How to Build the Perfect Candidate Experience

Is there any process more important in recruitment than creating a positive candidate experience? Finding the right talent goes well beyond the typical employer-employee transaction. It’s about crafting an engaging and memorable journey for candidates – a journey that resonates with your organization’s values, showcases your commitment to their growth, and leaves a lasting impression. This is the essence of candidate experience.

This guide has been created to help optimize your organization’s approach to candidate experience. And while there is a level of uniqueness to every process, there are also best practices that can ensure talent satisfaction.

What you will learn:
A step-by-step guide through each stage of the hiring process impacting candidate experience.
The importance of optimizing candidate experience.
Actionable tips to improve job descriptions and onboarding.
Key opportunity areas: clear communication, creating an inclusive atmosphere, and offering feedback.
Insights from SocialTalent platform experts for up-to-date advice.
Methods to measure candidate experience effectively.
The impact of candidate experience on employer branding.
The growing role of technology in enhancing candidate experience.

What is Candidate Experience?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” writes acclaimed author Maya Angelou. A more poetic and accurate definition of what good candidate experience is you will not find! 

Candidate experience is all about the complete voyage a prospective candidate embarks on when engaging with your organization. From first encounter with your employer brand to the final selection, each touchpoint in the recruiting process contributes to an overarching impression. 

At its core, candidate experience is a reflection of your organization’s values, culture, and commitment to fostering meaningful connections. It’s the impression you etch into the minds of candidates, irrespective of whether they receive a job offer or not.

Just as a guest’s encounter shapes their perception of a hospitality establishment, a candidate’s journey shapes their view of your company as an employer. And it’s important to remember that candidate experience goes beyond a mere checklist of recruitment stages – it’s a narrative interwoven with your company’s mission, reflecting inclusivity, transparency, and respect.

Why is Candidate Experience Important?

A remarkable candidate experience delivers a multitude of advantages. According to IBM for example, candidates are 38% more likely to accept a job offer after having a positive hiring experience. But beyond enhancing your odds of attracting premier talent, every positive encounter ripples outward, with each and every candidate becoming advocates, sharing their journey and contributing to your reputation and image.

Let’s dig in to this a little deeper:

  • Employer Branding: A positive candidate experience can enhance an organization’s employer branding. Candidates who have a good experience are more likely to share their positive impressions with others, whether through word of mouth, social media, or online reviews. This can attract more high-quality candidates in the future and create a favorable reputation for the company.
  • Talent Attraction: A strong candidate experience can help an organization attract top talent. In a competitive job market, candidates often have multiple options, and they are more likely to choose companies that treat them well and providing a positive experience throughout the hiring process can be a great indication of this.
  • Retention and Loyalty: Even if a candidate isn’t ultimately hired, a positive experience can lead to future applications and a higher likelihood of recommending the company to others. This fosters a sense of loyalty and increases the chances that candidates will consider the company again in the future.
  • Quality of Hire: A candidate who has a clear understanding of the company’s values, culture, and expectations is more likely to make an informed decision about whether the company is the right fit for them. This alignment can lead to better long-term employee performance and satisfaction.
  • Candidate Referrals: Satisfied candidates are more likely to refer other qualified candidates to the company. Employee referrals are often a valuable source of high-quality candidates, and a positive candidate experience can encourage employees to recommend their connections.
  • Legal and Ethical Considerations: Treating candidates fairly and respectfully is not just a matter of good practice; it can also have legal implications. Discriminatory or unfair treatment of candidates during the hiring process can lead to legal challenges and damage a company’s reputation.
  • Feedback for Improvement: Feedback from candidates about their experience can provide valuable insights for improving the recruitment and hiring process. Identifying pain points and areas of improvement can lead to a more efficient and effective hiring process over time.
  • Positive Company Culture: A company that prioritizes candidate experience tends to have a culture that values people, respect, and transparency. This culture can extend beyond the hiring process and positively impact employee satisfaction and engagement. Nearly 4 in 5 (78%) applicants believe the overall candidate experience they receive is an indicator of how a company values its people (CareerBuilder).

What Does the Candidate Experience Journey Look Like?

The candidate experience journey encompasses the various stages and interactions a job candidate goes through during their time with an organization’s recruitment and hiring process. The stages can vary depending on the company and the specific job role, but each one of these elements presents an opportunity for you to optimize the experience for the applicant.

1. Pre-application

The first impression! Pre-application refers to anything a potential candidate sees before they formally apply for a position. Think career website, recruitment marketing, job postings, employer branding, social media – these can all be considered first touchpoints and set the tone for candidate experience.

Often overlooked, this stage is of fundamental importance. It offers a glimpse into a company’s culture, values, and professionalism. A positive pre-application experience can result in more high-quality candidates and a greater likelihood of a favorable perception. But remember – the opposite is also true. 

Pro tip: The quality and clarity of job postings, including the accuracy of job descriptions and requirements, impact a candidate’s impression of the organization. Do not have a copy + paste approach to this. Work with the hiring manager, tailor the writing, proofread, and keep it concise. Each job description should tell a unique story and encourage talent to apply.

Learn more about writing great job descriptions in this blog post here.

2. Screening

Screening candidates for a role has long been considered one of the most important markers of making a successful hire. Even with the sea of automations and tech advancements, screening candidates before an interview is still an integral step. While they take a bit of effort to complete, the benefits of scheduling these calls far outweigh any inconvenience.  

It benefits both parties – it gives the recruiter a sense if a candidate is qualified, interested, available and affordable, and it allows applicants a further glimpse into how the company operates. Essentially, another touchpoint for positive candidate experience. As SocialTalent’s own TA Specialist says: “candidates will always remember the organizations they personally engaged with, rather than those who automate this step.” People value people.

Pro tip: Preparation and structure are key for creating the perfect screening call. Always ensure that there has been an alignment meeting between recruiter and hiring manager. This allows everyone to know exactly what good looks like for the role.

Candidate screening

Read our complete article to understand why candidate screening is more important than ever. And dive into expert insights and tips to create a screening experience that not only identifies the best candidates, but ensures the experience is positive and memorable.

3. Interview and assessment

While all the stages of recruitment give opportunity to forge a positive candidate experience, the interview is like the linchpin. This is where solid opinions are forged. How interviews are conducted and managed feeds directly into the perception a candidate will have of the organization.

Transparency is the cornerstone at this juncture. Furnish candidates with insights into the interview process, anticipating queries and outlining evaluation criteria. Foster an atmosphere of psychological safety where candidates can exhibit their skills and potential. According to LinkedIn, 65% of candidates say that a bad interview experience would make them lose interest in a position. Glassdoor is a graveyard of poor interview reviews – hiring managers were late, the questions asked were inappropriate, time was wasted – all of this can derail a company’s efforts to build a positive brand.

Pro tip: SocialTalent’s interviewing expert, John Vlastelica, says that “our interviewing approach is part of our attraction and closing strategy – it’s one of the ways we can differentiate ourselves from competitors. But a great experience doesn’t happen by accident.

4. Offer

The culmination of a successful hiring process will result in an offer – but don’t be fooled, there is still room to optimize at this stage. How a job offer is extended can impact the candidate’s overall experience. It’s an emotional moment, filled with excitement, relief, and an anticipation of change. A well-crafted offer that’s communicated in a clear, transparent, and fair manner can only enhance these positive feelings.

Ensure that there is some room for flexibility and negotiation if possible – candidates will often have questions and queries so be sure to respond in a timely manner. And see if there’s any scope to personalize the outreach, humanizing the process in a way that keeps the candidate at the center of proceedings. 

Pro tip: Andrew McAsksill, SocialTalent’s candidate experience expert, says that recruiters “should never forget what it feels like to be on the job market.” Bring empathy and understanding to the forefront whenever you’re dealing with candidates.

Learn more about what candidates really want in this article with Andrew MacAskill.

5. Onboarding and orientation

The forgotten child of the recruiting process, onboarding plays an enormous role in how a candidate responds to your organization. According to Bob, 64% of employees are likely to leave a new job within their first twelve months after having a negative onboarding experience. Yet conversely, research has also shown that companies with an effective onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82%. It’s like chalk and cheese!

The goal is to create a smooth transition from offer to the first steps within the business. Keep things structured, clear, and as engaging as possible. Remember – this is your first opportunity to really integrate a new starter into the company, so try to really embed a positive experience. 

Pro tip: Get the company involved in onboarding! Aim for an immersive experience whereby lots of different people play a role in helping fledgling hires integrate and acclimatise. Can the CEO or a Senior Leader pop 10 minutes in the diary for a personalized welcome? Do they have a dedicated buddy? Get creative and make a moment!

Want to learn more about how to create an effective onboarding process? Click here.

How to Create a Positive Candidate Experience

So we now know why candidate experience is important, but how can we ensure it’s operating at peak performance? Across the whole hiring process there are particular elements you must get right. In this market of talent scarcity, candidates expect so much more and they have choice. Nothing is a foregone conclusion and it’s these elements that can help tip the scales in your favor. Recruiters who understand the power of candidate experience are the difference-makers in this environment.

1. Ensure you communicate effectively

How you communicate, throughout the entire hiring process, underpins candidate experience. It is the most vital action you take. And according to CareerBuilder, for 81% of candidates, the primary area that would improve overall candidate experience is regular and consistent communication.

Creating an effective communication strategy simmers down to three core elements: 

  1. Understanding what your candidates want to know and when.
  2. Building out a regular and transparent series of communication.
  3. Being aware of how candidates want to be communicated with.

Think about the overall experience, and every touchpoint within this – put yourself in the applicant’s shoes and see where there are opportunities to improve and optimize.

The last thing you want is a candidate not understanding the process in front of them, feeling like they’re chasing the hiring team and being left in the dark. Give them everything! Over-communicate! The candidate should be at the center of proceedings and have clarity in abundance.

This is priority one. Once you’re confident that applicants are being communicated with in a clear, inclusive, and timely manner throughout the process, the next step to consider is personalization and branding. Every email, every call, every meeting gives you a chance to infuse your outreach with tidbits about the organization, its values and culture. Don’t miss out on this!

You’re giving candidates a glimpse into your company and you want to entice them. Cookie-cutter messages and too much corporate language can impede this. 

Pro tip: This is where generative AI can shine! Time-poor recruiters might find personalized communication difficult, but with the right prompts, you can create bespoke InMails, follow-up emails, and question banks in a fraction of the time.

20 Essential ChatGPT Prompts for Recruiters

Download our FREE eBook to learn more about how to create the most effective prompts using ChatGPT. From prompt templates to tips on how to make the most out of generative AI, this is an essential text for any recruiter.

2. Streamline the application process

Speed, or lack thereof, is one of the greatest weaknesses in every hiring process. A Robert Half study found that 54% of HR directors have lost out on a qualified candidate due to a lengthy hiring process, and this can hugely impact the overall experience for an applicant.

Whether it’s long wait times for communication after responding to a job ad, too many fields in an application form, excessive interview and assessment rounds, repetitious questioning, or long delays in decision-making, this all causes frustration for a candidate.

Read more about streamlining the recruiting process here.

And some of these things might be out of your control – but it’s worth having a holistic view on the process so you can inform and iterate to bring a greater sense of urgency. Why? Because there are so many issues associated with a slow and clunky application process:

  • Candidates will feel disrespected.
  • It will bring up concerns about the inner-workings of the organization.
  • Waste of resources, money, and productivity.
  • Potential to lose talent to other offers.
  • Risk that candidates will talk about the experience.

One of the most effective methods for managing this, however, is setting expectations for the candidate from the outset. Listen to Wendy Mayer, VP of Candidate Experience at Pfizer, explain how powerful this approach is:

Learn more about how Wendy improved candidate experience at Pfizer by listening to her Work: Smart podcast episode!

3. Make a moment!

Standing out from the crowd in a market where talent is scarce can be a huge benefit. If you’re looking to win-over a candidate during the recruiting process, one of the most powerful tactics you can employ is to make that moment memorable.

In his SocialTalent content, NYT bestselling author Dan Heath talks about the importance of transition points in life – my family moved to this place, then I started university and took my first job at X – these articulations are the moments we remember. And the hiring journey is filled with transitions like this. Think about moving from the screening to interview stage, extending an offer letter, or even a rejection. It’s the recruiters who can aptly turn these into memorable moments of positivity that will win the day.

The question is how, though? Listen below to an excerpt from Dan’s course about how Manpower used this technique to turn a regular job offer into a meaningful event:

These moments can range in size; maybe you send silver medal applicants some swag and a note to soften the blow, or you try to add a personalized touch to all communication. But even a small investment of time and resources can go a big way in creating an experience that candidates will remember and appreciate. 

Pro tip: Creativity is hugely important here, not budget. Brainstorm within your organization and see if there are any ways you can make the recruiting journey that bit more memorable. Getting people involved in this process also helps to build a culture of hiring where everyone feels like they have a stake in the game.

4. Provide some pre-interview training

In a world where key talent is sparse, organizations need to focus on pulling out all the stops when it comes to candidate experience. One critical juncture that can easily be overlooked is interview prep. Ensuring your candidates understand what to expect from the hiring process and what ‘good looks like’ in terms of an interview is crucial for fostering positivity. It creates an even playing field, allowing applicants to present the best version of themselves and demonstrate their capabilities without fear of the unknown. 

But how can organizations provide an experience like this in a relevant and scalable manner? Interviewee training is the answer! We teamed up with renowned career coach, Aimee Bateman, to create exclusive content to help candidates ace their interviews.

Aimee prepares candidates to tackle behavioral, situational, and value-based questions, all while helping them to discover how to manage their mindsets and overcome any mental blocks that could arise in the interview. Hugely practical, this kind of training provides insights for both external and internal hires, equipping them with exactly what they need to succeed. For example:

Implementing pre-interview training programs shows how much you value and care about the people coming through the process. You’re invested in their success. And this can feed into your employer brand, encouraging even more applications.

Learn more about SocialTalent’s Interview Prep Program here.

5. Creating an inclusive candidate experience

One of our favorite mantras in SocialTalent is this: 

An inclusive candidate experience = A positive candidate experience

Building a hiring process that allows EVERYONE to feel a sense of belonging and respect directly feeds into positive sentiment. According to Glassdoor 76% of job seekers consider diversity and inclusion a crucial factor when evaluating potential employers. So understanding how you can create a candidate experience which speaks to this is vital. The goal is to build a process which treats people fairly and consistently, and doesn’t discriminate or alienate anyone who may not possess the same privileges as others.

  • Screen in rather than screen out: Focus on skills and attributes rather than unnecessary requirements like years of experience or where they attended college – give candidates a chance to show you how they can be successful in the role, rather than discounting them for arbitrary definitions.
  • Provide accommodations: From a functional standpoint, the traditional hiring framework is fraught with barriers and pitfalls that could prevent diverse talent from flourishing. Things that most people take for granted can be massive obstacles to others – and you may not even realize it. That’s why it’s so important to continually offer support and reasonable accommodations throughout the whole hiring process. 
  • Foster a sense of psychological safety: Everyone has the right to feel comfortable and accepted throughout the hiring process, and key to this is maintaining an atmosphere of psychological safety. An inclusive candidate experience cannot be achieved without a concerted effort to show consideration and understanding.
  • Make interview training mandatory: This goes for recruiters, hiring managers, and anyone else involved in the process of hiring. Interviewer training is the cornerstone of creating an inclusive candidate experience. Why? Because interviews aren’t (or shouldn’t be!) ad-hoc events that we try to wing our way through. If you want to guarantee that the talent coming through this process is assessed well, feels respected, and ultimately has a positive experience, you need to ensure that everyone is singing from the same sheet.
  • Promote your DEI initiatives: Candidate experience typically feeds into a future employee’s impression of the organization. And as such, it’s the perfect opportunity to really demonstrate your commitment to equitable and inclusive principles. According to Deloitte, inclusive workplaces are important to 80% of candidates when looking to move jobs. So don’t shy away from these data points if you have them. Be proud of the steps your organization is taking to be more inclusive and find ways to share this with candidates.

Learn more in our dedicated article: ‘7 Ways to Create a Truly Inclusive Candidate Experience.’

6. Follow-up and feedback

We’ve all been asked the question after submitting an application to a company – “have you heard anything back from them yet?” And so often, the answer is no. It’s a hugely problematic feature within the hiring process for many organizations. Candidates are left in the lurch at so many points, scrambling to find some form of acknowledgement or closure. It can hugely diminish an experience, regardless of outcome.

Nick Johnston, a Global TA Leader and SocialTalent author, says that: “Candidate experience is driven by good feedback. It’s a true differentiator. It’s us fulfilling some of our promises that we care for our people and see them as a valuable asset, as we often see in employer brand statements.” 

From a practical standpoint, honest and timely feedback can help candidates understand where they stand throughout the hiring process – but it goes much further than this. Following-up also leads into brand perception and candidate engagement levels, reducing the likelihood of them dropping out of the race or accepting offers from other organizations.

To ensure that feedback positively impacts the candidate experience, consider the following as best practice:

  • Provide feedback as soon as possible after each stage of the interview process.
  • Be specific and detailed in your feedback, pointing out what the candidate did well and areas for improvement.
  • Use a constructive and professional tone, focusing on the candidate’s qualifications, skills, and fit for the role.
  • Offer feedback in a personalized manner, taking into account the individual candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Encourage candidates to ask questions or seek clarification on the feedback if needed.

Here’s a sneak peek from Nick Johnston’s dedicated course on candidate feedback on the SocialTalent platform:

Pro tip: When hiring volumes are high and you feel up against the clock, it can be easy to view candidates as numbers – avoid this trap. Taking a bit of extra time to be empathetic and thoughtful in your feedback can be the difference between a scathing and positive review on Glassdoor!

So far, we’ve covered

  • What positive candidate experience looks like at each stage of the hiring process.
  • The need for clear communication, streamlined application processes, and authentic feedback.
  • Why recruiters must try to ‘make a moment’ wherever they can to create a memorable experience.
  • How pre-interview training can set your hiring process apart.
  • Why an inclusive candidate experience = a positive candidate experience.

Now it’s time to explore how we go about tracking candidate experience, its impact on employer branding, and the growing role technology is playing.

Measuring Candidate Experience

Measuring the effectiveness of candidate experience is crucial for organizations looking to improve their recruitment processes. But according to TalentBoard, only 17% of employers measure candidate experience at every possible opportunity. Without this data and insight, you can ultimately hinder your ability to attract top talent, harm your employer brand, and let inefficiencies run riot though the hiring structure.

So what key metrics and methods should you be tracking to ensure the quality of your candidate experience?

Candidate satisfaction surveys:

Post-interview or post-application surveys can provide direct feedback from candidates about their experience. Be pragmatic about the responses – some things you won’t have a huge amount of control over (issues relating to salary or location for example), but there may be some incredible insights or quick fixes that can be made. Ensure you ask specific questions about the process, communication, interview, experience, and interactions with your team. And finish with a Net Promoter Score (NPS) question to assess overall satisfaction.


More ad-hoc than the above survey, but sometimes more truthful. Reviewing and engaging with Glassdoor statements can be a very useful exercise in gauging overall candidate experience. And it’s worth remembering that candidates use this as a resource when prepping for application so it’s worth keeping an eye on what’s being said!

Learn how to respond to negative Glassdoor reviews here.

Focus groups:

Focus groups offer an incredible opportunity to dig into the details of candidate experience. Meet with a group of recent hires and ask them questions about the overall process, the people, how the role was sold to them, timeliness. It’s also a great forum to get some suggestions about how things could be done better.


There are a range of metrics that are worth tracking that will give you hard data around candidate experience.

  • Time-to-hire: Monitor the time it takes to fill a position the moment it’s posted to the candidate’s acceptance. A lengthy process can create negative sentiment.
  • Offer acceptance rate: Track the percentage of candidates who accept job offers after receiving them. A high acceptance rate indicates that candidates are satisfied with their offers.
  • Offer decline rate: Measure the percentage of candidates who withdraw from the application or interview process. A high number here may suggest disengagement or frustration.

Unsuccessful candidates:

Insight from candidates who do not receive job offers (or indeed candidates who drop out of the running themselves) often give much more relevant feedback. Why? Because it won’t be tainted by the glow of success! They can be uncomfortable conversations to have, but when approached with consideration, these insights can be invaluable. And if mistakes were made in the process, own them, apologize, and thank them for being so upfront. 

SocialTalent Case Study: Cisco

Discover how Cisco used SocialTalent’s training platform to make their candidate experience metrics world class. With an organized approach and mandatory learning, Cisco saw a rise in NPS and feedback scores.

How Candidate Experience Impacts Employer Branding

First impressions matter, especially in a recruiting environment like we’re experiencing right now. Talent has options and they will make career choices based on so much more than just pay or job titles. WHO the company is and HOW they conduct themselves plays into a job seeker’s decision making process so much more than ever. Think about it, if a candidate has a bad experience at the interview or screening stage, they’re much more likely to reject an offer, tell others about the negative experience and damage your overall brand.  

As SocialTalent’s employer branding expert, Ed Nathanson, states: “Because the applicant is in the position of strength, the importance of getting your message in front of them and swinging attention to you becomes bigger and more paramount.

And it’s not enough just to ward off the negative comments and do the bare minimum. Every stage of the hiring process should be seen as an opportunity to ensure that your employer brand is singing. Your aim is to impress these candidates, to show them that they’ll be a huge culture-add to your organization, and turn them into advocates. Even unsuccessful applicants could easily become future customers or even future hires.

Candidate experience directly feeds into employer brand – there’s a symbiosis to the two functions. A positive candidate experience can enhance your employer brand, attract more qualified and diverse applicants, and reduce the number of dropouts and no-shows. Conversely, a negative candidate experience can damage your employer brand, leading to missed opportunities and a less diverse pool of applicants.

The Role of Technology in Candidate Experience

In today’s digital age, technology plays a pivotal role in shaping the candidate experience throughout the recruitment process. While it offers numerous advantages, it also presents some challenges. Let’s take a look:


Efficiency and Speed: Technology streamlines the recruitment process, reducing administrative tasks and speeding up application screening and assessment.

Impersonalization: Overreliance on technology can lead to a lack of personal touch in the candidate experience. Candidates may feel like they are interacting with machines rather than humans.

Accessibility: Online job boards, mobile apps, and digital communication make job opportunities accessible to a broader audience.

Bias in Algorithms: AI algorithms used may inadvertently introduce bias if not carefully designed and monitored.

Personalization: Advanced algorithms and AI-driven tools enable organizations to personalize the candidate experience. Job recommendations, automated emails, and tailored assessments can create a more engaging journey.

Technical Glitches: Technology is not infallible. Technical glitches in online applications, video interviews, or assessment tools can frustrate candidates and tarnish their perception.

Improved Communication: Technology enhances communication. Automated email updates, chatbots, and video interviews provide efficient channels for information exchange and feedback.

Communication Gaps: While tech improves communication, it can also lead to gaps. Automated emails may lack the warmth of personal messages, and chatbots may not always address candidates’ unique questions or concerns adequately.

Overall, technology has the potential to enhance candidate experience by streamlining processes, improving communication, and targeting interactions. However, it’s important for organizations to strike a balance and ensure that technology is used in a way that doesn’t create barriers or impersonalize the candidate experience. A seamless blend of technology and human touch is often the key to a positive candidate experience.

Discover how to leverage AI for recruitment and sourcing


Crafting the perfect candidate experience demands intentionality, empathy, and strategic foresight. By embracing the principles outlined in this guide, you’ll not only optimize your recruitment endeavors but also make a profound impact on the talent ecosystem, securing the best and brightest for your organization.

To get started, recruiters need to holistically look at their current candidate journey. Probe into each section and find the screws to tighten – do the job descriptions lack that element of fire? Has there been consistent feedback that can be easily actioned? Are you managing expectations and focusing on inclusivity? This is all step one.

Next it’s about tracking and measuring data, giving yourself a firm foundation to diagnose more serious issues. Candidate experience isn’t siloed to one individual person, so having concrete information is key for getting buy-in. After this, it’s about constant iteration and improvement – none of this will magically fix overnight.    

Intentionality is a huge part of this equation though. It takes effort to ensure a positive candidate experience. Each stage of the hiring process has to be regarded as an opportunity. And if companies are serious about wanting to find and hire top talent, time and investment is required. But it’s absolutely worth it and SocialTalent is here to help!

SocialTalent is the first step in creating a positive candidate experience. Our comprehensive Recruitment Training will teach your people how to build an effective, inclusive, and engaging hiring process.

Talk to our team today to learn more!