Building an effective candidate experience to attract the best talent

Alex Pavlou shares five tips on how small businesses can design a 'candidate experience' to attract the best talent.

One of the most important aspects of running a business is hiring. It’s a consistent and regular part of day-to-day life as a business owner but most don’t spend enough time prioritising it. Some suggest that CEOs and managing directors should spend at least 50 per cent of their time recruiting. Why so long you might ask? Competition for the best talent is on the rise, there is a well-documented digital skills gap in the UK and, as a small business, the competition from large companies with recruitment teams and agencies will be tough.

With some clear processes and a stand out candidate experience you can ease some of the strain and pressure of hiring and save yourself a lot of time. It might also, with some careful implementation, help you avoid missing out on the talent you need to your competitors.

Here are five tips that have served me well when helping clients design a candidate experience that works.

1. Have a clear and consistent vision

Job specs are dated, boring, and uninspiring. They need to exist but candidates don’t buy into a role or business by reading their responsibilities from a long printed list. Candidates need to know what your company vision is, what the culture is like, what sets you apart from your competitors, and that their values resonate with yours. Being able to articulate your message in a clear and engaging way is ultimately what makes or breaks a candidate experience. Research shows that one in seven candidates state that the most important marketing material influencing their decision to apply is the company’s values.

If a candidate enters the process and leaves without much understanding of what you do then you’ve failed. One piece of advice would be to create a visual presentation that positively reflects your employer brand and leaves an impression with candidates. Give candidates a sense of who you are and why they should want to join you.

2. Make sure you know how to interview

Have most of the interviews you’ve conducted been designed by googling ‘best interview questions to ask candidates’? Are you preparing for an interview before a candidate shows up or just winging it? If the answer is yes to either of those questions then your interview is probably not as effective as it could be.

Poor interviewing leads to poor hiring decisions and can drag a recruitment process out longer than it needs to be. Be clear in what you need to know from a candidate to be able to make an effective decision about them. Formal interviewing training is worth the investment. However if budget is an issue, clarifying how you’re going to assess candidates before they interview is crucial. For example are there technical aspects of the role that need to be tested? If a candidate feels the process is ‘flaky’, disorganised or flat then they likely won’t come back.

Also make sure your whole team are up to speed on the experience that you’re trying to deliver and know how to interview. If considering training, be sure that everyone is involved.

3. Think about every candidate’s experience from start to finish

Ask yourself, ‘What do I want candidates to go away thinking when they leave the recruitment process?’ How you treat candidates, even those who haven’t got the role, is a good indicator of how seriously you’re treating the candidate experience. Thinking about the experience from the candidates’ perspective will go a long way in helping you design the right process.

A client wanted unsuccessful candidates to leave the process thinking about what they needed to work on to move them a step closer to getting a job at their organisation. Working a few steps back, we needed to make sure that candidates really understood what they did as a business, really experienced the culture, and had a brilliant first impression that started at the application process. This happened through having a clearly written and exciting job advert, a simple application process that also consisted of an introductory call and email to help them prepare for the interview beyond logistics. The same great impression continued throughout the process from the way candidates were treated during the first interview; meeting a couple of team members, getting a tour of the office and being offered a tea or coffee. Engaging candidates on a human level before launching into an interview is something that is appreciated by everyone.

Beyond this make sure you feedback to all candidates that have spent time interviewing with you. There’s nothing worse for your employer brand than a disgruntled candidate that hasn’t heard anything from you. According to a recent survey, 78 per cent of people report that they would discuss a bad hiring experience with friends, family, and peers!

4. Don’t drag out the process any longer than it needs

Running a small business means you have the luxury of being able to progress the recruitment process fast whereas larger firms may need to go through multiple channels for approval. Take advantage of this and make sure you’re moving candidates, especially those you like, through the process as fast as possible. That’s not to say rush your decision, but don’t waste any time. ‘In-demand’ talent are moving quickly and a slow process doesn’t improve the quality of new recruits; a clear and effective process does however. Candidates move fast and that’s the nature of the world we live in. If you move too slowly, you will miss out.

5. Remember this is a two-way street

Often forgotten, but remember the candidate is deciding whether to work for you as much as you’re deciding whether to hire them. Allow them to ask questions throughout the entire process, get them to meet other people from the team to get a sense of culture, and remember to make their experience a positive one.

The effect of following these points will really build your employer brand positively, including digitally as people can review their interview experience on sites such as Glassdoor. Customer experience is a phrase on everyone’s lips when talking about the experience their brand delivers. Candidates are customers too, so core parts of a good customer experience: strong communication, a seamless process, being agile and making personalised to them will be expected and appreciated. Make the change you need today to get the best candidates tomorrow.

Alex Pavlou is co-founder of Bamboo Crowd

Further reading on candidate experience and recruitment


Ben Lobel

Delphine Hintz

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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