Candidate Experience: What It Is and Why It’s So Important

Candidate experience is how job seekers determine if your company walks the talk of its employer branding. In this article we’ll unpack the 8 stages of candidate experience, their potential impact on your business, and how to make incremental improvements.

By Iterate Team
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13 minute read

In the current labor market, candidate experience has become a major focus for any company committed to building a strong employer brand. But what is it exactly, and what does it mean for your organization?

In this guide, we'll talk about:

  • What candidate experience really means beyond the interview process
  • The benefits of a positive candidate experience
  • How to improve the candidate experience in your hiring process

So, to start us off —

What is candidate experience?

Candidate experience refers to the way job seekers perceive your company’s hiring process. If job seekers feel they were treated well while interacting with your company, that counts as a positive candidate experience. If not, they will consider it a negative candidate experience.

This applies at every stage of the process, from recruiting to onboarding. Even if you get it mostly right, one poorly handled step is all it takes to give candidates a sour impression.

To paint a better picture of exactly what we mean, let’s look at the stages of the hiring process in more detail.

The 8 stages of candidate experience

1. Awareness

The candidate experience begins even before a job seeker applies for a position. Research shows that 48% of job seekers report having some awareness of a company before applying. That awareness might include:

  • Knowing someone who already works there
  • Seeing their branding or marketing initiatives
  • Being a customer
  • Or even working for them in a different role in the past

Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 2% of job seekers said they had applied for a job with a company they had a negative impression of based on what they picked up on during the awareness phase.

2. Job search

In most cases, the hiring process will start when a job seeker discovers a job posting from your company. They will then read your job description and (most likely) visit your company’s website. They may also check your company’s social media profiles.

As they do, they will be forming an impression of your company in their mind.

3. Application

If a job seeker has a good feeling about your company and the open position you’re advertising, they’ll likely submit an application — either through a third-party jobs site, or directly on your website.

Whether submitting their application was smooth sailing or full of friction can actually stop that particular candidate’s experience with your company in its tracks. According to research from CareerBuilder, 70% of job seekers are researching and applying to jobs on their phone — and say that a job application that’s difficult to complete (42%), or takes too long to complete (31%), would cause them to drop off before submitting.

4. Review

Next, your company will review the job seeker’s application. If they don’t have potential, you will reject their application, and their part in your hiring process will end. Otherwise, you will add them to the list of possible candidates.

Either way, you may reach out with some initial feedback — or you might not.

5. Initial communication

If you’ve decided that the candidate shows promise, you’ll have to contact them to arrange the next steps. There may be some back and forth at this point, and if you’re still feeling good about them, you’ll schedule an interview.

6. Interviews

When the time is right, the candidate will join you for a job interview in person or over Zoom.

Either way, this will be one of the most important stages in the hiring process — for both the candidate and your company.

7. Hiring

Depending on the details of your hiring process, the interview stage can last a while. You may have to interview multiple candidates, and you may interview each of those candidates several times.

Eventually, though, you will choose a candidate and make an offer. Once the candidate accepts, the hiring process is almost done. But not quite…

8. Onboarding

Just as the candidate experience starts even before the candidate applies for a job, it continues after they become an employee. During the onboarding phase, the new employee will decide whether they made the right choice by joining your company.

In a sense, this is the point that determines if your company can follow through on the promises made during the hiring process — both explicit and implied.

The benefits of a positive candidate experience

1. Better employees

The candidate experience your company offers will have a major impact on the quality of employees you can expect to reach. The most talented professionals know they can afford to be picky when choosing an employer. By providing a positive candidate experience, you can build trust with candidates and help them see why you’re the right choice.

Even job seekers who are not ultimately hired can reflect your company’s employer brand. How did they perceive the part of the process they were involved in? Did they feel that your company was fair and respectful, even while turning them down?

Word gets around. If your company’s reputation is hurt by rumors of a poor candidate experience, other job seekers will be less likely to apply for future positions.

2. Reduced hiring costs

A positive candidate experience will naturally lend itself to a more efficient hiring process, not only reducing the time and resources required to find quality employees — but also ensuring any time spent on your hiring efforts won’t cost you in the long run.

Improving your company’s candidate experience helps both the job seeker and the hiring manager determine if they’re right for the role, leading to better quality hires that stick around longer.

By establishing a more reliable hiring process, you can reduce the risk of employee churn.

3. Employee advocacy

Your current employees hold a lot of power when it comes to your employer brand. They can be your biggest employer brand ambassadors — or detractors — making or breaking your reputation among the workforce.

Giving job seekers a positive candidate experience will help you staff your company with good fit employees eager to advocate for your brand — and even reduce the chances of any candidates who didn’t make the cut bad-mouthing your hiring process to their peers or on sites like Glassdoor.

4. Boosted productivity

It’s no secret that a happy employee is a productive employee, but what’s talked about less is how much the onboarding phase of candidate experience contributes to employee happiness and productivity.

Joining a new company can feel like a job in itself, and even be a significant source of anxiety — but a thoughtful onboarding experience can reduce uncertainty about new responsibilities and ultimately get new joiners adding value faster.

How to improve the candidate experience at your company

1. Make a good first impression.

It’s safe to assume that job seekers are aware of your company before they apply for your open role — even if your job post is the first time they’ve heard of you, they’re bound to do some research before submitting an application.

That means that if you’re advertising an open role, you should make sure your employer brand is reflected across your online presence. This means reviewing your website, careers page, social media profiles, and even your broader marketing materials.

You want job seekers to get an accurate and compelling idea of your employer brand across the internet — and organic employee advocacy is a powerful piece of that puzzle. For example, you could encourage existing employees to review your company on Glassdoor. Nothing attracts job seekers — or shows them you have nothing to hide — like authentic content from happy employees.

You can also create a public org chart for your company. This will show candidates exactly how your company is structured and who they would be working with. A public org chart is also a powerful demonstration of your company’s commitment to transparency.

2. Write a clear job description.

A clear job description is an essential aspect of a good candidate experience. Unfortunately, employers and employees seem to have different standards for what counts as “clear.” According to one study, 72% of hiring managers believe that they provide clear job descriptions — while only 36% of job seekers agree.

Of course, the details of a job description will depend on the details of the job itself. But every job description should include a thorough overview of:

  • Responsibilities
  • Essential skills
  • Preferred skills
  • Education and experience requirements
  • Salary range

By being as clear as possible about the role, you can help job seekers make an informed decision about whether to apply. This reduces the need for your company to reject unsuitable candidates who may have found your description vague and confusing. (A clear job description will also give job seekers more direction on what information to include in their application.)

If you’re not sure about a description you’ve written, get some input from your current employees:

  • Do they think it’s clear?
  • Would they understand the responsibilities and requirements you describe?
  • What clarification would they appreciate if they were applying?

3. Make it easy to apply.

Submitting an application is often one of the most frustrating aspects of job hunting. In many cases, the process is more complicated and time-consuming than it needs to be. Sometimes, less is more.

If every candidate has to fill out an unreasonably long questionnaire or give their entire life story, they won’t be happy about it — if they do it at all. One study from Indeed found that 88.7% of job seekers abandon the application process if there are 45 or more screener questions. That makes plenty of sense when you consider how many jobs the average candidate has to apply for. There are only so many hours in the day!

When deciding on the requirements for an application, stick to only what’s absolutely necessary. Then, make the instructions as clear and concise as possible. Legions of exhausted, frustrated job seekers will thank you for it.

4. Respond to every applicant.

Even with a streamlined application process, applying still takes time and effort and can cause plenty of stress. Despite this, most candidates never get a response. You can break that trend and show some courtesy to applicants by responding to each one, even if they aren’t on your shortlist.

There’s no need to say too much. Simply thank them for their interest, explain that you don’t feel they’re the right fit and wish them good luck in their job hunt. Odds are, they could use it.

And if you receive a high volume of applications, set up an automated email template for this. Trust us, the time you save will be well worth it.

5. Communicate promptly with promising candidates

If a candidate does make it onto your shortlist, reach out as soon as possible to let them know that you’re considering their application. For many job seekers, the silence from a potential employer is deafening — and research shows that 84% of applicants are expecting to see some form of response early in the hiring process.

Once again, there’s no need to go overboard. Even a brief note with some encouraging words could make all the difference. Then, keep them updated throughout the hiring process.

6. Nail the interview process.

A job interview can be a stressful experience for everyone involved. A little consideration goes a long way. Make every interview as easy as possible by:

  • Preparing ahead of time
  • Giving the candidate a heads-up on what to expect
  • Creating a comfortable environment for the interview
  • Asking clear, relevant and appropriate interview questions
  • Giving the candidate your full attention
  • Inviting the candidate to share any questions or concerns they have

After every interview, follow up with the candidate as quickly as you can. Most job seekers walk out of an interview with butterflies in their stomachs. Many agonize over how they did. Some assume the worst and sink into despair — especially if you go radio silent after the interview.

Regardless of whether you’re moving forward with a candidate after their interview, sharing a thoughtful update can mean the difference between a positive or negative candidate experience. A job offer isn’t the secret to a good candidate experience — respect is.

7. Don't forget about onboarding.

Once you’ve found the right candidate and made the hire, it can be tempting to think your job is done. But the onboarding stage should never be an afterthought. A smooth onboarding stage is the cherry on top of a great candidate experience, and a huge factor in determining whether new hires will stay at your company.

As a potential employer, it’s your responsibility to make sure new employees can hit the ground running. That means teaching them the ropes as well as encouraging healthy connections with their new colleagues.

One of the best ways to do this is to set up an org chart for your company. An org chart will help new employees understand how your company is structured. Plus, because an org chart can function as an employee directory, it will make it easier for employees to learn their colleagues’ names, faces and roles within the company.

8. Review and optimize your hiring process.

Improving your company’s candidate experience isn’t a one-time thing. Every time you post an open position, review applications or hire an employee, you’re shaping your company’s candidate experience — for better or worse.

Track the success of your hiring process over time. What works? What doesn’t? What feedback do candidates and employees have?

Using this data, you can gain valuable insights into how to improve the candidate experience at your company. That way, you can build a strong employer brand and show the most talented employees why they should join your team.


Good luck! We’re rooting for you.

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