What happens when a great employer brand meets a bad candidate experience?

Our February edition of TALiNT International will be out later this week and this month’s theme is candidate experience. We’ve had input from an amazing range of industry experts across the whole talent ecosystem, but as bit of an ‘appetiser’, I wanted to share a few thoughts based on a discussion from one of our recent HR/Talent Leaders dinners.

What happens when a great employer brand meets a bad candidate experience?

One of the biggest talent trends over the last ten years has been the near universal realisation that every employer has an employer brand.

Big or small, global or local, public or private, if you are trying to attract and retain talent, then paying attention to how your organisation is perceived is important. And for many, this has paid dividends: being able to communicate values, demonstrate opportunity or correct misconceptions can all be addressed by judicious investment in your employer brand often with a big improvement in potential candidates’ willingness to consider joining you.

But increasingly employers are discovering what happens when the expectations created by a great employer brand are frustrated, indeed sometimes completely undermined, by a poor candidate experience. This matters.

Expectation vs reality

In the same way that, as consumers, if we have low expectations of an experience, we’re not disappointed if it’s not great, but when our level of anticipation has been raised, so is the risk of disappointment. This also throws up quite an interesting theoretical question about what the right balance of ‘employer brand stimulus’ versus ‘candidate experience deliverability’ is, but that’s for another article.

The big question we hear time and again is, ‘how can employers consistently deliver an acceptable level of candidate service?’ and, in our experience, there are two key drivers to this. One is operational and the other is cultural. Operationally, asking recruiters to work on too many roles at the same time will, by definition, compromise the quality of candidate experience.

By comparison, and whilst it’s not a very popular opinion, one of the biggest advantages traditional recruitment agencies have is their consultants typically work on a much smaller number of open positions and with a much narrower functional spread than in-house teams. So, even supported with great technology, the temptation to push in-house teams for ever higher levels of productivity creates real tension in their ability to deliver a good candidate experience.

Culture over tech

The second driver of candidate experience is culture. For me this was encapsulated brilliantly by a guest at one of our Talent Leaders dinners last year. As HRD of a high-end hotel group, he explained their simple philosophy: treat every candidate as if they were a guest. And in a highly competitive industry, their conversion of offers to acceptances was outstanding.

The vast majority of employers are trying to deliver a good candidate experience, but too often think the solution lies in technology rather than culture. This was brought home personally recently. My daughter is in the process of applying for internships next summer and got a couple of automated

rejections: one at a quarter to midnight on a Friday night and one on New Year’s Day! In the overall scheme of things, not terrible, but definitely a bit thoughtless.

The employers who do get it right seem to be generally guided by Voltaire’s maxim of ‘not letting great be the enemy of good’. Candidates, by and large, are generally not expecting an amazing experience just timely responses and a degree of feedback commensurate with the level of effort they have put in.

Again, using my daughter as a reference point, she was asked as part of an intern assessment day to spend ‘no more than a day’ preparing for a business plan exercise for a consumer goods business. And, to be fair, she was given some great feedback afterwards (and a job offer) so it felt worth it. But if the recruiter had been too busy or even if it had been the ‘quarter to midnight’ automated rejection, then you would likely create a brand antagonist for a very long time.

And if this happens consistently and at scale, it very quickly doesn’t just have an impact on your ability to attract talent, it can have a real impact on your business more widely.

As ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you’re not already subscribed to our magazine and newsletter you can do so here.

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