First impressions matter, even in business. Make sure the experience is smooth, from the first contact to their first day on the job. That’s what the candidate experience is all about. Below we explain what it is, why it’s important, and how to improve it.

Defining the candidate experience

A lot of human resource experts, especially individuals who spend a lot of time in the hiring process, talk about the candidate experience. The candidate experience includes everything from a candidate’s initial contact with a company and every interaction leading up to when the applicant is hired.

The purpose of focusing on candidate experiences is to help candidates familiarize themselves with the culture of the company and help set realistic expectations for the employee’s future with a company. A lot of these hiring experts feel that this first impression is essential for acquiring and retaining their employees.

Why is the candidate experience important?

A quality candidate experience sets the tone for the employees’ time with an organization. Starting off on the wrong foot, many times, can indicate future turbulence. A poor first impression combined with low quality new employee onboarding tactics can lead to higher turnover rates and fewer applicants.

Companies can set themselves apart from the competition by establishing a high-quality candidate experience because attracting top talent is a difficult task. Employers that want top-tier candidates need to ensure current and prospective employees have a positive opinion of your organization. Employee referrals are a valuable tool to access quality talent pools. If you want talented candidates to apply to your organization, or you want them to refer other skilled people to apply, you need to build a positive brand perception and encourage a welcoming company culture.

Breaking down the candidate experience

In order to achieve a high-quality candidate experience, employers and hiring managers should ask: “What parts of the hiring process should I focus on to create a positive candidate experience?”


The first time an applicant comes in contact with a hiring manager is not the first time they come in contact with your organization’s brand. Nowadays, the first contact an applicant makes with your brand is online, before they even apply for a job. Organizations need to build a relationship with candidates through their brand identity.

Your brand identity is made up of a lot of things that represent who you are, what your reputation is, what sets you apart from another company, and how people perceive you. It’s not just what you do, it’s who you are.

Your brand includes things like:

  • Social media presence
  • Company website
  • Advertisements (on social media, in print, online, etc.)
  • In-person events (tradeshows, career fairs, networking events, etc.)
  • Company reviews (i.e. Glassdoor)
  • Content (blogs, articles, webinars, podcasts, videos, etc.)
  • Job postings, job boards and your career site
  • Public relations (press, campaigns, etc.)
  • Company mission/values
  • Visual design, photography and color palettes
  • Employees (current and former) are brand ambassadors!

With your brand being made up of so many features, you can see how prospective job candidates can get an idea of what you’re about without ever talking to you. Keep in mind that building a brand is an iterative process, so don’t get overwhelmed by trying to tackle every element at once.


Most people fear or dread job applications and interviews. You don’t want to create an application or interview process that makes it harder for someone to apply. Your goal is to streamline and improve access to your jobs. If not, you can narrow your talent pool and exclude candidates that could be a great fit.

  • Is your career site and application accessible via a mobile or tablet device?
  • How accurate are your job descriptions?
  • How many steps is the application process? How long does the application take?
  • Have you properly set expectations so a candidate understands what job they are applying for?
  • Does the candidate know where he/she stands throughout the selection process?

Hiring managers should communicate these concerns effectively throughout the entire recruiting and hiring process.

An applicant tracking system (ATS), like JazzHR, can give your recruiting and hiring process a major boost. An ATS helps you track and manage applicants, schedule interviews, and keep your team in the loop. Sign up for a free, 21-day trial of JazzHR to see how easy hiring can be.

Key things to remember:

  • Ensure your application is easy to understand, complete and access.
  • Align the job description with the duties of the role.
  • Ensure job description and duties are consistently and accurately communicated throughout the interview process.
  • Inform applicants of where they stand in the application/interview process and what the next steps will be.
  • Streamline the recruiting and hiring process by investing in technology that automates and organizes recruiting processes.


Onboarding is still part of the candidate experience. New employees won’t stay, or won’t stay long, if the hiring process stops once a job offer is accepted. Ensure your new hires feel comfortable and capable of performing well.

That means ensuring your employees are ready for their first day at work, and so is their new team. They should have a workstation set up and have an itinerary created so they know how their first week will look. Ensure adequate training is scheduled so employees feel empowered to do their job. Onboarding is so much more than an employee’s first day or week. An effective onboarding program lasts months or even a year into an employee’s time at the company. It sets the tone for employment and ensures they are going to be productive and successful employees.


Consider evaluating the candidate experience with surveys and through stay interviews and performance reviews. Ask candidates, new hires, and current employees for their opinion on their candidate experience to get an accurate picture of what it’s like. Does the process feel well-organized and efficient? Does the candidate feel well informed of the expectations for their position?

Performance management is a logical next step from the candidate experience because it’s not just about attracting talent, it’s about retaining them. It is the process of aligning employee performance with organizational objectives and values. It’s the process that keeps on going after you hire. Our performance management software helps you create and implement programs that offer employees professional development opportunities and improves retention of top performers.

How to say no the right way

If you decide not to hire a candidate, how you say no matters. First off, always let candidates know they didn’t get the job – even if they didn’t interview. There’s nothing worse than waiting to hear back from a company, only to be left hanging. Think about it: Only one person gets the job – but hundreds could apply, and dozens may interview. There’s a lot of room for negative or positive reviews and referrals. How you turn someone down has a direct impact on your brand and your future ability to hire talented employees.
Be personable; Don’t reject candidates via email after they came in for an interview. An applicant sets aside time to (sometimes an entire day) to interview with you. Calling applicants is just a good move. Consider offering constructive feedback about why a candidate didn’t get the job; most people will thank you for that later.

Tips for improving your candidate experience

  • Don’t rush. Getting high quality hires takes time. Just not too much time – keep the candidate apprised of the situation at every step of the process.
  • Define the job properly. The gap between what is expected and what the employee is capable of could cause problems if not accurately described in a job description and throughout the interview process. You don’t want to miss out on a great candidate or waste time with the wrong candidate because of a job description.
  • Keep your hiring managers and teams in sync so applicants don’t fall through the cracks.
  • Use technology that fits your organization’s unique hiring needs.