Visual of woman and title mentioning candidate journey for startups
March 24, 2023

What’s the Big Deal With Candidate Journey and Why Should Startups Care About It?

Maria Kourkouli
Maria Kourkouli

Lately, the startup and scale-up ecosystem has been buzzing with talks about “candidate journey.” The reason for that buzz is that businesses have started changing their approach towards hiring processes.

Maybe you have noticed this as well: while many Founders and hiring managers of smaller businesses tend to think of recruitment as a procedure which is maneuvered from their viewpoint only, the side of the candidate is gaining increasingly more authority in the hiring process. In other words, when it comes to the decision whether or not to take a role, a candidate will assess their experience of the entire hiring process just as much as you assess their performance during the process. So, in this article, I want to share how startups can provide a more meaningful journey for their candidates during the hiring process and why it will help you secure the best people.

When we talk about a “meaningful” candidate journey, we’re talking about creating an experience that candidates will actually enjoy and find valuable, even if they don’t end up getting the job. It’s about making them feel respected, heard, and appreciated throughout the process. And why should startups invest time in the candidate journey? The answer is simple: candidates who have a positive experience throughout their journey are more likely to:

(a) engage with your company and accept your potential offer;

(b)  consider applying again in the future, or

(c) recommend the company to a friend and leave a positive review.

Let’s first define the concept of Candidate Journey

One of the most important factors of this journey is how a candidate experiences any interaction with the company, its team members, and the company’s representation of itself. This means that the journey starts very early, namely from the moment a candidate becomes aware of the open role you are advertising and considers applying.

In that instance, the interaction a candidate has with your company may be reduced to them browsing your website while looking for growth opportunities or may include the communication with a recruiter who reached out to them. Further down the line, the interactions throughout the journey include details during the conversations they have with your recruiter and interviewers, such as friendly banter and shared interests that come up during the conversations. Finally, the end of the candidate journey is reached the moment the candidate has been hired, rejected, or withdrawn their application.

As you can see, the key point of the Candidate Journey is the candidate’s perspective. In that sense, it is crucial to meet the candidate’s needs and wants and there is a surefire way to achieve that: by demonstrating how the company listens to its candidates and cares.

Before we walk the walk, let’s talk the talk: numbers 

It’s no secret that recruiting for a startup can be challenging when competing with companies with more resources. Nowadays, in the battle for talent, attracting candidates with the right expertise based on your company’s needs is highly costly and time-consuming. To put it into perspective, the CEO of the US fintech startup Plaid stated that recruitment for his company was taking up one-third of his time. 

However, by creating a meaningful candidate journey during the recruitment process, a company can distinguish itself from its competitors and attract better-qualified candidates. In a similar vein, a study by Deloitte discovered that a better candidate journey can lead to higher quality hires and reduced costs per hire. Also, they found out that candidates with a positive journey are more likely to remain in the company for longer.  

Evidently, what I want to stress is that improving your candidate experience is a long-term investment. It is frustrating when you as a company put time, effort and resources into attracting a qualified candidate but end up losing them due to, let’s say, too many rounds of assessment. Using too many rounds of assessment, when you could test everything the role needs in only one round, ultimately creates a subpar experience of the entire hiring process. 

Still not convinced that a meaningful candidate journey will save you time and energy in the long run? Here’s more data to prove my point:

80% of candidates with an unsatisfactory journey said that they would openly tell others about it;

→ In another study, half of the candidates said that they declined a job offer because they encountered a lack of concern or rudeness during the interview process; 

Three out of five never applied because they felt frustrated with the application process.

That being said, if we take a look at the positive side of this data, three out of four employees are more likely to accept a job offer after experiencing a satisfying and meaningful candidate journey. Those are some excellent odds that show how working on the candidate journey is not a quick fix, but a crucial aspect of the recruitment process. 

From another perspective, startups tend to be innovative, collaborative, fast-moving and less hierarchical. So, it only makes sense to design the candidate journey based on these principles and communicate them to your candidates and thus potential employees in your recruitment efforts. From my own experience, when I applied to LevelUp, a recruiter (now a colleague) was reaching out to me to set up the interviews and share feedback. He was professional but also casual, direct and open but also respectful. He created a tailor-made to my needs journey illustrating the interactive and agile character of the company.

So, which aspects of the candidate journey are the most important ones? And how can they be implemented depending on the stage of the hiring process you and your candidate find yourselves in? 

Transparency & Respect – Two key pillars to support a good Candidate Journey. 

I want to suggest two pillars to guide the design of the candidate journey: transparency and respect

Transparency means that you should present any facts regarding your company or your team as they truly are. All people involved, from the recruiter to the interviewers, are to be straightforward with the candidate and keep each other abreast of good and bad news. This encourages open and authentic communication with the candidate and gives the opportunity for both sides to connect and see if they align. In my experience, whenever I have given candidates direct, honest and constructive feedback, they genuinely appreciated it – regardless of whether the recruitment process was moving forward or their application was put on hold for future opportunities. 

Respect towards the candidates determines whether you can establish a fair and inclusive relationship with them. As the basis for any interaction, it enables your company to show it values the candidate’s time, feelings, and opinions. Some acts which signify to your candidate that you respect them are sharing a salary range or working conditions as early as possible. If you don’t do that and they only discover either of these arrangements halfway through the hiring process (or, even worse, at the very end of it), they will feel like their time and skills have not been respected.

What are the Candidate Journey stages?

Now that we have the pillars covered, let’s dive into the individual steps of the candidate journey. The process itself is divided into three stages. Each of these stages comes with its own set of aspects which need to be paid attention to as they influence the candidate journey in their own way. Accompanying these stages are also some of my suggestions on how you can improve the candidate journey.

Awareness and Consideration

The first stage is part of the pre-application process. The goal is to grab the attention of the candidates to learn about the vacancy and the company and consider if this is an interesting opportunity for them. The majority of founders tend to think that evaluation happens only one-way, namely them evaluating a candidate. But, it is important to realize that a candidate assesses a job opening very critically: at this stage, they will likely be looking for more information about the company, its mission, its culture, the team, and reviews left by other candidates.  

Suggestion: In this stage, the candidate journey begins with how the job description sounds and what it conveys to a candidate. In that regard, provide the applicant with a clear job description with all the necessary information they need to make their decision. Here it is imperative that you are transparent and respectful. For example, it is better to avoid writing a job description that describes the work environment as fast-paced and dynamic when in reality your company is understaffed with a lack of process visibility. 

You can also help them to understand the culture and the values of your company and meet the team by presenting employee stories with specific examples of what the company did for their employees.

Interest and Application

At this stage, the candidates decide that they’re interested in the company and the role, and they complete their application. 

Take into consideration that a lengthy and complicated job application process can seriously detract from a positive candidate experience. If you want to attract a large pool of applicants, certain groups of job seekers will not engage with a lengthy application process. For example, passive job seekers (i.e. those who already have a job) don’t have a lot of time to apply for new positions. 

Suggestion: Keep the application process short and simple. Also, enable candidates to ask any additional question they might have through email or by talking to a recruiter. Set expectations regarding the duration of the hiring process and give all the necessary information about the selection criteria.

Selection and Hiring

At the last stage, the candidates go through the interviews and the assessment process until they are hired or rejected. After the interviews, they are waiting to learn the outcome, but they also assess the company as a preferred employer and they decide if they would accept or reject the offer.

Suggestion: Meet the expectations you set above and, if you don’t, make sure to update the candidates. My favorite formula summarizing this is “Happiness = Reality – Expectations”. An example of this is when you know that the whole process usually takes 2 months, inform the candidate in advance about it so that they will set their expectations and don’t leave them just to find out on their own.

Also, thank the candidates for the time they are waiting and let them know how long it will take before making the decision. After selecting, make sure that you let them know why they have or have not been selected. This is the last chance to show that you appreciate and value them and establish a good employer brand. It is also very important to take this chance to ask their opinion about the recruitment process and measure their experience.

In conclusion

When candidates feel a company doesn’t care about their time or that they are not treated fairly and respectfully, they’re prone to share this experience among their friends and network. This can result in making other potential candidates less likely to apply and could potentially damage a company’s employer brand. 

In contrast, when a company is respectful and appreciative of the time and effort that goes into an application and hiring process, candidates feel more connected to the brand – regardless of the outcome. 

So, if you haven’t considered designing a candidate journey so far, there’s no time like the present. You may find out that creating a great Candidate Journey cannot be achieved without effort, but it is what will help you to stand out from the crowd and have an easier time acquiring valuable talent, and we’re here to help with every step of this journey.

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