The Candidate Experience? Survey Says, That Frankly, It Stinks

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I’ve got two college-age kids in various stages of their first real job search, and I find myself saying the same thing over and over to them: don’t expect to hear much from all those companies you apply to.

That’s because I’ve found, over my many years of work, that the way most companies treat job candidates has deteriorated to the point that you’re lucky if you even get an acknowledgement of your application much less any personal feedback on your qualifications for the job at hand.

And you know what? Most of you out there feel pretty much the same way.

I was thinking about this while scanning the results of CareerBuilder’s latest survey that found — surprise! surprise! — that “more than one in four workers reported that they have had a bad experience when applying for a job …  (and) the vast majority (75 percent) of workers who applied to jobs using various resources in the last year said they never heard back from the employer.

“Negative implications for today’s employers”

One of the big issues with so many job candidates never hearing back when they apply for a job is the expectation on the part of so many that responding to a job application — a common courtesy, one would think — is that a simple response is the least that an organization can do for their applicants.

That’s hardly the case, however.

CareerBuilder’s survey found that a whopping 82 percent of workers “expect to hear back from a company when they apply for a job regardless of whether the employer is interested, (and) nearly one-third (32 percent) of workers said they would be less inclined to purchase products or services from a company that didn’t respond to their application.”

And, the survey’s analysis makes this critical point:

While this speaks to the challenges of finding employment in a highly competitive market, it also brings to light negative implications for today’s employers. The survey shows candidates who have had a bad experience when applying for a position are less likely to seek employment at that company again and are more likely to discourage friends and family from applying or purchasing products from that company.”

So, what makes for a bad candidate experience? The CareerBuilder survey asked this as well, and the scary thing for me is that I have personally experienced almost all of these.

Things that bothered job applicants

The survey found that 26 percent of workers say they have have had a bad experience as a job applicant, citing a lack of follow through, inconsistencies from the employer, or poor representation of the company’s brand as the primary culprits. Some of the specific issues mentioned by candidates:

  • Employer never bothered letting me know the decision after the interview – 60 percent.
  • Found out during the interview that the job didn’t match what was written in the job ad – 43 percent.
  • Company representative didn’t present a positive work experience – 34 percent.
  • Company representative didn’t seem to be knowledgeable – 30 percent.
  • Employer never acknowledged receiving my application – 29 percent

“From the second job seekers are viewing your job ad and applying to your company, they are forming an opinion of who you are as an employer and as a business,” said Sanja Licina, Ph.D. and Senior Director of Talent Intelligence at CareerBuilder, in a press release about the survey.

He added: “One bad applicant experience can have a ripple effect with candidates not only vocalizing their dissatisfaction with how they were treated, but encouraging others not to apply or even buy products from that company. It’s so critical that your employment brand effectively carries through at every touch point with candidates.”

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The CareerBuilder survey also mentioned some companies that were found to provide “a consistently exceptional candidate experience across their organizations.” They singled out Shell Oil Company, MB Financial Bank, Pinstripe and Baptist Memorial Health Care for the “timeliness of response to applications and follow through, candidate’s assessment of how knowledgeable the company’s recruiters are and how well they represented their company brand, whether candidates would recommend the company or apply again, and other factors.”

Does the “candidate experience” really matter?

So, here’s the big question: is the candidate experience really all that important?

I think it is because I believe that how you treat people in situations like this says a lot about your organizational values and purpose. Any company can treat  top candidates well, but how they act toward the great nameless, faceless mass of people who come to them really speaks volumes about how they treat not only those who actually do get hired, but how they probably treat their customers as well.

My friend and savvy HR pro Tim Sackett, however, takes a different view. He feels that all this talk about the “candidate experience” is nonsense. As Tim wrote here once on TLNT:

The best companies to work for don’t worry about “The Candidate Experience” because of these reasons:

  • 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.”

Bad experience = major organizational issues

Tim makes some good points here, but still, I’d like to think that having a good candidate experience would be something that organizations would strive for and be proud to have. Treating people well is always a good business (and HR) practice.

But Tim also had this piece of pragmatic wisdom that I can’t argue with, and it probably explains why the “candidate experience” is destined to be something that companies continue to ignore and that job seekers continue to gripe about. As Tim puts it so frankly:

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.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


10 Comments on “The Candidate Experience? Survey Says, That Frankly, It Stinks

  1. This is a comment from a myself internal recruitment staffing manager as well as jobbseeking candidate based in the UK. With in excess of 30 applications and/or interviews or interactions in relation to looking for a job in last 6 months I can testify to that this subject truly bad, truly of more indifference than ever before. Even if applying for role where 90% or more match according to written jobbdescription, one is lucky if ever hearing anything back. It is simply shocking how little care, how little understanding and the level of indifference displayed. I personally hold every single recruiter, staffing/recruitment, talent acquisition manager, HR director, HR business partner or similar responsible for getting this right. This is about mind-set and where there isva will there is a way, sadly and shamefully that appear not being there.

  2. We recently conducted a survey asking Recruiters and Hiring Managers what their “2013 New Years Staffing Resolution” was and ZERO percent said “making sure the candidate is satisfied” was their top priority. Over half of the respondents said “ramping up their social media” was top 2013 priority. Check out the infographic created around the survey.

  3. As the only person who handles recruiting for a small/mid-size company, it is just impossible to notify every candidate that their resume was received, etc (and recruiting is only one of my job functions). I know I “should” do it, but when I post a craigslist ad for 4 entry-level positions and get 100-200 resumes for each, I have a hard enough time even reading through all the resumes! I am not fortunate enough to have sophisticated sophware, I don’t even have enough budget to post ads on Monster or Careerbuilder where I can have an automatic response set up. Does anyone have any ideas for me in this situation how I can make the experience better for the candidates? A lot of job seekers do not understand that recruiters/HR people might be in a position like I am where they just do not have the bandwidth to respond to a resume that has zero of the qualifications listed in the job ad. Reading this article, it seems like some HR professionals also don’t understand what it’s like to have no budget, no software, etc. and be trying to do the best recruiting job possible in today’s world where everyone expects instant response and communication.

    1. HRSoCal: it is not a solution to your lack of automation technology, but (if you haven’t already) you could set up a separate email account to receive applications and have an “out of office” message provide the acknowledgement reply. I’ve done this in the past (when I was w/out ATS) and had several separate email addresses for different categories or locations of postings. It also keeps your regular email account clear for all of your other work related messages.

      I would also suggest including wording on all of your job postings to explain your selection process. If you state upfront “that only those that appear to meet the requirements listed with be contacted” then you should eliminate the expectation that all applicants will be contacted. This is especially important when using CL to post, as the volume of unqualified replies tends to be higher due to the ease of replying right from the posting.

      Another time-saver that I’ve used to facilitate phone screen schedules is to send out an email to all pre-screened applicants (bcc them) with your proposed time slots available and request they list their 1st, 2nd and 3rd preference as appointments will be filled as responses come through. You can also use the same bcc approach to disposition non-selected applicants at each phase, if/when you are not able to send a personal note or make individual decline calls.

      Hope that helps! ~Kelly B @TalentTalks:disqus

  4. @HRSoCal sorry but not accept that huge number of applicants and not having sophisticated software to provide answers to applicants reasons for not doing it. I have worked in some of the largest and most advanced software companies where they had systems that were useless. As a result and as in fact more efficient I used Outlook and e-mail signature macros to.provide answers. Although generic I managed through this to provide responses and to let applicants know where they were in process. It took me probably an extra hour per week (it is possible to.send out 200 replies a day in 10.minutes. This is as said before a mind-set, whether there is interest and will in treating people well, to be decent and to treat others with the respect they deserve. It is not rocket science. For those that think it too much and not possible to overcome, perhaps a re-evaluation about whether in right role and profession!.

  5. @Kelly B.TalentTalks This thing about only those that appear to meet criteria being contacted is sorry to say so and a typical ‘we cannot be bothered answer’ Let every candidate know that their application has been received for e v e r y submittal. However let at the same time know that you do have stringent criteria and that you seek to meet those, why you cannot take their application further unless they meet those. Let them however know that you appreciate their interest and welcome.them to join your talent community. Bottom line is no one knows whether the candidate in India applying have a relative in San Francisco who happens to be an outstanding match for one of your future vacancies.
    Relative to effort it costs the dividends that proper candidate care yield can be substantial (this is n o t saying the benefits are there but that they could be there) With what is possible in relation to people connectivity, be it Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter, with on average 300 close connections per person it is naive to ignore the substantial opportunities these network offer and what they can lead to. The same goes for negative response and critical voices they will only become more and more widely spread why ignore at your peril.

  6. In the age of pervasive email, it is so easy to acknowlege receipt of applications through that means! I sympathize with those out of work and always contact them when I receive a resume and also after an interview. So many applicants have written me back expressing appreciation and letting me know that it is rare to get any response from most companies, even after interviews.

  7. Just saying, how very sad to see that 7 comments was all this h u g e l y important subject could attract, truly a reflection of how little care/interest/consideration anyone pay to this subject, – shameful is all I can say as what is going on out there.

  8. I agree entirely with Jacob. And the sad fact is that it’s not only directly recruiting companies that this applies to. I have had a similar experience with an executive search and selection agency who, despite 3 calls to different people, failed to come back to me with either an interview decision or feedback. As a potential recruiter of senior managers, guess whose service I won’t be commissioning in the future! Shocking behavior, especially in times that my recruitment colleagues describe as ‘still pretty tough’ in winning engagements.

  9. I am a job seeker, but more than that I am a person.

    From places I apply for (or that come looking for me), all I ask is two things:
    -appreciate the effort and resources I expend applying to your firm (including burning annual leave at my current job)
    -follow the golden rule

    That’s it…follow the golden rule. Treat me as you would want me to treat you were the situation reversed. Is that really so much to ask?

    If for whatever reason you feel you can’t hire me, that’s fine. I can live with that. I have a job. I’ll be OK. What I can’t live with is the constant disrespect, discourtesy, and unprofessionalism displayed by most hiring managers and HR departments. I just want to be treated with respect. If I go through all the trouble of applying to your firm, burning my annual leave and gas to go interview, and do everything else you ask of me, the least you can do is tell me you haven’t selected me, and why. Yes, why. How do you expect anyone at all doing anything to be able to improve themselves if they don’t know what they’re doing wrong?

    Golden rule…please.

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