How to Improve the Candidate Experience – And Strengthen Your Employer Brand

by Bill Weber


Posted October 18, 2021

Why is it that even when a candidate is extended an offer and hired, they still frequently report that their experience as a candidate—from when they first learned of the opportunity all the way until they were onboarded—could have been much better? And similarly, why do hiring managers often report having had unsatisfying experiences as well, even when they make a great hire?

Clearly, there is room for improvement – from both the candidate and hiring manager’s perspective.

According to the Harvard Business Review, more than 60% of candidates report a bad candidate experience (2016). Talent Board studies have since backed up the claim that poor candidate experiences are widespread. While their studies focus on the for-profit sector, it is my experience that the patterns persists in the nonprofit sector as well.  

These negative experiences mean candidates are less likely to pursue growth opportunities within the organization and more likely to share their thoughts and feelings with their friends, colleagues, and on Glassdoor, thereby damaging the employer’s brand.

So, what’s at the root of the poor candidate experience? First, hiring managers are often overburdened with multiple competing priorities, insufficiently trained, and not able to communicate with candidates in a timely way. The candidates are then left in the dark about the overall process and where they stand at any given time, leading them to prematurely withdraw their application before the employer can see their potential. And of course, this challenge is greater than ever, as we navigate the ongoing pandemic and renewed competition for talent.

I recently hosted 3 planning sessions with diverse groups of 20+ professionals, where I posed the question: “How can employers improve the candidate experience?” Each of the participants was asked to draw upon their experiences as candidates as well as hiring managers. We used our interactive app to generate a plan within one hour (visit to view the original plans and other uses of our planning app).  

Here, I’ve synthesized the strongest solutions to create a 5 step planning framework for improving the candidate experience.

#1 Prepare for success.

  • Obtain buy in from key stake holders prior to speaking with candidates, including human resources staff, regarding the role’s responsibilities and ideal qualifications.
  • When deciding upon the salary, consider what range would align with internal equity while taking into account the competitive marketplace.
  • Create a comprehensive onboarding plan and schedule so you will be ready to go as soon as your finalist accepts an offer.

 #2 Craft a compelling position announcement.

  • Think hard before naming a skill or experience as required. Flexibility and an open mind will attract a more diverse pool of candidates, including those with transferrable skills who you may have otherwise overlooked.
  • Provide a sense of organizational culture in the announcement. Remember, this is often a candidate’s first impression of your organization. Help them understand why they would want to join.
  • When appropriate, include the salary range and benefits. This will help ensure your expectations align with those of candidates (and make sure neither of you waste your time!). Additionally, such transparency supports efforts towards ensuring equity.

#3 Provide consistent, clear, and kind communications.

  • Manage expectations around the search process and timeline from the very beginning to avoid misunderstandings and frustration.
  • Be timely with your updates, whether positive or negative.
  • Of course, treat all candidates with respect. Providing positive communication will only serve you well, and even if the candidate isn’t right for this role, they may be for another down the line.

#4 Create a fair interview and assessment process.

  • Approach each interview as a real conversation, not an interrogation. This will put you and the candidate at ease and allow for a more genuine interaction.
  • Be consistent with the interview process for each candidate; each candidate should meet with the same interviewer(s) and be assessed using the same criteria. This will help ensure fairness.
  • Encourage candidates’ questions. The interview should feel like a two-way street; just as you’re assessing their fit for the role, they are assessing how your organization and leadership aligns with their own values and goals.
  • Be open to new ideas for the role or job specifications as you interview candidates.

#5 Ensure an effective decision making process.

  • Inform internal stakeholders as soon as you plan to make an offer and keep them apprised of the finalist’s decision.
  • Make it clear who has decision making authority to hire vs. those meeting candidates to help engage them.
  • The criteria for the position may change as you interview but it will be important to inform candidates if it changes their viability.
  • When informing candidates that they have not been chosen for the role, do so in a kind, respectful, and timely manner. If possible, provide constructive feedback; “the person we hired had managed a larger staff team” is more helpful than “you did not have what we were looking for.”
  • Create a system to keep track of and continue to communicate with candidates you did not select regarding future opportunities.

Granted, the most effective strategies for improving candidate experience are contextual. Are you dealing with 200 candidates or just 2? Does the position need be filled next week, or can it wait until the “right candidate” comes along? Is there just one decision maker hiring on their own or is there a committee with multiple stakeholders? Is it an established position or a new one where interviewers will learn as they go? Are you seeking to fill an entry-level position or a C-suite position? And so on….

Regardless, I have noticed that all candidates tend to agree on the priorities outlined above: timely communication, constructive feedback, transparency, and effective decision making. And in the end, both candidates and employers benefit from an improved candidate experience.

• • •

I welcome your comments and suggestions for related lines of inquiry. Please reach out to me at or connect with me on LinkedIn.


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