Love at first job ad: How to craft the candidate experience prospective hires want

Updated: 01/22/24

The candidate experience is like dating. Each touchpoint — from visiting your career site to receiving an acceptance email — is a date. The candidate on the other end of that touchpoint wants to get to know your company, and vice versa.

illustration of a woman climbing up step to grab a flag at the top

If you charm a prospective hire with your witty, attractive LinkedIn job ad, they might take things to the next level and apply for that position. But if your job ad is a boring block of generic text? Swipe left.

And just as you reveal some of your quirks once you’re comfortably coupled, you inevitably let your guard down a bit after successfully onboarding someone. The honeymoon period is over. You settle into a routine.

And yet…

The secret to a long and happy relationship — great employees who remain at your company — is a healthy foundation steeped in communication. That healthy foundation starts with your candidate experience.

The many facets of the candidate experience

The candidate experience (aka the candidate journey) includes all the milestones people go through during their job searches. It starts before candidates even apply for a position and continues through onboarding.

Steps along the candidate journey include when someone:

  • Visits your booth at a job fair.
  • Sees a job ad and recalls one of your consumer marketing campaigns.
  • Gets a confirmation email that their job application was received.
  • Fills out paperwork prior to the first day at their new gig.

There are so many more touch points along a job seeker’s path than you might think. And they’re all equally important. Here’s why: A poor candidate experience can do a lot of damage to both your business and employer brand. Conversely, a positive candidate journey has the power to solidify your company’s reputation as a place people want to work, which gives you a leg up when it comes to attracting the best talent.

3 phases of the candidate experience

Understanding the candidate journey holistically is the key to fostering a fantastic one for all sorts of job seekers, from hourly employees to executives. That’s because with understanding comes the knowledge of what prospective hires want during each phase of their candidate experience. And with that knowledge, you can optimize every phase accordingly.

To facilitate this understanding, we’ve broken the candidate experience down into three main phases. When you grasp the journey in its entirety and improve yours, you can lower the cost and time it takes to hire, and allocate your recruitment resources more effectively.

Phase 1: Candidate explores options

This first phase encompasses people who are seeking new employment. But it also includes folks who have no intention of switching jobs. They’re simply familiar with your brand. Basically, it’s every touchpoint prior to a person filling out a job application.

There are a few different steps that happen within this phase:

  • Awareness. A person is aware that your company exists, whether they’re looking for a new role or not. They’re thinking, “What’s this company about?”
  • Consideration. A candidate is considering whether they’re interested in working for your company. Perhaps they’re visiting your career website and thinking, “What positions are available? What can this company offer me?”
  • Interest. Now a person knows they’re interested in being employed at your company. Maybe they’ve even emailed a recruiter for more info. Retargeting ads work well at this juncture. These hopeful hires are wondering, “Would I fit in at this company?”

It’s important to realize that these steps can be linear — or not! Someone could become interested in a particular position but then accept an offer elsewhere. That doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re aware of your company.

Social media plays a big role in this pre-application phase. For example, even if a person isn’t actively searching for new opportunities, an irresistible job ad on LinkedIn could sway them to apply. Your consumer brand matters to recruiting marketing, too. Positive experiences as a customer can prompt prospective employees to apply to open positions at your company.

The takeaway? To the best of your ability, maintain a good employer and consumer brand in the marketplace. People are watching — whether they’re currently looking for new employment or not.

Phase 2: Candidate applies to positions

If you woo someone once they’re aware of your company’s offerings, they enter the next phase: application.

At this point, they’re ready to put their hat in the ring for a job at your company. You have a lot more power over how candidates perceive your company in this phase because you’re directly in charge of your hiring process. Use that power for good; make applying to jobs at your company seamless and pleasant. Here’s what makes up this phase of the candidate journey:

  • Application. The application process is pretty self-explanatory. Candidates fill out an application for a job at your company. They’re figuring out, “How do I apply? What should my application include? Have they received my application? Will I get an interview?” Communication is key to the candidate’s perception of your company at this step. Be sure to let them know where they stand. A simple “We received your application, and it’s in our queue to review” email goes a long way.
  • Screening. Background checks, reference reviews, interviews — there can be a lot that goes into screening a candidate as you review their app and decide whether they’re a good fit. The candidate is worrying, “Do they like me? Did I leave a good impression?” Ease some of their anxiety by, again, communicating. Emails with info on your hiring timeline send a message that you value their patience through this process. And tell them whether or not they’re still in the running.
  • Decision. Ghosting people is not an option if you want to safeguard your employer brand. If someone doesn’t get the gig, let them know. Give a brief explanation of why you didn’t choose them, too. A candidate deserves to know that your company appreciates the time they spent applying. If they did get the job, great! Let them know ASAP.
The takeaway? Communication reigns supreme. Keep talking to your candidates as you decide who’s right for your open roles.

Phase 3: Candidate joins the team

Contrary to popular belief, the candidate journey is not complete once you hire someone. Integrating that person into your company is also part of their candidate experience. Here’s what that entails:

  • Awaiting day one. It’s especially crucial to keep in touch with new hires in between your job offer, their acceptance, and onboarding. This open communication is pivotal to keeping your new hire retention rates up once they do start. Candidates are thinking: “What will my first week look like? What does training entail?”
  • Post-start date. Once your new hire is up and running, be sure to provide support and keep up that open communication through onboarding and beyond. You have to practice what you preach by showing your new employee your company really is a great place to work. They’re thinking: “Did I make the right decision? What are the goals I should focus on in my first year?”
The takeaway? Again, your communication will provide peace of mind as candidates get all of their questions answered and settle in at your company.

Commit to right-fit applicants

A positive candidate experience works to set up your new hires for a successful career at your company, so it’s worth your investment. With an understanding of everything that goes into these early days of potential employment — from the candidate’s perspective — you’ll attract the right job seekers through your doors.

Remember, a good candidate experience isn’t only good for hiring purposes. It also bolsters your reputation as an employer and brand overall.