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Candidate Experience Audits Are Core to Recruiting

A group of people sitting around a table looking at a laptop.

​When was the last time you applied for one of your own jobs?

Candidate-experience auditing helps employers design the optimal candidate journey through the hiring process—from initial attraction and application to onboarding—and identify and correct the problem areas that could lead to bad word-of-mouth, experts said.

Employers should assess each stage of the process from the point of view of the job seeker, with the aim of improving those touch points to leave a positive impression.      

According to 2016 research from Talent Board, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting quality candidate experience, candidates share their positive recruiting experiences with their inner circles over 81 percent of the time, and they share their negative experiences 66 percent of the time.

Fifty-one percent of candidates also share their positive experiences via social media, while 34 percent share their negative experiences.

"There's an absolute business impact between candidate experience and the bottom line," said Ed Newman, chief evangelist for Phenom People, a talent relationship marketing software company based in Horsham, Pa. He explained that a positive experience will likely result in a lift for the organization through referrals, reputation and customer allegiance.  Negative experiences can impact the employment brand and revenue for consumer-based businesses, and also lessen the ability to attract sought-after talent.

Some of the most common problems in the hiring process from the candidate perspective include:

  • Careers sites that function poorly on mobile devices.
  • Applications that take too long to complete.
  • A lack of response from employers during the process, specifically after applying, after interviewing—or ever, for those final candidates who aren't told that someone else has been selected.

"There is an enormous black hole when it comes to job applicants and their status," Newman said. "Over 90 percent of companies don't have a formal policy to close out every applicant when the job has been filled. Candidates who are notified receive an automated message…, which could be several months after they've applied."

Newman added that candidates also hate it when they feel they've been disrespected or their time has been wasted, from applications that require information already submitted on a resume to hiring managers who fail to show up for interviews.

Tips for Auditing Your Candidate Experience

Begin the audit by mapping the candidate's journey through your hiring process from end-to-end, pinpointing the processes and technologies that underpin each interaction point with job seekers.

"The journey map is important to understanding what job seekers' activities may be at each stage of the process," Newman said. "Then you can measure how well you're delivering at each stage for each activity."

He advised employers to define personas for each major role being audited. "Segmentation is important in mapping and auditing [so as] not to miss any opportunities to improve the process for all candidates, who may have differing needs based on the role," he said.

Many employers concentrate the audit on the application or the interview process, but it's important to begin at the top of the funnel. This stage includes the first impressions a job seeker has with an organization and includes job postings, the careers site, SEO, social media pages and overall job search functionality. Where and how do people find your jobs?

Review the company's social media profile for accuracy and branding, and make sure that it's easy to navigate to the careers site.

"We are in the process of updating all of our social media site presence with images and videos of our real associates," said Julia Levy, director of recruiting operations at Fiserv, a financial services technology firm based in Brookfield, Wis. "No more stock photos. We want to give candidates an authentic look into what it looks like to work at Fiserv."

Hiring managers at the company are even asked to update their social media profiles to be more engaging, she added.

Careers sites should be user- and mobile-friendly, attractive, informative and linked to social platforms. Relevant, updated quality content should make up the heart of the site.

Fiserv is updating its careers site with authentic employee testimonials and more personalized information for candidates based on the location and job function they are interested in. A candidate resource center houses "high-level information about our hiring process, answers to FAQs, and tips and tricks for job seekers from our recruiters," Levy said.

"One of the big things to look out for … is how all the great branded content and messaging you have created for the site integrates with the actual job search," Newman said.

Be aware of these candidate experiences:

  • When the job seeker clicks on the search field in the careers site and is taken to the unbranded applicant tracking system (ATS).
  • When the job seeker finds your job through a Google search, which leads him or her to an external job board, which then leads to the ATS. 

"When they click on your job, it takes them to the job post on Indeed, for example," Newman explained. "They're missing all of your created content. You're giving them the impression that what they are seeing in the ATS is the careers site. Fortune 100 companies have amazing careers site content, but if I found one of their jobs on Indeed, I would never see [that content]."

Another critical element of this part of the audit is finding all of the places your jobs may live online. "Aggregators are scraping your jobs and when a job seeker clicks on the link for your job on an external site, the experience may not be very good," Newman said. "It may prompt the job seeker to register with them, for example."

And mobile functionality is just the price of admission, according to experts. "You must have mobile functionality for browsing jobs at the very least, if not for applying for jobs," Newman said.

"We started to take a mobile-first approach to our candidate experience journey in 2015," Levy said. "People are on the go, and the use of mobile devices for job search and applications will continue to grow. Think of how many people you lose out on if they can't apply on the spot from their phone or tablet and have to wait to get home and apply from a desktop."  

Focus on the Application Process

The transaction stage—where the job seeker becomes an applicant—is probably the most important conversion point. The application process should be streamlined and easy to complete to get these potential candidates into your system.

The biggest complaint about employment applications is the amount of time it takes to complete them. Employers are often asking way too much information up front, such as previous addresses and contact information for past supervisors.

"There is an absolute correlation between the length of an application and applicant fallout," Newman said. "The longer and more invasive it is, the fewer conversions you will have." Only 40 percent to 50 percent of applicants complete an application.

Besides shortening the application, don't ask applicants to upload their resume and then have them fill out data fields with the same information that can be found on their resume, Newman added. Boil the application down to the basics and only collect what you need.

Newman suggested removing the requirement to create a login account as well. "Most ATSs require it, but we find that if you don't require setting up a user name and password, conversions go through the roof."

Monitor Communications and Measure Interactions

Employers can reasonably get away with automating the initial high-volume interactions with applicants, but as candidates move through the process, more personalized care should be shown to interactions between recruiters, hiring managers and candidates during screening, interviews, and the job offer. The interaction stage is where your company builds relationships.

"Look to continuously improve the interactions between recruiters and hiring managers and between both groups and candidates," said Elaine Orler, president and founder of Talent Function, a talent acquisition consulting firm based in San Diego. "Come up with better ways to say 'no thank you,' ways to nurture a candidate for the future, and ways to close the conversation but still get a referral from the candidate to fill the position."

At this stage in the audit, focus on negotiating and communication skills—what's being said and how it's being said, Orler added.

Some employers have evolved the recruiting coordinator role into a candidate concierge, offering "white glove" care of candidates from the job interview to the employment offer.

Fiserv conducted a full audit of candidate communications and touch points in 2016. "We made several changes to our communications based on feedback and audit findings and identified the need for hiring manager training around candidate experience," Levy said.

"Some organizations will monitor recruiters' calls similar to the way call centers monitor customer service, whereas others use more of a performance review model," Orler said.

One of the most illuminating areas to explore are missing questions, she added. She suggests asking candidates "Is there anything else about your skills and abilities for this job that we haven't asked that you want to share?"

Soliciting Feedback Is Necessary for a Complete Audit

Candidate experience should be quantified and tracked in order to learn where to improve, and simply measuring time-to-fill or source-of-hiring won't cut it. Experts suggest prioritizing more meaningful quality-of-hire and candidate experience metrics, even though they are more difficult to configure.

Try asking applicants and candidates what they like and don't like about your hiring process.

"Collect feedback through surveys, ideally as applicants move through each stage of the hiring process," Newman said. "Hold recruiters accountable for post-apply communication and hiring managers responsible for post-interview communication."

Many companies just ask two questions—about overall experience and whether they would apply again or not—if they survey candidates at all, Orler said. "It's the net promoter mindset. At the Candidate Experience Awards, we've found that you can ask and expect quality responses from candidates from more than two questions."

Orler recommended asking up to four or five questions about where to improve each stage of the process, but most importantly after submitting an application, after the interview process and after the job offer.

Candidates should be promised anonymity and told that the survey is not tied to the job opportunity. "If you can have a third party provide the survey, that's even better," she said.

Survey questions should focus on the ease or difficulty of applying, the candidate's interview experiences, and how well the recruiter or hiring manager communicated during the process.

"The balancing act is then how to measure the responses from candidates who still believe they are still eligible for the position and are likely to say more positive things, with the candidates who have been rejected" and may have a soured outlook on the organization, Orler said.

"Take care to survey rejected candidates tactfully and don't send a survey in the same e-mail as a rejection notification," she added. "Wait about a week or so to send a follow-up survey." Segment your e-mails: one for candidates who may later be potential hires, and one for those you don't foresee hiring.

Employers need to remember that auditing candidate experience is a continuous improvement process. "It doesn't have an end date and you're done," Orler said.

"We continually monitor and review our processes and candidate feedback and continually make changes and updates as needed," Levy said. "Candidate behaviors shift and, as a company, you have to be responsive to those changes."  

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