Candidate experience – the golden thread linking your employer brand to your employee experience

Just back from a very short, but equally lovely, break on the south coast. All very last minute, all very booked over a couple of glasses of wine the evening before – with all the pros and undoubted cons that tend to accompany such a decision. The idea of the experience economy has been with us for 20 or so years and it became very apparent the following day. After a drive swathed in glorious sunshine and a fine lunch, we retired to our intended hotel. It wasn’t, however, the most propitious of starts to be told the car park was full and could we go to the nearby pay-and-display some considerable way down the road.

Undeterred, at that point, we returned to our hotel to be greeted by harassed, over-busy and over-burdened staff unable or unwilling to show us to our not-inexpensive room. Its price, however, seemed to be in inverse proportion to its size, décor and general appeal. Sad, I think, was the appropriate word. As indeed were we. With our experience fast ebbing away, we went back to front desk, explained our general feeling of disappointment and bagged a refund. Twenty minutes later we found ourselves in a nearby Hotel du Vin and a room comfortably cheaper than its predecessor. The experience could hardly have been more contrasting – staff were helpful, smiling, attentive, interested and engaged. We’ll be back.

Both hotel groups sold themselves enthusiastically on their websites and through booking intermediaries. But whereas one hotel absolutely delivered an experience that more than matched its messaging, the other fell a long way short.

There are clear parallels for talent acquisition from this in terms of candidate experience delivery. As I’ve touched on recently, with my Dangerfield hat on, we’ve been engaging with a number of key resourcing professionals across the UK to understand their approach to and views of candidate experience.

Perhaps the most telling and insightful learning to come out of the research was the relationship candidate experience has with the employer brand. As in the case of the hotels, employers can make all the claims they like as to what candidates can look forward to on joining the organisation, but the candidate experience they encounter is the real test. This is where your brand and your proposition - your why, if you like - are lived and experienced in the most tangible and public way. There is no hiding. Either your employer brand delivers through this experience or it lets your candidate audiences down – and again, in all likelihood, very publicly.

If it’s become clearer and clearer how an underperforming candidate experience can harm talent acquisition, the employer brand and the overall organisational brand – and the wonderful Virgin Media case study is probably the best example – then there’s even less doubt of the impact of an underwhelming customer experience.

According to a 2017 report from Forrester, organisations with a superior customer experience were able to grow revenues five times faster than organisations at the other end of the scale. Walk into any Apple store and this comes through very tangibly – no surprise that this should be the case at an organisation previously headed up by Steve Jobs: “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology”.

Substituting candidate for customer in his quote takes nothing away from his message. I wonder how many ATSs start life with candidate experience and work backwards to the technology?

What came through equally clearly during our research is the correlation between candidate experience and employee experience. The more personal, value-adding, professional and timely a candidate experience, the more likely such attributes were likely to be found in terms of working life at a new employer.

And if the notion of the employee experience has not been with us for anything like the 20 years of the experience economy, there is a growing and inescapable feeling of its relationship both to how someone joins and whether they are likely to stay or not.

The idea of an aspirational employee experience which is joined-up and holistic is hard to avoid. Employees are looking for meaningful metrics to measure how they’re feeling and how they’re performing – in the shape of fitness and wellness apps, employer net promoter scores and real-time pulse surveys.

Gone, or certainly going, are static, immovable and fixed analytics such as a biennial engagement survey or an annual performance review.

People want to see how the people they meet at interview interact with each other. Is it natural and inclusive? Will they encounter similar conversations within the workplace? Is the culture they come across as a candidate comparable to that they’ll find as an employee?

People want a more intuitive, more natural, less clunky relationship with work, colleagues and managers. Much like they want a more intuitive, more natural and less clunky relationship with the candidate journey.

The technology they come across as both a candidate and during their day-to-day employee interactions, does this facilitate or hinder? And how does it compare to the consumer tech they are used to at home?

Do they feel as though they can be themselves during the candidate process? Do they feel as though they have to put on a corporate cloak during their working day?

Has the applicant journey been designed with the candidate front and centre? Has the workplace been constructed with the individual or the hierarchy in mind?

Is both the candidate experience and the employee experience respectful of an individual’s time, external life and commitments? Or does it feel fixed and inflexible?

(Research just published from Indeed suggests that the factor most likely to contribute to a negative interview experience is the recruiting organisation not respecting the time of the interviewee – chosen by 45%).

For me, the key words here are immediacy and personalisation. In both candidate and employee experience, people increasingly have less patience. They want immediate insights, information and feedback. They don’t want to feel as if they are treading water, waiting, as if their organisation and its infrastructure and culture is inefficient, impersonal and rigid.

Just as we’re becoming both more accepting (and less suspicious) of personalisation when it comes to commerce and shopping, we’re also looking for an employment experience which is tailored to us as individuals – in terms of relevant and enhancing secondments, mentors, feedback, opportunities and growth.

Both the candidate and employee experience should be a natural and seamless continuation from personal lives – lives which are increasingly facilitated by great technology and an immediacy of access, regardless of whether this touches on banking, shopping, health or relationships.

There’s a clear line and continuum – a golden thread, if you like – starting with employer branding messaging and the EVP which fuels it, through to the candidate experience and then the employee experience. Such experiences need to be consistent and consistently authentic. An enabling attraction message should point to an enabling candidate experience which should, in turn, lead on to an enabling experience as an employee.

Whether it’s a break, a holiday, an interview or our job, we want the experience we go through to enhance, to grow, to stimulate. Above all, what do we think when we look back on that experience?

Do we want to go back? To return? Do we want more?

More of that hotel? More of that organisation who interviewed us? More of our current job?

More of that experience?

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.