Are You (Candidate) Experienced?

candidate experience1

There has been a lot of buzz in the recruiting space this year about candidate experience. This is a good thing. Every interaction an employer has with a prospect, good or bad, can send ripples into the marketplace and shape perceptions about that organization.

In many companies, candidate experience is a low priority on their talent strategy list. These organizations are missing the mark – earning reputations as employers who are lazy at best, arrogant and disrespectful at worse. 

There are exceptions. Gerry Crispin of CareerXroads is one of the leading minds in our space on the subject. He’s one of the driving forces behind the Candidate Experience Awards and has shined a bright light on many companies who are getting it right. You can find their list of 2012 winners here.

Change From Within

The other day, I received an email. Not just any email, but a note from one of the top technology leaders in my organization, our Director of Engineering – Irakli Nadareishvili (@inadarei), sharing an article he came across on a startup blog ( about candidate experience (CX); and offering to take the lead on implementing some of these ideas on his team. It’s the kind of email HR leaders dream of – change from with, led and championed by internal leadership.

The article was fantastic, so I wanted to share it highlight some of the key points in case they may serve as inspiration in your recruiting process and interview workflow. You can find the full blog post, “Recruiting Developers? Create An Awesome Candidate Experience” here. I recommend you read it and follow the author, Dharmesh Shah (@dharmesh).

Ideas For Creating An Awesome Candidate Experience (CX)

1. Decide to do it.  The first step in creating a great candidate experience (CX) is deciding that it’s important.  Just like you’d commit time and energy for creating a great UX for your product, you need to devote some calories to iterating on your CX and working had to make it exceptional.  There are a number of reasons you should do this:

a) Recruiting great people is hard — and competitive.  All things being equal, on average, if you can make the candidate experience better, you win.  People will often take positions with lesser known companies simply because they had a great interviewing experience.

2. Focus on the entire experience.  Designing a great candidate experience is not just about doing interviews well.  A great CX starts from the moment a person connects with your company (like your website) all the way through the point that they are delivered a decision — and every step in between.

3. Measure it to improve it.  It’s not possible to create a great CX without getting feedback from candidates.  What I’d suggest is a simple NPS (Net Promoter Score) style survey at the end of the candidate interviewing process.  The survey asks exactly two questions:

a) On a scale of 0-10 how likely are you to recommend that a friend or family member interview here?

b) Why did you give us that score?

You don’t have to use these specific questions — the benefit is that NPS is that it is simple, and widely used as a way to measure customer satisfaction (or more accurately, customer delightion).   We use NPS in a variety of ways at HubSpot — including measuring the happiness of our customers and team members.

Some quick notes on collecting this feedback:  First, It should be collected before a final decision is delivered, so you get unbiased data.  Second, it should be made clear to the candidate that they are doing you a favor.  There’s no harm in telling a candidate exactly why you’re asking for this feedback.  In almost all cases, the candidate would likely see this as a positive signal.  It shows that you care.

4. Interviews are both a buying and selling process.  One of the mistakes inexperienced interviewers often make is behaving as if their job is only to “be convinced” by the candidate that they’d make a good hire.  As a result, they often have an “edge”, aren’t particularly friendly, and don’t do enough to make the candidate feel comfortable.   That can be a bit disconcerting for the candidate, and creates a sub-optimal candidate experience.  As an interviewer, your job is two-fold:  One, make a rational judgment as to whether you think this person would be a good hire for the team.  Two, ensure that the candidate wants to work at your company.  It’s both a buying and a selling process (not just buying).  As it turns out, great people always have options.  Even if they’re not a good fit and you decide not to hire — you want them to leave with as positive an impression as possible.  They may have friends or family that are better fits.  Quick mental hack:  Pretend like every candidate you don’t hire is going to become a future potential user/customer.

5. Be at least a bit organized.  Yes, you’re a startup.  Yes, everyone’s already working away furiously and interviews are often an unwelcome irritant.  But, that’s our problem — not the candidate’s problem.  Spend some time devising at least a simple process to ensure that meetings are scheduled appropriately, the candidate knows what the process is (and how long they’ll need to be there) and always, always, always make sure they’re feeling comfortable and welcome.

6. Make speed a feature.  Just like great UX, a great CX is about speed.  Faster is always better.  I’ve never met someone that thought:  “Boy, am I glad those folks took 2 weeks to get back to me on an answer…”.

7. Have a “guest” tablet available for candidates.  Make sure it’s already on your WiFi network, the home page in the browser is your company website.  The idea is to give the candidates something productive to occupy their time with while they’re waiting.  They can even play Angry Birds, if they want.  Nothing’s worse than sitting in reception, not knowing what the guest WiFi password is, and having to twiddle one’s thumbs before an interview.

8. Don’t repeat the same topics.  Be organized enough that if the candidate is going to go through multiple interviews, you don’t have them cover the same topics multiple times.  That’s annoying and a waste of time.  If one interview focuses on their front-end development skills and how well they really understand jQuery, then perhaps the other interview should be more about work style and thoughts on team collaboration.

9. Have a clear feedback/rating system.   You need to have a clear internal rating system so that interviewers can express their overall take.  If the person is an absolute no-hire, that should be clear.  So, your scale could be:  absolutely no hire, leaning against, neutral, leaning in favor, absolutely hire them.  One important point while we’re on this topic:  The rating scale is not about the person — it’s about whether this person should be made an offer at this point in time.  I’ve sometimes seen people give a “high” rating (because the person was really, really good — and interviewed really well), but then later heard “but I wouldn’t hire them.”  The reason for the interviews is to make a hiring decision.  Said differently, the ultimate return value of the function is a boolean hire/no-hire NOT awesome/good/not-so-good person.

10. Learn something.  Make every effort to learn something from every candidate.  Just because you’re on this side of the hiring table and just because you may be more experienced does not mean you can’t learn something from every candidate.  You can. Try to draw out a particular passion that the candidate has.  Perhaps a recent epic debugging victory.  Or, why their editor is the One True Editor To Rule Them All.  Doesn’t matter what the topic.  Find what they’re passionate about, and genuinely get them to teach you something about it.  (If they’re not passionate about anything, you’ve got a problem).

11. Teach something.  Whether the candidate gets an offer or not, they should have learned something from you.  They need to walk out smarter than they walked in.  (Note: This does not mean you spend 50% of the interview telling them about the proper Pythonic way to do something).

12. Be transparent.  Make the conversation open.  Let the candidate ask questions that are on their mind.  It could be about team dynamics, work style/hours, financials (growth, cash, etc.), product strategy, dev philosophy, whatever.  Be honest.  If there are some things you can’t answer, be honest about that.  But, try to be as transparent as possible — it makes for a much better candidate experience.

13. No leading of the witnesses.  If you’re having multiple people interview a candidate, you need to make sure that the early interviewer(s) don’t unduly influence the later ones.  This is important for a couple of reasons:  One, you want multiple viewpoints, not the same viewpoint multiple times.  Second, from the candidate’s perspective, if they feel like they got off on the wrong foot in the first interview, you want them to have a reasonable chance of showing off their awesomeness in the subsequent interviews.

Share Your Feedback

What are some unique candidate experience initiatives you’ve seen or experienced? If you had total buy in and budget for any effort aimed at enhancing your organization’s candidates experience (a myth I know, but go with it), what would you do?

8 thoughts on “Are You (Candidate) Experienced?

  1. Jan Johnston

    Love it! You are 100% spot on. Just as I have high expectations from the candidate, I have the same high expectations from our department and my recruiters. I am completely on board with the whole candidate experience. I will have to think about the “guest table” though. I try not to have too much down time for interviews. Something to think about.

  2. Lars…one more…KYC – Know Your Customer (the ties to AML are not by accident): Not all candidates experiences are alike – within different levels, functions, sectors are varying pain points for a great CX and not all recruiters have the experience or capabilities to provide the environment that produces the desired outcome.

    For me, CX begins in the engagement – the first point of contact. You simply CANNOT offer (notice I didn’t write “have”) a superior CX if you have no darn idea what the real job is, what the performance expectations of the role are, what the REAL culture of the hiring manager is (not the BS crap written on career sites), etc. Without these you’re DOA as far as CX.

    From here you have to know how your target audience is likely to respond to being contacted by a company rep…

    NOW starts the hard part.

    Good one Lars.

    • Steve – Great call on KYC. CX will vary based on different departments, teams, and cultures within each organization. You nail it with the starting point of knowing the role/team culture/DNA/what the job spec doesn’t say/etc – and working to align those points with candidates before you bring them in.

  3. I love “6. Make Speed a Feature”. Too often hiring managers lengthen the process. If you know that someone isn’t right for the job, let that person known ASAP. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t done interviewing other people or not. If they don’t fit, they don’t fit.

    Do them and yourself a favor.

    Excellent post Lars. Keep it up!

  4. Gerry Crispin

    Great post Lars. This conversation about Candidate Experience will eventually be recognized as equal in importance to mapping out recruiting from the other stakeholders…something we’ve been so focused on that the Candidates have been given short shrift. Look for the whitepaper from this year’s Awards campaign by end of January. It will support many of the notions you’ve expressed here with data you can bench.

    I like the question of “would you refer family…” as a means to getting a ranking but see it as heavily laden with cultural biases that dilute your results. A cleaner..but not perfect substitute…”would you refer a friend” takes the family affect to a bit more neutral position and puts more emphasis on whether the person might actually be qualified. Even better if we could find a way to say a ‘valued colleague whose work you have admired and know would be a fit’ but hey we’ve only just started down this road.

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