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Back when every organization had multiple candidates clamoring for each of its open jobs, employers could expect job seekers to put up with outdated candidate experiences. Poorly designed careers pages, limited communication with hiring managers, and lowball offers were not only common — they were the norm.

However, the tables have turned. Today’s candidates know they’re in high demand, so they expect a better experience during the hiring process.

Consider how convenient other aspects of a candidate’s life have become. Finding a house, obtaining financing, and purchasing that house can now take as little as 30 days. Finding that special someone is as simple as swiping right. Buying a car or planning a trip requires little more than a few clicks. Overall, the average candidate’s life is as painless as it has ever been — which is why building a great end-to-end candidate experience has never been more important.

It All Starts With the Application Process

No true transformation can happen until you put yourself in your candidate’s shoes. The process of building an awesome candidate experience starts with an assessment. You need to know how job seekers find your jobs, what information they gather and consider before deciding to apply, and what the application process feels like.

To ensure your audit of the application process is accurate, follow these steps:

  1. Put your browser in incognito mode and use a search engine to search for a position that is currently open with your company. Can you easily find your opening? Does your search to take you directly to your career site or to a third-party job board or aggregator? If you are directed to a third-party site, how many clicks does it take to reach the opening on your own career site? If it is more than 3-4 clicks, you may need to make your career site more search-engine-friendly.
  2. Once you’ve found the position, attempt to apply for it. Build or find a resume that is perfect for the role, and then go through the application process yourself. Note how long it takes, whether the application times out, whether the same information needs to be entered multiple times, and any other hiccups or hurdles you encounter. If you get frustrated, don’t give up. It’s crucial you go through the entire process so that you experience exactly what your candidates experience.
  3. Consider whether an A-player would pursue a position with your company if they had to go through this process. If the answer is yes, you can proceed to the next portion of the audit. If the answer is no, you must pinpoint your application process’s specific issues. If your ATS is the problem, schedule a call with your vendor. If your career site is too difficult to navigate, discuss possible changes with the IT department. Don’t let the audit go to waste by ignoring any of the issues you uncover.

Play the Waiting Game

Now that you’ve applied to your own company, you’re starting to get a taste of what your applicants go through. Next, you get to wait by the phone — or the email inbox — for your company to get back to you.

Only half of the candidate experience has to do with recruiter-candidate interaction. The other, more important half is all the time your company is not interacting with the candidate, including:

  1. The time between application submission and the company’s response
  2. The time it takes to schedule an interview
  3. The lack of feedback after an interview
  4. The time it takes your team to make a decision

These are stages during which your candidate is mostly left waiting. In today’s market, they won’t wait for long. Instead, they’ll grow impatient with your lack of contact and move on to other employers.

Your candidate experience audit continues with the waiting game. Here are some things to watch out for during this phase:

  1. Pay attention to how long it takes to receive a response after submitting your application. Does it take hours, days, or weeks? If the resume you submitted is a solid fit for the position, you should receive a call right away. If not, that suggests you could be missing out on incredible candidates. If you receive a call or personal email within the week, your company is doing a good job. If it takes longer than that, consider setting aside some time every week to let candidates know one way or the other what their status is in the process.
  2. When you receive a response, note how it sounds. Does it appear automated and perfunctory, or does it give additional information? Even an automated response should contain a call to action so the candidate knows what to do next.
  3. Look at the internal mechanics of your application’s journey. Has your carefully crafted resume bubbled up to the hiring manager? Did it get through the ATS? You should be called in for an interview, at which point the jig is up. Everyone will know that application was yours, so the remainder of your audit will have to be done from the inside.

Gather Anecdotal Evidence

Once you’ve gone through the application process, you can start to survey your recent hires about their own experiences with the process. Here are some questions to ask:

  1. Do you remember how you found our company and/or the job you applied for?
  2. What did you love about the process? What did you hate?
  3. How much time elapsed between the start of your job hunt and your first day here?
  4. On a scale of 1-10, how well were you treated during the interview and hiring process?
  5. Did you experience redundancies in our process? (E.g., multiple interviews about the same topics, reentering data from your resume into the ATS.)
  6. What would you change about the hiring process?

Once you have gathered your anecdotal evidence, you can begin to identify common trends and themes across experiences. You’ll be able to see what is clicking — and what isn’t — with your candidates.

Look for Less Obvious Fixes

While your audit is likely to uncover all the major issues, some smaller ones may avoid notice — unless you know what to look for.

For example, it’s important to make sure you are marketing your company properly to catch candidates’ attention, as 75 percent of candidates research jobs and companies across multiple channels before deciding to apply. Organizations should make important information readily available to candidates. Consider highlighting your values prominently on your careers page and social media profiles. In addition, you can use employee testimonials in job ads and on your site to give candidates a more authentic view of your company.

Another frequent misstep? Failing to get every party involved in the hiring process on the same page. Candidates are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them, so your hiring team needs to present a united — and competent — front.

Organize a meeting between the hiring manager, recruiter, and anyone else involved in the hiring decision. Discuss what the team wants and needs in a candidate, what reasonable requirements for the role should look like, and who is in charge of what aspects of the recruiting process. If Joe the hiring manager is focused on skills and assessments, that frees Ruth the recruiting admin to focus on the candidate’s work habits and history. Meanwhile, the candidate won’t have to answer the same questions over and over again, producing a far more enjoyable experience.

Customize Your Approach

Do you send out the same form letter to everyone you hire? If so, you’re missing out on one of the easiest and cheapest ways to impact your candidate experience.

Make the process of extending an offer into something truly enjoyable for new hires. Some ideas:

  1. Record a welcome video that includes messages from everyone on the new hire’s team
  2. Have everyone sign a congratulatory card and send it along with your offer
  3. Invite the candidate to lunch to celebrate their new role

There are a thousand ways to make your candidate experience amazing, and most require very little effort and very low budgets! You know which ones are right for your organization, so stop making excuses and start offering candidates a real experience.

A version of this article originally appeared on the ClearCompany blog.

Sara Pollock is head of the marketing department at ClearCompany.

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