Candidate experience is a multi-faceted thing, and a lot of companies are struggling to give their applicants positive experiences. Just consider the stats:

- Only 40 percent of recruiters are even required to respond to job applicants at all, according to the 2015 NAM CandE Research Report.

- According to the most recent DHI-DFH Vacancy Duration Measure, it takes an average of 27.2 working days to fill a job in the U.S.

- A 2015 CareerBuilder survey found that 40 percent of candidates felt the application process had become more difficult in the last five years. Fifty-seven percent of candidates said the process lacked personalization, 51 percent were frustrated by having no idea of where they were in the process, and 50 percent said applications had many more steps than they used to. The survey also found that three out of five candidates would leave an application unfinished if they felt it was too long.

These stats can and do shock recruiters and HR professionals into creating better candidate experiences. While most of us know the basics of better experiences – e.g., respond quickly, be polite, source and vet appropriately, and invest in employer branding – there’s one thing many companies are missing: consistency.

Why Consistency Matters and How to Build It Into Your Candidate Experience

In the candidate experience, “consistency” means the steady drip, drip, drip of communication that makes candidates feel valued, answers their questions, gets them to complete applications, and generally gives them the feeling that behind every video interview, psychometric assessment, skills test, and arduous ATS screening is a person who actually cares whether or not they come to work there.

Take a look at the stats up there again. Applying for a job is hard, but it doesn’t have to be Herculean. How much more likely would those three candidates leaving their applications unfinished be to complete their applications if they received a note from a hiring manager or a quick “Need help?” message from a chatbot? You don’t even have to go the high-tech route: Just give candidates contact information for someone who can help them out and answer their questions. (And make sure that person is actually available to do those things.)

Here are four things you need to do to create a consistent candidate experience:

Flare1. Make Sure There Are Commonalities Across Your Job Ads

Your job ads shouldn’t be all over the map. Rather, they should share a few similarities, regardless of the position being advertised. While teams and departments can vary wildly, most companies have easily identified cultures, which is good considering 66 percent of job seekers want details about a company’s culture. The advertisement you create should reflect your unique culture and environment.

Hayneedle is one company that does a great job of starting off many of its job ads the same way by describing the company’s identity, why it’s different, and the kinds of people that are successful there. Furthermore, the job ads are well written and professional, and they’re exciting to read – like job ads should be.

Try to keep the same tone throughout your career site, anywhere you can inject personality into your ATS, and in your email communications. Say it with me: There is absolutely nothing wrong with templates.

2. Make the Application Process Candidate-Friendly

Consistency in tone is just as important to your business as consistency in process. In fact, your application process should speak to how you approach employment, which in turn should come directly from your employer brand promise.

To all those who complain that they don’t have the budget to improve candidate experience, I say, “Bah!” It costs nothing to check on abandoned applications and reach out, create a Gmail or MixMax template, or build a Zapier automation that sends a greeting note to new applications. Or you could use one of the ideas I mentioned above. Heck, you can even pick up the phone and ask how you can make your application process better.

Applicants can spend a long time (3-4 hours, to be exact) applying for a job. The least you can do is make it a little bit pleasant. As my mom used to say, “It doesn’t hurt to be nice to a person, and it costs you nothing.”

3. Set Expectations Right Off the Bat

It is recommended that you set expectations within the first five minutes of an interview, and we stick to that rule at Red Branch Media. Because we’re a small company that receives a lot of applications, I have to set the expectation up front that people may not receive the kind of response they want (namely, a job). I do that on our website, in the phone interview, in the first email, in the job ad, and during the in-person interview.

OfficeAt every stage of the interview process, candidates know they are required to take the next step. That messaging doesn’t change, even after employment begins. It’s a great introduction to working here, where we rely heavily on quick thinking and accountability. If our candidates cannot follow along with our application process, then we probably won’t be a match when the real challenge of a career at Red Branch begins.

4. Create a Structured Interview Process

I didn’t always believe in structured interviews. I thought I could sit back, feet up on the desk, twirling a pen and shooting the breeze. What a disaster! I’ve hired some of the worst candidates ever that way.

Instead, a formalized interview structure allows me to get to know candidates on their own merits – and I no longer hire people just because they could wow me in a pizza joint. Plus, when I’m in the middle of a hiring spree – like when I’m bringing in our next round of seasonal interns – I can accurately compare candidates based on their levels of engagement in the conversation and the thought behind their responses. I’m able to see these candidates in a more objective light instead of relying on how I felt at the time of their interview.

Structured interviews are 81 percent more accurate than unstructured ones. Don’t feel intimidated by the concept. After a few interviews, you’ll learn how the general flow should go. Ours is like this:

First, I ask “What made you decide to apply to Red Branch Media?” Their answer lets me know if they understand our specialties (HR tech, finance, nonprofit) and why they were attracted to us.

I then explain the different departments. This gives me a chance to talk about who we are, what we know, and how we do things. I call these “buckets,” and at the end of my explanation, I ask the candidate which bucket interests them the most. This tells me where they’d like to be and gives me an idea of how to plant them when and if they get the job.

Then, I tell them about the kind of person who is successful here. I ask them which quality I mentioned is the one with which they most identify. We also have a formal psychometric assessment later in the process.

Finally, I tell them what to expect next, which is a work sample exercise and an in-person interview if we receive the sample by the deadline. I always let candidates know it is up to them to email me after our phone screen if they still want the job. (I can be intense.)

It’s not a perfect system, but it works. Plus, both the structure and the behavioral questions are backed by research. Here’s what Laszlo Bock, former vice president of people operations of Google, had to say about the matter in his book, Work Rules:

“In 1998, Frank Schmidt and John Hunter looked at 19 different assessment techniques and found that unstructured job interviews were pretty bad at predicting how someone would perform once hired.

“Unstructured interviews have an r2 of 0.14, meaning that they can explain only 14 percent of an employee’s performance. This is somewhat ahead of reference checks (explaining 7 percent of performance), ahead of the number of years of work experience (3 percent).

“The best predictor of how someone will perform in a job is a work sample test (29 percent).”

If your candidate experience is lacking and you’ve already tried all the obvious methods, consider adding a little consistency. After all, it doesn’t cost anything.

A version of this article originally appeared on the LinkedIn Talent Blog.

Maren Hogan is founder and CEO of Red Branch Media. You can read more of her work on Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and her blog, Marenated.

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