Interviewing- the importance of the applicant experience!

So you need to recruit a new member of staff.

You put an advert out there and get a pile of responses.  You draw up your shortlist and arrange the interviews.  Easy heh?


The mistake many organisations make is to think you hold ALL of the power.  You don’t.

Whilst you are assessing the candidates, they are, in turn, assessing you.  During the entire process, they are constantly asking the following:

Could I see myself working here?

Could I work for him/her?

Does this FEEL right for me?

If the answer is no to any of these, you’ve lost that person.  Now, you might have not been interested in them either, but if you were…….

Think about your process, and think about how it reflects on you as a team/department/organisation.  I will always remember one particular experience recruiting for one of my clients in the Midlands.  He was a really fun guy (no, not a mushroom), he had a dry sense of humour and I always enjoyed our interactions.  I also knew a few of the people in his team and they loved it.  He had engendered a really great positive, hardworking but fun environment.  I visited him once and it was palpable as soon as you entered their office.

I was working on a new role for his team, and briefed the candidates on what to expect in interview.  Told them about the great positive vibe in the office, their inspirational manager who you could click with straight away etc.

So, you can guess my surprise when each candidate came out of the interview slightly confused.  They had been asked many of the questions I’d told them to expect, but there was a real disconnect between the environment I had described and the one they experienced.  They were ushered in to a basement room with no windows, weren’t offered a drink and very little chat from anyone they came into contact with. The interview was very dull- very little eye contact, question-response-note taken-next question.  In fact, when an offer was made, I had to arrange a second meeting with the candidate and the team they would be joining as the candidate was convinced I was just telling them what they wanted to hear to take the role!

So, I talk about it a lot, but it is really important for you to pay some attention to the “candidate/applicant experience”, and here are some quick tips on how to enhance that:

  1. Make sure you “timeline” the recruitment process- starting from when you want someone on board, and track it back, making sure it flows.  I’ve had a number of issues recently where applicants are shortlisted, and the interviews aren’t able to be diarised for another month- it loses all momentum for the applicant, and they often lose interest or simply find another role in the meantime.  Talent lost.
  2. When you do get them in front of you, make them feel special from their first contact. Make sure reception are expecting them and that they put your best foot forward.  When they announce themselves at reception, a “ah yes, you are here for the xx interview” and a “good luck” goes a long way!
  3. Make sure you have read their CV before the interview- too many people will ask an open question to start an interview, not listen and start reading the CV. This does no-one any good.  Have some personalised questions prepared for them and show an interest in their answer.
  4. If you have a vibrant, positive atmosphere, make sure they get to see/experience that. Either bring one of your employees in to talk to them about the team (without the manager in the room), or better still, take them through to the department and explain what is happening.
  5. Thank them for coming and make sure you give them a timescale of when they should expect feedback AND STICK TO IT!!
  6. Give feedback- whether they are successful or not. It’s important.  And make it real feedback, not just, “oh, we really liked you, but you came a close second!”  That is no use to them.

Much of the above is common sense, but so many people don’t give it due importance, and then wonder why they get rebuffed when they make an offer.

As my dad says, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!” (but don’t let him know I actually listen to or heed his advice- I’ll never hear the end of it).