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When it comes to the candidate experience, first impressions matter. The way an employee is treated throughout the recruiting process—from making the application as simple as possible to how quick HR is to respond to their needs—sets the tone for an employee's entire experience at the company. A positive experience can make the candidate excited about the prospect of working for you, but a negative one can have them looking for other employment options within a few months time—or even worse before they make it in the door.

And today, organizations need to work extra hard to get candidates' attention. After all, the competition for talent is fierce—according to IBM, 90% of S&P 100 companies are recruiting for the same 37 jobs. But the real missed opportunity for employers is that when candidates do actually decide apply for a job, many do not make it through the entire application process because it requires too many steps or offers a sub-par user experience. According to a report from SmashFly, 74% of candidates who start the application process don't finish it.

The talent acquisition process at many organizations is fundamentally broken because it's not designed with applicants in mind, says Ira Wolfe, president and founder of pre-employment and leadership testing firm Success Performance Solutions. And while there are many factors that recruiters can't control in today's hiring market, by identifying their organization's unique challenges and acquiring the right tools to overcome them, recruiters can begin to more effectively attract and retain top-performing employees to make their businesses stronger—and more profitable.

This is a subject that's top of mind for Wolfe today, and one he plans to explore at his breakout session at this year's Cornerstone Convergence. Here, Wolfe explains what organizations need to do to improve the applicant experience and attract and retain top talent.

At Convergence, you're leading a breakout session on improving the applicant experience. Why is this important to HR professionals today?

One of the biggest challenges for HR is keeping up with a competitive market that is constantly evolving. The bottom line is that companies are losing candidates, whether that's due to a lengthy and cumbersome application process or the fact that they simply don't respond to candidates quickly enough. This is happening across the board—everybody in every industry in every location is struggling to find people. Believe me, there are people out there who want to work for your company—you just have to know how to treat them well from the start.

How can technology help HR departments solve some of the recruiting challenges they face today?

It's really about fixing the fundamentals. There are companies that need to improve basic processes, like making their career page and application process mobile-friendly. And even if your career page is inviting and engaging, you need to maintain that throughout the entire application process. If a candidate clicks to apply and realizes they need to download a PDF or complete 150 different fields, you will likely see a significant drop-off rate.

I think we're at a place now where technology will help, but having better practices and processes is even more important. Technology is best used to improve a good process, but it doesn't fix a broken one.

How do inclusive hiring practices improve the candidate experience?

When you get down to the basics, gender bias is prevalent in the language that companies use in job descriptions. For instance, many recruiters use the terms 'teamwork' and 'collaboration' interchangeably. But 'teamwork' is more of a male-biased word than 'collaboration.' Consider a phrase like: "We're a dynamic, highly competitive driven culture." That phrasing has a male bias to it. And if you are looking to attract more female employees, there is other language that is more effective. According to a recent report from Glassdoor, male-oriented titles like "ninja" or "guru" should be replaced with more descriptive and neutral titles, like "engineer" or "project manager" to gain the most diverse pool of applicants.

These issues become even more complex when you get into developing more diverse hiring practices across race and class. There are specific words and phrases that appeal to specific communities. Solutions like Textio and Ongig analyze hundreds of millions of resumes and job descriptions, and look at the hiring outcomes. By making small changes to the way you write job descriptions, you will create a more pleasant candidate experience for a diverse range of candidates and open the door for more skilled applicants who are excited about the opportunity to work for you.

Check out Ira Wolfe's session and others at this year's Convergence conference, taking place June 3-5 in San Diego, California. To register for the conference and see the full agenda, click here.

Photo: Twenty20