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James H. Gilmore on the Candidate Experience

by Joseph Murphy

James H. Gilmore, co-founder of Strategic Horizons, is a foremost authority on the nature of experience as a driver and differentiator in business. He has documented a broad range of examples of how experience provides competitive advantage in the market in his book The Experience Economy: Work is Theater & Every Business a Stage. My research and writing on the candidate experience created a connection to Gilmore. We had the good fortune to meet and discuss our views on this important topic. Our conversation surfaced some thoughtful considerations for staffing process improvement through the lens of experience.

In the video below, Gilmore offers a variety of compelling factors to consider in what experience to deliver to the candidate in the recruiting process.

Broadly, Gilmore offers four key points for consideration:

  1. Time as currency: how is the time spent, who spends the most time?
  2. Memory: what memories are created for all parties, how lasting are those memories?
  3. Experience stages: Attracting, Entering, During, Exiting, Extending
  4. Bridge digital to physical: extend a tangible outcome to acknowledge the exchange

I conducted early research and participated in the development of the Candidate Experience Award surveys. Talent Board now has two years of survey data from corporations and applicants that specifically address many elements of the candidate experience. Gilmore's suggestions hit on several points which candidates state are important to them. I will expand on each point.

Time As Currency

Candidates invest a lot of time completing job applications. For those truly in need of a job, the act of applying can be informed by a feeling of desperation. The time spent is an investment of hope, anticipation, and optimism. What is their return on investment?

Every candidate who applies wants feedback. It can be as simple as acknowledgement that you received their data. Furthermore, they want to know if they are being considered, if someone has looked at their submission, and if they are qualified. They also want to know if they have been knocked out. Use your ATS to disposition them. One participant personally acknowledges every candidate that applies. In 2012 their candidate volume approached 50,000. They spend time making a personal touch with each candidate and view it as an extension of their brand. And they take their brand image very seriously.


This is a new factor to consider, and the Candidate Experience Award survey does not address this directly. However, candidates do indeed remember how they were treated, both well and poorly. Candidates indicate negative experience influence brand perception and impact the likelihood of referring other candidates. Positive experiences can be delivered to all applicants, and those successful in getting a job offer typically walk away with the best memory, but that is not universal. Candidates can still feel negative about the process in spite of getting a job.

Some organizations seek feedback from candidates at each step of the process. Each step delivers an experience which in turn creates a memory. What memory does your staffing process create?

Experience Stages

Gilmore shared a five stage experience model: Attracting, Entering, During, Exiting, and Extending. These stages can easily be overlaid with most staffing processes.

  • Attracting: sourcing, inviting candidates to consider a career with your firm
  • Entering: the ATS or summiting an application process
  • During: acknowledgement, screening, assessing, interviewing
  • Exiting: rejection, dispositioning, feedback
  • Extending: job offer, joining a talent community, post-experience memory and engagement

Each of these process stages can be owned by different constituents and vary widely in how the candidate responds. One of the biggest requests from candidates is to know where they stand. Each of these stages is an opportunity to communicate, confirm and manage expectations. Firms designated as delivering and outstanding experience manage the communication well at all stages of the process.

Bridge Digital to Physical

With 100-to-1 applicant-to-hire ratios, it may not be realistic to make a physical connection to each individual. One of the Candidate Experience Award winners did give an on-line game token to all of their candidates. However, they had their brand embedded in the game. This served as two value points in the overall experience - extend the brand and continue to communicate to the candidate.

There can be creative and low cost ways to connect with your candidates. Put your thinking cap on and see what you come up with.

Gilmore will be speaking on HR and the Experience Economy at the January 17, 2013 meeting of NOHRPS.