The Candidate Experience, and Other Stuff HR Wastes Time On

Do HR professionals think "The candidate experience is like "opening your kimono?" (Photo by

By Tim Sackett

It feels like things in the labor market – at least in many professional classifications – are starting to pick up. Temp hiring is up 22 percent in August and that is definitely one sign direct hiring will follow.

As hiring picks up, many HR professionals like to focus on things that can’t be measured. Why? Well, having measures means someone is tracking your results, and having to be measured against results is uncomfortable, and look, we all didn’t get into HR to be uncomfortable is all I’m saying!

HR pros love to talk about “The Candidate Experience” like it’s really important – as if it’s the Silver Bullet to all of HR’s problems. “You know if we could just make candidates love our “process” we would get so many more talented candidates.”

So goes the broken theory. Candidate experience is one process that, even with the best Gerry Crispin measures and analysis, is a subjective measure at best and in the end one that completely takes you away from the “root” problem that you have.

Why do you worry about “The Candidate Experience?”

This is where it gets difficult for HR pros, because admitting that it’s not about “The Candidate Experience” is a little like “opening your kimono.” The best companies to work for don’t worry about “The Candidate Experience” because of these reasons:

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  • If you’re a great company to work for – your “Candidate Experience” doesn’t matter – people will come anyway.

Now, before you HR pros get all worked up – listen! I’m not saying to treat people like garbage because you know you’re great and they come anyway. The fact of the matter is, if you’re great you probably have a “Candidate Experience” that is already “good enough,” so go and worry about something else that’s closer to the business.

  • If you’re not a great company to work for,  your “Candidate Experience” is not your biggest issue, so go focus on the real problems.

The real “Candidate Experience” you should strive for

Let’s face it, if you have a bad “Candidate Experience” you probably have some major cultural issues to deal with in your organization. How hard is it to get your HR team and hiring managers to treat people with average respect? If you can’t do that, “The Candidate Experience” is the least of your worries – or should be.

Beyond all of this, I wonder, what we (as HR professionals) should really be striving for in “The Candidate Experience?” The very best companies in the world to work for are very hard to get into. Why? Because they’re the best and everyone knows it, so they have millions of candidates fighting to get in.

Candidates fighting to get in to work for you; isn’t that really “The Candidate Experience” you should be striving for?

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


16 Comments on “The Candidate Experience, and Other Stuff HR Wastes Time On

  1. Tim,

    Couldn’t agree less. Is a great candidate experience the only thing that matters? Of course not. But from an employer branding perspective, if a candidate has a shitty experience with your company – deliberately or not – they’re going to tell people.

    I’m not talking about purposely not calling people back. I’m talking about resumes that get lost in the ATS blackhole. People who don’t make the cut and don’t get told about it for a month. The details.

    Saying it doesn’t matter, to me, sounds like an easy excuse for recruiters who are overstretched already because of the high-volume of resumes they receive.

    It’s tough – nay, impossible – to provide each and every candidate with a great experience if you work as a recruiter at a great organization. You simply deal with too high a volume of resumes.

    So rather than face the uncomfortable fact that it hurts the employer brand, recruiters say things like “It doesn’t really matter.”

    I don’t buy it.

    I do agree with is that it’s not the biggest issue. Will it destroy your brand? Of course not.

    But if it a great candidate never applies because a friend told them you suck, isn’t that something worth caring about?


  2. I know this is going to ruffle feathers, but I totally agree with you. That being said it isn’t as if there is NO focus on the candidate experience in a great company. It is just that there is a process, focus and way of doing things for ALL customers (internal and external) in a great company. There is direction from the top, values, a way of doing things and operational principles that drive everything the company does. I think problems arise when a company’s culture is by default rather than design and then rouge departments here and there are trying to create bits of structure haphazardly…

  3. I agree, because by focusing on all of the other aspects, you’re going to end up with a quality candidate experience at a good company. A good company will have recruiters that automatically take care of create a solid “candidate experience” because they will be treating people with respect, taking care to individualize their dialogue, and uniquely market each candidate to their client.

    I think focusing on the “candidate experience” is akin to focusing on wearing business professional attire…if you’re a good business professional, no one needs to tell you to focus on dressing the part.

    1. We find that a quality candidate experience is strengthened by HR through due diligence.
      A company that is careful who they hire and if they are behaviorally and motivationally suited to the job is a company whose employees are “engaged” and contribute to the overall effectiveness of the organization.
      JP Whalen, Sr. Analyst

  4. It really is all about culture. If the candidate experience is poor- maybe they just were not a cultural fit for the company. Everyone is looking for something different- something that works with who they are. Even if you have a great culture that MOST people love- there will always be a handful that would like to see things done differently.

  5. Tim,

    Just had an interesting chat with Lance Haun about your post. He’s swayed me on the premise that recruiters have to deal with a lot of “spam resumes” and people clearly way out of their league. Providing a quality experience to those folks takes time away from providing a quality experience to serious candidates.



  6. There’s a second part to the candidate experience – future business.

    No matter what type of company, you have a customer. What happens when that candidate that had a poor or negative experience with your company has the chance to be a customer?

    I’ll tell you from my experience – I’m wary of your company being able to deliver. If you couldn’t deliver on your commitment to send me a measly email any time close to when you committed to, why would I be able to trust that you’ll pay attention to the details of our business deal?

  7. Excellent. Lots of folks share your point of view Tim. They just don’t have the guts to say it. We need to get beyond ‘trusting’ something we’ve either always done…or simply been told is the right thing to do and examine it as business professionals and collect some data if it means something to you.

    I tilt at windmills because I do believe the proposition can be proven that the candidate experience does matter to the long term benefit of a firm but..with no accepted definition of ‘candidate’ or ‘experience’ and without recognition of what a given candidate might actually expect and with no acceptance that all candidates are not equal we’ve got a long way to go.

    Too many of our colleagues believe they offer an ‘improved’ candidate experience without supporting evidence. I’m thrilled to see the growth of an alternative- that the candidate doesn’t make a difference….also with no supporting evidence.

    Hopefully as you and I move on to all the other things crying for attention we might stumble over some real data to prove or disprove the hypothesis.

  8. Agreed! Providing a great candidate experience goes a long way toward telling a candidate the “Corporate Culture” they may be immersed within. After a preliminary telephne interview we always administer a pre-hire assessment from HRDT. I find the information invaluable as the candidate’s suitabillity to the job is rated. The report allows us to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate and makes the “on-site” interview effective. The worst thing you can do is to drag a candidate through repeated interviews.
    Ann S.

  9. Agreed. When job applications have all these specific requirements it really weeds out the good candidates. Who stays in the same industry their whole life. Should you really be discounted if don’t have 5+ experience in the same field? I think talent is talent. Look for that. You can teach skills, what you can’t teach is natural ability. Interview and hire good people. Good workers transcend all fields.

  10. It all comes down to good old fashioned respect for people, customers. Customer service, does this even exist anymore? Reality is hr has put technology on top of old and bad processes and as a result company leadership believes hr should be able to do more work with fewer resources, because it’s all about efficiency you know, not people, not the people that put bonuses in their pocket’s. What a mess we’ve created when millions of American’s out of work have to spend hundreds of hours a month aimlessly devoted to searching for and applying to jobs only to be invisible to any human being. For goodness sakes they can’t even talk to someone about an opportunity without being pointed to a damn Kiosk or computer. Then we ask them to fill out forms and take assessments and on and on and on. Give me a break! Candidate experience may be a passing fancy for some, but smart companies should know that treating people with respect and promoting opportunities in a managed and responsible fashion with fully committed leadership and resources carrying out an intentionally designed experience, is a competitive advantage. Besides, let’s face it, most companies operate in a complete mode of dysfunctional bliss and are successful in spite of themselves. So attracting great people because you have a great company is a tough one. I have many friends that work for some of the most notable companies in the world and I can’t say that any one of them is crazy happily employed. Most are doing the work of 3 people so they are stretched beyond imagination or what is just and fair for an employer to expect of one person. People stay in jobs with dysfunctional companies all the time. Candidate experience – I say I dare you! Candidates are not only candidates, they are people and for companies like target, coca-cola, Pepsi, the local food store or hospital, these people are community members and they are loyal customers. Companies will gain new customers and keep loyal ones by treating them with respect as candidates OR they can ignore the problems of how they treat people in the recruiting process and lose loyal customers and turn off millions of people.

    If you think about how many people are touched in the recruiting process. As an example let;s consider a large, brand name financial services company hiring 20,000 people a year – they will touch between 500,000 and a 1,500,000 people a year in their process. This same company spends millions of dollars on billboards to secure new retail banking and retirement planning customers. if they were to invest a small portion their consumer advertising dollars communicating with and sharing helpful information with the people who were interested in working for them, might they gain some new customers? Perhaps a few mortgages? or maybe some 401k rollovers? – or retirement planning clients? Do you get the connection between candidates and customers? There is one.
    Okay enough bantering. Have a nice evening.

  11. Tim suggests great companies to work for are hard to get into because the hire the best. Being able to hire the best is a results of not only a great candidate experience, but also a great recruiter experience.

    Both the candidate and the recruiter need an experience that improves their ability to decide if this job opportunity is a good fit. Companies that do not pay attention to the candidate experience are more challenged to make the best hiring decision because they have not designed a process that obtains the best data to make the most informed decision. Read more

  12. Hi Tim,

    Great idea, but I must disagree! Candidate experience isn’t a waste, it’s an investment. Candidate experience involves referrals, interviews, e-mail communication — all of it necessary! There is no need for bells and whistles … just valuable, two-way communication.

    Between job boards that blast information toward candidates and poorly written job descriptions, there are many ways to improve (or effectively create a great) candidate experience with little effort. There are social media profiles (like LinkedIn) and talent communities (like Cachinko) that employers/recruiters can use to engage top quality talent that leads to return on engagement.

    Give candidate experience another look. It’s worth it.

    Have a happy new year!

  13. I agree with you when you point out that it shouldn’t be too difficult “to get your HR team and hiring managers to treat people with average respect”. At least if employees do make a difference in your business and are not all interchangeable.
    However when you see how cumbersome and outdated the interface of some of the main ATS vendors are, you can only sympathize with candidates.
    Candidates should not have to fight the machine in order to show their motivation for the job.

  14. The reason I disagree is simply this: Candidates are customers.
    “77 percent of respondents reported that when they never heard anything from a company after applying they thought less of them. 72 percent reported that they would not be likely to recommend that company’s products or services, and 58 percent were not likely to buy a product from the company. There is a clear message: not responding to candidates and having a poor applicant experience leads to frustration and negativity.” 

  15. The candidate experience might not matter, unless you’re competing for top talent.  Time and time again, I hear about the nimbler, quicker, candidate-friendly process winning candidates over slower moving organizations.  Sure, your organization can get by without ever responding to an undesired candidate, but if that’s the way you operate, you’re probably too lazy to do the other things required to be considered a top recruiting organization.  Excellence.  Let’s go for excellence.

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