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Why candidate experience is your employer brand

Employer branding and candidate experience have long been considered two key components of attracting top talent. What may be less known, however, is how closely these two concepts align with one another. There are considerable – and important – overlaps between your employer brand and candidate experience that, as a whole, can make or break your chances of landing the best person for the job.

This article will take a closer look at that relationship and offer tips for how to maximize your recruitment strategy.

What is employer branding?

Before we can dig into the relationship between employer branding and candidate experience, we need to define what each of them is.

Employer branding is, essentially, your company’s reputation in the workforce and your staff’s perception of you as an employer.

This takes two forms:

  • How others view you as an employer.
  • How you present yourself as an employer.

Building an authentic employer brand, therefore, comes down to a combination of earned and owned strategies. That is: information and content that you put out into the world about your company, and information that is shared about you in public forums.

Owned branding involves telling a compelling story about who you are, what you stand for, and what it’s like to work at your company. This typically takes the form of web content, videos, and images that are shared on your careers site and social media channels.

Earned branding, on the other hand, is the public feedback and commentary that employees and candidates generate organically when they talk about your company. This can manifest through word of mouth, reputation, or via public forums like Glassdoor, Indeed, or LinkedIn.

Together, this owned and earned branding creates the bulk of your perceived employer brand. A missing element here, however, is candidate experience.

Candidate experience has a significant impact on how outside candidates perceive your company and form an opinion of your employer brand. In other words, how you treat candidates reflects directly on you as an employer, for good or bad.

What is candidate experience?

Candidate experience is the perception of your company that a job seeker has in the context of a job application. This perception is formed from the candidate’s first touch point with your employer brand, and continues through to the conclusion of their application.

Like with employer branding, candidate experience is a game of sums. That is: it’s developed over the course of various interactions with your company, especially:

  • The research phase
  • The application process
  • Interviewing
  • Acceptance or rejection
  • Onboarding

Each of these steps give the candidate a positive, negative, or neutral impression of the company, which will frame their overall experience.

Now that we’ve defined employer branding and candidate experience, let’s look at why they’re both equally important to your hiring and retention goals.

Why is employer branding important?

Strong employer branding has a number of proven benefits to both retention and cost per hire. In particular, it’s been shown to reduce employee turnover rates by 28%, and can cut your cost per hire in half.

The reason for that is simple: the better you are at developing (and living) a strong employer brand, the more likely you are to attract and retain top talent.

Think about some of the most popular employers in the tech space right now: Google, Shopify, Salesforce, Netflix, Apple, and Microsoft, to name a few. All of these companies have created a strong, compelling, and unique story for why they are a desirable place to work.

Because of that story – and because of who they are in their respective verticals – each of these companies attracts top talent in droves. They’ve turned their recruitment strategies into inbound engines, rather than only relying on expensive sourcing activities.

Of course, not every company is Google or Shopify. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t – or shouldn’t – actively develop and nurture a compelling employer brand.

Doing so will give you a competitive advantage over other companies in your industry or employee market segment. It will also allow you to actively curate and manage your employer brand image.

That last point is important. Employer branding exists whether you like it or not. Or whether you actively manage it or not. Remember, an employer brand is formed based on an external perception of your company. This will happen regardless of whether you take an active or passive role.

In fact, failure to actively manage your employer brand brings many potential risks to your company, including:

  • Allowing negative stories or experiences to define your narrative
  • Missing opportunities to communicate your value  to candidates
  • Making sourcing more difficult and onerous by reducing interest from passive candidate
  • Making pipeline recruitment more difficult by failing to keep candidates interested in your company

Of course, employer branding isn’t only about narrative. Lived experience – both from candidates and employees – is a critical part of this process. That’s where candidate experience comes into play.

Why candidate experience matters

If employer branding is the hook for top talent, then-candidate experience is the baton that takes them across the finish line to become a new hire. You can’t have one without the other when you’re looking to attract the best talent in the business.

Strong candidate experience matters for a wide variety of reasons. In particular:

  • It prevents you from burning bridges. There’s nothing more harmful to your relationship with a candidate than leaving a bad taste in their mouth, or a feeling that they weren’t treated fairly. It’s critical, therefore, that you treat all candidates with respect and show genuine appreciation for their time and interest. The goal here is to maintain a relationship with that candidate, even if they weren’t successful in their initial job application. By doing so, you can retain their interest in your company, which can be helpful for sourcing for more suitable roles in the future.
  • It reflects employee experience. How you treat candidates reflects on how you treat employees. Plain and simple. Why? Because any of those candidates that come through your door may become employees at some point. If you don’t take the time to create a great first impression while that person is a candidate, then it’s unlikely that you’ll take that time to nurture a strong employer relationship  if the person decides to accept your offer. That’s the perception that candidates will have about a poor candidate experience, which can be very harmful to your ability to lock down strong candidates.
  • It improves your quality of hire. Stories about a great candidate experience get around. Same with bad ones. There are plenty of channels on which job seekers can share their stories and insights about employers. Top talent will see that chatter and, if the story is a positive one, take an interest in your company. As this effect snowballs, you are likely to see more highly qualified candidates applying for your roles, which ultimately improves the quality of person you eventually hire.
  • It validates your employer brand. Candidates typically apply for a role because they like what they’ve been sold by the employer brand. It could have been the careers site, recruitment ad, third party reviews, or any other touchpoint that convinced them that you were worth approaching. They will, therefore, expect that their lived experience with your company lives up to that brand promise.

As you can see, there are many overlaps between candidate experience and employer brand.

This primarily occurs when there is either a synergy or a clash between what you are telling people, and what they experience in reality. In other words, how aligned is your employer messaging with what candidates actually experience in their application process?

If the two are aligned, then the candidate will experience a smooth transition and form a clear vision of what you stand for as a company. If they aren’t aligned, then this creates a dissonance between expectation and reality, which can erode trust in your company, and lead the candidate to lose interest.

The rest of  this article will focus on best practices for ensuring that your employer branding and candidate experience are aligned.

Tips for candidate experience recruitment

Maintaining close alignment between your employer brand and candidate experience involves a deliberate balancing act between messaging, processes, and internal training. You’re looking to develop a fluid system that provides a uniform experience for all candidates, and one that aligns with what you want to convey about your company.

To do so, we’ve compiled five tips for candidate experience recruitment that you can implement at your company.

1. Implement a branding and communication strategy

Before you can align your employer brand and candidate experience, you need to create a clear strategy around what messaging and image you want to convey to the public.

This involves creating a branding and communication strategy that showcases your company’s values and culture in an authentic way. The first step in this strategy is to come together as a company to determine what you stand for, and what you want to tell the public.

Then, it involves creating and collecting authentic stories from your employees about what it’s like to work at your company.

Finally, the strategy should outline where and how this messaging will be integrated into your public touchpoints. In particular, what content you’ll create and post in your careers site, application process, brand material, and social channels.

2. Streamline your application process

Next, you’ll want to perform an audit of your application process to determine how easy – or difficult – it is for candidates to apply for a job at your company.

To help steer you in the right direction, focus on:

  • Where people are falling off
  • What feedback you have received about the process
  • How long it takes to complete the process
  • What steps or requests are unnecessary or irrelevant

At this stage, it’s helpful to leverage analytics and feedback from candidate or employee experience surveys to find points where applicants hit a wall in the process, drop off, or lose interest. This will help you evaluate where those points are, why that is happening, and provide a roadmap for improvement.

The goal is to identify and remove all potential blockers for candidates, and to make the overall experience as fast and efficient as possible.

3. Hire for real needs

Nothing harms trust in an employer more than one who changes their mind constantly during the hiring process. That could manifest as on-the-fly changes in expectations for job responsibilities, or even in the job opening being scrapped altogether with little warning.

In either case, this experience can put a sour taste in the candidate’s mouth and harm their perception of your employer brand.

To combat this, you should be deliberate and precise when creating job requisitions. Write clear and concise job descriptions and recruitment ads that have a specific ideal candidate in mind.

This will help keep your candidate experience focused, efficient, and fair to all applicants.

4. Implement a communication and feedback strategy

Open, clear, and prompt communication is a critical component of any candidate experience. Pinpoint where, when, and how candidates want to be contacted during the application process, and make sure you have a scalable strategy to meet those touchpoints.

To do so, create a standardized process flow to ensure communication at each critical touchpoint. Leverage automation and chatbots to ensure that there is also a consistent flow of information going to the candidate, and that no step falls through the cracks.

5. Train your interviewers

Lastly, nothing can make or break a candidate experience like an interview. These are the only times when the candidate will have direct contact with someone at your company. That means your interviewers are your brand ambassador, as well as being charged with screening the candidate.

It’s critical, therefore, that all interviewers are trained in how to conduct a fair interview, and are informed about the appropriate demeanor they should be exuding during their interactions with candidates.

By going through this process of aligning your employer brand to your candidate experience, you can ensure that two are working in lockstep toward the same goal: to attract, hire, and retain top talent who will be instrumental in taking your company to the next level of success.

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