Why Candidate Experience Matters & How to Personalize Your Hiring Process

by Mike Tannian on May 23, 2022

Learn how a personalized candidate experience in recruitment can help your organization find and hire qualified candidates.

Article Highlights:

Government agencies and public sector organizations are in fierce competition for talent. You're competing with the private sector and their larger salaries and bonuses, air hockey tables, and fully-stocked kitchens.

So, how can you be sure candidates won’t choose those perks over the sense of purpose they’ll get with your organization and the chance to make a positive difference in their community? 

One way for the public sector to get ahead from the start is by offering a positive candidate experience. Many corporations hold five, six, and even seven rounds of interviews before making a decision, which can often lead to a negative candidate experience in recruiting. This creates a prime opportunity for your organization to appeal to job seekers.

By using applicant tracking software with predictive hiring algorithms, you can not only speed up the hiring process – you can also unearth the standout candidates and move them through the interview process faster. That leads to a better overall candidate experience in recruitment, meaning you're more likely to grab that top talent before the corporations can scoop them up.

Many qualified candidates are turned off by a lengthy interview process and an overall poor candidate experience. They get frustrated with delays between interviews, bad interviews, and interminable hold ups. Sometimes, they'll accept a job offer from an organization that might not provide everything they want, but they had a great candidate experience with the recruiting team.

We're going to show you why candidate experience matters, including how to remove unconscious bias in your recruitment process and how to build a more personalized candidate experience. Then, we’ll discuss how you can improve your diverse candidate ratios, develop a successful candidate experience journey map, and better your overall candidate experience strategy.

What Is Candidate Experience?

The candidate experience is how job prospects interact with your organization throughout the entire recruiting and interview process. A few key factors determine whether a job seeker has a positive candidate experience or a negative one:

  • The job application 
  • Screening methods 
  • The interview process 

A prospect’s experience starts with your job posting and your corporate career site. Your website plays a part in the overall experience, too, as job seekers research your organization to better understand your mission, values, and commitment to diversity.

The first stage in the candidate experience is the online job application, including simple things like whether applicants have to fill out their work experience after uploading their résumé to your website. This may seem small, but it’s a tedious ask for job seekers that can contribute to a poor experience. 

This stage also includes communication with candidates through your HR system and applicant tracking system. If a candidate has to wait for many weeks or months to hear from you, it can be rather disheartening and insulting. Candidates would rather hear "no" right away, than to be left wondering for several months whether they're even still in the running for a position.

And, of course, the interview process is critical to a candidate's recruiting experience. Did the interviewer pay full attention to them in their professional interview and ask questions related to their experience and skills? Was there a list of standardized questions for every candidate to ensure a fair process?

Finally, did candidates receive notifications about their application status (and in a timely manner)? Did you tell them if they were not selected for the next round of interviews? Did you keep them apprised of their status at each step? Or did you ghost them completely and never tell them anything? 

Why is Candidate Experience Important?

It’s no longer acceptable to ignore your candidates the way many organizations have for the last several years. Doing so now can contribute to negative candidate experiences that can affect an agency's reputation or a company's profitability. 

Several years ago, Virgin Media in the UK discovered that their poor candidate experiences were costing the company $5 million in lost revenue each year. They realized that 18% of their rejected job candidates were also Virgin Media customers, and many of them were canceling their subscriptions because of their poor experience.

So, Virgin Media revamped its entire recruitment process, trained its hiring managers to deliver better experiences, and began offering positive feedback to rejected candidates about how they could improve their interviewing skills for the future. They even began asking candidates to rate their experience through the Net Promoter Score, a customer satisfaction survey. In the end, the company saved more than $7 million by improving its overall recruitment practice.

As a public sector organization, you may not deal with profit margins and customer satisfaction, but you do have to monitor your reputation. A negative reputation can lessen your community effectiveness and support, which can reduce the impact of your programs and hurt your budget.

How to Create a Personalized Candidate Experience

One of the best ways to improve your recruiting process is to create a personalized candidate experience.

You can do this by thinking of your candidates like customers. After all, candidates are judging and evaluating whether they want to work for you. You need them as much as they need you, so you need to try to "sell" them on your organization.

That means optimize the candidate journey. Make sure every touchpoint uses the best practices and latest technology, works properly, and meets job seekers where they are.

Keep candidates updated on their progress throughout the recruitment process. If there are delays, let them know. As they move through each phase, send them an email informing them of their advancement. And if they get cut from the process, be sure to let them know; don't ghost them or cut off communication, otherwise, that candidate may never apply with you again, even if you have a job better suited to their skills.

Finally, use automation to personalize messages. With candidate relationship management software (CRM) and applicant tracking software (ATS), it's possible to deeply personalize all communications with your candidates. So there's no reason to address an email with "Dear candidate" or anything equally generic.

Candidate Experience Best Practices

Personalizing a candidate's journey isn't the only thing you need to do when creating a positive candidate experience. If you truly want to improve their impression of your recruitment process, these candidate experience best practices will set you on the right track.

Remove Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias describes the compulsive perceptions that everyone holds about certain groups of people. They're hidden biases that we may not even be aware of, including things like favoring male applicants over female applicants or hiring white applicants over minority candidates.

The good news is, you can root out unconscious bias in your recruitment process by implementing a few key practices.

  • Create a diverse hiring committee. Have them examine the current hiring process and where it might create problems and hurdles for different applicants.
  • Audit your hiring process. Assess the way you find, interview, and onboard candidates. This way, you can see where bias manifests in the process.
  • Commit to making data-driven decisions. That means analyzing the makeup of your workforce and seeing where you're missing out. Track HR statistics such as time to hire, cost of hiring a candidate, and the quality of the candidates you hired.
  • Create a structured interview process. A standardized process can help you overcome any unconscious biases. After all, your gut feelings may often be based on a bias you're not even aware of.
  • Consider qualified candidates with a criminal history. Formerly incarcerated people have a 27% unemployment rate, "higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression.” And they face enormous bias when applying for jobs they may otherwise be qualified for.
  • Support the Ban the Box movement. That means people applying for work with government agencies in Ban the Box states no longer have to "check yes" on any questions about their prior conviction record at the start of the application process.
  • Hire candidates with a criminal record, which can lead to a lower attrition rate in the company, increase employee drive and loyalty, support reformation, and help your organization qualify for tax incentives. It's also a way to increase your candidate pool and fill jobs that have been difficult to fill.

Consider Diverse Candidate Needs

Hiring managers are beginning to understand the role of diversity in recruitment – and how it helps answer the question, “Why is candidate experience important?” A diverse workforce makes their organizations better and stronger, supports innovative ideas and programs, and can better meet their communities' needs. It also helps to attract other candidates from different racial, community, and identity-based groups.

There are other benefits to having an inclusive workforce. In the private sector, diverse teams create 19% more revenue than their non-diverse competitors. People with diverse backgrounds bring new perspectives, new ways of thinking, and new philosophies.

Diverse agencies also create more relevant programs because they understand the communities they serve. You can recruit more diverse candidates with these steps:

  • Audit your recruiting process for bias. Identify problems in finding BIPOC applicants. For example, are the candidate requirements you’re including in job descriptions excluding otherwise qualified minority prospects? Also, be sure to offer unconscious bias training for anyone involved in your hiring process.
  • Find new ways to reach candidates. Think beyond the typical job market boards, which are not nearly as effective at reaching potential candidates. Share position openings on social media. Recruit through refugee, immigrant, and community groups. Expand your campus recruiting to HBCUs, junior and community colleges, Hispanic-serving schools, and women's colleges. And ask your employees to share an interesting job opportunity with a friend. 
  • Show diversity in your recruitment materials. Your recruitment materials, such as your LinkedIn page and career portal, should reflect your organization's diversity. BIPOC candidates don't want to be a tiny part of a mostly white workforce – they want to see colleagues who look like them.
  • Provide testimonials from current employees. Ask your team to share their thoughts about their employee experience. Post these testimonials on your recruitment website or career portal, and share them on your social networks, too.

Develop a Candidate Experience Journey Map

A candidate experience journey map is a step-by-step visual representation of all the contact points that a job seeker has with your organization during the recruitment process. 

Creating a candidate journey map can help improve your candidate experience and thus your organization's brand. It helps you better anticipate candidate expectations by understanding their experience throughout the recruitment funnel. You can see points in the hiring process that are exciting or anxiety-inducing, and work to fix the difficult areas.

If nothing else, this can help your recruitment strategy by showing which types of content keep candidates' interest and which are confusing or off-putting. You'll also know which communication channels work best, and even which job platforms are the most successful at filling your new talent pool.

Candidate journey mapping starts with your social networks and job postings, then moves into your candidate portal, company website, application page, and the "thank you for your application" page. The journey map ends with your phone and in-person interviews, as well as candidate surveys and assessments.

In the corporate world, marketing departments use customer journey maps to look for all the contact points that a potential customer has with the company. Since recruiting can have an effect on your organization's reputation and even its revenue, you could learn a lot by reading how marketers manage their customer journey maps.

Work with your hiring team to identify all these candidate journey touchpoints, and look for places where they work well and where they fail. Ask new employees for their input on your new candidate experience journey map, including which parts were positive experiences and which ones were negative.

Optimize Current Touchpoints 

Once you've created your candidate journey map template, it's time to examine each of those touchpoints to ensure they're the best they can be.

It starts with making sure your job application reflects the current best practices, uses the latest recruiting technology and follows proper formatting. For example, don't make a person re-type their entire résumé when they can just upload it to the application. Make sure your application sets clear expectations for the job, and make sure the job application is optimized for mobile use.

You should also have a job application thank you page. One way to improve your company's brand reputation starts with the "thank you for your job application" page after someone successfully submits an online application. You can also use the analytics for that page to determine if there are any problems in the application process. Count the number of applications started and the number of "thank you" pages visited, as well as the abandonment points, and you can immediately recognize if there’s a problem with abandonment.

One of the final candidate journey stages comes in the form of the job offer letter. Always assume that a job candidate has more than one option and is still evaluating whether they'd like to work for your organization. This is why candidate experience matters: whether it's the style and tone of your communication or the recruitment technology you're using, they're always making judgments about you. 

An electronic offer letter shows that you have embraced technology and aren't reluctant to enter the digital age. And by using an electronic offer letter, candidates can view and respond to offers more quickly, which shortens the time to the actual onboarding and gets them into the organization faster. That means closing an open position sooner, cutting down your time to hire.

Improve Your Interview Process

As you build a more personalized candidate experience, it’s important to consider how you can improve your interview process by cutting out unconscious bias in recruitment. One way to start is by standardizing your HR interview questions to ensure that everyone is asked the same kinds of questions and that interviewers aren't just relying on their gut feelings.

Create a list of acceptable questions, like:

  • Career questions ("Where do you want to be in five years?")
  • Competency-based questions ("What skills and strengths do you bring to the position?")
  • Situational/hypothetical questions ("How would you establish your credibility with your team?")
  • Culture-fit questions ("How would your coworkers or your boss describe you?")
  • Behavioral interview questions ("What's an example of a time you did something wrong? How did you handle it?")
  • Questions about public sector jobs ("How would you describe the role of this agency to a member of the public?")

Be sure to follow up with all candidates, even those not selected. Maybe an applicant isn't a great fit for a particular job, but they might be an excellent fit for another. But if they don't get any sort of follow-up to their application, they probably won't be interested in going through that process again. So, nurture relationships with applicants you'd like to interview again.

Send a Candidate Experience Survey

A candidate experience survey will allow your candidates, both rejected and hired, a chance to share their anonymous and unvarnished feedback on their experience. The idea is to find out where there are problems in the recruitment process and figure out how to fix them. 

With the right applicant tracking system, you can even automate the process so the survey is sent out a few days after a candidate receives a rejection or moves on to the next step. (Wait a few days to send out a survey after rejecting a candidate.)

The survey should be brief, with around 6 – 8 questions that focus on their experience, not the company itself. Keep questions short and don't ask open-ended ones. Let candidates share general comments as well. They may voice their frustrations with their experience, so be prepared for some harsh truths, but try to understand the underlying message.

Use a CRM (Candidate Relationship Manager)

Candidate relationship management software helps businesses manage their candidates, develop relationships, and improve the overall candidate experience. Just like sales organizations use a customer relationship manager to nurture relationships with customers, this CRM nurtures relationships with potential employees. And since you should treat your candidates like customers, using a CRM only makes sense.

A recruitment CRM can help you: 

  • Build a searchable database of candidates 
  • Nurture and manage relationships with your candidates 
  • Automate personal communications 
  • Measure the effectiveness of your recruitment strategies with analytics and reports

NEOGOV's Recruit module helps you attract, screen, and hire your candidates. And with our very own job portal, GovernmentJobs.com, you are 177% more likely to attract a qualified hire than on Indeed, and 67% more likely than on LinkedIn.

Then, you can screen candidates with a branded online career portal that allows for complex applications, and automate candidate scoring to easily find the top talent in your candidate pool. And you can integrate background check information into the candidate records.

Finally, you can hire chosen candidates by accelerating the onboarding process, letting new hires complete forms online, assigning tasks to different stakeholders, and tracking their completion. Recruit also lets you gauge engagement and address any concerns in the first 90 – 120 days by scheduling check-ins with new hires.

Use an ATS (Applicant Tracking System)

An applicant tracking system can help you analyze a large candidate pool and quickly identify those top candidates who fit your hiring criteria. You can sift through the results and find the most talented candidates and move them through the hiring process.

You can also automate different aspects of the process, meet compliance requirements, and reduce the time to hire. An ATS should even have job application templates and an applicant self-service portal.

NEOGOV's product, Insight, does all of that and more. It's built to focus on the public sector and its Diversity Health feature helps you implement equitable hiring practices. Diversity Health measures the diversity of your applicant pool, giving you a chance to ensure you're evaluating a well-rounded pool of applicants that reflects the community it serves.

You're able to send text messages about status updates to job applicants; integrate background check results into candidates' entries; and, boost job postings on leading job boards when it looks like those positions will fall short of applicant goals.

Final Thoughts

Creating positive candidate experiences will bring numerous benefits to your organization. You can attract more applicants with each job opportunity, be more competitive with top talent, and find ideal employees who will stay with you for the long term. You'll also improve your organization's reputation as candidates tell their family and friends about their recruitment experience, which can lead to even more applicants.

Now that you know why creating a positive candidate experience is important, learn more about how you can personalize your hiring process with NEOGOV’s solutions by scheduling a free demo.

Mike Tannian

Mike Tannian is the Director of Content Marketing at NEOGOV. With a talented team of writers by his side, he aims to produce content that delivers real value to public sector HR professionals at every stage in the buying journey.