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The candidate journey explained

September 14, 2018

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The candidate journey explained

10 min read

Before consumers decide to buy, they go through a lengthy thought process. It takes time for them to learn about a company and the product or service it offers before they eventually decide whether they want to make a purchase. This customer journey does not differ too much from the candidate journey, showing that recruitment and sales are very much alike.

Candidates go through multiple steps in the candidate journey before they decide to apply to your company. As a matter of fact, when they make their final decision to apply, the second phase of their journey begins. Understanding the candidate journey is absolutely crucial to improving the overall candidate experience and acquiring the best talent. As the market has become very candidate-centric, it is becoming increasingly harder to get candidates further down your application funnel. Understanding what candidates go through can help you improve your entire hiring process to ensure that candidates don’t churn or drop out in the process.

What is the candidate journey?

The candidate journey can be defined as the experiences that job seekers go through during the job hunting process. It starts before candidates apply for a job and it continues even after you have hired the candidate. Understanding the candidate journey can help you to improve the candidate experience, lower the cost and time to hire, and build a stronger employer brand.

What does the candidate journey look like?

The candidate journey is a multi-step process that candidates go through in their job hunt. Generally, the journey consists of seven stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Interest
  4. Application
  5. Selection
  6. Hire
  7. Onboarding

The pre-application phase: awareness, consideration, and interest

The first three steps in the journey can be described as the pre-application phase. In this phase, your job as a recruiter is mainly to engage in recruitment marketing to reach passive job seekers. This means that you need to grab the attention of your potential candidates, get them excited to work for your company, and eventually get them to apply.

The pre-application phase of the candidate journey involves all the touchpoints candidates have with your company before they apply. These can be both online and offline. Examples include:

  • Viewing your job ads
  • Talk to a company representative on a career fair
  • Visit your career site
  • Visit your company social media pages
  • Talk to someone they know at the company
  • Any interaction they might have had as a customer

Every single touchpoint with your company plays a role in whether potential candidates will turn (or “convert” as you might say in sales terminology) into actual candidates. That’s why it is important to make sure that every touchpoint gives the potential candidates a positive experience.

Every single touchpoint with your company plays a role in whether potential candidates will turn (or “convert” as you might say in sales terminology) into actual candidates. That’s why it is important to make sure that every touchpoint gives the potential candidates a positive experience.

The pre-application phase is made up of three different steps:

1. Awareness

These are the first few touchpoints with your company. These touchpoints make potential candidates aware of who you are, what your organization does and what it’s like to work there. In this stage, candidates are just getting to know you. This could be through jobs or speaking to a current employee.

2. Consideration

When candidates have had a few touchpoints with your company they enter the consideration phase where they determine whether they will become interested in working for your company. During this step, they may have additional points of contact (like meeting representatives at job fairs or visiting the careers page) with your company that will lead them to the next stage or filter them out of the candidate journey. It is important to keep on mind that it is possible for potential candidates to move back from the consideration phase to the awareness phase. The candidate journey is not a linear process for everyone, especially in the pre-application phase.

3. Interest

In this step, potential candidates are genuinely interested in working for your company. This is the last step in the thought process before actually applying. When potential candidates have reached this step they are quite likely to apply unless something happens (like getting a job offer from another company they applied at). There are still touchpoints in this stage. Common examples include retargeted job ads or candidates emailing you to ask questions about the job.

The application phase: application, selection, and hiring

As soon as a candidate starts filling in the application form on your website they enter the application phase of the candidate journey. From this moment on you have much more control over the way they perceive you and their experiences with you. The application phase involves everything that happens from the moment that candidates fill out the application form to the moment that you hire or reject them.

This phase of the candidate journey has three main steps:

4. Application

The application step naturally starts when the applicants fill out the application form and end when they are rejected or after the job interview(s). The way you communicate with your candidates during this step is a crucial factor in determining their perception of your company, also the way you reject candidates is important to think about. This stage involves face to face communication as its main touchpoint. In this stage, you have a good opportunity to show your candidates what your company is all about and why they should come work here.

5. Selection

The selection step starts right after the interview(s). In this step, you evaluate your candidates based on the interviews you have had with them. For the candidate, this step is mainly just waiting. While most companies do not communicate much with the candidate in this stage, you can still generate some touchpoints to improve the candidate experience. For example, you could send an email to thank the candidates for their time and how long it will take before you have made your decision. You could also send them study materials if they would like to know more about your company. Keep in mind that it is not okay to not give the candidates any updates if this step is taking you some time.

6. Hiring

The last step in the application phase is when candidates get either hired or rejected after the interviews. Many recruiters consider this step to be the last step in the candidate journey. But nothing could be further from the truth for those seeking to create a great candidate experience. The touchpoint for this stage is the call or email that informs the candidate of your decision. If you reject a candidate make sure that you let them know why they didn’t make it. Transparency in your recruitment processes greatly improves the candidate experience.

The post-application phase: onboarding

The onboarding process is often forgotten by recruiters. They get so caught up in the hiring process that they often have little time to think about the successful hires they have made. This practice, however, can be quite damaging to the company.

7. Onboarding

Onboarding your candidates is an important part of the candidate journey. It has a huge impact on whether your candidate stays at your company after the probation period. This directly correlates with your new starter retention rates. As a recruiter, you should already be thinking about the onboarding before you hire. After all, you don’t want to lose an employee in just one month after spending so much time, effort, and resources on the recruitment process.

The onboarding process involves different people from different departments. It is a best practice to involve at least one person from the team that the new hire will work with and someone from HR or hiring. The HR can do company onboarding while the team member does the team onboarding.

Mapping out your candidate journey

Mapping out the candidate journey is crucial to understand what your candidates go through and what you can do to improve their experience. It can help you to improve the journey to ensure that you attract the best candidates, shorten the time to hire and decrease your hiring costs. Mapping out the candidate journey can be done in three steps:

Step 1: Define your candidate persona

Understanding your ideal candidates is the first step in mapping out your candidate journey. You need to understand whose journey it is that you are mapping. Creating a candidate persona is the way to do this. Creating candidate personas is quite similar to creating customer personas. It is basically thinking about what your ideal candidate would be and describing them. It is perfectly fine to have multiple personas for each job.

Candidate personas help you to clarify whose journey you are mapping for what job. This is important because different candidates can have very different journeys. A senior developer, for example, will not have the same journey as a junior legal counsel.

Step 2: Set up the candidate journey framework and identify the needs of the candidate

The different phases and seven steps described above should form the basis of your candidate journey map. This framework is universally applicable as all candidates go through every step of the process, regardless of where they apply.

The basis of every step in the candidate journey is made up of the candidates’ needs. To map out the journey properly, you will need to think about what these needs are and what thoughts and feelings drive the behavior of the candidates. These thoughts might be:

  1. Awareness: What does this company do? Who are they?
  2. Consideration: What can this company offer me?
  3. Interest: What makes this company different from others? Could I see myself working here?
  4. Application: Has my application been received? Will I get invited for an interview?
  5. Selection: Do they like me? Did I get a good impression of the company?
  6. Hire: I got the job!
  7. Onboarding: What should I be doing? What are my tasks? How do I do this and that?

Understanding the thoughts of your (potential) candidates helps you to understand the candidate journey a lot better. Having a hard time to know what it is that your candidates are thinking during their journey? Try sending out questionnaires after every step in the application phase (application, selection, and hire).

Step 3: Map out journey touchpoints

To map out the journey, you need to know what the touchpoints are between your company and the (potential) candidates. Touchpoints refer to all the interactions candidates have with your company. Your task is to discover all possible touchpoints that a specific persona can have in every part of the candidate journey.

The number of possible touchpoints that candidates can have is endless, especially in the pre-application phase. This can make it hard to map out every single touchpoint. This is where your candidate persona will be most useful. Think about their behaviors: how do they spend their time? What websites do they often visit? What social media channels are they active on? Try to identify between three and five touchpoints for every step of the journey.

When mapping out the touchpoints, don’t forget to create a list of channels where these interactions actually take place. Having an overview of the channels makes it easier for you to know where you can reach each persona, at what stage of the journey and for what job.

Using the candidate journey map

You’ve mapped out the candidate journey, now what? The map can help you with many things. First of all, you can use it to improve the candidate experience. Candidate experience has become one of the most important factors in acquiring the best talent. A bad candidate experience can actually do a lot of damage to both your business and employer brand. The journey map shows you every touchpoint and stage that candidates go through. This helps you to get a good overview of what your recruitment process looks like and where you can improve on with regard to the candidate experience.

The candidate journey map is also a good tool to make your recruitment processes more efficient and effective. You can identify bottlenecks within the process and get a good idea about what parts of the process aren’t going well. This way you can improve both your hiring decisions and shorten your time to hire.

Simran is a Growth Marketer at Recruitee. He believes that hiring is the most important process in any company looking to grow and wants to help companies automate and optimize their hiring.
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