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Does candidate experience matter?

by Joseph Murphy

A growing number of companies and industry professionals are engaged in answering the question: Does candidate experience matter?

Talent Board, a non-profit organization for which I serve on the board of directors, set out to create useful definitions of factors that comprise the candidate experience. Through our longitudinal survey research we collect standardized data from companies and their candidates and turn it into useful metrics. We have six years of data from hundreds of companies across the globe and responses from nearly half a million candidates.

Our objective is to create data that can be used to support process improvement in a business area heretofore lacking measurement rigor and discipline. Progress has been made in defining, evaluating, and improving the candidate experience and opening the door for interested organizations to reap the rewards of improving their candidate experience.

Our research has provided a clear answer: Candidate experience does matter.

Experience as a Process

We began by taking a point of view that staffing is a process to manage. W. Edwards Deming, a thought leader in the discipline of quality improvement is known for his assertion, “If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.” We recognize that the staffing process has inputs, methods, outcomes, and variation. Within this framework we can ask questions, collect various data to document methods, and use analysis to obtain insights. The results have enabled participating companies to identify actions for experiments in process improvement.

A survey design team of professionals with broad and deep experience in talent acquisition crafted a list of practices and methods used by companies in the staffing process. These elements covered variables from sourcing and attracting talent through early stages of onboarding. The list was vetted by a second set of practitioners and structured into a survey questionnaire: The Candidate Experience Survey—Company Version. 

The survey carries with it the bias of its authors and reviewers, though attempts have been made to make it broad enough to cover key process stages and deep enough to capture tactical planning. While so much about the staffing process remains unexplored by the Candidate Experience Survey, six years of data have captured many valuable insights about the recruiting process.

What constitutes a quality candidate experience is not a universal truth. Every company has its own expectations for what a candidate experience should deliver, and this experience can vary for different jobs within a single company. Most companies design their own recruiting process, and it can range from highly intentional consideration and clearly defined objectives to a mere default to the mechanics of technology.

Regardless of the process, the company aims, above all, to make informed hiring decisions.

Process as Experience

The candidate experience is defined by what the candidate encounters in their movement through the staffing process. The Candidate Experience Survey—Candidate Version is a mirror and extension of the Company Version. Candidates are asked to identify what process elements they encountered, rate their relative value, and describe the sense of fairness and usefulness of the process from the applicant point of view.

Candidate responses afford participating companies the opportunity to observe how candidates perceive the process they designed, how consistently the design went from concept to practice, and how the process may impact their targeted talent pools.

Candidates begin the journey with their own variety of expectations, ranging from the hope and excitement of a college graduate launching a new career to the anxiety and desperation of an unemployed parent with a rent bill to pay. Candidates submit themselves to a staffing process that represents the possible fulfillment of various personal needs and dreams. Consequently, candidates absolutely observe and remember their experiences. They note differences between and compare their potential employers. Then they share their observations about their job search and application experience with their network. 

Regardless of the process, the candidate aims, above all, to make an informed career decision.

Process Improvement as Journey

W. Edwards Deming had a passion for statistical methods and commitment to continuous quality improvement. He did not set out to convert the world—he began with those organizations willingly seeking alternative methods to improve their business. Talent Board set out on a similar mission to offer willing seekers an opportunity to engage in evidence-based process improvement. And the first step in that journey is always dialogue.

Companies interested in their candidate experience often take their first step by considering the questions presented in the Candidate Experience Survey. Participating companies commonly immediately recognize the value of the dialogue about their process that is initiated by the survey content. And thus, the journey begins.  It is said that the act of observation by itself leads to change. Throw in some measurement and the change formula dramatically increases in its potential for success. 

Lord Kelvin, nineteenth-century physicist and mathematician stated, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.”

The Candidate Experience Survey offer companies a standardized methodology to document and measure elements of their staffing process, thereby expanding their knowledge of it and providing data as the basis for their journey in staffing process improvement.

Utility versus Validity

The Candidate Experience Survey is intended to give companies actionable insights from data. The focus is on utility as opposed to validity. Empirical validity is best suited to stable conditions where predictors and criteria are standardized and repeating the outcome is essential.  Companies, jobs, and economic cycles are tied to too many fluid factors for such experimental design. As such, care has been taken over the past six years to maintain consistent survey content so changes in process elements can be noted, trends can be plotted, and implications of changes can be identified by companies that participate over time.

Benchmark data, the documentation of process elements, affords a company self-reflection and evaluation regarding how their process compares to others. This data may affirm direction and invite consideration for adding or removing process elements.

Process improvement is often said to be driven by being 1 percent better on 100 things versus being 100 percent better on one thing. Self-survey data, candidate response data, and comparative data from the benchmark aggregate have been providing organizations guidance and options to pursue to obtain and deliver more value from their candidate experience. 

Bold Bias for Action

Last year about 300 companies across the globe took the bold step to document elements of their staffing process and invite a sample of their candidates to provide feedback on their experience. More than 220,000 candidates took the invitation seriously. In the past six years about 500,000 candidates have responded to the call for feedback. Talent Board has collected and organized this data into meaningful metrics and made it available to participants via a data dashboard. 

What we now know is that companies are hungry for data that helps them better understand their processes. We know candidate experience matters. And we know companies interested in differentiating themselves in the war for talent can and do get more support for their staffing process from the very people they are interested in hiring.

Here is an example of how one multi-year participant describes some of the actions they have taken: http://www.shakercg.com/quality-of-hire-blog/Capital-One-and-the-Candidate-Experience-Awards

Candidates also have a bold bias for action. One small but mighty data point from the Candidate Experience Survey addresses the power of viral communication. Candidates who had a favorable experience said they would refer others to apply. What a great way to leverage attraction efforts. Candidates who had a poor experience said they would actively discourage others from applying. When your talent acquisition process actually acts contrary to your overall business objectives, it may be time to focus on being bolder in creating bias for action.

Your Journey, Your Decision, Your Community

We’ve all heard that the journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step. Here are a few first steps to start you on your process improvement journey:

A global candidate experience community of interest has been created. You have an opportunity to listen to, share with, and learn from like-minded individuals. Start exploring the many options available to you to engage with this community.

Lastly, bring together a group of your peers and open a dialogue. Perhaps you will find you want to join the other companies committed to understanding and improving their candidate experience. Register for the 2017 survey and research program.

Get some data and find out for yourself: Does your candidate experience matter?

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