What a candidate wants

It’s that time of year again, when organisations and people start to think about recruitment and job hunting.  A few years ago, after securing my last permanent position, I wrote about the candidate experience.  About how often, it leaves much to be desired.

On returning to the job market a few years on….  nothing much has changed.  More companies are doing good social stuff.  You can get an insight, to some extent, into an organisation’s culture through sites like Glassdoor, but that’s about all that is new.   Much of the bad stuff I experienced still seems to be hard wired into the system.

Applications that take hours to complete, pointlessly requiring you to type in information that is already available on a CV.  Systems that are supposed to upload the information from your CV into their database but which never work properly.  Poor communication.  Lack of any sort of real feedback.  Clunky Applicant Tracking Systems.  Entirely automated processes lacking any sort of human touch.

If you haven’t heard from us in 14 days……..

A black hole of applications and expectations.

The candidate experience is an opportunity.  It is your employer brand.  It is your opportunity to engage with someone who may come and work for you….  or certainly talk about you.  A consumer of your products or services perhaps.   It is the start of that thing we call the employment life cycle.  So why do so many get it so wrong?

Perhaps, in 2017, we could do better.  So here is what I think the candidate really wants.


Candidates don’t want to have to create an account for your ATS.  Most likely, they want to apply for one job and only one job.

If you have a system candidates want it to be easy to use.

Candidates would like the ability to engage with the recruiter.  Just for question or two. A live chat, an email address or even a Twitter handle.

Candidates would really like their time not to be wasted by advertising jobs that don’t really exist, or haven’t yet been fully thought through.

Candidates very much want an email (or something) to tell us that they aren’t being considered.  An email at the start of the process saying that they will hear in so many days if they have been successful simply isn’t good enough.  If people take the time to fill out what are often lengthy applications, the very least a company do is automate another “thank you but no thank you” email.  It’s just one more button to press after all.

Candidates don’t want to have to give you loads of personal information at the first stage.  Of late, I have been asked for my National Insurance number, sexual orientation and marital status as part of an initial application. There did not appear to be a ‘actually that is none of your business’ option on the drop down menu.

A question I have always asked recruiters is this: when did you last apply for a job at your place?  When did you last go onto your careers site or ATS from the outside, and experience it as a candidate does.  When did you last review your careers site to see if it is interesting, useful or easy to navigate?

If the answer is either ‘never’ or ‘not lately’ then just go do it. Challenge every part of the process.  Is it necessary? How will it make people feel?  Is it adding value – and to whom?  Is it more about the candidate, or you?  Too many recruitment processes are designed with the recruiter and the organisation in mind – not the candidate.  In my last HRD role, we launched a new recruitment system.  Applying for jobs with candidate eyes was how we refined it; how we made it work for both us and the people who were interested in working with us.

Applying for jobs doesn’t need to be a dispiriting experience.

What candidates want is really quite simple.  A straight forward, user friendly application process.  A little bit of timely communication.  The opportunity for some personal interaction.  Just because you can automate every single bit of the process doesn’t mean you should (nod to David D’Souza). Finally, some useful feedback.

That’s all folks.


Chuck out some recruitment chintz (please)

The Candidate Experience begins with the application. From the first click on the ‘apply here’ button you are building a relationship, building dialogue. But before someone takes the step from casual browsing to becoming a candidate, they have to be engaged by the organisation, the opportunity, the advertisement itself.  They have to be inspired to take the action to get into the process.

I recently came across a truly awful job advert. I wanted to ring up the recruiter and shout at them.  Tell them that if you want to hire good people, attract talent for your place, that this was not the way to go about it.  Not today.  Not ever probably.

It started with one of my pet hates.

Interviews will take place on the 20th November. 

So if that top notch candidate that happens to have all of the experience and all of the skills, but just happens to be on holiday, out of the country, committed to something they just can’t shift, then you are happy to miss out? This sort of recruitment is all about the company and the hiring manager, with sod all concern for the candidate and their commitments, their existing job.

And then another one.

We will not accept any applications after the cut-off date.

Another reason to miss out on some top talent? They see your advert a little too late, but they are still interested in your place.  But you point to your recruitment and selection policy.  Process says no.

Followed by this: Candidates should apply as soon as possible as posts will be closed once sufficient applications are received.

Right then. So when you have reached some golden number, you are just going to close it then to any other potential talent.  Jolly good.

Then there was this: In order to minimise delays in the recruitment process please ensure your application is submitted with a valid email address for your referees, one of whom must be your current or most recent line manager. We will seek references prior to interview.

Okaaayyy. So I’m job hunting, which is probably like, you know, sensitive and confidential.  Likelihood of me asking my current line manager if she will be a referee for me for as I am thinking about leaving?  Approximately nil.

It is important to note, that all of this information was on the advert before the information about the role itself. I only carried on reading because I was already thinking about this blog post.  If I had been a candidate thinking about applying for the role I would have clicked off half way through the second paragraph.

And then there was this. Please note that we do not offer reimbursement of interview expenses.  I wasn’t going to ask to be honest.  Out of interest I asked our Recruitment Manager how many times a candidate had asked her for expenses during the last year.  The answer?  Once.  There is simply no need to include this on an advert.

The next bit was a three paragraph long information section that began….. Applications from job seekers who require Tier 2 sponsorship to work in the UK are welcome and will be considered alongside all other applications. However, non-EEA candidates (I couldn’t read any more of this section.  There could have been something more interesting further on. But I doubt it).

And naturally, there was a line saying that you could assume you haven’t been successful if you haven’t had a response within 14-days.  The application black hole, hated by all candidates.


Now, this job advert tells me plenty about the company. Probably things they hadn’t intended to tell me, but it told me all the same.  It tells me that they are all about the process.  It tells me that they are not flexible. It tells me that they don’t live in the real world.  And most importantly, if I had been thinking about working at this company, it tells me that I would never fit in there – which is a good thing to some extent as an application would have wasted everyone’s time.

I thought maybe this was just a poor example from a company that didn’t know any better. So I went off on a visit around a few job boards.  My conclusion is that it is a poor example, but it is far from the only one.

Here’s another example of excessively formal language and superfluous information. .

As a customer services officer you will require good communication skills, both written and verbal. You will investigate customer complaints, using both computer and paper files.

Did we really need the bits in italics?

I’ve heard all the stuff about the death of job boards and how in the war for talent it is all about the passive candidate.  But I still reckon we are going to be adverting jobs in one place or another for a little while yet.  The job ad is your shop window.  It is your chance to make a connection.  To begin the engagement.  To sell.  You, your place, what you have to offer.

We can do better than this.

When it comes to whether or not to put something in a recruitment advert, I’d suggest the following questions:

  • Do you need to say it now?
  • Do you need to say it to every candidate?
  • Do you need to say it at all, or is it blindingly obvious?
  • How would this make you feel if you were a potential applicant?
  • Does this sell the opportunity, does it sell your company and your culture?
  • Does the language talk to the reader like they are a real person, with a reasonable amount of common sense?

Maybe it is time to chuck out some recruitment chintz.

Disappointment and Disconnection

This weekend I had a lesson in what happens when expectations disconnect with reality. All the time, we create ourselves little visions in our mind about how things are going to be, what is going to happen. We have a story, a plan, a dream, all worked out.

Disappointment occurs in the gap between what we expected, planned for, hoped for, and the reality that is.

I had booked a night away, in small cosy, quiet pub. On the website, it looked friendly, warm, relaxing. The pictures hinted at just a little luxury. Only it wasn’t what I had expected. The reality did not match up with the story in my mind, did not match up with the marketing. It simply didn’t meet expectations. And disappointment was the result.

Because the website had neglected to mention it was also a live music venue. And that they would have a band on until very late. And that when the band cranked up, you pretty much had to join in, because it was so loud the furniture in the room vibrated. I asked the manager why they didn’t warn the guests in advance, in case it wasn’t their sort of thing. He told me that it was standard policy to tell you when you checked in.

Naturally, the work analogy occurs.

Because reality and expectation often differ here, too.

It is easy to be influenced by the fancy brand. The shiny website, the recruitment agency pitch, the attractive advert. Often, recruitment practices misdirect the eye. The reality you find on arrival isn’t the same as the one seen in the shop window.

I thought that the hotel manager’s suggestion to me was strange. That you would tell someone when they arrived, when it was too late to change their mind, go somewhere else, important information that would influence their decision whether to stay or not. But I have seen this happen in organisations and I am sure you have too. We present a rosy picture during the recruitment process, but the induction tells the real story of the day to day.

And then what happens? The new employee doesn’t engage, doesn’t believe, and ultimately, doesn’t stay. Just like we didn’t at the hotel.

The answer is obvious. Tell it like it really is. Make it real. Make it honest. In your story, tell of the challenges and the problems as well as the great stuff and the shiny stuff. It is simple, really.

Some people will choose to opt out. Some people will decide it’s not their sort of thing, and go some place else. But the ones that opt in, with the fullness of information, are more likely to be happy with the choice that they have made.

Let’s do good recruitment stuff.

There is something wrong with recruitment

Last year, I got involved with the CIPD Hackathon. It lead to the development of a Hack called ‘chuck out your chintz’ which suggested that HR teams should reflect on some of the non value add activities they were doing, or even think about stopping them altogether.

The Hack had in mind administrative, shared service, policy type stuff when it was first conceived. But recently, I was asked if I could do a talk about whether the hack could be applied to recruitment. To be honest, I just wasn’t sure. There is plenty of process in recruitment, but was it chintz or was it necessary, useful process? So I sent a tweet. This one.

And my timeline filled up. I was interested in thoughts from anyone. Recruiters and candidates alike. But it wasn’t the process type stuff that people focused on. It was the human stuff. Or the lack of it.

A selection of the replies I received are below.

And this evocative one from Doug Shaw.

The sad thing? I wasn’t surprised by any of this. Because we know it. We know that feedback is so important to candidates. We know that everyone hates automated responses and the application black hole. We know it is appalling to waste candidates time.

When it comes to recruitment, there are plenty of conversations. Conferences. Books, blogs, specialists. Seminars, webinars, twitter chats. But are things changing, enough? Are things really good enough?

I know there are good people and good companies doing good stuff in recruitment. But everything I hear suggests that there are still many, many companies getting it so wrong. And many, many fed up and demoralised candidates. I was one myself, not so long ago.

I’m not pretending I have the answer to this problem. But I am interested in what you think. Because it doesn’t feel like it should be that difficult….. but for some reason we are making it so.

Candidate Experience. Just two things.

Just a little blog, this one. Because the issue isn’t complex.

I was reflecting on a recent discussion over at #NZlead about candidate experience; what makes it good, what makes it bad. What makes it important.

For me, a good candidate experience depends on just two things; honesty and communication.


You messed up the interview
You did brilliantly
Your presentation didn’t cut it
Your presentation rocked
They saw someone more suitable / with more experience / better qualified
They’ve cancelled the vacancy
You said / wore / did the wrong thing
You failed to demonstrate [insert as applicable]
You didn’t get it.
They loved you.

Just tell the truth to the candidate. Give them good feedback. Make it count.


An acknowledged application.
Information on the process, the next steps, the when and the how.
Accurate job descriptions, useful company information, how to get here and who to ask for.
Constructive feedback after the interview, whether you got it or whether you didn’t.
Keeping your promises about when and how you’ll be in touch.
Making the offer, making the rejection.

Communication. Do it well, make it honest and make it quick. Ditch the auto junk. Make it personal, human. Have genuine dialogue with your candidates.

These are the things that matter to your candidates. Just two little things, but so often we get it wrong.

Honesty and communication.

That is all.

This candidate’s experience

For the first time in a long time, I’ve been job hunting.  I got my last role on a recommendation, so it was more than ten years since I’d been out in the market by myself.  As a recruiter, candidate experience is something that I’ve talked plenty about, but it has been interesting to be on the other side of the fence for a while.  Much of what I have learned as a candidate, if not all, should be self-evident to recruiters, but I can’t help but think it still needs to be said based on my own recent experiences.

  • My first observation.  It’s pretty soul destroying to put your CV into an impersonal ATS, and get nothing back other than an auto generated email saying thank you for your application, and then get nothing else at all.  An email saying your CV was rubbish would have been something, and at least helpful to me.  Do we really get so many applications for our roles that we can’t send one more email to confirm you didn’t get through the first stage?
  • It’s nearly as miserable to be contacted about a role by an agency, agree that they can put your CV forward to their client, and then never hear anything from them again.  No one minds a ‘sorry it’s a no’ message.  If I’m important to you when I might represent a placement fee, then you can take the time to drop me a text to say that the company didn’t want to see me.  There should be no excuse for not doing this.
  • Much of recruitment is very impersonal.  For an activity that’s all about people and their personalities and the elusive ‘fit’, much of my recent experience was electronic and lacked any sort of personal touch.  Recruiters, both in-house and agency, are missing valuable opportunities to really find out about their candidates.
  • Waiting for feedback is horrible.  Waiting for the phone to ring, to find out if you are in or out.  Especially when it doesn’t come when you are expecting it.  If you are going to give people an expected time to give feedback, then meet it.   If something stops you meeting it, then update the candidate.
  • The worst thing?  Going for an interview for a role that I really, really wanted.  And then the company pulled it.  I know stuff happens; things change in a business, and sometimes this can’t be avoided.  In my case the reason was a genuine one. But you shouldn’t really go to market, and involve candidates in time, effort and engagement if you are just not 100% sure you actually going to hire, or what you want.  Being told you aren’t right for a role is fine, being told we’ve changed our mind about recruiting someone is damaging for your employer brand.  Avoid at all costs.

I actually got my new role through a recruitment agency that were pretty damn good.  Here’s the truth though.  They met and exceeded my expectations, partly because those expectations weren’t actually that high in the first place.  I’ve talked to other job seekers lately, and the general view was that they didn’t like going through agencies, or even like the recruiter they were dealing with particularly, but felt they didn’t have a choice if they wanted to have visibility of as many roles as possible.  This is a sad thing for the recruitment industry but is unlikely to change when the activity remains largely contingency based and sales target led. I don’t want this to turn into an agency bashing post, but fellow blogger Robert Wright has some interesting things to say on the subject of agencies and implications of the bonus structure: http://goo.gl/S9QOl

The agency that placed me did nothing out of the ordinary, nothing new or ground breaking.  They simply did everything I should have been able to expect as a candidate.  The recruiter (note I refer to an individual, not a company here, as that personal relationship is what it’s really all about):

  •  Updated me regularly.  Even if that meant a quick text to say that he didn’t have any news.
  • Sent me lots of useful info on the company.  Yes, I’m a big girl and could find it for myself, but it was a nice touch and made my life that bit easier.
  • Talked to me.  As an actual person.  He didn’t just send me emails. Checked in with me regularly, and has continued to do so.
  • Briefed me.  Properly and in detail.  And debriefed me post interview.
  • Managed my expectations about when there would be feedback.
  • He also managed me well on behalf of the client.  There was no real chance I was going to drop him in it by declining the role at offer stage, as he’d constantly checked my levels of engagement throughout the process.

As I said, nothing new, nothing ground breaking.  But I was left feeling valued and that I mattered as a candidate.  Whether I’d got the job or not, I would have worked with this recruiter again and have since recommended him to others.

When you give a role to an agency, you are handing over a big chunk of your candidate experience to an external party.  Do you ever ask your candidates how it was for them?  In-house teams need to put themselves in the shoes of the candidate and take a good hard look at what it feels like to apply for a job within their organisation, and regularly check how the agencies they use are representing their employer brand.  It’s the start of the psychological contract after all.

And as for me….


Image by @AATImage (Graham Smith)