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We collaborated with Gerry Crispin and Elaine Orler from TalentBoard to host a live panel webinar featuring key talent acquisition leaders: Jen Powell from Deloitte, Stefanie Thornton from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Katy Jones from PepsiCo, Marvin Smith from Lockheed Martin and Chris Hoyt from CareerXroads. The event was a real crowd-pleaser, attracting over 500 registrants.

We often hear about the importance of creating outstanding candidate experiences. Still, we rarely get practical insights or key steps organizations and HR managers have taken to improve candidate experience continually.

Considering the large amount of insight shared within the webinar, we’ve compiled some of the questions that provide key examples and experiences from the HR leaders.

First Steps to Improve Candidate Experience

Q1. When you decided to improve candidate experience, what was the first thing you changed or added?

The general consensus amongst the panel was the importance of recognizing job seekers as more than just candidates. More often than not, candidates are customers, potential customers or customer influencers, and their experience with an employer brand can have a direct business impact.

Gerry and Elaine additionally pointed out that the annual TalentBoard survey shows increasing numbers of people applying for each available job. This means that for every successful candidate, there is a longer and longer list of unsuccessful people.

With that, companies are starting to do the math in terms of business impact. They are beginning to listen and understand their target audiences, communicate more personally and ultimately improve candidate experience.

What the panel had to say…

Stefanie Thornton, Director of Talent Acquisition, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan:
“Candidate experience was not just an HR imperative, but a business imperative for us. Of all the candidates coming to our website, we suspected that 65 percent were either current members, potential members or members coming up for renewal.

So we thought that if we are giving them an awful experience, what does that do, and how does that translate when it’s time for them to renew their insurance? We turned this into a business proposition. When discussing market share, the sales and marketing teams pay close attention. We recognized this as not only an HR imperative but an overall business imperative.”

Jen Powell, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager, Deloitte:
“Despite all the candidate experience data we had, we didn’t know exactly what was motivating our candidates. We anticipated what freshmen wanted was quite different than a more seasoned professional.

So, we carried out further research with different types of candidates that were our top hiring profiles to understand their motivations better, what they value in an employer and what channels they were using to learn more about different companies.

We were able to use that persona research very similar to a consumer marketing approach to then tailor our messages a bit more to the specific needs of various target profiles that we were recruiting.”

Katy Jones, Global Talent & Engagement Manager, PepsiCo:
“The thing for us was recognizing that with the size of our company and the number of candidates that we have every month globally, we wanted to make sure that everybody was getting a touch point during the process and not falling into the black hole that can often happen with larger companies.

So we looked at how we could open up different lines of communication to improve candidate experience, so they could get in touch when they had questions or hadn’t heard back from somebody.

We went out and shared that with our talent acquisition team. So through Twitter, through LinkedIn, giving them other opportunities to engage and a different way of going back and forth with them, giving them those channels and helping them with their questions. That was one of the first things that we did and it made a big difference.”

Chris Hoyt, Partner, CareerXroads:
“I think many organizations realize that with all of their brands, products and audiences, a large proportion of candidates are actually their customers. So, they start to change their head regarding how they treat candidates.

So, when they start to do the math, while it may only be 4 or 5 percent that says they may reduce their purchase power, that adds up pretty quickly to a loss in the millions annually, particularly with sizeable organizations that are getting 10 to 50,000 applications monthly..”

Q2. What specific actions, activities, channels and technology have you found that consistently improve candidate experience?

Clearly, for all the panelists, communication and the quality of communication have been paramount when deciding to improve candidate experience.

Opening up more channels and opportunities to engage with candidates, providing insight and transparency to the application process, letting candidates know if they are successful and building ongoing communication consistently prove to have a positive impact on the candidate experience.

What the panel had to say…

Marvin Smith, Strategic Sourcing, Talent Community Strategist, Lockheed Martin:
“One of the basic things that we did was begin with the recruiter scorecard. In other words, hold folks accountable for their experience with the candidates. If we wanted to make candidates our customers, we had to start there, so when you tie that to compensation, it makes more sense to people.

Another thing we did was expand the use of live chat to the various recruiting areas of the business. So that when people had questions, they could easily get in touch, which turned out to be really valuable. We also leveraged technology to provide more information about the company that wasn’t specific to a job, such as additional information about our services and other business areas, to help their curiosity.”

Jen Powell, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager, Deloitte:
“We are doing lots of cool things with technology and trying to make it easier for candidates to find opportunities and better understand our culture. And that worked great. But what keeps coming back through feedback about what makes a difference to our candidates is the people they interact with. The recruiters and client service professionals undoubtedly are getting the most feedback, and generally positive, from the open comments that we get.

There are many other ways we can use technology, but what it comes down to is how we are holding our recruiters accountable, engaging our professionals and helping them to understand that they are our brand. They are what is making a difference for our candidates.”

Katy Jones, Global Talent & Engagement Manager, PepsiCo:
“For us, one of the big actions we took was rebuilding our career site. Over two years ago, we had different career sites for different countries The experiences were different, they were long and we were losing a lot of people during the process.

Almost two years ago, we launched a brand new careers site. One of the key things was to allow for full mobile application, which we didn’t have across the globe previously and was only available in the US.

As soon as we did that, we saw a huge jump in our international traffic and we found that we were receiving 50 percent less bounce rate. We had people staying on our job descriptions 30 seconds longer and then also mixing in with local relevancy to the different regions and cultures, to give those potential candidates an experience that speaks to them and isn’t just US-focused, which is what was happening in the past.

Also, as far as different channels, we just really put more of a focus on the messaging that we were sending out on our site and through our social channels, and shifting gears from just pushing jobs, but engaging in conversations, showing them the culture of PepsiCo and that has made a big difference.

I know for us, a new thing this year is to hold quarterly webinars and bring in our business leaders and managers to hold discussions with some of our talent pools, again just opening up those lines of communications and giving more insight into what it’s like at PepsiCo. That’s made a big difference as well.”

Stefanie Thornton, Director of Talent Acquisition, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan:
“The black hole was something that we heard about over and over again. The biggest thing we heard was,’ It’s okay if you don’t want us; just tell us you don’t want us.’ So we did two things. One was on that initial kick-out letter when someone applied saying: ‘Thanks, we received your application.’

We put the recruiter’s name, phone number and email so that the candidate knew who the recruiter was, which made it much more personal. The recruiters freaked when we said we were going to do this. But I will tell you, if anything, it has cut down on the amount of calls that come in about ‘Can I get the status on my application?’ ‘Did you receive my application?’ . Now they knew someone had it, the messaging was very clear, ‘Rest assured, we will provide you with status updates.’ “

The second thing that we did was look at the disposition letters. We disposition along the way and we reject along the way. We don’t wait until a position is filled to reject all the candidates who applied because, let’s be honest, that could take months. So when we know all of the candidates progressing on to the hiring manager review, we let them know that they are not progressing. Same with interview steps.

The other thing that we did was in the portal, we activated a tool that would allow the candidates to log in and see their step and status of the application at any given time. So they can see they’re in the hiring manager review stage. There is a lot of work on being diligent around dispositioning and communications.”

Chris Hoyt, Partner, CareerXroads:
“I love the live engagement we are seeing; a few companies have committed to and communicated the expectation to candidates that they will get back to them in one business day on social channels or via email. They are getting away from the idea that just because we have some tools that can automate responses, it doesn’t always mean we should.

Additionally, organizations are starting to embrace perception scores; some companies encourage candidates to visit Glassdoor after applying. Comcast now, as a result of this effort, tells candidates how they did in their interview before the interview is over and explains why they may not be moving forward as a candidate. These are really big steps.”

Communication Best Practices

Q3. What are your best practices when communicating with candidates? Is it an organizational policy to maintain and build relationships with unsuccessful candidates?

Communication not only to successful candidates or candidates looking to apply is crucial when considering all the people who come into contact with an employer brand. While it’s essential to find the right person for the open position, it’s as important to look after unsuccessful candidates, as it impacts the business in various ways.

What the panel had to say…

Jen Powell, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager, Deloitte:
“That’s a really important population; it’s the vast majority of folks out there. The other thing we are looking at is not just people who have already expressed an interest in a specific role but people who are just keeping their feelers open, who may not be ready to move from their current job. We want to be one of the first to form a relationship with them so that once they have that day at work, ‘I’m done with this place,’ they already know Deloitte.

We are building these pools of talent communities where we are connecting with them and sharing thought leadership. Our employees are connecting with them, so again, when they are ready to make a move, or there is that right fit that has come up, they are the first on our list. And vice versa.”

Stefanie Thornton, Director of Talent Acquisition, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan:
“We thought about the candidates we are not moving forward with, so we decided to set up job alerts within our systems. The system will ping you when those positions you have expressed an interest in become open, so you don’t have to return to the site. We want to stay engaged with those candidates.

We were also very careful about how we crafted our ‘No, but thank you’ letter. We wanted to make it as positive as possible. There is not a lot you can do with the messaging, and ‘You didn’t get the job’ is very clear. But what we did was make every candidate’s communication positive. And so we focused on, ‘Hey, you didn’t get the job, but some cool things are happening in the city this weekend Check this out.’

And so we have embedded our letters with hyperlinks to things that are not about Blue Cross but might be about a jazz festival. The idea is to have people feel good about the city we work and live in, and not necessarily focus on the message that they didn’t get the job. We use lots of photos, images, and hyperlinks, and we’ve made communication as positive as possible.”

Marvin Smith, Strategic Sourcing, Talent Community Strategist, Lockheed Martin:
“For us, it truly is a journey of transparency and communication. We often hire before we need to; we call them ‘blue sky’ requisitions. Sometimes, that impacts the candidate experience, but what we’ve been able to do is focus on the people involved in the process, even those who haven’t received an offer. We have been diligent about ensuring we follow up and hold people accountable for their actions.

The folks have done a great job.; for example, on Glassdoor, we are a category leader, which we weren’t before we started this journey. And not only that, we are probably the second or third company overall in terms of getting accolades for the process, so our recruiters and sourcers are doing something right.”

How to Measure Success

Q4. The effects of the candidate experience can be wide-ranging. What areas do you measure and how do you tie that back to your business results?

Understanding the health of your candidate experiences is critical to success, and so is measuring the impact of different activities to tie that back directly to business results.

What the panel had to say…

Jen Powell, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager, Deloitte:
“Whilst we don’t sell a consumer product, and sales are not directly impacted, all of those relationships we have may have an impact in the future. We might have a candidate or the son or daughter of a future client of ours who may apply, and they may choose intentionally or unintentionally based on their child’s experience with Deloitte, which may ultimately affect decisions. Everybody is a potential consumer influencer for us. We look at the net promoter score.

In addition to some of the satisfaction ratings during the different phases in the recruiting process, we look at the net promoter score to understand the people coming through the process and how willing they are to refer others in the future based on their experience. That’s a powerful measure that our business leaders can understand and that will provide additional support for us as we try other things that improve candidate experience.”

Katy Jones, Global Talent & Engagement Manager, PepsiCo:
“We certainly leverage the candidate experience survey from TalentBoard. But beyond that data, we have our survey, which also ties into the net promoter scores. Around 29 percent of our candidates are our customers, so ensuring they are happy with us is important. The things we ask within our survey are not just about the ease of applying and what we can do to improve, but ‘Would you recommend us?’ That’s always an important sign of how we are doing based on the feedback from that survey.

We also do a lot around our brand reputation. Glassdoor is a great place to see what people are saying and we also measure our sentiment on Twitter and our talent brand on LinkedIn. There are many things that we can rely on, but there is still work to do on how we tie that all together. And what actions we are taking to change or improve where we need to.”

Stefanie Thornton, Director of Talent Acquisition, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan:
“We survey our top candidates along the way; we don’t just survey our new hires, which is what we traditionally did. New hires generally feel good and positive, so they are not going to say anything bad. So we decided to expand our survey to candidates as we disposition them.

Along with their letter, they get a link to the survey where we ask them what they think, basically, net promoter-type questions, such as if they would refer or recommend a friend and what was their application experience like. We received some really good feedback from candidates and they filled it out. That was the other thing that we were shocked about. They take the time to give us their feedback.”

The Imperative of Technology

Q5. How can you leverage technology to bring candidates, recruiters and hiring managers closer together?

The panelists openly shared their experiences and best practices to improve candidate experience. Still, when considering the number of activities they are undertaking daily, the question arises: ‘How can you leverage the right tools and technology to enable you and your talent teams to deliver outstanding candidate experiences?’

Our Regional Sales Director weighed in on the topic as well:
“We’ve heard some great ideas here today, but the key is how we scale them. There are four key areas that recruiting technology can help with”:

1. Career Sites and Mobile Optimization

“We need authentic content, strong branding enabled for video that’s engaging and action orientated and make sure it’s mobile. Having separate experiences for PC and mobile is not ideal anymore. Candidates are accessing career sites on their mobile, and when they go to their PC, it should be the same.

Allow talent networks to eliminate that ‘apply or goodbye’ situation. Folks should be able to express their interest in your organization outside of seeing a job or applying to that job. Job alerts were mentioned earlier: that’s absolutely key. Allowing talent to engage with you outside of just applying is important and then customizing the message based on what you know.”

2. True Recruiting CRM

A true recruiting CRM such as Avature allows you to capture relevant info to build a relationship with talent. For example, capture their favorite active gear if you are an active retailer. Capture their favorite book if you are a publishing house. Allow for note tracking and reminders to call/email and allow for SEARCHABILITY. As Jen mentioned, it’s the people interaction that matters so much. It’s important to empower recruiting teams with the tools to scale this and build a custom experience through true candidate relationship management.”

3. Collaboration

“Hiring is a team sport. Enable collaboration across the hiring team, so talent is properly informed and notified along the way. The black hole of communication isn’t serving anyone. Deploy real-time, actionable, mobile dashboards for managers and interview team members to feed the recruitment team’s information. Tie the hiring team closer, and the candidate and business will win.”

4. Flexibility

“Allow for flexibility in your process based upon the type of hiring you are doing and the talent you are engaging. Avature allows for a custom data model and the necessary workflows to ensure your desired talent and end users get what they need when they need it.”

We would like to thank Gerry Crispin and Elaine Orler from TalentBoard for co-hosting this webinar. We can all agree that the ideas, experiences and best practices to improve candidate experience that were shared during the webinar were truly inspiring.

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