The Ultimate Guide to an Extraordinary Candidate Experience

Written by
George Dickson
George Dickson

Candidate experience is the first cultural impression your organization will make on an employee. Get it right and that impression could translate into long-term engagement and retention. Get it wrong, and you'll barely keep candidates past the initial interview. This is why an increasing number of HR professionals have started focusing on improving the candidate experience.

You've already invested in building an extraordinary organizational culture, and you're looking for new hires who will fit in and stay with the company for the longterm. To do that, you need to provide an outstanding candidate experience that accurately reflects the beautiful company culture you've built.

Modern employees are increasingly discerning about their career choices.

They're in the driver's seat. It's going to take more than projecting an impression of a quality workplace. Candidates are trying to picture themselves in this position for the foreseeable future.

First impressions count

The candidate experience is the first interaction a potential employee with your organization and its culture. If they have a poor hiring experience—for instance, if their interviewers are late, disorganized, rude, intimidating, or disrespectfulyour best candidates will likely decline your job offer.

In contrast, a candidate who is treated well, warmly welcomed, and shown an engaging workplace where employees are appreciated, recognized, and valued is much more likely to be excited about your offer.

Tips for improving the candidate experience

If you've already built an engaging organizational culture, you're well on your way toward delivering a great candidate experience.

The same things that inspire engagement—recognition, inclusiveness, camaraderie, and so onalso contribute to a great candidate experience and make an excellent first impression on potential employees. The tips below will help ensure candidates experience the best elements of your outstanding culture in action during this crucial stage.

1. Treat every candidate like a VIP

Everyone, even those who may not appear to be a good fit for your organization, should be treated with respect and made to feel welcome. Even if not hired, candidates will have had either a positive or negative experience with your organizationand they'll tell others about their experience. What are the stories you aspire to have told about your company?

2. Tie your hiring practices to your company culture

While you may think of culture as how you interact with your co-workers, your culture should extend to how you interact with candidates and other people in general.

For example: if your culture values courtesy, then you need to be on time and polite when you have an interview or phone screening appointment. If you're late or act preoccupied, you aren't living your cultural values, and that's going to be painfully obvious to any candidate.

3. Be an excellent communicator

Job searches have become impersonal, and it often feels as though resumes get sucked into a black hole. According to a recent CareerBuilder study on candidate behavior, only 14% of candidates surveyed felt companies had been responsive to themand only 40% of applications ever received a response.

You can help your organization to stand out by demonstrating responsiveness from the beginning.

Be prompt with your status updates, especially when notifying candidates that they didn't get the job. No one likes to be left hanging, and they'll appreciate your honesty and transparency.

4. Take candidates on a tour of your organization

This doesn't need to be an exhaustive tour, but rather a taste of what it's like to work at your companyand it allows them to witness the camaraderie firsthand.

If you have any highly visual form of employee recognition, this is an excellent opportunity to point it out so the candidate can see how employees are routinely recognized for their contributions.

5. Personalize the candidate experience

You may have a hiring checklist that works for you, but try to be flexible.

For example, you can use Skype or Google Hangouts to meet with out-of-area candidates before holding a more formal in-person interview. If a candidate is still in the process of obtaining a required certification, are you willing to consider him or her for the job?

When communicating with candidates, mention something positive about their background that make them stand out. It's a nice touch that can go a long way in building rapport and engaging candidates.

6. Be upfront about the realities of the job

One of the main reasons new hires leave their jobs in the first few months is because the job wasn't what they expected. Everything from the ads you place to the tone you set should be accurate and realistic.

For example, if your ads say you're looking for a self-starter who works well with minimal supervision, you're going to attract candidates who value autonomy. However, if you place them in a position where their every move is micromanaged, you can guarantee you'll have a turnover problem.

7. Show them what it's like to work for your company

Autodesk has a great video, A Day in the Life of an Autodesk Intern, that shows what it's like to work at Autodesk. Videos like this can illustrate your culture and answer the burning question most candidates have: what's it really like to work here?

You could also share LinkedIn profiles of some of the people in the candidate's desired department to give a better idea of the types of people, their backgrounds, and their interests, who work for your organization. These soft introductions are a great way to personalize your communications, show that you value workplace relationships, and put candidates at ease.

8. Exchange feedback

Whether you've extended a job offer or not, seeking and giving honest feedback is mutually beneficial.

Ask about the candidate experience and how you might improve the process moving forward. This shows that you are constantly seeking to improve the experience, and that you value the candidate's opinion.

A LinkedIn survey found that 94% of candidates want feedback about why they didn't get the job, but just 41% actually received it. If you've ever watched "The Voice", you know that the coaches give constructive feedback to those who didn't make itoften equipping contestants with specific steps they need to take in order to be accepted in the future.

Meaningful feedback, if taken to heart, can improve the candidate's experience.

It can also improve his or her prospects for landing a job in the futurewith your company or elsewhere. Make sure to include what you valued about the candidate along with what needs to be improved.

The candidate experience starts the moment a candidate encounters your company as part of a job search. If you want to attract and keep top talent, it's in your best interest to ensure that your company's engaging culture comes shining through.

To find out how your candidate experience impacts your employer brand, check out this resource we produced with Piktochart:

Get the employer brand eBook

Originally published on September 09, 2015 → Last updated August 24, 2019

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George Dickson

George is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures with thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition. George formerly managed content and community at Bonusly.


Bonusly is a fun, personal employee recognition and rewards program that helps people feel engaged and successful at work. ✨