How to nail your candidate communications

Thoughtful communication is what holds employers and candidates together during the hiring process. People don’t want to talk to companies. They want to talk to the people at those companies. Getting your candidate communication right can ensure this happens and should apply from your very first hire.

So why are so many employers still getting it wrong?

Almost two thirds of candidates say they’re unhappy with the low levels of communication they receive from employers after applying for a job. And more than half say they’re not kept updated with the progress of their application.

Does this actually matter? (Spoiler alert: yes)

And how can you get your candidate communication right?

Why your candidate communication matters

Over 70% of candidates share their negative recruitment experience.

Maybe you only have one vacancy right now. You’re only going to hire one of these candidates. That’s the only one that matters, right?

Hmm. Not quite.

That mindset overlooks three key things.

1. You don’t know which one you’re going to hire yet.

Let’s say you get 50 applications for your vacancy. You figure you’ll shortlist and interview ten to find the ‘one’. But at this stage you don’t know which one of the original fifty is your ‘one’.

Somewhere in that pile of 50 CVs could be your golden nugget employee. The person who you want to make feel so positive by the end of this process that it’s a no-brainer to accept your offer.

You don’t know which one they are yet. But they all have the potential to be that person. And the last thing you want is for that person to feel frustrated, disappointed, or let down by you. So treat them all like golden nuggets.

2. You don’t know who you’ll need again in the future.

You may only have one vacancy now. But who knows what the future holds? This process may throw up multiple talented people. The kind you know in your bones you’ll have a place for in the near future.

When the time’s right you’ll have another role they’d be perfect for. If your communication’s been off the first time around, they’re much less likely to apply for a role with you in the future.

In fact, 8 out of 10 candidates say they’d be discouraged from applying for a role if they didn’t receive feedback about a previous application.

3. Your candidates are your customers.

Don’t underestimate how your employer brand can impact your company brand – and your bottom line.

In the late 2010s, Virgin Media uncovered the impact of a poor candidate experience on its bottom line.

Thanks to a poor candidate experience, literally thousands of disgruntled would-be candidates chose to cancel their subscriptions. The blunder was costing the company £4.4 million a year.

And 72% of candidates who have a bad experience will tell their friends, family, and colleagues about it.

So remember – your candidate experience is a PR and branding exercise. So treat it like one.

Getting your candidate communications right

All application processes can be roughly divided into four phases:

  • Pre-application
  • Application
  • Assessment
  • Onboarding

Each phase gives you an opportunity to show your candidates who you are. An opportunity to be open, honest, and clear about their next steps.

It’s important to think of how your candidates will be feeling at each stage. Really empathising with their emotions will help you communicate in a way that feels authentic.

Before you list a vacancy, think carefully about:

  • How candidates might be feeling at each step
  • How you want candidates to feel about you

Preparing a candidate communications approach ahead of time will help you make meaningful connections. Let’s dive into

  • How to send a positive message at each stage
  • What you can prepare ahead of time
  • What communication channels you’re going to need (texting candidates gets a thumbs up btw)

Phase one: pre-application

At this stage: You’ve identified a vacancy and crafted a job description.

How candidates are feeling: Job hunting can be stressful. Anyone in the market for a job could well have seen hundreds of job ads already. They may even be applying for multiple jobs a day. They could still be working full-time, and juggling life’s responsibilities alongside job hunting. (Which as we know, is basically a full-time job in itself).

What you need to do: You have to get your vacancy noticed by the right people and stand out among the scores of other ads. Plus you need to convince people it’s worth putting the effort into an application. Remember, before any potential candidates apply for your role, they’re probably going to Google you. A huge 82% of people consider your employer brand before they apply for a job.

Tips for employers

  • Write a great job ad. Make sure it’s mobile optimised; over 80% of job searches start on a smartphone. And avoid vague phrases like ‘competitive salary’ which turn candidates off. Ensure your advert is completely transparent on the role and company challenges but also what the future could look like for it. Standing out can often mean being clear, open and direct.
  • Check your website & reviews. Keep tabs on sites like Glassdoor and make sure your website and social feeds are up-to-date and reflective of your brand
  • Use your network. Ask your team and network to share your vacancy on LinkedIn
  • Streamline the process. Candidates appreciate speed and simplicity; so only ask for what you need.

Phase two: application

At this stage: Candidates are starting to spot your ads, fill in an application and hit ‘apply.’

How candidates are feeling: There’s nothing worse than being really drawn to a job ad then finding the application process itself is over-complicated. (Most of us have probably filled in applications that ask you for every detail in your CV – and then ask you to attach your CV). Candidates time is valuable and they don’t want to waste it.

Remember, once they’ve made their application, it’s probably one among many. Once they’re in the market to move companies, most people apply for multiple jobs at a time.

What you need to do: For starters, once someone’s made a decision to apply, don’t give them a reason to change their mind. Make sure your application process is as efficient as possible. Don’t ask unnecessary questions and regularly test and monitor your systems and platforms to continually improve the candidate experience.

Once they’ve hit ‘apply’ you have your opportunity for a two-way conversation. Make the most of it. They may be applying for roles at multiple places but you can make yourself memorable. Make a good first impression by being timely, and giving them clarity straight away. It’s typical to rely on email at this stage. If you’re using an applicant tracking system then the chances are you already have the right tools to automate this but if you’re not, most job boards also provide the option.

Tips for employers

  • Acknowledge their application. At the very least, confirm that you’ve received the application.
  • Say thank-you. Each candidate has taken time and energy to get an application to you. Let them know you’re grateful and value their time.
  • Tell them what happens next. What is the next stage, when can they expect to hear from you, and how will you contact them?
  • Be brief: You don’t need to wax lyrical about the virtues of your company; something short and concise that manages their expectations will do the trick
  • Be personal. Sign off your emails from a person rather than something generic like ‘the team at CompanyName’.

Phase three: assessment

At this stage: you’ve narrowed down the candidates you want to take forward for an interview.

At this stage: you’ve narrowed down the candidates you want to take forward. This might be an interview, an assessment centre or any number of wonderful methods we use to assess.

What you need to do:  When it comes to communicating with your successful candidates remember you’re inviting them – not summoning them. The interview is your opportunity to figure out who is the best fit for your company. But it’s also your candidates’ chance to work out whether you’re a good fit for them.

When it comes to letting down the candidates who didn’t make it past application, don’t be tempted to ghost them or put off letting them know. Show them you value their time and are grateful for their effort; it’ll do wonders for your employer brand. At this stage, an email rejection is usually fine, as you won’t have spoken to the candidates directly yet. But always be polite, professional and empathetic. More and more applicant tracking systems can be used for texting candidates which when combined with the year-on-year increases in texting popularity in the hiring process and the much higher text message open rates, makes texting a no-brainer if you have the option.

Tips for employers

  • Be flexible. Bear in mind lots of candidates will have to fit an interview around their current working pattern and other responsibilities. Be flexible with timings and channels. Offer interviews out of standard office hours, or virtual interviews if you can.
  • Set expectations. Let them know roughly how long the interview will take and whether they need to prepare anything beforehand. Show you respect their time by giving candidates plenty of notice about any tasks or presentations.
  • Invite questions. Welcome any questions your candidates have before their interview and make sure you make good on the promise to get back to them. Plan ahead and have someone able to respond promptly.
  • Draft sensitive rejections. And personalise them with feedback where you can. Depending on the volume of applications you’ve had it might not be feasible to write an individual personalised email to each applicant. But you can use a template and leave space for personalisation where it’s required.

Phase four: post-interview

At this stage: you’ve held your interviews and decided who you want to offer a job to.

How candidates are feeling: They’ve met you and done their best to blow you away. They took time out of their busy life to prep and meet you. Hopefully, they left the interview feeling positive about your company and still wanting to work for you. Now they’re anxiously waiting to hear back.

What you need to do:  It’s super important to keep everyone informed at this point. Making your decision can take time. And you may have to wait a while for your first choice to accept your offer. Don’t make the mistake of going completely silent during this time. Prep some holding emails to keep everyone informed of when they’ll hear from you

Most applicants who’ve reached the interview stage deserve (and expect) a phone call rather than an email. First up, contact your successful candidate.

Tips for employers

  • Call first: Make the offer on a phone call; you can follow up with the details on email, but making the offer over the phone adds a personal touch.
  • Cut to the chase. Let them know they’ve been successful, and what made them stand out as the right choice for the role. Tell them exactly the offer is; be upfront about the salary and benefits. And of course, congratulate them!
  • Offer what they’re worth. All candidates negotiate the initial offer, right? So it’s tempting to low-ball your first offer so you have something in your back pocket if salary negotiations happen. Our advice is – don’t. Show you appreciate and understand their value by offering what they’re truly worth to you.
  • Don’t pile on pressure. Candidates may well be interviewing with a few different companies and weighing up their options. Your candidate might not accept your offer right there and then. Offer them time to think and agree a time to talk again about their decision.

And what about the candidates who didn’t quite make the cut this time?

  • Make the call.  It’s never pleasant to think about calling someone to let them know they haven’t secured the job. But bite the bullet. Don’t hide behind an email; give them the courtesy of a phone call with some personalised feedback. You can gently and professionally point out any skills or experience gaps. But don’t forget to let them know what was great too.
  • Ask for feedback. Use the opportunity to understand what was great and not-so-great about your hiring process.
  • Offer alternatives. Give your unsuccessful candidates some actionable next steps. Can you offer them work experience? Can you give them a heads-up about a vacancy you might have in the future that’s more suited to them? Could you recommend a webinar or training course that would help them fill a skills gap?

So there you have it. A rough guide to getting candidate communications right throughout the hiring process. If you are ever in doubt, ask yourself, what would I be feeling if the roles were reversed and what would I want to be communicated to feel confident? Keep it human.

Need a hand nailing your recruitment and comms? Book a free 30-minute consultation below to discuss your people strategy. 

Katie Feagan

Katie brings a wealth of experience in the talent acquisition and people space, and has held senior HR and Talent leadership roles in the broadcasting and fin-tech industries. Katie has an MBA and is a chartered member of the CIPD.

Lives the good life with her chickens and bees, often to be found at festivals, the person you need in a crisis.
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