Recruiting has never been easy, and with today’s competitive talent marketplace, it’s only become more challenging. To separate themselves from the pack and attract top performers who are looking for more than their next job, companies need a fresh approach to talent management – and it all starts with humanizing the recruitment process.

The Talent Marketplace Is Changing

In the aftermath of the economic downturn, employers had their pick of skilled candidates who found themselves on the job market unexpectedly. In 2010, the national unemployment rate had climbed to 9.64 percent (a sharp increase from 5.81 percent in 2008). This was an employer’s market, and companies could leisurely cherry-pick from the best of the best while candidates scrambled for opportunities. Today, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. In 2014, unemployment averaged 6.18 percent, and it has been decreasing steadily to average 5.48 percent in 2015.

Right now, it’s a candidate’s market, and job seekers are more selective about the roles they will pursue. In this tight labor market, it isn’t enough for companies to go through the usual motions. Employers who expect to win – and keep – top talent must create and deliver on a compelling value proposition. The secret to attracting and keeping top talent is humanizing how your company approaches engagement.

What Is Humanization?

Humanization means making your company more human, and the core of the human experience is emotional connection. Sounds obvious, right?

But the truth is, as companies grow, the human factor sometimes takes a backseat to business. We’re so busy driving revenue, automating tricky processes (and making them poka-yoke or mistake proof), reporting against results, delivering on customer promises – all while sending out countless emails – that, sometimes, we forget to engage people on a human level and create an emotional, empathetic connection.

As a part of your training, ask your new employees what their job search was like before joining your team. In addition to sharing positive anecdotes, employees may also relate some negative experiences: companies never responded to resumes, there was little communication throughout the process, and they felt like another number in a database. For recruiters joining your company, this can be an opportunity to make a positive difference for candidates experiencing the same frustrations.

To create an engaging candidate experience, you must put yourself in your candidate’s shoes. If you were a candidate, would you like to apply for job after job, only to hear next to nothing from almost every recruiter? Not only is this demotivating for job seekers, it builds an unnecessary barrier between the candidate and your company, creating frustration. Your recruiters may be missing out on stellar talent in a quest to collect tons of resumes while making as few calls as possible. Although this is less work for the recruiter, that frustrated job seeker now has a negative view of your brand – and they probably won’t be shy about sharing those frustrations on social media and sites like Glassdoor. This may affect future buying decisions, too: often, today’s candidate is tomorrow’s client. At the end of the day, you may have missed out on great talent by not building humanization into your process, and your brand has taken a hit.

TreesHumanization can vary from company to company. It is a unique part of your brand DNA. For leaders, this means examining what makes your company special and how you can capitalize on these traits to delight others. It’s also as simple as how employees greet each other in the hallways, or how managers coach employees.

In other words, humanization improves the way you interact with your employees, candidates, customers, and business partners to create an exceptional experience. Humanization can also help you examine your management team’s structure, how you resolve employee concerns, and how you communicate your overall message. Try to see everyone as a customer, from clients to candidates and colleagues, so you’re better able to empathize and address concerns. After all, it’s the human element that sets you apart and keeps employees motivated and excited to work for you. In a competitive talent market, this is the secret to creating an engaging candidate experience.

Humanizing the Candidate Experience

1. Talk Like People

While legalese keeps everyone honest, it isn’t the best way to relate to your audience. In a fast-moving labor market, you want to engage candidates as quickly as possible. Busy candidates are looking for simple, plain language explaining why they should consider your job over anyone else’s. From a job seeker’s point of view, would you rather read a long, dry job description, or a posting that speaks to the company’s culture and verve?

2. Sell the Benefits

Every company, no matter its size, offers unique, exciting benefits. Outlining the basics, such as whether you offer insurance, is often helpful in painting an enticing picture, but don’t forget the intangibles that make working for your company exciting. Give candidates a reason to consider you over the competition. Demonstrating your great culture suggests you aren’t just offering a job, but also a key role in accomplishing the company’s mission – and achievement is important to humanization.

3. First Impressions Count

When visitors come to your office, what’s the first thing they notice? Is there someone to greet them? Are candidates immediately seen and given applications to complete? Is the atmosphere engaging and friendly?

Little things like lighting in the lobby area or how long it takes for someone to acknowledge visitors can make or break that crucial first impression. Your receptionist is also a key player in welcoming candidates, offering information, and helping to humanize the process.

4. Technology Isn’t a Shield

Humanization, paired with recruitment technology, evolves your process to better serve candidate needs. Use technology to make the recruiting process as painless and user-friendly as possible. This includes things like building a mobile-friendly application that allows your candidates to apply to jobs in under a minute, or including recruiter contact information on postings so candidates can call with questions.

FieldWhen building and automating your recruitment processes, consider how candidates will interact with each step, how much time they will need to complete a specific action, and whether those actions are error-proof. Good communication can go a long way toward bolstering the candidate experience and building bridges between recruiters and candidates.

5. Screening Out – or Screening In?

Candidate screenings help companies quantify interview outcomes and compare skill sets on a level playing field.

According to a June 2015 report from Glassdoor, employee screening is on the rise, with 42 percent of employers performing background checks in 2014, versus 25 percent in 2010. Drug testing has also seen a sharp increase, from 13 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2014.

By adding screening tools, you’re inserting layers into a process and lengthening hiring cycles, so you’ll only want to add the screens that are most critical to success (as well as relevant metrics). In addition, you’ll want to keep candidates educated and informed about the steps in the process and how you’ll use their information. As the process lengthens, keep an open communication cycle; you’ll be less likely to lose candidates to other opportunities.

6. Onboarding – and Beyond

Building a humanized candidate experience is only the first step towards retaining great talent within your organization. While engagement begins with recruitment, it lasts for the entire employee life cycle – and potentially beyond. It’s how you integrate new hires into your organization and keep them motivated that really drives retention and builds an engaged, productive workforce within a competitive landscape.

Small gestures, such as equipping a new hire’s desk with necessary supplies and paperwork (like the employee handbook or training manuals), introducing new employees to team members, or offering formal training on products and services can pay dividends toward retention. It’ll also continue to feed the recruitment cycle. If your company is radiating positive energy, candidates can’t help but wonder what it would be like to join your team.

A version of this article originally appeared on CoAdvantage.

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