What Makes a Poor Candidate Experience? How You Might Be Losing Top Talent and Potential Customers


Before we can reach our terminus of enlightenment for the “ultimate candidate experience,” our pilgrimage requires a pit-stop in the land of the bad, the depraved and the nefarious. Here we will leap into the turbulent waters of long and complicated job applications, and pore over characteristics of candidate experiences so awful that people spread the word like tent-revival evangelists.

Don’t worry, we won’t stay here long. No, our final destination is far from this land.

Our purpose here is simple. In order to overhaul the way candidates interact with your company, you must first understand what a great candidate experience is NOT. This means examining the recruiting process through an applicant’s eyes and thinking about his or her experience above everything else. 

As I mentioned in the previous post, a poor candidate experience is far from an anomaly. In fact, CareerBuilder reported that one in four workers has had a bad experience applying for a job in the past. So what constitutes a bad candidate experience in the mind of the 78 percent of candidates who would share said bad experience with friends and family, or the one-third of candidates who would be less-likely to buy products from the company in the future?

Time to clear up the application instructions

In a recent report, Software Advice — a company that reviews HR technology — surveyed job seekers and recruiters to help employers understand the most common factors that lead to a poor candidate experience. This is what the survey found.

An overwhelming 93 percent of the 379 job seekers polled said the number one cause of a poor candidate experience was unclear application instructions.

We’ve all been here at least once in our life. You find a job posting through a search engine or a company’s website, and start to read through the instructions. Skimming at first — how hard can a job application be? — then rereading a second and a third time with each pass slower than the previous. By the end of the process you are either completely discouraged from continuing or have lost all interest in working for this company.

If this is happening on your career website or social media page, it’s not a good start in landing quality candidates. Not when there are so many companies competing for top talent. According to the job seekers in the Software Advice survey, the job posting has to follow two key elements:

  1. Clear instructions

  2. Application of reasonable length

Of course these elements are general guidelines and can apply to many actions, but it lays the foundation for all your moves as a recruiter or hiring manager. Does the job posting CLEARLY state what materials an applicant needs to provide or where to send them? Does it take a reasonable amount of time to fill out an application? Can the applicant create an account and save my personal information and apply for multiple job postings at once?


Here is where you should spend time crafting the job posting and try to read it the way a candidate would. Double and triple check all links on your company career page, social media pages and online job sites to ensure they work and take the candidate to the correct page. Nothing can discourage a candidate from applying to a job posting like technical issues inside the job posting itself.

Failure to communicate is a failure to recruit

As with friends, family and significant others, a breakdown in communication can be a breakdown in the relationship. Recruiters and hiring managers have to keep applicants in the loop throughout the recruiting process and have to be up front with them from day one.

In the same Software Advice survey, over one-third of job seekers (34 percent exactly) said they wanted more communication with the hiring manager or recruiter throughout the recruiting process. Channeling my inner “Cool Hand Luke” here:

“What we [recruiters] have here is a failure to communicate.”

So what exactly do candidates want to know? The following are the top five pieces of information most applicants wanted recruiters to communicate with them during the recruiting process:

  1. Notification if they’ve been passed over for the position (28 percent)

  2. The timeline of the hiring process (21 percent)

  3. Human contact after the initial application (14 percent)

  4. Timeline of replies (13 percent)

  5. Clear job description and requirements (12 percent)

Additionally, a 2012 survey from CareerBuilder reported that 60 percent of applicants related a bad candidate experience to the employer not bothering to let the candidate know the company’s decision after the face-to-face interview.


No one enjoys giving or receiving bad news. But the way to handle rejections is not avoiding it. It is communicating your decision with the applicant clearly and professionally. At least a simple email so he or she has closure with that job posting and can move on to another.

Denni Oravec, director of programs for The Talent Board (the nonprofit organization that puts on the Candidate Experience Awards), says companies that provide the best candidate experience are also the companies that provide feedback to the candidates throughout the recruiting process.

And she isn’t the only one spreading this gospel.

“If limited resources and large volumes of applications prohibit a customized response, at the very least, set up an automatic reply with a quick note on the timeframe of hiring, so the candidate knows you received his or her application and is aware of your hiring timeline,” Sanja Licina, Ph.D and senior director of Talent Intelligence at CareerBuilder, told Forbes. “Always follow up with candidates who ultimately weren’t selected for the job after an interview.”

Why is this important? After all, you didn’t hire this candidate. You went a different direction. You’ll never see them again.

You’re right, you won’t. Not as an employee and more than likely not as a future customer.

You want to leave a good impression on every person who interacts with your company. Yes you may have rejected a candidate, but if the overall candidate experience was enjoyable, he or she will tell others and may even send more applicants your way.

Senior VP of People Operations at Google, Laszlo Bock, said Google receives over three million job applications every year and only hires 7,000 people; an admission rate 20 times more exclusive than Harvard or Stanford. But because their recruitment process and candidate experience are so fair and respected, over 90 percent of rejected applicants reportedly would still recommend someone to work at Google.

Not a bad company to emulate.

Moving Forward

Now that we’ve spent time in the land of “Do Nots,” it’s time to take what we learned and move down the road. I promise, there is much to see.

In the coming weeks we will begin looking at companies with a reputation for an overall good candidate experience, basic ways you can tackle the two major issues we discussed here and also how an applicant tracking system like Zoho Recruit (and other technology) can make you a company that values the candidate experience.


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