Candidate Experience – Do You Really Care?

Recently I met with the head of talent acquisition at a 200-person startup with about 40 open reqs and asked him how important the candidate experience was to him and his company.  He said it was important but not high on his list of priorities because they already do a good job on the candidate experience. I asked him what measurement he used to make this conclusion. He told me the main source of feedback was by asking new employees about their hiring experience soon after they started at the company.   This made me realize that there is a large spectrum of what it means to really care about the candidate experience.

I have spent quite some time analyzing the Talent Board’s Candidate Experience 2014 report.  As you probably know, the survey compiles very detailed, behavior based data from 95,000 candidates who applied to approximately 140 companies.  It is clear these companies are trying to transform their recruiting process to be more candidate-centric.  Like any business improvement initiative, in order to have a great end-to-end experience, a company must successfully align their people, process and technology.  However getting each of these components to effectively deliver for both candidates and the company is no easy task.

This is the first of three part series that focuses on each of these factors which drive a successful Candidate Experience capability for your organization, starting with ‘People’.  What is clear from the CandE report, that behind the numbers are all the people involved in each stage of talent acquisition that drive the bus – and without whom, process and technology don’t really matter.

The question is, when you start peeling back the candidate experience onion, what are the key components to set your regular employees and recruiting teams up for success?  From what I have seen the major drivers are:  company values, empathy, rewards and being tech savvy.

why I should care

If your company doesn’t really care, why should you?

Many companies state that “people are their greatest asset”, but is that reflected in their behavior? If your company has a high unwanted turnover rate, then it is not easy to sincerely tell a candidate that the company is a great place to work.  How involved in the selection process are the leaders of your organization?  How do they measure recruiting success beyond financial metrics?  The companies who truly care have Quality at the top of their recruiting Key Performance Indicators with Cost-Per-Hire and Time-to-Hire a fair distant behind.  As a result, these companies understand the importance of the candidate experience starting at the top of the funnel.   All you need to do is go to the Zappos , Capital One or Enterprise career pages to see how much they care about their people and who they hire.  An excellent contrast would be Mass Mutual , a Fortune 500 company, who is ranked #1 for the least loyal employees.  It is impossible to even see a list of job postings on their career site unless you complete a form with your personal information.

It is apparent which companies who have ‘attracting and retaining great talent’ in their DNA from your first experience with them.  If you are a recruiter who works at a company where people are secondary to other priorities, then you are probably facing challenges getting the leadership focus and resources you need to be successful. It is hard to expect a recruiter to a deliver great candidate experience if their company doesn’t truly support them in their efforts.


Empathy: Do you feel like we do?

Do you treat candidates as you would want to be treated yourself? That is essence of a recruiter who really cares about the candidate experience.

Here are some basic questions to compare yourself to some of the best practices of CandE award winning companies:

  • Do you pretend that you are a candidate and apply to your own job to see how easy it is to apply?
  • Do you set expectations (whether directly or indirectly through via your job posting) and meet those expectations – such as calling a candidate when you said you would.
  • How much time to do you spend with a candidate helping them through the interview process by either explaining the end-to-end process or prepping them for the people they will be interviewing with?
  • Do you decline candidates who came in to interview directly by phone or with a form email?  Do you provide any feedback?

Displaying these types of behaviors really differentiate top candidate experience recruiters from those only focused on filling job reqs.

The effort required by recruiters requires a significant time investment and tremendous attention to detail. If you have 30 open reqs assigned to you, it is nearly impossible to give the attention needed to all candidates. So, either you care and are willing to go the extra mile, or you are going to skip steps and short-change candidates so you can focus how you are measured and rewarded.

say do ratio

Rewards – aligning the Say/Do ratio

The bottom line is, what gets measured gets done.  Recruiting metrics need the right balance between short term operating metrics such as Cost-Per-Hire and Time-to-Fill and long term balance sheet metrics like Quality of Hire and retention rates.  If companies aren’t measuring and rewarding quality metrics related to the Candidate Experience, then they are ignoring the impact it can have on both recruiting KPIs and corporate financial metrics. The latest Candidate Experience report states that 24% of candidates are more likely to buy from a company if they have a positive experience while CareerBuilder found that 69% of interviewed candidates are less likely to buy if they had a bad experience.

However, let’s not forget that recruiting costs time and money. A recruiter with the right incentives can’t do it all themselves, they need the right balance of workload, tools and cross-functional support. Companies that measure and reward both talent acquisition and hiring managers based on quality of hire may have above average candidate experience metrics but they typically also invest disproportionately more in their recruiting and retention programs.


Tech Savvy – Your personal competitive advantage

There are a lot of great tools to help recruiters and the candidate experience – some need to be implemented by the company, but there are many point solutions any individual recruiter can use on their own. Whether it is as basic as Google Docs or using email tools like Tout or Yesware to improve your candidate management – the options are out there, but it requires you to figure out which ones actually work and have real candidate impact.  Your company probably already has tools that you can use to help you be more successful, however there is a good chance they are not dead simple to use and require you to invest in both getting set-up and learning how to use the application in a way that works for you.  Your average recruiter would just give up and stick to their existing behaviors.  A recruiting innovator (or even an early adopter) is comfortable learning new technology and testing what works best for them so they have a competitive advantage in converting top prospects.

When it comes to the candidate experience, it all starts with people.  Without an engaged recruiter with the right incentives, no fancy process or tools will magically make your company a CandE award winner.


About the Author: Ray Tenenbaum is the founder of Great Hires, a recruiting technology startup offering a mobile-first Candidate Interviewing Experience platform for both candidates and hiring teams.  Great Hires was named as one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s Brilliant Companies of 2016 where it was ranked #2 in Business Tools.  Follow Ray on Twitter @rayten or connect with him on LinkedIn.

3 Steps to Systemically Build Your Company’s Candidate Experience Competency

Over the past couple of years I have spoken to many companies about their candidate experience efforts.  When I ask them to describe their strategy usually they either talk in generalities saying it is ‘a priority’ or they describe specific tactics they have implemented.  However, very rarely do I hear a cohesive, integrated organizational strategy which includes cross-functional engagement.

In many cases, a company has an identifiable problem or a galvanizing event (e.g. a top-talent rejection) which triggers a renewed focus on investing their candidate experience. For Scott Weaver at Cumming Corporation, a 2015 Candidate Experience award winner, the metric that stood out was ‘time-to-fill’ and his team was looking to move faster.  As a professional services firm, every day a req goes unfilled is lost revenue for their organization.  Their candidate experience journey started with a process improvement and optimization project.  For many other organizations, it starts with solving a specific activity during the recruiting process. However, many companies, like Cummins,  are realizing that they need to take a more holistic perspective on the end-to-end candidate experience.

candide experience award 2015

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Gerry Crispin about where a company should start if they wanted to systemically build a stronger Candidate Experience-focused organization.   He described a 3-step framework on how to build a sustainable candidate experience competency.

Step 1:  What’s important?

Company OKRs

If the candidate experience is not listed on the priority list for either the organization, HR or the Recruiting Function, then the Candidate Experience really isn’t ‘important’. It is just one of the many things an organization does that they try not to screw up. What do I mean by that?  It means that everyone generally knows that the Candidate Experience is one of the aspects of recruiting and everyone tries to do well.  It is no different than Product Quality or Customer Service.  But if you do not have it clearly listed as a goal or objective at some level in the organization, then it is just another strategy based on hope. And hope is not a strategy.   And it certainly isn’t part of the corporate culture.


The first step to developing sustainable organizational Candidate Experience capability is to make it a priority by including it in your company or department’s objectives.  Without organizational alignment, buy-in and engagement, it is just a bunch of individuals who are ‘doing the right thing’ but not necessarily with the support of their leadership.

Candidate Fairness

According to Gerry Crispin, one of the biggest drivers of delivering a good candidate experience is the perception of fairness by candidates.  “If candidates think the fix is in then their perception is reality.” Examples include not hearing from anyone after applying or being told they would hear back in two weeks, the no one follows up or answers their call.  In addition, Crispin sees the following drivers what drives the best candidate experience-driven organizations:

  1. Setting proper expectations (for both the job and the hiring process)
  2. Listening
  3. Accountability
  4. Perception of fairness
  5. Closure

At Cummings Corporation, increasing transparency to candidates to the process has been a big focus that helps with perceived fairness. Improved communication with both the hiring team and the candidate has allowed them to go faster. For Scott Weaver’s recruiting team, this starts when an application is received and candidates immediately receive an email describing the process in detail. The email includes specific expectations about what happens next and how to get answers if there are concerns or unexplained delays.   Their philosophy is about treating the candidate with respect, but without over-investing precious recruiting team resources.

Step 2:  How are we doing?

Once you have everyone bought in that the candidate experience is a priority, you need to know where you stand.  Gerry Crispin says collecting data is a critical starting point. “First and foremost you need some form of baseline.  There is no point in starting to work on your candidate experience capability if you don’t have some sense of where the context is going to be.”   Determining a baseline measurement on where you are starting from will help you track your progress.  Ideally, everyone you tough from the beginning of the sourcing process to onboarding are part of your measurement.  And there are many milestones during which you can measure the candidate experience (as described in detail in the Talent Board’s CandE report ), but to start, Gerry Crispin recommends just measuring the Net Promoter Score of the finalists and the candidate you hired.  Over time you can expand your measurement to candidates earlier in the process to include the application and screening process.


Ultimately, the most important recruiting metrics is quality of hire since it is the process outcome for the talent acquisition function.  But to measure the quality of the entire process, candidate experience metrics are the best indicator of how the various stakeholders are committed to bringing on the best talent.


Step 3:  Priorities to Improve

The insights you gather from baselining your candidate experience metrics will point you to where the issues are.  Once you see all the different areas that need work, you will need to pick your spots and prioritize which to work on first.  How you choose to address these priorities will depend on what you think the best plan of action will be; whether it is people, process or tools.
improve process

At Cumming, they looked at the 16 touch-points they have with candidates, mapping their journey and benchmarked themselves after the hospitality industry for how to deliver a concierge-like experience.

Given the number and complexity of milestones, from sourcing to onboarding, just picking one or two areas to improve can be resource and time intensive depending on the size of your organization. Both from a financial and change management perspective.  Throw in any change in technology and you quickly realize that systemic change will not happen overnight. However, small, incremental tweaks can make a real difference, like removing unnecessary fields in your application process or tailoring your rejection emails to give candidate better insight into why they were not selected to move forward.

From several of the Candidate Experience Award winners I have spoken with, improving their candidate experience capability is an ongoing investment, but at any time they are clearly prioritizing where they point their limited resources to have the biggest impact on their overall outcome: hiring success for both hires and their company.

About the Author: Ray Tenenbaum is the founder of Great Hires, a recruiting technology startup offering a mobile-first Candidate Selection platform for both candidates and hiring team success. Ray has previously spent half of his career building Silicon Valley startups such as Red Answers and Adify (later sold to Cox Media); the other half of his career was spent in marketing and leadership roles at enterprise organizations including Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Booz & Co. and Intuit. Ray holds an MBA from the University of Michigan as well as a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from McGill University.

Follow Ray on Twitter @rayten or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Don’t hire bad hires

In my last article I wrote about four causes of bad hires that I’ve encountered in my career.  Now I will discuss a few ways to avoid making a poor hiring choice during the candidate selection process by addressing each of the causes one by one. While many of the recommendations might seem obvious, it is amazing how many large companies we work with do not employ any of them. Many talent acquisition organizations just let the hiring manager use an unstructured process which relies heavily on personal choice and entropy to evaluate a candidate.

  1. Try before you buy: To address “Lack of technical/functional expertise”

Anyone can claim they are an expert in something and stick it on their resume or LinkedIn profile, but how do you really know they have the specific skills needed for your role.  If it is a deep technical skill requirement there are many assessment tools available from a variety of online and offline companies.  My preference is to have a test drive with the candidate where you create a simulated experience to the actual job they would perform. Ideally it would be an actual task or problem that currently needs solving (or was recently solved).  It is uncanny how this type of exercise can quickly separate the wheat from the chaff.  For someone who is really an expert, the simulation should be a breeze – and it should also quickly expose the fakers. The challenge with these trials is that they take time and (many times) money.  Depending on the situation, paying people for their time is quite valuable and makes them feel that they are being compensated for the ‘work’ they are performing.  In the end, investing a few hundred dollars up front to see if someone really has the technical chops for the role, can save you thousands of dollars down the road.


  1. Pattern recognition: To address “Inability to develop domain expertise”

When you hire someone from a different industry, market or customer segment, there is risk that they are a hammer who thinks everything is a nail.  Therefore, it is important to assess how good they are at pattern recognition and if they notice the differences between industries, markets and customers for the job compared to their past experience.    For more junior level positions you can have a candidate take a pattern recognitions test like Procter & Gamble does for all their entry level positions.  For experience roles it is important to spend the time seeing if the prospect grasps the differences and has the business acumen to appreciate the situation.  How much research has the candidate done into the market, customers, company & job?  Can they articulate the similarities and differences between their past roles and this one?  Do they have the intellectual curiosity to dive deep and appreciate the different dynamics? Without the ability to articulate both the strategic and tactical contrasts, then you risk hiring someone who won’t adapt well to their new situation.

  1. STAR methodology:  To address “Can’t deliver results”

Past experience and results are usually the best predictors of future success.  Even though past roles may not be the same level of responsibility or challenge as your job opening, seeing that someone has succeeded in similar situations or has shown a trajectory of results and expanded responsibility are pretty telling.

Using the STAR interviewing methodology is the most common behavior-focused method to understand what results the candidate was able to deliver.  The key to this approach is making sure the candidate talks specifically about what they themselves did, not the team or the company.  Teasing out the specific results that were directly tied to the candidate’s efforts is not always easy and without peeling back the onion on the unique contributions they made is what’s most important.

Implementing the STAR method takes time and effort to prepare before candidates ever come in the door.  How much time do you spend with the hiring team discussing what to look for when during their interviews?  We have a client who has the entire interview team get together for at least one hour to holistically discuss what success looks like for the role, get alignment on the competencies to evaluate for the job and then divides and conquers the competencies/ questions amongst the team.   This is a big up-front investment, but it is uncanny how it pays off for them.

One of my favorite pieces of advice I received about ensuring someone can deliver results is to show them exactly the results they would be expected to deliver for the role. Yes, the actual targets. And then have a collaborative discussion the strategies and tactics that they would employ to deliver the results. It’s amazing how this can both help the candidate self-select if this is the right role for them and also set expectation & motivation for the a new employee – since they knew exactly what they were signing up for when they took the job.


  1. Self-Awareness triangulation: To address “Lack of self-awareness”

A lack of self-awareness is a killer trait for a bad hire. Someone who is self aware will pro-actively make adjustments to address gaps in the performance and typically will also be open to feedback.  Without self awareness, the opposite holds true. But how do you measure self-awareness?  This isn’t as simple as asking ‘What is your biggest weakness?’.  I recommend using a combination of techniques to triangulate information collected from the candidate, the hiring team and references.


During the interview process, asking probing self-awareness questions about specific projects can be very revealing about a candidate.  Here are some of my favorites:

“Looking back what would you have differently for this project?” –Note: this question can be used for both successful and unsuccessful situations.

“’What skills are you lacking?’

“If I called the past manager that has liked you the least, and what would they tell me about you?”

“What would you do if you realized you were failing in this job?”


References are another way to learn about a candidate’s abilities and development areas.  Asking a reference to compare the former direct report to the best person for the same role they held and understanding the gaps is very telling.

Taking the candidates responses, your hiring team’s probing questions , triangulating them with the candidate’s professional references and your own observations can be a powerful way to assess self- awareness.

If you’ve ever made a bad hire you know that there was likely at least one piece of data captured during the selection process that signaled a red flag for a candidate.  But for whatever reason it was ignored and eventually came back to haunt you.  Being able to recognize the sources of a bad hire and how to spend the extra time, effort and money to tackle them head-on before an offer is essential.  Hopefully these methods will help you learn from the mistakes of others and avoid making a bad hire.


About the Author: Ray Tenenbaum is the founder of Great Hires, a recruiting technology startup offering a mobile-first Candidate Experience platform for both candidates and hiring teams. Ray has previously spent half of his career building Silicon Valley startups such as Red Answers and Adify (later sold to Cox Media); the other half of his career was spent in marketing and leadership roles at enterprise organizations including Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Booz & Co. and Intuit. Ray holds an MBA from the University of Michigan as well as a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from McGill University.

Follow Ray on Twitter @rayten or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Four Sources of Bad Hires

Making a bad hire sucks. And usually you have no one to blame but yourself.  In hindsight, 99% of the time, you could have figured it out before making the offer. So why does it happen?

A lot has already been writing about how expensive a bad hire is to an organization when you add up the hard costs of salary, sunk recruiting & training costs plus the lost productivity and/or revenue.  And it is easy to place the blame on needing to fill the role quickly.  But when you look at the underlying causes of a bad hire, it has more to do with what you are looking for than making a hasty decision.

No one ever plans to make a bad hire. In fact, at the time of the offer most people feel like they are making a well thought-out decision.  However, within a short period of time (2-6 weeks) you realize that you made a bad choice.  Surprisingly, more times than not, there was a voice of dissension to making an offer to the candidate which you had ignored. Whether it was that little voice in the back of your head that you didn’t listen to, or a member of the interviewing team that raised flags that were either trivialized or not sufficiently followed-up on…now that voice you either ignored or rationalized starts telling you ‘I tried to warn you’.

When you have a bad hire, there isn’t usually a single item that is wrong with a hire unless the role is very technical and the person clearly does not have the technical chops for the job.  While it typically comes down to ‘skills’ or ‘company fit’ as the cause, that is too general a classification to be very helpful. Instead, by peeling the onion on the most common ways a bad hire fails, you can then adapt your candidate selection process to address the issues at their core.

From my experience, the reasons someone does not work out falls into four buckets.  In some cases, multiple buckets are at the root of the person not being right for the role. Here they are:

1.       Lack of technical/functional expertise:  Yes, I’ve kinda done that before, ahem.

Unless a new employee is brought in at an entry-level position and is expected to be trained for the functional role they were hired for, they are expected to have some basic technical knowledge required for the job. Whether they are a sales person who has sold before, a developer who has coded before or a designer who knows how to design, there is a repertoire the hire brings with them in their competency portfolio.  But each specific role has a different emphasis on specific functional skills. For example someone who is considered a consumer marketer may know search-engine marketing and display ads, but that is very different from television advertising and market research.  A Rails developer may know how to write decent code, but also needs to know how to write tests and make sure their code fits the architecture of the entire system – which can be different for every product. While some of the principles for a function are transferable, the differences and nuances of a specific role may cause an experience worker to struggle to be proficient in areas they have had limited past hands-on experience. The good news is that this could be the case of ‘right person, wrong role’ if the organization is big enough. But the key is that every functional job is different and being able to prioritize the specific traits for that job are critical to ensuring the right alignment of experience and skills.

2.       Inability to develop  domain expertise:  The hammer who thinks everything is a nail

It is very common to hire someone with functional expertise in one industry and expect them to be able to apply them in another industry.  But many times it can be a struggle to adapt to these differences.  In my career, it is amazing how often I have seen someone who comes from a different industry who does not have the ability to recognize difference between markets and customers and blindly tries to re-apply practices from their previous industry to their new one.   This is where an individual’s ability to take the initiative to understand the nuances between domain and industries is important. They must also have the analytical skills, patience and perseverance to figure out why something seems to work in one industry but not the other.  The awareness to go back to first principles to compare and contrast company- or industry-specific models are not skills everyone has.  In my experience, people who have demonstrated the ability to adapt well to a new domain typically have had at least two completely different career experiences, which made them adept at being ‘multi-lingual’.  People who have had a past life in moving between two industries, working in different countries or roles in very different functions, tend to be able to mentally wear different hats. This gives them an appreciation to better diagnose a situation before prescribing a thoughtful solution instead of the generic ‘this is how we did it at X’ statement.


3.       Can’t deliver results – Look at all the effort I put in!

Let’s begin with the end in mind. If someone can’t deliver results, they are a bad hire. If someone doesn’t have the drive to focus on the achieving their goals and working a project from beginning to end they aren’t going to be successful.  But knowing the ‘how’ to deliver the ‘what’ is critical. At most companies, this involves teamwork, influence, tenacity, and some form or leadership or functional excellence to play nice with the rest of the organization. This is where fit, adapting to the cultural norms and using soft skills to get stuff done make a big difference.  If someone doesn’t play nice with other or doesn’t have the talent to figure out how to leverage existing company systems and practices, they will struggle to be successful. It is very much like sports where an athlete’s statistics look good on paper, but when you are looking for them to perform on the field, they disappoint.  Despite all the activities and energy they may (or may not) put towards the inputs, the output isn’t there.    Evaluating passion, ownership and drive are not always part of candidate evaluation feedback forms, but it is an intangible worth measuring.

4.       Lack of self-awareness – {silence}

If there is one trait I have seen in nearly every bad hire I have made, is that the person was        mostly unaware of the cause of their ineffectiveness. While several of them knew things weren’t  going great, there was a lack of inward analysis and curiosity to try and discover why. They did  not have the ability to look retrospectively on themselves and reflect at what is transpiring. If  they did seek guidance, they simply didn’t (or weren’t able to) apply the feedback.  Instead they       just keep repeating the same methods over and over and seeing the same outcomes.  Not being            able to self-identify the problem or apply feedback is one of the most frustrating aspects for the     hiring manager, because now you have two problems to solve. The first is the competency gap      between the new hire and the job and the second is expending a large amount of energy      preparing and delivering the reality check to the person. This is a big time and emotional           investment.  Ugh. There is nothing more draining than having a conversation with someone who             is oblivious to their performance.

If you’ve made a bad hire before, at least one of these items probably crossed your mind (or was pointed out to you by a hiring team interviewer) before you made the offer.  It is perfectly reasonable to ignore a flag that was raised if it can be fully dissected and weighted against the role’s critical success factors.  But if a debate about the qualities of candidate is identified by a single voice of dissension, you may be missing a potential bad hire’s Achilles Heel even before making the offer.

In my next post, I will discuss how to address each of these buckets/ issues during the candidate selection process so you can catch bad hires before the offer is made.

About the Author: Ray Tenenbaum is the founder of Great Hires, a recruiting technology startup offering a mobile-first Candidate Experience platform for both candidates and hiring teams. Ray has previously spent half of his career building Silicon Valley startups such as Red Answers and Adify (later sold to Cox Media); the other half of his career was spent in marketing and leadership roles at enterprise organizations including Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Booz & Co. and Intuit. Ray holds an MBA from the University of Michigan as well as a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from McGill University.

Follow Ray on Twitter @rayten or connect with him on LinkedIn.