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What you need to know about candidate experience

Candidate experience
Helen Gilroy-Powell

Helen Gilroy-Powell

4th October 2019

At our latest Occupation: People event, we delved into what makes an exceptional candidate experience. It’s been a hot topic for about 10 years—as Luke Shipley pointed out—and most companies will claim they care about it. But how much should we invest in the candidate experience, and what is the value in doing so?

feedback, employee onboarding and candidate experience

According to our panel, a bad candidate experience still appears to be the norm. Lengthy and difficult application processes, having to wait weeks for an answer to only to get an impersonal automated email or, even worse, not hearing back from employers at all, are all too common experiences for candidates. 

In our panel, Jonathan Coulter, Co-Founder of Troi, gave Virgin Media as an example of how bad candidate experience can be more costly than you may think. Virgin Media worked out that bad candidate experience was costing them at least £4.4 million each year. This was because 6% of their candidates who had a bad experience ended up canceling their Virgin Media subscriptions. The loss could be much higher if those candidates who cancelled based on a bad experience spoke to friends and family who subsequently cancelled their subscriptions as well. 

Using this data, their Head of Resourcing and Employer Brand was able to convince Virgin Media’s leaders to invest in creating a “gold standard” training programme to improve the interview process and give candidates some special Virgin Media content, including recordings of Usain Bolt wishing them luck with their application. Not only did this give a unique experience but it also promoted their products and services meaning they acquired customers as well as candidates. 

It’s clear that giving a good candidate experience can be good for the business all-round so here are our 5 steps to creating an exceptional candidate experience.

1. Create efficiency, transparency and good communication

Opening the event, Luke Shipley identified these three central aspects of a good candidate experience. Ben O'Mahony, People & Talent Director at Cytora proposed one way to help you be more efficient is to visualise your whole hiring process, identify where candidates enter and leave the pipeline, when are the key touchpoints and who is responsible for what in the process. 

Ben said, “a common issue with candidate experience is the lack of clarity”, so being mindful of the candidate’s journey and managing their expectations can help improve their experience. Applying for jobs can be stressful so little touches like letting them know what to expect from the interview process or when they can expect to hear from you can really help candidates feel more at ease. 

2. Identify constraints in your process

Ben gave an insightful talk where he applied the Theory of Constraints—a concept from mechanics—to the hiring pipeline. You can watch his whole talk here.

A key aspect of his talk was identifying bottlenecks in your recruitment processes. Bottlenecks are essentially resource or time-limited stages in your hiring process. It could be a specific meeting room or scarce slots in your founder’s diary for a one-on-one interview.

Visualising the process can help you pinpoint the optimum flow. If a one-hour founder interview is a key event in your interview process and your founder only has six spare hours in their diary per week, this is a bottleneck as you know that you can only interview a maximum of six candidates each week. You can clear this out by shortening the interview, but be aware that once one bottleneck is cleared often another appears. It’s a process of continual improvement.

Ben also said that the goal of optimising the flow of candidates isn’t to fit in as many candidates as you can into the system. If you push too many people through at once, your candidate experience can suffer through delays in giving feedback or even an inability to remember which candidate said what. So you should establish the perfect flow for your business. 

3. Humanise the process

Garry Turner, one of our panellists, was a strong advocate of humanising the hiring journey. He said that he recently started asking candidates what they would do differently if they were in the position of hiring manager. Collecting this feedback demonstrates to your candidates that you value their opinion and are continually striving to give them the best you can. 

Joe Gill, Account Executive from HiBob spoke about how, for the first time, we have four generations in the workforce and each have different expectations for how they should be treated. Understanding the needs of the different demographics your candidates come from can help you tailor their journey and even exceed their expectations.

4. Make use of automation

Giving every candidate a personal touch can take time, effort and resources. Our panelists discussed tools from the ATS itself, to specific tools that you can integrate with your ATS to give extra insights such as feedback, sentiment analysis or removing unconscious bias. These tools not only enhance the candidate experience but Joe said they can also improve the hiring experience feeding into employee satisfaction.     

We recently wrote on our favourite tech tools that can help give your candidates an excellent experience with minimal effort from your team. From AI to help screen candidates, to onboarding tools like HiBob, to tech that automates your reference checks—like the tools we offer at Zinc—using automation tools can take the strain off your team while delivering a clear and transparent candidate experience. 

Remember, when it comes to automation and metrics, one size does not fit all. Which tools you choose depends on the hiring needs of your company at the time. Ensure that the tools you use will collect the right kind of data that will help inform the kinds of decisions you need to make. 

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5. Delegate

A common problem when growing your business is that processes that were fine when you had a small team can suddenly become impractical when hiring to scale. For example, some companies have the Head of People and Talent conduct all the culture-fit interviews. This is fine when you’re hiring less than five candidates a week but can become unsustainable when hiring at volume.

You’ve hired good people, trust them to make good decisions. When you empower your hiring managers to drive the culture of the company, they will be able to make the right call on candidates they interview. Allowing your hiring managers to be responsible and accountable for their hiring decisions can lead to better engagement in their work. Giving hiring managers ownership over their decisions can be incredibly powerful and can even lead to happier workplaces.


Today, more than ever, candidates speak to each other, whether that is on their social media channels, on Glassdoor or another review site, experiences—both good and bad—are being shared. As Luke showed in his talk, most companies these days have interview scores on Glassdoor and there is no real correlation between high scores and top brands meaning that a good score is achievable for everyone.

Jonathan made the point that even if they are not the right candidate for you right now, they may be right for a future role. Garry added that candidates you see today may even be your boss in the future, so showing respect to all candidates that come through your pipeline can lay the groundwork for future professional relationships. Even if this is not the case, giving a good candidate experience is still a positive step in your professional practice.

Applying and interviewing for jobs can be an incredibly stressful time for candidates. Showing them the respect they deserve and even going the extra mile can mean you attract and retain the best candidates. It also helps build your employer brand. It’s no wonder forward-thinking companies are taking the time to craft exceptional candidate experiences.


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