Providing a More Positive Candidate Experience, Part 2

Last week, I started to discuss how to provide a more positive candidate experience by introducing ways to discourage marginally qualified and unqualified candidates from applying and to improve the flow of information in the recruiting process.

This week, my attention turns to two additional methods that can be addressed to help provide a more positive “candidate experience” for the select few candidates whom you actually may want to hire. The two methods available to you include:

  1. Varying the application process for top candidates (who met all the qualifications) so that they will reapply the next time you have a similar opening.
  2. Identifying which applicants will become appropriate for positions in the near future and building up a rapport with them that keeps them engaged during the meantime.

As stated last week, most job application processes fail miserably when it comes to providing any form of interaction that could pass a standard customer service satisfaction test with a decent score. The root of this failure has many surface-level symptoms, but only one foundational cause: the failure to coordinate effectively from the candidate’s perspective.

The Value of the Candidate’s Perspective

On countless occasions I have been witness to recruiters who all too easily dismissed a candidate despite the existence of several match criteria; for example, the candidate had the right industrial background but didn’t possess the exact skill set, years of experience, or vice versa.

Treating such candidates poorly, or the same as all other candidates who do not fit the profile, is tantamount to not recruiting at all. No single recruiter, and quite possibly no team of recruiters, can tap every resource to make sure that they are sourcing the absolute highest quality candidates. But they can do everything possible to make sure that they have as many engaged resources as possible. Near-miss candidates possess tremendous value. For example, near miss candidates can:

  • Let others in their professional network with similar skill sets know that you are looking.
  • Clue you into a potential channel, such as a local professional organization or industry hangout, that might have escaped your initial sourcing strategy scope.
  • Identify breaks in your language and candidate accepted language, i.e. referring to a specific skill by its technical name versus its more common usage name.

Failing to leverage the value of near hires and control their perspective of your organization has many potential negative impacts, including:

  • A damaged employer brand. Bad news travels much faster than good news, so you want to make sure that anyone who has access to potential quality candidates has a positive story to tell about their experience with your organization.
  • Increased workload. You may like to work hard, but sometimes working smarter gets more done. Failing to utilize near hires by turning them into allies who add more eyes and ears to your sourcing process means that you will have to spend more time, and more money, to cover as many potential sources.
  • Reduced accuracy. Because no single recruiter can access every sourcing channel, failing to leverage potential in-roads to a new channel ultimately reduces your accuracy. If your channels produce only 10 out of 100 potential candidates, hiring one from your ten doesn’t mean that you hired the best.

Keeping Near Hires Engaged

Regardless of whether your initial process yielded a candidate who was perfect for your organization, but for which no position was available, or whether they were close but not perfect, you may want to keep a select group of applicants actively engaged. To do so, your process will need to treat them differently than the way you treat all other applicants who were not a fit. Many leading organization have invested millions of dollars and thousands of hours in developing tools to keep such applicants at their fingertips. Some of the tools that have arisen from this work include:

  • Problem-solving networks. Such networks offer near hires an opportunity to remain close to your organization and be fast-tracked should a position become available. While waiting, applicants have an opportunity to submit possible solutions to emerging issues that your firm identifies. The network can be used as a research tool, as a screening tool, and even a recruitment tool if structured as a contest.
  • Online communities. Collectively your organization has access to more research, more publications, and more tools than any individual could reasonably have access to. Consider offering “near hires” access to a restricted online community where they can access not only non-public information about your organization, but also tools and information that they can use in their existing jobs. By satisfying their current needs, you will create a loyal customer before they join your organization.
  • Private recruiting events. Used by universities for years to keep top graduates attracted to their school, private recruiting events that invite a select few applicants to come together, socialize, and receive news and updated information about opportunities will keep top applicants engaged for a period of time. By combining such events with targeted branding communications, each attendee can be turned into an active recruiter.
  • “Talent scout.” Everyone wants to feel like they had a part in making something successful, and near hires are no exception. While I am sure they would prefer an opportunity, many applicants understand that you need a specific set of skills to get a job done, and that they may not have exactly what you want at this time. If you have sold your firm well, they may still want to be affiliated with you in some way. Consider making near hires “talent scouts.” Extend all of the benefits of your employee referral program, or a specially modified series of benefits, to “near hires.”

There are literally hundreds of approaches you can try to help keep top applicants engaged. The ultimate key to success is in understanding what will continue to provide them value about their process once their candidacy for an open position has ended.

Applicants Perfect For Roles “Down The Road”

If you are like many recruiters, undoubtedly at some point or another in your career you have gotten the feedback from a hiring manager that a candidate you presented would be perfect six months from now when the product is further along. Such applicants are very similar to near hires in that they provide all of the same value. The one key differentiator is that for these applicants you have a potential timeline available as to when they might be able to join your organization. To keep these candidates engaged try:

  • Honest communication. Sometimes just letting a candidate know exactly what your situation is will keep them engaged for a limited period of time. If you communicate with them frequently, you will become a trusted resource, and they may hold out for you. This works especially well with new grads and researchers.
  • Working weekend. All firms can use an extra hand from time to time. Designating one weekend a month as a catch-up day and bringing in additional resources, your top applicants, for a day on the job will not only start the process of building camaraderie, it will give you an opportunity to see applicants in action.


Lots of elements impact what people think about your organization. Controlling those elements and managing the perception of applicants is part of the strategic recruiter’s job. To tackle this problem, world-class HR practitioners must manage all of processes, tools, policies, and procedures that create a hiring system.

They must manage these elements from the viewpoint of providing a value-add to applicants and themselves, versus just themselves. If you have a best practice with regards to either of the issues mentioned here today, post them in a review of this article. It’s time to advance recruiting. It’s time to act strategic.

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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