The Applicant Experience: Is Your Organisation Remembered for the Right Reasons?

Does your Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, take hours to complete, requiring applicants to practically look up records from birth just to be able to complete the application? “Did you have experience with dummies?” “Please list your childhood imaginary friends in order.” Ok, so I’m exaggerating. But some ATS questions can seem almost as strange or intrusive if the applicant doesn’t understand why the information is relevant to the job.

Even if the applicant makes it through the ATS, do you get back to them? Or does the application fall into some kind of candidate black hole, never to see the light of day again and leaving the applicant wondering if you even read the application.

An unsatisfactory candidate experience doesn’t just happen at the application stage—although that’s the most common, by the sheer force of the numbers applying. You can also put off a prospective employee by your actions throughout the process. One applicant—arriving for an interview followed by something the employer’s letter described as a “short meet and greet,”—was unimpressed to discover that really meant a four-hour assessment centre in front of nine of the company’s top executives.

In a poor economy, recruiters have the upper hand. Applicants will jump through hoops to land a position because there simply aren’t many other options. But don’t make the mistake of thinking candidates are happy about it. Forgetting to consider the applicant’s experience at the initial stages might be the one thing they ultimately remember about the company—and that’s not a good thing.

Treating your applicants well isn’t just important—it’s essential. Word of mouth travels fast, and top candidates will often avoid a company that makes major missteps when dealing with applicants. If your company is known for a complicated ATS, lack of follow up or other poor practices, you might attract some applicants—but certainly not the top candidates you’re looking for.

Consider these top five mistakes that will put off prospective employees:

  • An excessively long ATS—especially if it cannot be saved for completion later.
  • Failing to send a reply when the ATS is received or reviewed, or failing to keep in contact with the applicant at any point in the process.
  • Failing to send adequate information to allow the candidate to prepare for the interview.
  • Lack of follow-up. For how long must the applicant rush to answer the phone on the first ring before she ultimately concludes the interview was unsuccessful.
  • Delays. A delay is understandable. Failing to notify an applicant of the delay is not.

If you’ve been guilty of these approaches in the past, it’s not too late to make a change. Applicants will appreciate a personalised letter or phone call, apologising for any delay and explaining what’s next in the process. Even unsuccessful candidates should be contacted promptly and told what they can expect—for example, whether their application will be retained on file, and for how long.

From attraction to applying to interviewing, candidate experience needs to be an integral aspect of a recruitment experience. Otherwise, whether it’s sooner or later, a costly backlash will be forthcoming.

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