10 ways to (not) mess up your candidate experience

Written by: Endouble Endouble

An average hiring process has 80 touchpoints. 80 opportunities to mess up or shine. We’ll give you 10 opportunities to shine - if used right.

Read in: Nederlands

‘In the candidate experience, there’s no element too small to not make an impact.’ Wise words of Jonathan Campbell, co-founder of SocialTalent, spoken in his session at the 6th edition of RecFest London last week. 

So far the easy part. But how to tweak all these little elements into a great experience for candidates that apply at your company? Campbell applies the ‘10 Principles Behind Great Customer Experience’ from Financial Times author Matt Wilkinson to this. 

You want to shape a candidate experience that:

  1. ... reflects the candidates’ identity 
  2. ... satisfies our higher objectives
  3. ... sets and then meets expectations
  4. ... is effortless
  5. ... is stress free
  6. ... indulges the senses
  7. ... is socially engaging
  8. ... puts the candidate in control
  9. ... considers the emotions of a candidate
  10. ... leaves nothing to chance

1. Strongly reflect the candidates’ identity

Let’s start with an example from Apple. Remember this ad?

Apple says: we’re the creative guy. If you don’t stand for something as a company, no one’s gonna come to you. This is exactly what your employer brand should do: it should reflect your identity, not an image. When you live your values, the right candidates’ will recognize themselves in it.

2. Satisfy your candidates’ SUPER objectives

Get below the values of your candidates. Find their SUPER objective. If someone says: ‘I need better compensation & benefits’, the question you want to ask is 'why?'. The answer might surprise you! Maybe someone just wants their kids to have a better education (instead of getting a new car).

Career sites and testimonials of employees should address this. Showcase the real stories, the SUPER objectives of your employees.

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3. Set and then meet expectations

Happiness = reality - expectations.

When it comes to expectations, it's better to underpromise and overdeliver. If you tell a candidate you’ll be in touch in 2 weeks and you call in 1 week, you’re doing well in the candidates’ eyes. Campbell: ‘Don’t constantly try to exceed expectations, you’

ll create a sequence of disappointments.’

Sonos, producer of wireless HiFi-audio, does this very well. It first asks candi

dates for their favorite song. Once at the Sonos office they take the candidate to a music room to give them the Sonos audio experience. In case of rejection, the candidate gets a 50% off voucher. So whatever happens, the candidate ‘wins’.

4. Make it effortless

Start removing obstacles:

  • Reduce information requirements in the application process
  • Reduce options → reduce choices
  • Streamline tasks
  • Eliminate opportunities to error
  • Use convenient channels. (If your candidates aren’t fan of e-mail? Use Whatsapp).
  • Onboarding pack: try to break it up to chunks. Which info do candidates really need in 4/2/1 weeks before their first day?

5. Make it stress free

Stress can lead to errors, errors can lead to stress. The Lean philosophy therefore invented  'Poka Yoke' or ‘mistake proofing’. For example, when you leave keys in car, the car doesn’t lock.

How to ‘mistake proof’ your candidate experience? Simple. Prevent candidates from making the same mistakes.


When lots of people struggle with a specific step in the application or the interview, cheat sheets will serve the candidates preparation. If you know parking options are scarce around your office, directions on where to park and how to walk will help the candidate to arrive stress free. 

6. Indulge the senses

Remember the smell of Emirates Airways or Abercrombie & Fitch? These companies created a perfume for their brand that they dispense in their planes and shops. Whether you like these odours or not, they create a sense of familiarity. (Odours trigger memories in the brain.) 

TA teams often ignore the candidates’ senses.

Not LinkedIn. We’ve heard stories of candidates getting their job offer in a golden envelope: ‘You’re In’. Who receives post nowadays? Let alone a golden envelope? A great example of how stimulating the senses can make one feel fantastic.

7. Make it socially engaging

We more readily buy from a friend than a stranger. Hiring is a social game, so throw yourselves at the front so that candidates can see they are actually hired by humans, not by a system. 

Make it personal, just like insurance company NN does on their career page. Their recruiters introduce themselves in a super short movie at the vacancy page. This gives candidates a feel of the people they’re dealing with and it lowers the threshold to contact recruiters for questions. (Click to visit page.)

NN video candidate experience

8. Put the candidate in control

Use scheduling tools to schedule interviews. Rather than assigning them a time slot, you could offer candidates a choice. Some people prefer an interview at 8 pm, when they put the kids to bed, when they’re ready to relax. This obviously requires a bit of flexibility. 

9. Consider your candidates emotions (yes, emotions!)

How your candidates feel during your recruitment process is not something you can just decide. You can however send them in the right direction using the right words. Two basic rules apply here: 

  1. Promote positive emotions → use positive words (list of words on Github)
  2. Actively avoid negative emotions → avoid negative words (list of words on Github)

10. Leave nothing to chance

Ask yourself: do you (and your team) genuinely care about the experience candidates have with your company? If so, use this exercise:

  1. Define your most important (groups of) candidates or ‘personas’. You’ll shape a different experience for all of them. 
  2. Identify all stages in the process (apply, assess, interview, offer, onboard - or something similar). 
  3. Define success criteria for each stage: how does success look like for each type of candidate?
  4.  Break the stages down in steps and define the owner of each step. 
  5.  Map out all the touchpoints.
  6.  Model ‘as is’ versus ‘to be’ for each persona.

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