The candidate experience is an increasingly pivotal touch point between talent and employer. Once an afterthought, this journey is now regarded as a holistic element of the employer brand strategy.

From creating a transparent and genuine online presence to writing accurate job descriptions to building a welcoming onboarding experience - each step of the journey should reinforce your company's culture and values and the importance of each candidate.

When employers get this right, they can reap long-term rewards, whether they hire the candidate or not. This article explores the critical elements organizations should consider when examining their candidate experience, while also providing candidate experience best practices.

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what is the candidate experience?

The candidate experience is defined as the feelings and perceptions an applicant has as they move through the recruitment process, from attraction to onboarding. When employers provide a positive candidate experience, it can turn an applicant into a new hire and a new hire into a loyal employee.

The candidate experience includes several stages.

  • attraction stage: This is the stage where you use marketing tactics to gain the attention of potential candidates. It’s crucial to develop job advertisements and social media posts that are accurate, engaging and tailored to pique the interest of your target candidate.
  • application process: The application starts when a candidate decides to apply to one of your open vacancies. It’s important to keep this process as short and concise as possible and to only request the information you need to make informed hiring decisions.
  • candidate selection: This can be one of the most difficult, yet important, aspects of the hiring process. On the one hand, you want to create effective strategies for determining which candidates are the best for your company. On the other hand, you need to ensure you’re still providing a positive and engaging process for the candidates. This step can encompass activities such as screening, skills assessments and interviews.
  • onboarding: During this stage, the candidates transition into new hires. This is the time to give your new employees a warm welcome and help them get familiarized with the company policies and job at hand.

why is candidate experience important?

While there’s some dispute over whether the current candidate-driven market is returning to an employer-driven one, the growing skills gap still makes acquiring and retaining top talent a priority for most employers.  

To be successful and attract the highest-quality candidates available, your company must now impress its candidates at every step of the  candidate experience.

When companies fall short of the mark, they may gain a reputation as unattractive employers. Since virtually every applicant has access to social media and online review platforms, companies that neglect the candidate experience are likely to hear about it in a very public manner. Just one bad review can significantly impede your recruitment efforts.

If the candidate turns into an employee, a negative employee experience can result in higher turnover rates and increased recruitment costs and impact the overall success of your company. On the other hand, companies that focus on building a positive employee experience, can boost motivation in the workplace, increase productivity rates and achieve higher customer satisfaction.

candidate experience by the numbers

Do you need more evidence that the candidate experience is more important today than ever before? Here are some candidate experience statistics to convince you.


what makes a good candidate experience?

Before you can create a positive candidate experience for your applicants, you must first understand what a good experience looks like. Below is a look at the main elements every good candidate experience should have.


Communication is one of the most important aspects of the candidate experience. Fortunately, today’s technology can make staying in touch with your candidates easier than ever before. Sending messages to let candidates know the status of the application can go a long way to providing a positive candidate experience.

accurate job descriptions

Nothing can damage the new hire experience more than inaccurate and incomplete job descriptions. It will only take a few weeks for your new hires to realize that the job doesn’t match their expectations. This misstep could destroy trust with your newest workers, hurt your employer brand and put you at higher risk of increased new hire turnover rates.  

easy application process

With 6 out of 10 applicants never completing the application process, it’s vital to create a seamless process. It should be easy for candidates to submit their applications and any required documentation. Consider asking for only the basic information during the initial application process and then following through with additional requests later, if necessary. This tactic can make completing the application process easier and less frustrating.   

clear timeline

One of the most frustrating aspects of the recruitment process for the candidates is not knowing what to expect. Most employers leave candidates in the dark, so they don’t know when they’ll receive a reply, if ever. Creating a clear timeline regarding your hiring process can help reduce some of the anxiety candidates feel about the recruitment process. 

positive job interview

From the candidate’s perception, the interview may be the most stressful part of the hiring process. Depending on how you handle this process, the candidate can walk away from the interview with a positive or negative perception of your organization. Make sure your hiring managers receive training on how to conduct interviews with prospective candidates. The interview is the time to get to know the candidates better and give the candidate a better understanding of the company culture and the role.

meaningful feedback

All too often, employers select their top candidate and forget about the rest. In fact, only 7% of candidates receive a phone call from a recruiter or hiring manager about a rejection. This is a mistake that candidates notice. Candidates that don’t make the cut still want to feel valued and that applying for the position wasn’t a waste of time. A simple note to these candidates explaining they didn’t get the job but that you will keep them in mind for future positions or how to apply for other positions can leave the candidate with a positive experience.

candidate feedback

Don’t miss the chance to obtain candidate feedback based on their experience working through the recruitment process. While not every candidate will provide feedback, you should still send out candidate experience surveys. This feedback can help you determine where you’re doing well and where you need to make adjustments.  

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candidate experience best practices

In today's world, it's impossible to have a successful business without offering an outstanding candidate experience. If you're interested in creating a more positive experience for your applicants, here are some candidate experience best practices and actionable tips to follow.

1. be open about negative aspects of the position

While this might sound counterintuitive to some recruiters, being open about even the most negative or challenging aspects of a job brands you as a transparent and honest company, which is attractive to candidates.

What's more, providing a clear, upfront picture of a position ensures applicants are well-informed before they apply and saves hiring managers time on the back-end of the review and onboarding process. This step also allows you to better hire for job and company fit, which can improve new hire retention rates.

2. put yourself in the candidate's shoes

All too often, companies are disconnected from their candidates. Instead of relating to the people applying for open positions, companies see themselves as separate (at best) or above (at worst) the candidates they're hoping to onboard.

Unfortunately, this is an almost certain way to create a negative candidate experience.

Instead, employers need to work hard to relate to their candidates. If you were the one applying for a job at your company, how would you want the application structured? Would you want to hear back from a hiring manager regarding the status of your application? What would your ideal interview process look like?

When hiring managers and employers consider these questions, it immediately becomes easier to create a positive candidate experience that earns the company an outstanding reputation.

3. offer feedback

Offering feedback to the candidates who weren’t selected might be time-consuming, but it can create a better experience for the applicants that weren't selected. For example, if the candidate lacked the level of experience some of the other candidates brought to the table, you can nicely let the candidate know. You can also encourage them to reapply once they've gained more experience. 


4. personalize the interview process

The more personalized your company's interview process can be, the better. When applicants are met by a cold, impersonal HR manager who knows nothing about them or their aspirations, they're going to be turned off.

For an interview to be attractive to modern candidates, HR and hiring managers need to take the time to get to know every applicant before they come in for a meeting. In addition to making the interview more engaging, this also allows you to provide relevant information and ensure you're making a proper hiring decision.

It's also important to leave time at the end of the interview to allow candidates to ask questions about the job and your company. This can lead to a better candidate experience and provide improved hiring results.

5. update candidates regularly

Delays in the recruitment process can happen for numerous reasons. If you don’t want to risk losing your top candidates and taking a hit to your employer brand, take the time to update your candidates. This can help them understand why they have not heard back from you and possibly prevent your competition from stealing them away. Don’t only notify candidates of delays, though. Keep them updated with positive and negative developments and describe to them the hiring process and timeline. 

how to measure your candidates’ experience

Monitoring the strength of your candidate experience is critical to its success. You must actively assess and adjust your recruitment process to ensure you’re providing a positive experience. You can start this process by conducting a full assessment of your current candidate experience or checking out online reviews to see how your past applicants perceive your current hiring process.

One of the best ways to track your candidate experience is through applicant feedback. Send surveys to your candidates at various intervals in the hiring process. Be sure to keep these surveys as short as possible or you risk low survey completion rates. You can also use these surveys to calculate a candidate NPS score.

Other metrics you can use to measure the candidate experience include application completion rate, offer acceptance rates, and retention rates, both new hire and long-term.

Employer branding is essential to good hiring and onboarding in today's job environment. The faster your company can take an active approach to improving and enhancing your applicant experience, the more attractive you'll be to top talent in all industries.

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Learn more about the employee journey by downloading our employee life cycle model now.

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This is an updated version of an article originally published on 4 June 2020.

about the author

sofie maervoet

vp global concepts staffing

Sofie is one of the staffing leaders in Randstad with a track record in process optimization, training and coaching. She started her career as a staffing consultant in Randstad Belgium in 2002. Later, she joined the team in Randstad Switzerland as concept manager until she joined the global concept development team in 2018.

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