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Candidate Experience - How recruiting culture impacts your candidate experience and managing change

In my previous post, How do you Commoditise talent? we looked at how, by not differentiating your service (recruiting process from a candidate perspective) have successfully commoditised talent.

From this post on, we will look at what it takes to build and deliver a great candidate experience.

The 4 Musketeers

There are 4 broad components that you will need to deliver a great experience. 

1. Recruiting Culture

2. Recruiters as marketers

3. Talent Infrastructure

4. Marketing Support

I might not be able to cover all of these in this blog and if I do, I am sure you will run away mid-way because of time constraints or get bored of reading an extended essay online. So, I have decided to cover one component at a time. 

Once we understand all these components separately, we will then put these together and create the whole picture.

It is true, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. You could have a great organisational culture, but if your recruiting culture is not acceptable, then you are in for an ordeal. The reason I am touching culture first is that it’s seemingly small but the hardest thing to change.

The litmus test

Do your interviews start with a casual conversation? Does your panel give enough time for the candidate to settle in? Are you panellists providing enough information about the organisation, the purpose of the role and how it fits in? Are your assessing technical skills and behaviours required to be successful in the position?  If you do, what is the weightage that you give for these two aspects? Do you and your hiring team collaborate to find the right talent, or are you hung by a string for not being able to close roles? Are you on panic hiring mode always? Does your KPI read “close positions within x days” (some industries might need this; we will touch on this later)? Do hiring managers share feedback for candidates rejected and on time? Do hiring managers have clarity on who they are recruiting? Does the job description remain the same for years together? Are you allowed to be part of the interview panel? Does your hiring manager have clear KPIs for the new hire before commencing recruitment?

It doesn’t end there.

There are handovers, from TA to HR and from HR/TA to business, like say offer roll-outs and onboarding. These are critical stage and I and have seen experience meltdowns during these phases. Your HR’s one in many KPIs is onboarding so they can probably do away with sluggishness here. Ensure that your onboarding framework is well-aligned should start probably from two weeks before a candidate starts. 

The last mile connects (pre-boarding): Do managers take time to talk to candidates during the pre-boarding phase? Do recruiters connect? Do managers get the candidate to meet the team?

Answering these questions will help you understand a bit more about your recruiting culture and if your answers are a “No” in most cases then you have got a lot of work to do.

What bias?

As it turns out, these are challenges that are not so challenging. What we need to be really conscious of are those unconscious biases. Bias has a profound impact, not just hiring but also on other aspects like coaching and mentoring. There are 2 types of bias, Conscious and Unconscious though the latter is more prevalent.

Unconscious biases or implicit bias are social and cultural stereotypes about a particular group of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness and emerge during childhood and develop as we grow, more like our values and has a significant impact on our daily behaviour.

We are biased in the way we talk and write; it took me 14 years to realise that my usage of the language is so biased while speaking and even while writing. This is precisely the reason why we have to be careful while writing job descriptions. Not just from a language perspective but also in the way we are designing the job requirements.

So what characteristics are subject to bias? A candidate’s age, gender, gender and/or physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation and weight are a few to name.

We are tuned to look for candidates who are similar to us, also called Affinity Bias. When a candidate confirms something that already has a strong belief in then you fall for them, also known as Confirmation Bias. We make quick decisions and jump into conclusions based on past data which might not be reliable, believe me, we are tuned to do this.

Hiring managers think they are great at interviewing either because they have been interviewing for a long time or because they think they are good at predicting people. This is what is called the above-average effect in psychology; people tend to think they are better than half of their peers.

These seemingly small issues have a significant impact on the experience we want to delivery as well as the quality of candidates we want to hire.

The excellent news is unconscious bias can be overcome. However, it takes hell a lot of practise, conscious practise.

There is probably one way to address this issue immediately. I have always been a proponent of having at least 2 people in an interview. Doing this helps in a lot of ways; first, it could, to an extent, address the bias problem during interviews. Second, it helps you with better interviewing if your interviewing process is structured. Third, if the laws of the land you are in are very stringent with workplace harassment, having a panel could come in handy.

Managing Change

One question though remains, how can we change what we are doing? I am not going to go into great details on how to bring about change here, there are quite a lot of books that can help you with it. There are about 7 or 8 different available change models but a couple of pretty simple models are Kurt Lewin’s unfreeze-change-refreeze model and ADKAR by Jeff Hiatt, however, these are linear models with some limitations, I am not going into the details.

Most times, recruiters are trapped in a fallacy that all change must be organisational, and I end up getting that frustrated look from them that whatever they say is not being heard by the management. Please understand that change doesn’t always have to be organisational. Change can be bottom-up and can be implemented at a functional/unit/team levels. In fact, this kind of change is more comfortable to bring about, has a lasting effect and pulls other units/teams to change when they see the success you enjoy.

Bringing out change could be more complicated, depending on your organisation structure. If you are a global organisation and have a regional design with a decentralised system, you are looking at probably one of the most complex forms. Aligning and bringing out any change in such networks could pose quite some exciting challenges, let alone cultural change.

So then, how do we bring about the change?

Recruiters as change leaders

“Be the change you want to see”. As recruiters or leaders of the recruiting function in your organisation, business leaders should see the change in your first.

It takes a clearly articulated vision for the function and truckloads of courage to change and bring out any change. Of course, top management buy-in can definitely help, but we might not have that shot every time.

Interestingly for recruiters, it is not just about bringing change, but the role of recruiters has also changed dramatically over the years. We will discuss this detail in my next post.

Telling great stories

A change isn’t real unless it brings about a behaviour change and stories are a great way to achieve that.

Telling great stories is an art; a grand narrative is compelling and pulls the audience into it. Find your audience who have problems and show them the future state with tremendous stories. There is a psychological reason for this. As human beings, we look to simplify complex information and stories help us achieve that. It’s got to do with the dopamine levels in your brain. I am not getting into the details now.

This is a technique that can really help you build your talent brand too. Every organisation has a story, your hiring manager should be able to tell this story and how it connects to the purpose of the role that they are recruiting for. Not just hiring managers but as recruiters too, telling great stories help you attract great talent.

Redefine your processes and recruitment collateral

Recruiting landscape has changed dramatically over the years, from the technicalities of sourcing to selection to broader aspects like D&I. Technology has changed giving us the ability to source and recruit better, enabling us to deliver better candidate experience. The external environment is changing as never seen before and will continue to remain that way.

Redefine your existing processes to be more inclusive. Recruiting is a collaborative effort, like many other processes within the business. For some reason, it is mostly a one-way street and hasn’t changed over the years in many organisations. I am not saying that the hiring teams have to start sourcing and screening candidates. Get them to have a significant online social presence, their brand in the market has a value, which can augment your sourcing efforts.

Great organisations recruit differently; great organisations are not on panic hiring mode always and lay huge emphasis on behaviours; behaviours that are required to be successful in the role and behaviours that one has to demonstrate to fit in with the culture. They realise the profound impact of having great talent on board.

Work on your recruitment collateral; Job descriptions, job ads, interview guides. Align your job descriptions to the audience that it is catering to and be wary of the biases that we touched earlier. Four-line job requirements are not job descriptions. If your hiring manager is not able to articulate what they are looking for in a piece of paper, how will they look for the right talent and performance manager?

Create excellent training material that will help them get up to speed. These don’t have to be substantial training courses on learning management systems that only a few organisations can afford, but simple guidelines would help. At the same time don’t write rule books that run 100 pages telling them what to do.

Train your managers

Another critical aspect is documentation, something we as HR/talent practitioners have to learn from business. It is equally crucial for us to document and train hiring teams and managers on how to interview and the importance of treating candidates well.

You would be flabbergasted to realise that most of the managers and teams who interview candidates don’t realise that it’s a candidate’s market.

Train your managers on how to interview, how to probe, how to write great job descriptions that attract great talent. Equally important, if you are leading the recruiting function of an organisation, is training recruiter. Train them on how to become aware of their unconscious bias and how to alleviate them one at a time. Train them on how to tell great stories.

New Managers can bode well to your need to identify change leaders. They might be in need to prove themselves in their new role, so would be more open to change. Get them to speak your language.


Bringing in change is a considerable task; sustaining, it is another. This is the stage when your commitment to change comes into the fray. You will have to sustain the change till it really gets embedded within.

Again, stories could be a great way to reinforce change. Communicate success stories consistently; talk about failures, its implication and what corrective actions could be taken to address the issue and find out ways to stop it from recurring.

What Next!

I am not saying, doing all these will get you a 100% onboarding ratio, which could be a by-product. However, it will help deliver a great experience that will influence picking you as the employer of choice, particularly when candidates have a lot of offers on hand. Delivering a great experience would be the single most important differentiating factor between you and your thousands of competitors wanting to hire the same talent.

We will look at the role of recruiters in greater the detail in my next post. 

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