A framework for defining the ideal candidate experience

Kimberly Groat
3 Oct
Reading time: 6 minutes
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We’ve all experienced it.

The moment you walk out of an interview and realise that every stage of your job-seeking journey leading up to that point simply confirmed one fact. 

You don’t need a job that badly.

Ask your colleagues and friends about their worst job-seeking experience and it’s like opening the floodgates.

Not unlike those dating disaster stories we’ve all heard!     

With that in mind, the JobAdder team decided to develop a framework that could act as a reference for companies wanting to benchmark their own candidate experience efforts. 

But first, a little context.

In ongoing research around candidate experience, an article on Medium by Jack Moore on the 10-star product manager mentioned work done by Brian Chesky and the founding team at AirBnB. They attempted to solve the problem of creating an experience no other service could offer. 

Brian had developed a means of understanding what a 5-star or higher experience looked like. 

And a lightbulb went off.

What if we applied that analysis to the candidate experience? 

A workshop on defining candidate experience 

A team of JobAdder employees from Product and Support, to Sales and Marketing, came together for an initial session to discuss the candidate journey or the A-Z of applying for a job. 

Following is an overview of the process that an applicant potentially goes through to search and apply for jobs. 

Here’s what it could look like for an active candidate:

  1. Decision to seek
  2. Searching
  3. Decision to apply
  4. Post-decision
  5. Response & process
  6. Outcome

And here’s what it could look like for a passive candidate:

  1. Being found
  2. Decision to engage
  3. Decision to apply
  4. Post-decision
  5. Response & process
  6. Outcome 

Another goal was to determine the motivations behind jobseeker behaviour. 

Then came the workshop itself. 

The expectation was that we would be able to conclusively determine what constitutes a really good candidate experience and what current pain points were evident when applying for jobs. 

Where could we improve the worst performance?

In essence, comparing the worst that could happen with the best possible. Challenging if you’ve (hopefully) never had a gruelling experience but imagination was needed.

We would then see where the status quo landed on that spectrum and understand what candidates were currently expecting based on previous experiences. 

We asked our Adders at the workshop to place themselves in the mindset of a jobseeker and to answer the following two questions:

  1. What is the worst imaginable horrible experience for you as a candidate?
  2. What is the most creative, best, exhilarating and supreme experience you can think of? 

We then asked each one to fill in the gaps and re-evaluate the first and last positions based on the star rating:


What the ‘normal’ candidate experience looks like 

Want to take a guess as to where on the above spectrum the norm lies?

It’s a measly 6-stars. Here’s what that looks like:

☆☆☆☆☆☆ (6)

The “normal” experience

  • The process takes longer than needed
  • There is a lack of feedback
  • Candidate rejections as referred to as the “culling” of a list
  • The candidate is treated as “stock”
  • candidates are left feeling dispensable
  • The hiring manager doesn’t really know what to achieve with the created role
  • Role expectations are changed during the process
  • The candidate gets a bad rejection and feels like they wasted their time
  • The company has a focus on the financial aspects of the role, not the fit 

Here’s what the worst candidate experience looks like:

☆ (1)

The worst that can happen

  • Horrible colleagues or ex-partners
  • Changing the terms after resigning
  • Reference checks before soliciting permission
  • A psycho interviewer
  • Bad conditions to have to agree to (behavior/culture/pay etc.)
  • A lack of real interaction (too much or too little talk)
  • The sudden cancellation of appointment/agreement
  • Crappy rejections
  • Non-personal notifications
  • Insulting behavior from the recruiter
  • Getting an invite meant for someone else 

The ultimate candidate experience

Here’s what we came to when deciding on what the best candidate experience look slike:

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ (10)

The ultimate candidate experience

  • Receiving more money than asked for
  • More benefits than expected
  • Experiencing a painless and the smoothest process ever
  • Having an interview in a 5* restaurant
  • Being flown in to meet CEO somewhere and staying in a nice hotel
  • A personalised experience
  • A giant welcome photo
  • A welcome choir on arrival
  • The ultimate recognition of past performance
  • Media attention
  • The job wants you more than you want the job

But here’s the biggest takeaway. 

The optimal candidate experience, as shown below, is perfectly achievable. 

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ (8)

An optimal candidate experience

  • Proper communication
  • Convenient explanation of the process
  • Realistic progress updates
  • Clearly defined roles
  • A clear company vision
  • The “truth” -> Alignment of product & vision
  • Meeting the team and socialising
  • Ample feedback
  • Meeting with the CEO or decision-makers
  • Transparency
  • Having a plan for onboarding
  • Receiving preferred office gear
  • 2-way collaboration on a career plan
  • Autonomy on the job

Investing in intangible aspects of the ideal candidate experience will reap far greater benefits than merely aiming for the shiny, obvious wins. 

No one’s learned this better recently than Virgin Media. If you’re not familiar with that story of redemption, Virgin realised that their bad candidate experiences were costing them $5M annually. And they turned that around. 

There’s a big difference between candidate delight and candidate experience. 

You can easily be delighted with an interview at a 5* restaurant or welcomed with a giant photo but that’s taking the easy way out.

What candidates want is less tangible; sharing the truth and being more transparent. This corroborates research we’ve come across on improving the candidate experience

What the article suggests is that there are three types of signals that influence the experience applicants perceive:

  • Informational fairness signals
  • Social fairness signals
  • Uncertainty reduction signals 

It also highlighted the following points of interest where best practice candidate experience exists:

  • Companies with the best customer experience have a Candidate Relationship Management system in place;
  • Candidate experience is linked to recruiter performance;
  • Candidate feedback is asked throughout the process;
  • Companies retain consistent relevance and accuracy of the materials used during the recruitment and selection progress. 

Keen to know what you can do?

Start by assessing your own candidates’ experiences and ensure the 1-star version is avoided at all costs. These are detrimental to your company. 

Reassess if you find yourself in the 5-star or 6-star zone as you’re not distinguishing yourself from the competition.

And if you find yourself in the 8-star region?

See this as a competitive advantage, because it is. 

There’s a famous saying that comes to mind.

Always aim for the moon. If you miss you’ll land among the stars.

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