What You Can Learn from Google, Zappos and AIG to Improve the Candidate Experience


I hear you all in the backseat. Your eager voices echoing like children on a family road trip to Mount Rushmore or Washington D.C.

“Are we there, yet?”

No, not yet. But I promise we’re getting…closer.

I know our last stop in the realm of bad candidate experiences was difficult at times, but it was crucial in order to overhaul and reshape the candidate experience.

So with Bad Candidate Experience-ville fixed in our rear view mirror, let’s set our sights toward a new horizon, one dotted with the shiny skyscrapers worth gasping over — the companies whose candidate experiences are at the heart of their success. Simply said, now that we know what a good candidate experience is not, it’s time to learn what a good candidate experience is.

Let’s begin by looking at three companies who overhauled their recruiting game and recently can’t miss when it comes to the candidate experience.

Google: Establish structured interviews and clear criteria

Google wasn’t always the $365 billion company it is today. In fact, a mere 16 and a half years ago Google was a startup with a handful of employees all taking risks.

And from day one, Google knew recruiting was the linchpin to a thriving company.

“Everyone in the company was focused on recruiting,” Senior VP, People Operations at Google Laszlo Bock said. “Our top executives would spend one full day a week or more interviewing and assessing candidates, sourcing and recruiting.”

Last fall, Bock addressed a crowd at the LinkedIn Talent Connect conference (where LinkedIn named Google No. 1 on the 2014 Top 100 Sought After Employers list) and revealed three key rules Google abides by when hiring talent.

  1. Set a high bar for quality and never compromise

  2. Assess candidates objectively with structured interviews and established criteria

  3. Give candidates a reason to join

So what does this have to do with the candidate experience? Let’s focus on Bock’s second point. Improving the candidate experience at your company has to be all-encompassing. And this means treating all candidates equally and assessing them with established criteria.

Gone are the days of random interview questions like “how many golf balls can you fit in an airplane?” Bock said. Now, Google’s interview criteria now revolves around four points.

  1. General cognitive ability

  2. Leadership

  3. Googleyness

  4. Role-related knowledge

One of the easiest way you can create a poor candidate experience is by letting yourself make bad hiring decisions based on snap judgments seconds into the interview. Everyone interviews differently. That is why standardizing the process as much as possible is a must. Structure your interviews with a consistent set of questions so you can assess candidates equally and so candidates feel you treated them fairly.

To do this, Google uses two types of questions in every interview: situational and behavioral. And while interviewers don’t ask every candidate the same set of questions, they do ask the same type of questions.

“[Because] candidates feel they were assessed more objectively, over 90 percent of rejections will tell us they’d still recommend someone to work at Google,” Bock said.

Zappos: Focus on building relationships

What happens when you receive 31,000 job applications and only hire 350 people? You send out 30,650 rejection letters.

And if you were Zappos in 2013, you saw this as a major problem. Stock rejection letters to 98.87 percent of your applicants unfortunately leaves a bad taste in the mouths of thousands of people who not only wanted to work for you, but who are more than likely your customers.

Add this to an 80 percent bounce rate from the Zappos career site (four out of five visitors) and an overwhelming sense that recruiters were wasting their time, and the online clothing and shoes powerhouse flipped the recruiting and candidate experience game on its head.

Their solution: the Zappos Insider program.

This program is simple. Ditch the idea of applying to a specific job posting and instead focus on developing long-term and meaningful relationships with potential applicants. No more sifting through applications and resumes, evaluating the prospect and making a decision. Zappos now sees recruiting as two-way dialogue between the prospect and company where both sides have a chance to get to know each other. 

“Since the call-to-action is to become an Insider vs. applying for a specific opening, we capture more people with a variety of skill sets that we can pipeline for current and future openings,” said Mike Bailen, former Director of Recruiting at Zappos.

This overhaul is all about candidate engagement. So, should you remove all your job postings like Zappos? Probably not. This was one solution for one company. But it does shed some light on the power of creating relationships with candidates as opposed to treating them as a name on a sheet of paper or another face that walks in your door for an interview.

Recruiters at Zappos are able to spend quality time having open-ended, detailed conversations with candidates without the pressures or timeline of filling a specific position. In the end, not only can you hire quality candidates who are truly interested in your company, but you also leave the candidates with a positive impression of how your company treats people.

That is how you revolutionize your candidate experience.

AIG: Train recruiters and communicate with applicants

It’s easy to look at the practices of Google and Zappos — two super successful and well-liked companies that can do no wrong in the eyes of many — but what about a company that became the face of corruption and bailout during the 2008 financial crisis. A company that shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to its executives with taxpayer money. An “evil” corporation with a long road to go to earn back its trust?

Turns out, even those companies can take action to improve their candidate experience.

If you remember from my last post, the two biggest contributors to a poor candidate experience were 1) long applications/unclear instructions and 2) lack of communication between candidates and employers. So let’s look at a company who changed the way it recruited to address both these issues.

American International Group (AIG) is another company with an abundance of candidates or resumes. In fact, the multinational insurance corporation receives roughly 30,000 resumes a month.

To handle this influx of resumes and candidates, AIG overhauled its recruiting process in 2011 by first implementing a new recruiting software (one similar to Zoho Recruit).

We’ll talk about software solutions for the candidate experience in a later post, I promise.

AIG also took action to ensure candidates were not wasting time applying to positions they may not have the necessary skills or experience for by implementing mini-assessments within the job postings. So instead of just applying to a job posting, candidates now answer a set of questions so AIG can see whether they have the skills for this specific role. In the end, this process saves time for both job seekers and recruiters as well as ensuring candidates are applying to the right jobs.

Similar to Zappos, this move let AIG build “Talent Communities” with people who previously applied to a job posting but were either rejected or found it wasn’t a good fit before applying; therefore, increasing its talent pool for future job openings.

AIG also took action and standardized its internal training for all recruiters with a monthly session called “Raising Our Game.” Here, recruiters learn the ins and outs of its applicant tracking system as well as how to handle communicating with candidates throughout the recruiting process in a timely manner.

“One of the biggest things [successful companies] have in common is that they respond,” said Denni Oravec, manager of programs for The Talent Board.

In the next couple posts we are going to dive deeper into specific ways we can address the two major issues plaguing many companies — long and unclear application processes and lack of communication.

From focusing on the job posting to using software to set up automatic email alerts to candidates as soon as they apply or their status changes, we will begin the home stretch to transforming your company into one that values candidates and puts the candidate experience above everything else.


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