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How to use candidate experience surveys to improve the recruitment process

For many people, a job search offers one of those hyper-magnified moments in life.

There’s the heightened intensity and stress of the recruiting and interview process. Then comes the waiting game to hear where things stand. And, finally, there’s the often-soul-searching decision to make if an offer is extended—or a swift pivot to Plan B if you don’t get selected for the role.

As a business, you want to make sure candidates feel good about your organization throughout the recruitment process. This includes how they feel about the ease of applying, the human interactions before, during, and after interviews, and the final outcome. This entire journey is called the candidate experience.

How your business shows up during this process is incredibly important, as it carries potential for significant ripple effects—either positive or negative—that can impact your company’s reputation, its ability to fill roles and attract top talent, and even its ongoing performance.

That’s why it is critical to continually evaluate and adjust your recruiting and hiring practices. And perhaps the best way to do that is to get direct feedback, via a candidate survey, from those who go through the recruiting process.

The candidate experience is how a job candidate perceives and interacts with your organization throughout the hiring process. It touches on the more literal aspects—how they viewed your application and interview process—but also how they felt they were treated along the way. Those perceptions, attitudes, and feelings all roll up to encompass the candidate experience.

The job application: Your job description is the candidate's first interaction with your organization. It's when they begin to form the first impression of your company. In order to receive job applications from candidates who are the best fit and come from diverse backgrounds, make sure your job description is inclusive, removing bias, elitism, and gendered language.

Your job description should clearly describe the role and what that entails, but not ask for too much that would make your job seem out of reach for most qualified candidates.

Interview process: We’ve all heard of the interview-nightmare scenario. A candidate is called in for a 1st round of interview—then a 2nd—then a 3rd, 4th, and 5th. By this time, you run the risk of raising some serious red flags regarding your organization’s ability to vet candidates and make decisions. 

Corporate career site and social profiles: A candidate’s attitude towards your company often starts forming well before you actually talk to them. They are checking out your career page to see if it provides a clear sense of your company and what it’s like to work there. The same goes for your careers-oriented presence on social media. Presenting your organization in authentic ways that highlight your strengths—both as a strong business and as a great employer—can be a key step in attracting the right candidates and getting them excited about the prospect of joining your team. And let’s face it, if you are not showing up well on the web and social media, it’s a red flag that your company may be less current and tech-savvy than your competitors.

Communication with HR professionals, team members, and leadership: This is where the critical human factor comes into play. How you communicate with candidates during the recruitment process not only influences their perceptions on your recruitment process, but also provides them with insight into what it might be like to work within your organization. With that in mind, it’s important to be professional, welcoming, and forthright in conversations with candidates. Also vitally important is consistency of message—make sure everyone who will speak to the candidate is aligned on key aspects of the process and the job so candidates don’t get mixed messages or inaccurate information.

Feedback and responses: For people looking for a new job, the waiting can truly be the hardest part. Leaving candidates hanging—or worse yet, ghosting them altogether—is not only bad form, but it can also make you pay the price through negative chatter on social media. Additionally, in a tight job market, you run the risk of your top prospects taking other opportunities if they haven’t heard from you. Establish a process for keeping in touch with candidates, and do everything possible to stick to it.

The candidate experience is important in many ways—to both your company and to the candidates themselves.

For your company, a good candidate experience can empower you with a key competitive advantage, increasing your ability to attract more applicants and top talent faster while helping to solidify your reputation as a good employer. Over time, the quality of the candidates who you'll attract will increase, and you'll improve brand awareness and increase positive buzz about your organization.

For candidates, a good experience leaves them with a favorable impression of your company—that’s vital for helping tip the scales toward top candidates accepting an offer and having a great attitude from the start.

Yet, a good candidate experience also matters for those you don’t hire. It leaves the welcome mat out for them to potentially pursue future opportunities with your organization and, frankly, it helps assure that if and when they do speak, or Tweet or post about their experience, it is presented in a positive light. Having a poor candidate experience can lead applicants to tell their friends and colleagues NOT to apply to your organization, which ultimately can hurt your business’s reputation and ability to attract top talent.  

Candidate experience surveys offer one of the most efficient and robust ways to gain valuable feedback with the main goal to improve and optimize your recruiting strategies. These surveys are typically used at different key touch points throughout the candidate journey, including after the initial recruitment process and interview. 

Effective candidate surveys ask candidates direct questions about different aspects of their experience, providing the opportunity for both quantitative and qualitative responses that can be readily analyzed, acted on, and measured on an ongoing basis.

For instance, SurveyMonkey offers a candidate survey template that walks a respondent through different aspects of the recruiting and hiring process. The template begins with a question asking a respondent to rate their satisfaction level with the entire recruiting process. From there, it takes a deeper dive into gathering feedback on the interviewing process; experience with the recruiter; and whether the candidates detected any bias during the process. The template also provides some open-ended questions such as, “I would have performed better during my interviews if…” allow respondents to provide more in-depth feedback.

Candidate experience can significantly influence candidate satisfaction and job-offer acceptance rate, so it is important to measure it, and make corresponding adjustments to continually improve your approach. 

By getting insights straight from candidates, you can make informed, data-driven decisions about how to better manage your hiring process.

Beyond that, by asking directly for feedback, you’re not only showing you care about the process itself, but also that you care about the people who are a part of it. People want to be heard—whether they ultimately get the job or not. By reaching out and getting their feedback, you’re reinforcing that your company cares about its employees and values what they have to say.

There are some simple keys to getting the most out of candidate experience surveys—both in terms of participation rates as well as the quality of feedback received. By following these best practices, you can respect your participants’ time while also getting the information you need to track and improve the candidate experience.

Give candidates a heads-up: Let candidates know from the get-go that conducting brief candidate surveys is embedded in the recruiting process. Tell them that their honest responses will help you monitor the candidate experience you deliver now and identify opportunities for improvement. Setting this expectation eliminates any surprises and can go a long way toward boosting engagement.

Keep it brief: Go for 5 to 6 questions, no more than 12 at the upper end. Any more questions than that and you run the risk of turning off candidates, particularly those who ended up not getting a role within your organization.

Offer an incentive: The information that respondents are providing is valuable for your company. As such, an incentive of some kind both encourages participation and shows appreciation for them taking the time to provide candid feedback.

Ask succinct questions: Most questions around your recruiting process don’t need a long windup. Provide any necessary and relevant context, and then get straight to the question, presented in a clear and straightforward way.

Avoid too many open-ended questions: Given a choice, most people’s preference of taking multiple choice tests over answering essay questions dates way back to their high school days.  The same principle is at work when it comes to surveys. Be strategic in the number of open-ended questions you include, focusing on questions that will generate the most useful information. 

Leave space for open-ended responses: Make sure that you provide your respondents space to provide general comments that can reveal key insights that might not be captured elsewhere in the survey.

Keep it fair and balanced: It’s important to guard against introducing bias or leading questions into your candidate surveys. Additionally, make sure that your language is neutral and would not be offensive to any respondents. A fair and balanced survey significantly increases your ability to secure credible data.

Allow the survey to remain anonymous: Allowing the survey to remain anonymous encourages greater participation and helps ensure that you get candid feedback. The last thing you want is candidates thinking that their feedback might negatively impact their potential to work for your company.

When it comes to candidate survey best practices, the questions that you ask are key. Here are some sample questions to consider as you craft and customize your surveys.

Likert scale questions capture how much a respondent agrees or disagrees with a statement? Likert scales are widely used to measure attitudes and opinions with a greater degree of nuance than a simple “yes/no” question.

The following are examples of Likert scale questions relating to the recruiting process that ask the degree to which a respondent agrees or disagrees with the following statements, with choices being:

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

The recruiter was professional.

The recruiter was polite.

The recruiter was very knowledgeable about the job and [company name].

The recruiter very clearly described all the job requirements and details.

The recruiter answered all my questions.

I was kept in the loop throughout the whole selection process.

Overall, I am satisfied with the recruiting process at [company name].

Open-ended questions are exploratory in nature, and can generate rich, qualitative data. In essence, they provide you the opportunity to gain more robust insight by capturing respondents’ opinions, feelings, and ideas as it relates to your recruiting and hiring practices. 

Overall, how did you like the recruiting process at [company name]? Why?

What are the top 3 things we need to do to improve our recruiting process?

Would you refer others to apply for an open position at [company name]? Why or why not?

More straightforward than Likert scale questions, statement-based questions simply ask respondents if they agree or disagree with a statement. To capture more nuanced responses, you can present a sliding scale between “agree” and “disagree”.

Some examples of statements that might be included in a candidate survey are:

Communication was clear and prompt.

I found the interview process allowed me to effectively showcase my strengths.

I felt informed at knowing what to expect at each stage of the process.

So now that you have conducted a candidate experience survey and gathered the data, you can shift your focus to the ways in which you can use that data to improve candidate experience moving forward.  Here’s a 3-step approach to making the most of your data:

1. Analyze the data to target areas for improvement: Your data helps you pinpoint trouble spots and take actions to bring about positive change. For instance, you have recently analyzed your candidate experience data after a robust round of hiring. While your overall scores indicate candidates had generally positive experiences, some took exception to some aspects of the interview process, with some candidates indicating that they felt that going into the interview they did not have enough information and context about the role and there were some inconsistencies in how different interviews framed the roles and responsibilities.

2.  Create an action plan for improvements: Armed with your data analysis, you are now in a strong position to create an action plan to address areas of concern. Following through with the example cited above, your team could focus on ways to provide greater clarity around roles and responsibilities in your job descriptions. From there, you could then focus on making sure that your recruiters and interviewers are fully aligned on the responsibilities associated with each specific job role. This helps to make it clear to candidates what’s involved with the job and helps them feel confident that everyone on your team is all on the same page.

3.  Measure and analyze progress consistently: Embedding candidate surveys into your process provides you with a continuous feedback loop to measure progress. For instance, after you adjust your job descriptions and develop a process that builds greater alignment among your team, you can use the data and insights from candidate surveys to track whether current and future candidates still cite lack of clarity and alignment around roles and responsibilities as a pain point.

It’s always a good idea to begin with the end in mind. So, you should have a clear vision of what a good candidate experience should look like. Ideally, you should strive for a recruiting and hiring process that:

  • Communicates realistic expectations for the job and work environment
  • Clearly conveys an organization's employee value proposition 
  • Outlines all of the employment details to candidates upfront
  • Offers an easy and mobile-friendly application process
  • Respects a candidate’s time at all stages of the application process
  • Provides a pleasant and smooth interview experience
  • Seamlessly transitions selected job applicants into new employees
  • Fosters a kind and respectful process for rejecting applicants

In a tight job market, treating all job candidates with respect and professionalism is more important than ever. By consistently incorporating candidate surveys into your recruiting and hiring efforts, you position your company as a great place to work, and set up you and your team with the information you need to continuously improve the experience for your job candidates.  

SurveyMonkey is part of Momentive, maker of AI-driven insights and experience management solutions built for the pace of modern business. Learn how to measure and optimize your candidate experience at every touchpoint. 

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