Top 2019 talent trends: Candidate experience

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Welcome to the next installment of our series on 2019 trends. Did you miss the first post? We explored the massive increase in the number of remote and distributed workers and the impact this change is having on the workforce. Check it out here.

In this post, we’ll be addressing a theme that’s central to talent acquisition: candidate experience.

Seasoned talent acquisition pros may remember that once upon a time, candidate experience was the forgotten stepsister of the recruiting world, hoping for just a scrap of attention or a chance to be invited to the ball. But in 2019, we’re happy to say that candidate experience is enjoying some much-needed time in the spotlight and is actually the star of the show.

Let’s explore some of the reasons why companies are focusing on candidate experience and what this means for 2020 and beyond.

The talent market and talent’s marketing problem

Every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its report on the job market, and the November 2019 report captured many of the trends we’ve been seeing throughout the year. Unemployment is at a record low of 3.5% and 266,000 new jobs were added. What exactly do these numbers mean? “Robust employment growth, coupled with yearly wage increases and historic lows in unemployment rates, are positive signs for our economy,” Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad Global Businesses, said in a media statement.

The increase in available jobs and low unemployment rate also mean something crucial for talent acquisition pros: it’s a candidate’s world and we’re just living in it. Candidates are now in a position to take a critical eye to their experience with employers – and make decisions about where to work accordingly. Unfortunately, this is an area where many companies are still falling short. A Randstad Sourceright study found that while 77% of talent leaders considered their candidate experience to be "excellent" or "very good," 84% of candidates reported having negative experiences while job hunting.

We’ve also seen some indication of this in our own research. According to our Workplace Intelligence Report, hiring teams and managers are woefully unprepared to make smart, data-driven hiring decisions. Only 39% have received some interview training, and the process used to guide them to a hiring decision is mostly unstructured. Interview guides are used only 40% of the time, and there is little structure or consistency to the questions being asked or the way interviewer feedback is captured. Nearly 20% of all survey respondents claim that hiring is completely unstructured in their companies. It’s easy to imagine how an unstructured process could lead to wasted time, duplicated efforts and a general sense of dissatisfaction among candidates.

Want to dig into the findings from our report? Download your copy here.

Understanding candidate expectations

Candidates look to the overall application process as an indication of what to expect from an employer if they end up accepting the job. Is there clear communication? Are they treated with respect? Does it feel personal?

In a recent PwC survey, 49% of job seekers said they’ve turned down an offer because of a bad candidate experience. Zety, an online resume builder, also found that the application and interviewing process and experience were the top priority of every demographic group of job seekers they surveyed.

How can we bridge the gap between candidates’ expectations and our own talent practices? Let’s take a look at some of the major areas where employers are falling short: speed, transparency and personalization.

  • Speed

Candidates want every aspect of the application process – from the initial online application to each interview and decision-making stage – to move as quickly as possible. SHRM reports that 60% of candidates are likely to abandon the recruitment process halfway through if it turns out to be too long or complex. Zety found that most candidates are willing to spend 15 minutes submitting an online application and two hours preparing other documents like their resume and cover letter.

There’s also an expectation/reality gap when it comes to the entire hiring process. According to Zety’s research, candidates would like to receive an offer within a week or two of an interview. However, data from the BLS shows that the average job search takes five and a half weeks. This means that employers have two responsibilities – to streamline their application process as much as possible and to be honest with candidates about how long the process will take.

  • Transparency

Candidates want to have insight into what’s going on when they apply to a company. How long will the process take? What’s the status of their application? Why should they choose this particular company? And why were they ultimately chosen (or not chosen) for a role?

We mentioned earlier that there’s a disconnect between candidate expectations and the average length of a job search, which presents an opportunity for employers to be proactive in communicating the timeline for a specific role.

We’ve also seen that many employers haven’t created formal processes for giving feedback to candidates about their application. In a quick survey of talent professionals, we found that only 20% have guidelines or a formal process at their organization for giving feedback to both candidates and employees, while 34% said they don’t follow any particular guidelines or process.

Research from TalentBoard shows that giving feedback – especially when it’s done in a timely manner – can solidify relationships and have a positive impact on candidates’ perceptions. Candidates who were interviewed and then given job-related feedback by the end of that same day said they were 52% more likely to apply again, refer others or make purchases from that company if and when applicable. If they didn’t receive any feedback, they were more than twice as likely to sever the relationship.

And transparency isn’t just about a candidate’s status or next steps – it’s also essential to help candidates understand their role and what makes your company unique and appealing. A report from Phenom People found that 59% of companies didn't explain their employee value proposition. When candidates are flooded with competing offers, this is a key area where employers have the potential to stand out.

  • Personalization

Candidates don’t want to feel like they’re just another number to recruiters. They want to get the sense that they’ve been selected because of their unique talents and skills. One of the ways employers can do this is by creating a personalized candidate experience.

Whether it’s the initial outreach from a recruiter, the experience during the onsite interview or the way hiring decisions are communicated, nearly every aspect of the candidate experience can be personalized. Yet the same study by Phenom People mentioned earlier found that 84% of employers failed to personalize the candidate experience during the entire recruiting process. According to TalentBoard’s research, only 7% of candidates receive phone calls from recruiters and hiring managers when they’re not selected for a role, but candidates’ positive rating of companies jumps to 28% when they receive a phone call as opposed to an automated email.

Now that candidate experience has had a taste of the spotlight, it’s not going anywhere. As we look to 2020, talent professionals – and the companies they represent – will need to prioritize speed, transparency and personalization. While new tools and tech will help manage certain aspects of the process, the connection and communication between recruiters and candidates will continue to be the foundation of an exceptional candidate experience.

Greenhouse is here to support you as you prepare for 2020 and beyond. We’ll continue to keep an eye on the trends and offer you insights from forward-thinking talent practitioners and leaders. Stay tuned for the next installment of our series on 2019 talent trends.


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Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno

is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.