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Ep 510: Candidate Experience 2023


Over the last decade or so, we’ve finally realised that the candidate experience isn’t a one-off project; it is an ever evolving theme that runs through talent acquisition. Strategy, measurement and continuous improvement are crucial.

So what is the current state of the candidate experience worldwide, and what are the post-pandemic trends?

I’m delighted to welcome Kevin Grossman back to the podcast as my guest this week. Kevin is President of The Talent Board, the organisers of the Candidate Experience Awards and ongoing global benchmark research into the candidate experience. He has a massive amount of data based insight to share on how the candidate experience continues to evolve.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The current trends in candidate experience

• Rising resentment

• Communication and feedback

• What is best practice?

• Examples of employers offering a great candidate experience

• Why more employers are giving feedback to finalists

• A fair interview process

• Internal mobility and retention

• The importance of pre-boarding

• Sustaining a quality experience over time

• Will AI improve the candidate experience in the future?

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Sonovate (0s):
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Sonovate (43s):

Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 510 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. Over the last decade or so, we finally realized that the candidate experience isn’t a one-off project. It’s an ever-evolving theme that constantly runs through talent acquisition, strategy, measurement, and continuous improvement are critical. So, what’s the current state of the candidate experience worldwide and what are the post-pandemic trends? I’m delighted to welcome Kevin Grossman back to the podcast as my guest this week. Kevin is President of the Talent Board, the organizer of the Candidate Experience Awards, an ongoing global benchmark research into the candidate experience.

Matt Alder (1m 54s):
He has a massive amount of data-based insight to share on how the candidate experience continues to evolve. Hi, Kevin, and welcome back to the podcast.

Kevin Grossman (2m 5s):
Matt, thanks for having me. How are you doing?

Matt Alder (2m 8s):
I’m doing very well, thank you. And it’s an absolute pleasure to have you back on the show. For people who may not know you and know your work, could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Kevin Grossman (2m 20s):
I would love to do that. So my name’s Kevin Grossman and I’m president of Talent Board in the Candidate Experience Awards. We have been doing benchmark research around Recruiting hiring and improving the Candidate Experience for over 11 years. I’ve been running the organization for nearly the past eight years, and every year, hundreds of employers, big and small across industries around the world participate in our benchmark research anonymously and confidentially. And then that aggregate data, we then analyze and release our insights and research reports and then do articles, webinars, the list goes on year-round talking about recruiting, hiring a candidate experience.

Matt Alder (3m 4s):
Absolutely. And I think it was almost exactly a year ago since you were last on the show. So it’s almost becoming an annual event to get you on to–

Kevin Grossman (3m 10s):
I love it.

Matt Alder (3m 11s):
To talk about the data and what’s going on in the Candidate Experience. So, I mean, I suppose that’s my first question really. The latest set of reports came out recently, I think. How would you summarize where we are with the Candidate Experience now? Is it still getting better? How have things changed since last year?

Kevin Grossman (3m 32s):
So I’m gonna answer that in a mildly sarcastic way. Nothing to disparage you in the question at all. The thing that I always like to say first is that nothing’s changed, good and bad. Nothing’s changed about t. And what I mean by that is that every year in our research, what we find is that the same key differentiators are what make the difference every year. Now, I will talk about differences that, Matt, that we have seen in the data. And there definitely have been some, but communication and feedback loops, I mean, sometimes I joke about this. Sometimes I feel like I’m an old man standing on my porch in my robe and you’re all kids playing in my yard.

Kevin Grossman (4m 16s):
And I’m like, “Nothing’s changed, so get off my lawn.” And I mean, I say it that way because it is true though. Those are always the definitive differentiators, communication, feedback, transparency, expectation setting, all of these things drive a higher level of perceived candidate fairness and positive sentiment. It is the hardest thing for companies to do year after year, every single time. So now that I got that out of the way in regards to what is the same every year, there’s definitely been some very interesting fluctuations. I mean, we’ve seen a lot of changes since, especially since the pandemic started, because pre-Covid we were measuring Candidate Experience and nothing but a growth market for a long time.

Kevin Grossman (5m 2s):
In fact, when Talent Board was first founded by Jerry Crispin, Elaine Orler, and Ed Newman, and I was one of the early volunteers, we were coming out of the Great Recession. Ever since that point, all the way through 2019, it was pretty much a growth market. And then, you know, everything the bottom fell out from underneath us. And then what we found though, I think some of the trends that we found were things that were just accelerated by the pandemic and where we’re at today. So for example, resentment has actually always been something that we call candidate resentment we’ve measured in our data.

Kevin Grossman (5m 43s):
It’s the percentage of candidates who said they’ll never do anything again with an employer based on a poor experience. And in North America, it’s always been the highest, followed by EMEA, and then APAC and Latin America have always been the lowest in regards to resentment. Well, resentment fell through the floor in 2020 because employers were suddenly in this place of like, what do we do to keep the business moving forward? So there was a lot more empathetic communication happening with not only their candidates, but employees too. And candidates were more forgiving at that. You know, in 2020 there were millions of people out of work because of the pandemic. And then that all changed again in 2021 when hiring came back with a vengeance actually.

Kevin Grossman (6m 28s):
And then we saw resentment rise again, especially in North America and EMEA. And then that had just continued through last year in the 2022 data too. And it’s up globally actually everywhere. Now, it’s still a smaller percentage compared to the overall candidate responses that are representative of all candidates in our data. So for example, in North America, it’s 12% who said they’ll never do anything with a company again. But when you project that out, that could be quite significant. It’s 11% in EMEA, it’s lower in APAC in Latin America. And just a quick note, what we found, what’s interesting about the reason why resentment’s lower in those, one of the reasons why it’s lower, many of the countries in Latin America and APAC candidates culturally are less likely to share negative feedback.

Kevin Grossman (7m 16s):
And it’s something that we don’t measure exactly, but we know we’ve heard from the candidates and the employers who we’re hiring in those regions that that is the case. So there is a positive halo effect skew actually in the data, especially in APAC that does not include Australia, New Zealand markets. Those markets are kind of reflect more western resentment that we see. But some of the other parts of APAC, Asian cultures in particular, and the same thing in Latin America. But overall though, unfortunately, what we call Candidate resentment is up.

Matt Alder (7m 49s):
And does that indicate, you know, is that purely sort of based on the market that we were looking at last year, is it companies behaving differently? If you got any insight into what might be driving that?

Kevin Grossman (8m 4s):
So many people have gone through their own existential crisis, right, the past three years. Like what am I doing? Do I really want to keep doing this job? And that’s true for whether it was hourly employees. I mean there’s still, you know, two and a half million people in the US workforce that have never returned to work. And it has economists scratching their heads like, and labor experts, like, why, where are they at? Where did they go? They’re not hiding on an island somewhere. But I think that everybody, you know, the employees leaving in droves and I’m not gonna call it the great resignation, I’m sorry I even said the words.

Matt Alder (8m 42s):
It’s too late now.

Kevin Grossman (8m 43s):
I know it’s too late now. But I mean, people just, you know, like I want something different. I want to do something different. And so what we found is that we actually, candidates have told us and through our data that communication and feedback loops, in general, have gotten worse. Now, there are high-performing companies and high-rated companies in our research every year, those are the ones that win our awards that we call the candies or the Candidate Experience Awards that are above average ratings. We do have those, but it’s still, it’s the majority of the candidates this last year have set communication and feedback breakdowns actually. Things taking much longer to– I mean, I’ll give you an example, best practice that we see in the highest rated companies every year is that at the point of application, candidates who are not qualified are more likely to be dispositioned within three to five days and within at the most one to two weeks.

Kevin Grossman (9m 46s):
And that is good because if they’re not qualified, you should tell them and let them know and focus on the people you wanna screen and hire. Period, end of sentence. Don’t hold on to people until you fill a rack because that could be weeks or months later. And that just adds to again, resentment. And again, another thing just to be clear about, when I say resentment, I mean candidates who are not willing to ever apply again, refer others, have any brand affinity, or if you’re a consumer business, be a customer even. That’s something that we’ve been measuring for a long time. So that’s one specific example. And, unfortunately, what we found in our data is that a third of all the candidates this last year still had not heard back about any next steps at all.

Kevin Grossman (10m 32s):
Or they claimed not being dispositioned or rejected one to two plus months after they applied. And that’s up from the year before. So it was actually the pandemic started to decline a little bit. But there’s still a lot of people when you project that out to the global candidate market, a third of the candidates are not hearing back after almost two-plus months. I mean, that should not be happening, especially for those we know the many that are not qualified when they’re applying for a job across job types, hourly professional management. It doesn’t matter. Let them know, the unqualified folks.

Matt Alder (11m 9s):
Absolutely. I suppose to focus in on the positives here, you know, you mentioned, you know, every year you recognize companies who are doing this and, you know, are doing this well or at least doing this above, you know, average. Who are some of the employers that have stood out in the last 12 months?

Kevin Grossman (11m 29s):
So every year we, again, the companies that are above average in ratings, it’s not just about the top 10 or the top 25 because what we wanted to do early on when this program was put together was to recognize those that are just, that are raising the bar, period, that are above average. So to give you an example of some of the companies and the brands this last year that are– They’re not necessarily doing it right all of the time. They’re doing more of the things that we see across the candidate journey better most of the time. They’re more consistent with how they deliver recruiting and hiring. So when we look at even– Well, some of the highest rated companies from this last year include Hogue Memorial Presbyterian Hospital, for example, DDL, which is a learning company, appeal sciences.

Kevin Grossman (12m 18s):
One of our big segments is also healthcare. So Presbyterians, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Virtusa, and they been one of our global winners, ConAgra brands, and that’s just to list some of the names. Walgreens, Inspire brands, I mean the list goes on. They are doing, for example, they are the dispositioning within three to five days for example. They are ensuring that, and one of the biggest, I’ll tell you on a positive side, I know I was going negative for a little bit there, Matt. So on the positive side, one of the biggest differentiators every year and especially the highest rated companies, some of those which I have just named, they are giving feedback to finalists.

Kevin Grossman (13m 5s):
This is a big positive differentiator every single year. It’s something that all candidates want, right? We want to hear why you’re not gonna pursue me. Give me some feedback. And even for those who get hired, I mean usually, they’re the ones that will get the feedback because they are gonna come on board. But those who have made it to final stages and are not gonna be pursued, giving them some specific job fit qualification status every single year is a huge differentiator. In fact, the highest trade companies are doing it so much more often that they have a 50% higher willingness to refer net promoter score, meaning their candidates are 50% more likely to refer others and they still didn’t get the job at the end of the day.

Kevin Grossman (13m 53s):
It’s not a direct correlation. There’s just too many variables that are involved across the candidate journey, but it’s this very strong relationship, that’s one of the key things that they’re doing. And a lot of, I know a lot of organizations around the world there, there is a, you know, legal counsel worries about what you tell candidates. And I just did a workshop at a conference that was a great workshop and one of the questions that came up is like, well, I understand about feedback but you know, what if it comes to cultural fit and like how would we position that? You don’t say any of that, please. Don’t talk about cultural fit. That’s not the kind of feedback that we’re talking about because that’s where you can get in trouble.

Kevin Grossman (14m 35s):
What we’re talking about is did they have the experience, skills that you were looking for or not? Or if they didn’t have it, then let them know why. And it doesn’t even have to be framed as a negative. It can be framed as we recommend you go do X, Y, and Z and then maybe apply for some of these other jobs, make a recommendation. And technology in recruiting automation can help do that now too besides the human interaction. I can recommend other jobs. I can stay, you know, in contact with you and nurture you. But it’s that feedback is one of the biggest differentiators every single year in our research.

Matt Alder (15m 18s):
You also mentioned the research, the importance of a fair interview process. What does that actually mean?

Kevin Grossman (15m 27s):
Well, so fairness is very subjective. We know that, especially as it relates to how we’re framing it. So we do ask the candidates a variety of questions about each stage, including the screening and interview process. And we ask them how fair do you think the interview process was? Well, fairness can vary depending on how I feel during the day, right? And we know that. But what we also know is when companies are adhering to a structured interview process. So just big picture, it is a consistent process and a set of questions that I’m asking candidates regardless of job type. I mean it may vary by job type, but every candidate has the same experience with the recruiters, with the hiring managers and we are adhering to that.

Kevin Grossman (16m 18s):
Not only is that more of a fair process, having a structured process, it also helps, we would argue with selection, making better selection decisions. It can help reduce bias. It doesn’t remove bias. Nothing has done that yet. Not even technology. It helps to reduce bias and it is definitely the perceived fairness is quite dramatic. In fact, overall the highest rate of companies in our research, they definitely are focused more on a structured interview process. They tell us this and their overall candidate’s willingness to refer increases over a hundred percent when it comes to interview fairness.

Kevin Grossman (16m 58s):
Again, subjective. But we know that if they’re doing this, they’re doing a lot of the things as well around that, that makes biggest difference. But again, a structured interview process consistent across job types makes a big difference. And in a timely fashion too, right? And we’re we’re talking about more of a limited number. We find that as the number of interviews stretch to four, five plus and beyond, there is definitely a negative relationship in ratings. Sentiment begins to drop dramatically the more interviews candidates says they had at the end of the day.

Kevin Grossman (17m 39s):
But anyway, a structured interview process and really these are also companies, Matt, by the way, that have embedded and have SLAs with their hiring managers trying to get them to adhere to this structured process. It makes a big difference in the screening and interview process at the end of the day.

Matt Alder (18m 2s):
One of the topics that has been coming through from a number of the people that I’ve spoken to this year is TA’s role in internal mobility. What about internal candidates? How are the sort of the best companies dealing with those?

Kevin Grossman (18m 15s):
So what we find is that there has been a movement in what I’ll call our candy community. And not just with the high, the companies that are above average in ratings, but to trying to differentiate that experience. I mean because the focus has shifted more to retention. You have to, and I’ve always said, you have to constantly re-recruit to retain individuals and companies have not necessarily done a really good job of that. I mean, you just look at the numbers, how many people have left the past two years and continue to leave companies that they no longer want to be at for whatever reason that is. And so the candidates themselves, at the end of the day, the internal candidates, there is more differentiation that’s starting to happen.

Kevin Grossman (19m 2s):
I mean we find in our data and research that internal candidates definitely get more feedback, not even at the finalist stage, just across the board than external will ever, ever get in our data. Internal always gets more attention. There’s more interaction with the hiring managers internally and as it should be because again, this is a retention issue at the end of the day. And companies that are more willing to not have fiefdoms in regards to like, I don’t wanna lose this person in my division, so I’m not gonna share, I’m not gonna be supportive of this internal move. Those that are more– I mean it’s about retention for the greater business good at the end of the day.

Kevin Grossman (19m 43s):
So there is more feedback and attention paid to internal candidates, but there’s not a lot of differentiation on the front end though. Not yet, at least when it comes to applying early on. Sometimes, it’s almost this maybe the same application process that external candidates have that the internal career sites are not that good overall. But I think that there’s definitely been a focus and attention and I know we’re actually starting a pilot program about the internal candidate experience kind as an ad an addendum to our core benchmark research that we’re gonna experiment with some companies this year and see if it’s something that more companies wanna focus on.

Kevin Grossman (20m 27s):
And so far I think that is the trend. Again, it’s a big focus on retention and that and what relates to that, Matt, too with the internal experience, it’s also why what everybody, what we’re calling pre-boarding now. So that time between accepting the offer and starting the new position, whether I’m an internal or external candidate, there’s a lot more of resources being applied to that group. And that is, we find that the more nurturing and engagement you can give those hires before they start that new position, the more likely they are to be in that position, at least out of the gate.

Kevin Grossman (21m 8s):
But in the internal focus has definitely been something that we’re hearing more about and companies that are wanting to differentiate to, to help improve retention. And I’m glad to see that HR is partnering more with TA to do this. It’s not like a handoff. And now I don’t– I don’t touch this anymore. Again, you’re having to re-recruit to retain.

Matt Alder (21m 29s):
Absolutely. So as a final question, what do you think we can expect to see in terms of Candidate Experience in 2023? And I suppose, there’s two aspects to this. I mean, first of all, there are a number of sectors that are experiencing layoffs at the moment and, you know, that’s having a direct effect on lots of talent acquisition teams, at the same time with things like ChatGPT, AI seems to have moved right in the center of everyone’s radar. So, what effect do you think the continuing economic uncertainty, but also the rapid development of technology are gonna have on the Candidate Experience over the next sort of 12 to 24 months?

Kevin Grossman (22m 12s):
I’ve never claimed to be a soothsayer, Matt, but I can tell you what I think is going to happen, and again, we’ll see what happens in our core benchmark data and other projects that we’re focused on like the internal experience. But I think that a lot of companies have been hitting the breaks, even those who aren’t laying off hiring has slowed. Although we are starting a kind of a monthly pulse research survey and we’re gonna release the first results this next week and do it on a monthly basis that the companies that have responded so far are still mostly hiring and only a smaller percentage said they’ve laid off and frozen.

Kevin Grossman (22m 53s):
Yes, we’ve seen in the media the tech layoffs. There will be layoffs that continue. Companies are kind of riding the brakes. Hopefully, we’re not gonna hit gridlock on the highway right now, but I do worry though, one of the things that also impacted this, and I’m sure you know this too, with a lot of the organizations that you talk to and work with, there’s been a lot of churn in TA and Recruiting, whether they’ve been laid off or folks that are just, they’re fried, they’re burned out. TA leaders have been burned out. They’re leaving their jobs, they’re going to other jobs. So a lot of, I mean, just anecdotally, we have companies that are going to participate in our research again this year that maybe even have won a candy in the past.

Kevin Grossman (23m 41s):
And there’s no historical knowledge of that. Like the team is completely new. And when we tell them that, they’re like, “Oh, we didn’t know that we participated.” And we’re kind of hearing that more and more. So I think that’s gonna ultimately because we find that the hardest thing that we see for companies to do is sustaining a quality recruiting and hiring a candidate experience over time. It’s the hardest thing that we’ve seen and all these things that are impacting the business, including the current economy right now. I worry we’ll continue to see resentment kind of simmer and maybe even increase again in 2023 because of just poor communication and feedback loops, with the exception again, of the above-average rated companies in our research.

Kevin Grossman (24m 27s):
I think that’s gonna be more of the, unfortunately, more of the norm. And I hope though, I have a hope that there will be this renewed focus though, on retention, on the internal experience, and make improvements there. But when you have– I mean if, you have changes in the business, leadership changes on the HR and recruiting team, changes in your own recruiting team, merger and acquisition activity. The list goes on. It sets companies back, I would argue. And as it relates to what we measure, it does. And I kind of worry we’re gonna see more of that this year.

Matt Alder (25m 5s):
And do you think technology will make a difference?

Kevin Grossman (25m 8s):
I think technologies already have made a difference. I’m a big proponent of smart recruiting technologies, especially a AI-related machine learning, natural lang language processing. I mean, I know that in our data and research, when candidates are getting communications where there was none before and that’s usually because of automation, there is a positive sentiment to that. Candidates wanna be engaged and communicated with. Everybody wants to talk to a human. Especially early on at the point of application, but it will make a difference with communication. Yes, but at the end of the day, those people that you’re actually getting to the screening and interviewing and hiring, that’s where more human interaction must happen still.

Kevin Grossman (25m 54s):
And where there’s a greater investment between the candidates and the employers, that’s where I would argue companies have more to lose. If I apply and I’m just not qualified, I’m gonna be mad probably that maybe I didn’t hear back or you told me that you’re not gonna pursue me. I want to get feedback. You’re not gonna get feedback if you apply and you’re not qualified. It’s just not gonna happen. And I empathize with all candidates with this, but that’s just the reality. But if I make it in the running and I’m getting to, you know, second, third final interviews and may maybe still fall short of getting the offer, there needs to be some exchange of why at that point.

Kevin Grossman (26m 38s):
And that’s the thing I hope companies try to double down on at the end. But automation definitely will continue to help. I’ve been playing with ChatGPT, I know a lot of folks in our industry have been talking about it. It’s fascinating. I think there’s some amazing use cases. I think anything that helps to improve communication and get content started for your recruiting and hiring efforts. And I think it’s great. There’s some things that I’m still, you know, a little concerned about the impact on critical thinking. But that’s another podcast for another time, Matt. But I mean otherwise, I think automation definitely will help, but we can’t– The people that you’re screening and interviewing, making offers to and pre-boarding, you’ve got to double down on that investment.

Matt Alder (27m 26s):
Kevin, thank you very much for talking to me.

Kevin Grossman (27m 28s):
Thanks, Matt, I appreciate it.

Matt Alder (27m 31s):
My thanks to Kevin. Just before we end the show, I just wanna say how excited I am to be attending Unleash at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks’ time. Please come and say hello if you’re there and I’ll be doing some live podcasting from the expo floor. If you haven’t yet got your ticket, if you go to, that’s Unleashed.AI/UnleashAmerica, you can use the discount code Recruiting Future 20 ATT-SH, that’s Recruiting Future 20 ATT-SH to get a 20% discount.

Matt Alder (28m 12s):
You can Subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at On that site, you can also Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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