Hyper-Personalization – The Most Effective No-Cost Way To Impress Candidates

Hyper-personalizing is the most effective no-cost way to impress candidates. It adds small personalized touches to make them feel special.

Unfortunately, many recruiting organizations make candidates feel like they are “no more than a number” during down economic times. An alternative approach, that I call “hyper-personalized candidate actions,” can improve your chances of landing the hardest to hire candidates. This modern recruitment marketing approach is designed specifically to increase candidate excitement by making each candidate feel unique, special, or important. It works by adding small personalized touches to your candidate communications and each step of the recruiting process. Its primary goal is to make each targeted candidate literally feel like he or she is the only candidate being considered. So, that targeted candidates increase their engagement with the hiring process and their probability of accepting an offer. Adding even a few of these small personal touches (like giving the receptionists a photo so they can instantly recognize a candidate) will leave a positive impression. And when you add several personalized touches, it can make it seem like the entire hiring process has been at least partially designed specifically to meet an individual candidate’s interests, capabilities, and needs. 

It’s A Well-Established Marketing Approach 

If you’re not already aware of the concept, in this case, the word “hyper” is added to the standard personalization approach because the personalization goes down to the individual candidate level. So, in effect, it is a one-off personalization. Hyper or micro personalization is quite common on the Internet and product and service marketing. This hyper-personalized approach is also used on customers at five-star hotels and restaurants (it is one element of white-glove treatment). However, in recruiting, it’s barely even a topic of conversation. Today, only a minuscule “3% of Fortune 500 companies hyper-personalize their candidate experience” (Source: State of candidate experience 2020). And instead, the recruiting function almost universally uses a one-size-fits-all approach that is purposely impersonal. That makes candidates feel more like a number than a welcomed applicant. And yes, the impersonal approach is cheaper, but it’s not as effective in exciting hard to land candidates. So, if you want to differentiate your company and stand out in the talent marketplace, consider acting differently by adding some personalized touches to your recruiting process. You can provide this personalized treatment to all candidates. However, I recommend that you start by focusing it on your very top recruits that are the most difficult to impress and sell.

The Many Benefits Of Hyper-Personalized Candidate Treatment

Some of the many benefits that companies gain from this approach include:

  • You will impress already employed candidates – in a down economy, candidates that already have a good job (some call them passive) are much pickier about their opportunities. In a world where it seems like every candidate is treated like a number. Literally, this personalized treatment may be so surprising and even shocking that it will become a key differentiator between yours and other job opportunities. And this differentiation will increase your offer acceptance rate. Candidates will assume that the special individual treatment will continue when they become an employee.
  • Fewer candidate dropouts – because the impact of personalization is immediate. Even a few personalized touches will instantly improve candidate engagement. So much, that they will be less likely to drop out of your recruiting and interview processes.
  • A stronger word-of-mouth employer brand – because making candidates feel special is so rare in this tight job market. Even candidates that don’t get hired will be likely to talk up your company to their network. And that will strengthen your viral employer brand.
  • No training is required – because the added personalization approaches are so simple and intuitive. No training is required. So, you only need to give your recruiters and hiring managers a few examples, and they can take it from there. 
  • No added costs – it involves little more than personalizing communications and adding a few no-cost personalized touches to the interviewing process. This approach doesn’t require a new budget.

If you’re unsure about the concept or its impact. Simply, try a few personalized actions and look for immediate changes in a candidate’s smile, energy, or interest.

Simple No Cost Hyper-Personalized Actions To Choose From

This personalization approach isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t require a strategic plan or any structural changes to the recruiting process. To get started, you need little more than a checklist of simple personalizing actions that have been shown to impress candidates. So, this next section contains a series of simple and inexpensive actions. The listed personalized actions are broken into three categories, prior to the interview, during the interview, and during the offer process.

Prior to the interview – Personalized actions to consider

The recruiter should tweak a few elements of their pre-interview routine so that a few of its components are personalized for this candidate.

  • Personalize your communications. Long before you interview a candidate, you will be communicating with them. So, realize that there is nothing more impersonal than sending a candidate anything that resembles a spam letter or email. Whenever possible, include a highly personalized subject line. In the content, include a personal note that is clearly addressed only to them. And finally, be highly responsive because nothing makes them feel less important than not receiving a response or having to wait more than 24 hours for a response.
  • Ask candidates about their timetable. Don’t be subtle; ask each exceptional candidate about their job search timetable. Merely asking them will demonstrate that you are concerned about them. Because this makes them feel that you’re willing to adjust your hiring timetable to meet their needs. Also, realize that scheduling your interviews only in the time slots that they have available and completing them in a single day will also make them feel like they are a high priority.
  • Don’t keep them in the dark. Showing a candidate that you would like to reduce their anxiety helps to show that you care about them as an individual. You can reduce a candidate’s pre-interview anxiety by fully educating them about what will happen during their particular interview process. Include your goals, what will happen, when, and why (J&J is the benchmark firm in this area).
  • Send them team profiles. Exceptional candidates take a job in part because they want to work alongside and learn from the best. So, show them that you’re already planning for them to join your team. By providing them with a packet of short team member profiles (often LinkedIn profiles). Taking the time to help them know more about the team will make them feel that you understand their need to know their coworkers.
  • Send them directions. Something as simple as sending each candidate a personalized transit, driving, and parking directions from their work or home location sends the message that you’re concerned about their time. And that you have empathy for candidates that are afraid that they will get lost. Telling them the appropriate dress and what to bring with them to the interview can also impress.
  • Find out if they are a customer. If your company has retail or service users, you must find out if an interviewee is one of them. Show them you know about their link with the company. By acknowledging during the interview, you have researched their background and know that they have been a customer. This also lets them know that they are even more likely to get special treatment as a customer. Also, realize that treating a customer badly will likely have a negative effect on future sales. Finally, if they happen to be a former employee or contractor, you should also acknowledge that you spent the time to learn that. 

During the interview process – Personalized actions to consider

The recruiter should tweak their standard interview process so that a few of its components are personalized for this candidate.

  • Recognize them instantly. Being greeted by name is the most personal of all first impressions. So, provide the receptionist a photo of the candidate and a note when they are expected to ensure that the candidate will be greeted by name. Giving everyone in the interview process a picture of the candidate will help make them instantly recognized each time. Incidentally, giving the candidate pictures of people, they will meet during the hiring process will make the candidate feel like you’re serious about them.
  • Meet them at the door. Few things let the candidate know that you’re interested in them more than physically meeting them immediately after they enter the door. In situations where you must be called down to the lobby, make sure you are there in a flash.
  • Have their badge ready. If an entry badge is required, make them feel like they are getting personalized treatment by having their badge made up in advance and waiting for them. This works because it requires preplanning and it makes them feel special because no one else does it.
  • Be on time. Starting the interview on time sends a message to the candidate that you appreciate that their time is important. 
  • A welcome sign. Creating and displaying a classy welcome sign with their printed name on it will instantly impress. It shows that you want the whole team to know that you’re coming in that day. For Zoom interviews, make sure that the sign is visible in the background. 
  • Make sure that something physical is personalized. When possible, try to impress the candidate by providing them with something personalized with their name. This helps to show that preparation time was put in before their visit. A written personalized agenda covering their interview day is a cheap and effective option. But even a printed name tag for a group interview may do the trick.
  • Make it clear that you have researched the candidate thoroughly. Many candidates get frustrated because the interviewers don’t know anything in advance about them. Instead, be proactive and reveal every opportunity that you have taken the time to research and know them thoroughly. For the recruiter and the hiring manager, that means going beyond their resume to at least review the candidate’s LinkedIn profile and social media pages. Mentioning that you have noted a particular rare skill, project, or unique experience that they had will further show that you know them well. Make sure that at least one of those “I really know you” items are brought up before or during the interview. 
  • Make the interview more like a professional conversation. Everyone knows that interviews are normally a canned form of one-way communications. So, at least for professional candidates, make them feel really special by structuring the interview to be more like an informal extended professional conversation. Knowing that it is a conversation between equals rather than a grilling will instantly make the best aware that you know and respect their experience and credentials. 
  • Ask them who they would like to meet. Most interview slates are structured with no input from the candidate. So, consider making top candidates feel special by asking the candidate if there is anyone (by title) that they need to meet or interview before they make their decision. Merely giving them a choice will almost always make a difference. You can also make them feel important during their visit by briefly introducing them to team members.
  • Make them aware that others like them work here. Most people are excited to learn that other people like them already work here. So, it makes sense to scan their LinkedIn or social media profiles for the college they attended, the company they currently work at, or civic organizations they have joined. This way you can let the candidate know during the interview process that you already have dozens of employees that share similar things. If they are an avid sports fan, let everyone who might meet them know that. For diverse candidates, you can also let them know about your affinity groups and how well their gender or diversity group is represented at your company. So that diverse candidates won’t, for a minute, feel like they will be working alone.
  • Frequently asked questions. Showing that you want to answer the specific questions of this candidate reveals your empathy. The best approach is to ask top candidates if they have any questions they need answered before making any job acceptance decision. An alternative is simply putting together and sharing frequently asked questions and answers from previous candidates in this job family. Showing concern that they get all their individual questions answered impresses most candidates. 
  • Let them leave with something. If you can afford it, make sure the top candidates walk out the door with something with your company name or logo on it. Even if it’s a pen, a notepad, or a sample company product. When giving it out, make sure that they feel that you don’t automatically do this with everyone.
  • Set a date to respond. Every candidate wants to know that they are important enough not to be left hanging. So at the end of the interview, if you’re really excited about a top candidate, show them that you are serious by setting a firm date to provide them with a response to what will happen next (and then meet it). This commitment with a firm date will go a long way toward making them feel wanted and important.
  • Walk them out. Walking them to the exit after the final interview is a little thing. But it’s unusual enough to make them feel important.
  • For second interviews, make it clear you know what happened last time. Very few things reveal that a candidate isn’t special faster than when an interviewer conducting a second interview doesn’t know what happened during the first interview. This second round interview should start by letting the candidate know that they have talked to your previous interviewer. Or, that they have thoroughly reviewed the notes from your last interview. 
  • Drink preference for return candidates. Just like your neighborhood bartender, it feels good when someone, without asking, offers you your favorite drink. So if you’re planning on inviting a top candidate for a return visit, prepare a profile on them that includes a note of their drink preference, and then have it ready for them when they arrive.

Remote interviews are a special case 

Since so many interviews are now remote, it also makes sense to personalize some part of that process.

  • Educate them about the technology. Some candidates may not be familiar with remote video interviews. So, alleviate some of their stress by letting them know well in advance what technology you will be using. Show empathy by providing them with crystal clear sign-on instructions, finding do’s and don’ts, and frequently asking questions about the technology. 
  • Let them know the expected dress. You can eliminate common confusion and reduce some of their stress. By letting the interviewing candidate the expected dress for video and in-person interviews.
  • Send them your profile. Remote video interviews often feel impersonal. It’s always a good idea to send the candidate in advance a short profile of the interviewer with a picture. Also, consider revealing in advance specifically what areas that the interview will focus on. This shows that you respect their time and it allows busy employed candidates to focus their preparation. 

During the offer process – Personalized actions to consider

  • Ask them what they need… to say, “yes!” Knowing and meeting their “job acceptance criteria” makes an offer more likely to be accepted. So, make finalists feel special by asking them directly, “what do you need to have” (including money) before you can accept an offer. Then, try to meet those criteria in your offer.
  • Personalize the offer. No matter what is contained in your offer. Make it clear to them that you sculpted the offer as best you can to meet their individual interests and needs. Adding even a single, unexpected, “WOW” possibility that was discussed during the interview can make all the difference.
  • Allow top employees to encourage them. Being accepted by their peers is important for most candidates. So, make them feel that the team also thinks they are special by encouraging your best to reach out and help to convince them. Giving them the contact information of a few respected team members might comfort them if they feel like they need an insider’s opinion
  • Personalize the job. Literally, nothing impresses top finalists more than showing that you’re willing to, at least, discuss slightly modifying the job to meet their individual interests and capabilities. Showing flexibility in the job itself may convince them that you will also be flexible when they become an employee.

Final Thoughts 

Whenever you assess top performer candidates or those that work in an “impossible to fill” technical area like data security or machine learning, it’s important to realize that selling them will be extremely difficult even in a down economy. When you have one of these candidates, consciously make an effort to personalize several  job search elements to make them feel special, important, and needed. Remember, it only takes a few small personalizations to reinforce that impression.

Incidentally, there are no absolute requirements for a hyper-personalized candidate treatment program. The best approach is often to start by simply making recruiters and hiring managers aware of the possible personalization actions. And then, let them adopt the ones that make the best sense for their situation, this candidate, and this job. I do however recommend in the long term that you adopt a more sophisticated approach that gathers data on “what works” when it comes to personalization. This usually involves either A/B testing or a quick survey of a sample of candidates, which can reveal the actual factors that made them feel special during their hiring process. And then, supplied with this data, your recruiters can make more educated choices on the most effective personalization actions to take.

Author’s Note: Please pass this article around within your team and network. And, if it stimulated your thinking and provided actionable tips, please take a minute to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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