If employers aren’t adding value during the candidate experience, what does that say about their employee experience?

I’ve recently had the pleasure, or thereabouts, of a minor but pressing medical intervention courtesy of our national health service. To add to my woes, I think I’ve contracted repetitive strain injury doffing my cap to them so frequently for their professionalism, competence and dedication. Given the pressures facing the sector in terms of skill shortages, resignations, Brexit confusion and cost pressures, such qualities are even more laudable.

And yet.

Given that my scientific education concluded at the age of 16 with a physics GCSE, perhaps there’s little surprise that I felt somewhat distant from both the process and its communications. However, whatever the caveats, it was hard to feel anything but a rather passive participant in what was taking place. Turning up at reception to be greeted by any number of medical professionals, all clearly busy and without either the time or inclination to look up and engage. Similarly, conversations with a number of specialists were heavily punctuated by three letter acronyms. MDT? Do I want one of those? Should I be getting my affairs in order? Or selecting it from the lunch menu? And, in terms of following up and what happens next? I’m still waiting.

Wonderful though the medical skills in evidence were, I felt on the outside looking in. I felt I was intruding on their insularity.

And our health service isn’t the only setting in which insularity is flourishing.

Very few of us have any firm grasp around what will happen when and if Brexit, and whatever form it finally assumes, takes place. But both its origins and its potential implications are likely to witness more insularity – a less welcoming and fluid attitude to migration, to overseas collaboration, to foreign trade, to foreign travel and, from the perspective of this blog, EU talent pool solutions to our growing recruitment challenges. From a slightly more objective perspective, Indeed reported last week a significant decline in job searches from EU professionals interested in UK jobs, at the same time as migration data from the ONS suggests that EU citizens are leaving the UK at the fastest rate in more than two decades.

But, given both the recruitment challenges and skill shortages alluded to earlier, surely an insular approach is the last thing talent acquisition should be demonstrating right now?

With my DANGERFIELD hat on, we are currently developing some interesting research into the candidate experience. One of the most telling learnings from such research appears to be around insularity. When engaging with candidate audiences, do organisations look instinctively inwards or outwards? Do they go out of their way to embrace the candidate, their issues and ambition, or is their status more adjacent to a necessary evil?

What about the ATS a candidate comes across? From whose perspective has this been designed? For the benefit of hiring managers and talent acquisition or the ease of use and intuition of would-be candidates? Such ATSs clearly vary, but the experience that many candidates continue to come away with is, again, of a process that keeps them firmly on the outside looking in. Little wonder then that stats such as Smashfly’s suggesting that 74% of all potential candidates will drop out of out the process before they complete it abound.

The same research also touches on the attitude and approach of many hiring managers. Interestingly, for those that either hire regularly or who have perhaps been through the hiring process themselves recently, there is likely to be real candidate empathy and insight. For those hiring managers without recent exposure to the world outside their employer, there is a tendency both to fundamentally misread the current candidate-dominated labour market and to display little or nothing in terms of today’s candidate drivers and understanding.

Such insularity too can negatively impact diversity and inclusion in their broadest sense. Adopting an insular approach as to how candidates are perceived can mean that we overlook those with a different gender, ethnicity, sexuality or age. Purely because they are different from our own narrow world view. Just as critical, does such insularity mean that an organisation and its hiring managers overlook candidates from different industry sectors, regardless whether they have the competences or potential to thrive? And in doing so, do organisations risk exacerbating both their inability to hire, as well as the issue of trapped talent – those individuals who through no fault of their own are trapped and unable to move either within their current employer or through changing employers.

Some of this insularity is perhaps partly understandable. The UK labour market, despite being a significant success story since the worst days of the 2008 recession, is addled with ambiguity. On the one hand, there have never been more open vacancies in the UK economy than there are today – 870,000. And the last quarter of 2018 saw 167,000 jobs added to the UK labour force, according to the ONS. However, the fog of Brexit and high profile and highly concerning labour news, such as Honda’s decision to close its major Swindon plant, has led to a significant downturn in businesses’ confidence in the UK economy, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.  

As a result, two of the most obvious routes to shedding such insularity and gaining a more external perspective on candidate perceptions and behaviours are around external research and engaging with new joiners in their first month. The latter demographic possess hugely important information as to how an organisation is perceived by the outside employment world, how the employment reality compares to the employer brand promise, and their response to the candidate experience they have just encountered. The former group will provide topical insights into the sorts of challenges your employer branding needs to address in order to make a dent in those 870,000 vacancies.

They may well be obvious routes to reducing insularity, yet with talent acquisition professionals being both frantically busy and starting to become increasingly concerned about what the UK economy might have in store, then they are all too easily, if ill-advisedly, shelved.

If hiring organisations are going to avoid appearing insular and non-candidate friendly, then they need to focus on two key areas. Firstly, when was the last time they audited their candidate process? When was the last time they asked candidates about what it feels like to go through such a process? And then made changes to the process accordingly?

Secondly, in order to avoid the feeling that candidates are having to put their faces to some pretty unwelcoming employer windows, make sure that the faces, and stories and experiences of their own people – in all their diversity, richness and authenticity – are readily visible. That such faces are looking out, not assuming an insular gaze.

If candidate audiences sense such insularity, then what does it say to them about how people are valued and treated within your organisation? If they feel they have little in terms of voice and perception at this point in their relationship with you, what does it suggest about their subsequent experience as an employee?

The insularity of a pending Brexit feels limiting and restrictive, it feels as though horizons are being narrowed – don’t give that same impression to candidates as they analyse the breadth and choice of the potential career options you might provide them.

By choosing insularity, employers risk appearing anything but inclusive. 

Neil Harrison believes employer brands should be informed by authenticity. It's awfully hard to arrive at such authenticity without having a topical understanding of what your employer brand is challenged with, what it has to offer, how it's perceived and what it's up against.

Neil has been lucky enough to work alongside exceptional brands such as Sainsbury's, Transport for London, Pizza Hut, HS2, The AA, BA, Heathrow, Virgin Media, the University of Sheffield, Telefonica, Santander, Unilever, Prosafe and Subsea7.

Today, he works with both clients direct and via agencies and RPOs. Such work is increasingly used to drive both diversity and internal engagement initiatives. The ability of an organisation not only to retain but to get the most out of its people has never been so important. We are also doing some interesting work in the exit journey of potentially departing employees.

Neil is a key member of the DANGERFIELD team.