggering statistic.

Only about 10% of candidates were informed that they didn’t get the job.

This means 90% of candidates felt that they were left hanging. They wondered what happened and could only assume they didn’t get the job.

Of course, employers often claim that they sent a notification. Perhaps a good portion of the candidates simply don’t remember receiving the same old bland, boring automated email that turned them down for a position. 

Stand out from the crowd by sending kind and helpful text messages, which have strong deliverability. This leaves a positive impression on the applicant, even if they didn’t get the job.

Ready for some good news? Most employers have gotten the message about shortening and streamlining the application process. 

The majority of candidates say it takes less than 15 minutes to apply.

For employers, this continues the conundrum of receiving a high volume of unqualified applicants. Our research shows that for most companies/jobs, one-third to one-half of all candidates are underqualified. But in terms of the candidate experience, your reputation for application speed is probably intact.

The Structured Interview and Screening

A strong connection exists between how candidates are treated during the screening and interviewing stages and whether they’ll continue bonding with the brand. By the time potential candidates make it to the interview, they tend to have a positive impression of the company.

This is your opportunity to learn how to improve candidate interview experiences and strengthen the overall quality of hires. Our research shows most organizations use pre-employment assessment and selection tests during the interview stage that are crucial to hiring decisions. 

It’s essential to offer a structured interview approach that sets their expectations reasonably and respects their time. Why? Consider the statistic below.

The number one negative reason candidates withdraw themselves from consideration is because their time was disrespected during the process.

Whether it’s in person or virtual, always be prepared, ask relevant questions, and communicate with candidates throughout the interview process. Show you respect their time and they’ll reward you with a positive view of the process.

Interacting With Non-Selected (Rejected) Candidates

Negative sentiment abounds when someone is rejected for a job. The reality is that at most companies, 90% of applicants are routinely rejected. 

Instead of rejection, let’s call it non-selection. They’re silver medalists, not losers! Maintain positive language and phrase things as if you might meet again in the future.

Your candidates’ collective experiences, positive and negative, impact your business and your brand. Asking for candidate feedback and providing thoughtful, tactful information is a crucial part of protecting your brand.

Making Job Offers and Onboarding

When it’s time to hire someone and close the deal, you’re entering emotionally charged territory. Time continues to be a big frustration factor with final-stage candidates, so don’t allow this stage to lag.

Onboarding is the final stage in talent acquisition. When new hires have a positive onboarding experience, they tend to be more productive in their first few weeks and stay with their new employer longer.

For All Companies, Referrals Are Critical

Don’t forget about referrals! Candidate and new hire referrals are a cornerstone of smart recruiting because they can reach happy people at the time of their peak positive feelings about the company. They’re excited to spread the word and share the good news.

Talent Board research shows interesting things about candidate referrals. Here’s what we found in our latest study.

  • Most candidates rated themselves extremely likely to refer other candidates based on their experiences over the years.
  • This is true even though nearly 90% didn’t get hired for jobs they were interested in and applied for.
  • About 50% to 60% of candidates in all global regions reached no further step than the application, yet 9 out of 10 were still likely to make a positive referral.

“Referred candidates are of higher quality than applicants from the general public and are more likely both to receive and accept an offer, stay at the job longer, and perform better. This all adds up to spending less time on the hiring process, reducing turnover, and increasing overall productivity.”

Harvard Business Review

What Causes a Poor Candidate Experience?

Losing candidates in the later stages of the recruiting process is usually due to having a poor experience. Talent Board data shows that these are the top four reasons:

  1. Respect. Their time was disrespected during interviews and appointments.
  2. Time. The recruiting process just took too long.
  3. Money. The salary didn’t meet their expectations.
  4. Communication. They experienced poor communication and rapport with recruiters and/or hiring managers.

Even considering the impact of COVID-19, the four factors above have remained consistent over the 10+ years the Talent Board has been surveying candidates.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is candidate experience?

Candidate experience in recruitment is every interaction in recruiting and hiring including social, digital, in-person, experiential, recruiting, business, and branding. It extends from before the candidate applies to as far as they get in the process and shapes their enduring perception of your brand.


Why is candidate experience important?

Candidates with negative experiences take their alliance, product purchases, and business relationships elsewhere. Companies lose revenue, referrals, talent, and future potential. 

RESENTMENT CALCULATOR: Are You Building Resentment?

How can I measure candidate experience?

To learn how to measure candidate experience, start with a candidate experience survey. The act of asking for feedback implies the employer cares and wants to improve its practices. Check out our annual benchmark research program for tips and ideas. 

ANNUAL BENCHMARK SURVEY: Benchmark Your Candidates

How can I improve candidate experience?

Our research shows clear competitive differentiators in recruiting and hiring:

  • Consistent communication from pre-application to onboarding
  • Expectation-setting early and often
  • Asking for and giving feedback
  • Being more accountable and transparent
  • Building the perception of fairness

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