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Research Reveals Candidates’ Frustrations with Hiring Process

Technology is vital for a top candidate experience, but poorly implemented tech can also degrade it

job applicant waiting

Contentment among job candidates—a measure of positive experience with the hiring process—has been on the decline since 2021, while candidate resentment remains elevated, according to the latest annual research from the Candidate Experience Benchmark Research and Awards Program, founded by Talent Board and now part of ERE Media.

The latest report is a comprehensive look at recruiting and hiring data collected in 2023 from 150 organizations around the world along with survey feedback from 240,000 job candidates. The report contains reams of benchmarking data from each stage of the hiring process and includes insights on many aspects of recruiting, including the technologies being used, priorities for the year ahead and recommendations to improve candidate experience. The following are a few key takeaways.

Candidates Are Not Pleased

Candidate resentment impacts a business and its brand because candidates who report having a very poor recruiting experience are less likely to apply again, refer others, have any brand affinity, or make purchases from that company, said Kevin Grossman, the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based vice president of research at ERE Media.

“A positive candidate experience can improve how your employer brand is perceived in the labor market, decrease ghosting by top talent and enhance your ability to fill gaps in your workforce,” he said. “Our research tells us that employers have lost their north star of improving and sustaining a quality candidate experience and, unfortunately, candidate resentment is again on the rise.”

Grossman noted that 2023 was a rough year for recruiters, who have experienced marked levels of burnout and layoffs. “For those still on the job, recruiting workloads have increased significantly, with leaner teams doing more with less and applicant volumes increasing, making it difficult to deliver a positive candidate experience,” he said.

John Wilson, CEO of WilsonHCG, a recruitment outsourcing firm based in Tampa, Fla., said that over the last couple of years, employers have begun behaving like the labor market has shifted in their favor and away from the candidates’ market seen during the pandemic recovery.

“Unfortunately, companies forget that the candidate experience should be treated like a consumer experience,” he said. “If employers thought of it like that, candidate satisfaction would go up tremendously.”

Another issue could be the post-pandemic prevalence of virtual hiring processes. “The issue with a virtual hiring process is that you need it to attract candidates, yet it does diminish in-person engagement,” Wilson said.

Craig Fisher, talent acquisition leader and advisor at Dallas-based TalentNet Media, agreed, saying that the further recruiting and hiring gets away from in-person relationships, the less content candidates may be overall.

“The more we rely on automation to sort through the vast number of candidates, the more we get separated from relationship building,” said Fisher, the author of Hiring Humans (TalentNet LLC, 2023). “The relationship between candidates making their way through the process and hiring managers and recruiters is not as tight as it once was because of the shift to virtual and automated interactions.”

Many candidates go through the entire hiring process and never meet anyone in person, leading to a fundamental disconnect.

“It’s clear in our research that job candidates prefer live interview interactions where they can see who’s interviewing them and interact with them in person,” Grossman said. “This year, the highest percentage of all candidates stating their time was disrespected during interviews and appointments was during recorded video interviews and hiring manager phone screens.”

Opting Out

The top three reasons why candidates withdrew from the hiring process are their time being disrespected due to poor communication or never receiving feedback, the process taking too long, and the salary not meeting their expectations.

“Time being disrespected is big,” Fisher said. “Either candidates are pushed into an easy apply-process and don’t hear anything back, or they go through the ATS [applicant tracking system] and it is too long and tedious. And people still don’t hear back after going through all that.”

Experts agree that receiving disappointing news about a job application is better than not hearing any news.

“Every candidate needs to be contacted by a certain time—they can’t stay in the system past a certain time without a disposition being made,” Wilson said. “Not having an internal SLA [service-level agreement] is a miss among some talent acquisition functions.”

Time is a major factor for job seekers in the application process. According to the candidate experience research, 61 percent of candidates said it took 15 minutes or less to complete a job application, a percentage that is up slightly from 2022. In the U.S., 36 percent of candidates reported that they had not heard back from employers one to two months after they applied, which is unchanged from 2022.

“The longer the time between applying and hearing back from the company, the less likely candidates are to apply again or make referrals in the future,” Grossman said. “One of the biggest differentiators at the application stage historically has been the fact that the highest-rated companies in our research were dispositioning or moving forward candidates within three to five days after they apply. That’s taking longer now due to higher application volume, leaner recruiting teams and underutilized recruiting technology.”

Top-Rated Employers Use AI

The highest rated employers in the benchmarking research tended to use AI recruiting technologies.

“The impact of artificial intelligence and generative AI on recruiting technologies has only just begun,” Grossman said. “AI is helping automate candidate outreach and communication like never before. It’s also being used to scan resumes for keywords and phrases that match the job requirements, helping recruiters quickly identify the most qualified candidates, with candidate matching. AI technologies can help improve communication and feedback loops with candidates throughout the candidate journey.”

Adam Godson, CEO of Paradox, a conversational recruiting software company in Scottsdale, Ariz., said it’s not surprising at all that top-rated employers are leading the way with AI. “Whether it’s basic screening questions, interview scheduling or getting a question answered, AI can help candidates have a better experience because of 24/7 availability, fast responses and using mediums like texting that candidates are used to,” he said.

The quality of conversational AI chat has improved dramatically in the past few years, Godson said.

“In the early days, there were a lot of ‘I can’t answer that’ type of responses, and conversations sometimes felt robotic,” he said. “As technology improves, better models are trained and people become more accustomed to talking with conversational AI, the experience and results will be significantly better.” 

Wilson said that success with conversational AI comes down to the effectiveness of the technology.

“If the AI is effective, keeping candidates informed about their place in the hiring process, it is extremely beneficial,” he said. “But it’s terrible when chatbots aren’t programmed well and just return generic responses.”

Grossman said that newer recruiting technologies such as conversational AI chatbots are also leveraging text messaging. “That’s a big differentiator for high-volume hiring,” he said. “Not all hourly candidates even have email addresses, much less check them with regularity.”

Mobile text-messaging campaigns are up 94 percent this year compared to 2022, according to the research, while 61 percent of top-rated employers said they are using a text-based recruiting system and 18 percent of employers said they’re utilizing conversational AI chatbots.

“Job alerts and text-to-apply notifications can increase positive candidate sentiment and perception of fairness due to consistent communication,” Grossman said. “More employers are realizing that it’s a competitive differentiator to communicate earlier with candidates, even before they apply.”

Candidates Care About Values

The candidate experience research found that the most valuable sources for candidates seeking information about potential employers include careers sites, employer reviews on Glassdoor and Indeed, and careers pages on LinkedIn.

Employer values topped the list of types of top marketing content consumed during candidate research, with 45 percent of all candidates citing it as most important, followed by interest in what a company does, careers sites in multiple languages, inclusion and diversity information, answers to why people want to work at the company, and company culture information.

“Authenticity is key when presenting values,” Wilson said. “No company is perfect, but being authentic about who you are and what you’re trying to get better at is crucial.”

He said that real videos and testimonials about what it’s like to work at the company and what the company stands for will win the day against a careers site full of stock photos and statements about how great you are.

Neil Costa, founder and CEO of HireClix, a digital recruitment marketing agency in the Boston area, said organizations will have to “do some soul searching” to make sure they share values that are accurate and reflective of their organization.

“Then they can make a long-term plan to redesign their career site and other employment brand assets to showcase those values,” he said. “In the short term, organizations can create video content and social media posts and craft campaign-specific landing pages, which are typically more flexible, to get the word out.”


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