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Charles Summers: Demand Generation Manager
Stacy Smiel: Client Engagement Manager

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Introduction:

Here’s the bigger picture: employees are the basis for any organization. Better employees drive a better business. How do you get better employees? Today we will talk about improving the employer brand and the candidate experience to do things like drive a larger talent pool, attract better talent in general, reduce drop-off in the application process.

These things have a direct effect on the quality of employee that you hire. These higher quality employees lead to better organizational resources. Think customer services for industries like restaurants, retail, hospitality, healthcare, and more.

We recently did a case study on Chilies where they were able to improve their server sales by 81 cents per check. And that was just by improving their server staff.

Better resources lead to improved company core competencies. You can become a more innovative company and the quality of products and services improve.

What happens when your product and services get better? People buy more from you and less from your competitors, leading to increased revenue and market share.

Branding essentially gives meaning to a company; their product and their services. Its purpose is to make customers think about them in a certain way. Branding comes before and underlies marketing efforts. If you think about marketing as a more of a push to an audience, but when you think about branding it’s more of a pull. It encourages someone to buy a product and it directly supports sales and marketing initiatives.

Here’s the difference: a brand does not say, “Buy me.” It says, “This is what I am, this is why I exist and if you agree and like me, you can buy me, show your support and give recommendations to peers.”

So where does branding occur? It could be paid advertising on LinkedIn; that’s something that we do at OutMatch.

Product design. Think about the product itself and the packing that it comes in. When you go to a grocery store you see generic brands vs household names. Which are you most likely to recognize with?

Sponsorships. For example, we do four webinars a year with HCI; that helps us brand ourselves.

In-store displays. For example, with Pepsi, you see that every time you go into a store. There’s always a big Pepsi display; that’s branding.

Pricing is also a direct reflection of a brand.

Also, visuals like your logos and your colors; those are also a reflection of your brand.

All these things are there to help you show your brand in a certain way. To paint a certain picture in somebody’s mind about you. We here at OutMatch recently went through a total brand overhaul with our founding companies. When our founding companies checked and access systems merged to create OutMatch that meant an all-new style guide and the way we talk about ourselves. New Ads, new website, new products, more investments in sponsorships to help get our name out with all new colors and logos.

The goal of all of this is to attract and retain customers. So if you think about it from an employer brand standpoint, replace the word customers with employees.

What does employer branding look like exactly? Rather than promoting to consumers in hopes they buy, employer branding gives meaning to a company and what it’s like to work there in hopes to attract candidates.

Its purpose is to make candidates and employees think about them in a certain way. It happens all the same places that corporate and consumer branding occur, but more specifically it occurs in places like the career page, applicant tracking system, your assessments that you do pre-hire, interviews and any other place that you have interaction with a candidate.

The employment experience is another place. This promotes word of mouth and better reviews. Just like consumer branding we want them to tell their peers.

You’ll see it in third party places like Glassdoor, the better your reviews the more likely you are to appear in a positive light for job seekers.

And lastly in the content that you’re putting out there in those different places. For example, if you have new hire documents, one-pagers, infographics, articles in PR. Any one of these things that you’re putting out into the world.

You do all of this in hopes to attract a higher quality candidate, increase acceptance and retain employees. These things have a direct effect on the success of your company.

When talking about employer branding, for example, is when you have Pepsi branding on an employee’s shirt, which is putting them in a positive light. You can have pictures of smiling employees with the brand in the picture.

What can you do to start improving your employer brand?

Step one: Align with the company brand. What is the company’s product and purpose? Do your values, goals, and culture all align? Think about if your current employees align with those things. Are they going to help you achieve those goals? If not, think about the type of employee it would take to accomplish it. Schedule a time to meet with the marketing team and people in charge of the corporate branding. These people have the best insight in the company brand, and it’s always good to bounce ideas off someone. Go to them prepared with your ideas, and get their feedback. That is a great opportunity to get additional ideas from experts, talk about an implementation strategy of your branding and align yourselves.

Step two: Think about your employee and target them. Find people in your organization who fit the description of your ideal employee or top performers and study them. What do they do well? What is their personality like? Are they innovative, thoughtful, problem solvers? Whatever that might use this information to build a candidate persona and talk to those people directly through your various branding channels.

What does the company offer to current and future employees? What do employees at the company value in the company and in themselves? What are some accomplishments of the company? These are all things that will help you differentiate your company from competitors. Promote office perks, benefits and other things that your employees care about; get the message out there.

Once these people are in your funnel, use the data you gathered from studying your ideal employees and match candidates to that persona. Assessment technology is just one example of something that can help you find the competencies of those top performers, organize the data and match desirable candidates.

Step Three: Your content strategy. To start off, make sure all of your content is consistent, aligns with the corporate message and aligns with your target audience; this is very important. Do an inventory of your current content and if it doesn’t align toss it, or refresh it. Create a content creation calendar. This will help keep your content from being dated and help you prepare for those high-volume times of the year. For example, summer hiring for restaurants; holidays for retail. Set deadlines for new, attractive pieces of content for prospective employees. Make sure a branding person, and designer takes a look at every piece to ensure it aligns and portrays the message that you’re trying to get across.

Content comes in many forms, so get creative. There’s hiring documents, infographics, e-books, audio files, etc. Set a date for distribution as well. The channels in which distribution occur include places like job boards, career fairs, websites, social media, blogs, and things like that.

Step four: The candidate experience. Remember it’s very important to continue employer branding throughout the candidate and employee experience. Get employees excited about where they work; offer great benefits, outings, etc. These people are your brand ambassadors.

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Poll: What is your biggest concern with the candidate experience? 

  1. Qualified candidate drop-off.
  2. Misleading expectations.
  3. Losing potential customers.
  4. Loading repeat applicants.

By far the majority of you are worried about the qualified candidate drop off. You want to make sure you’re retaining those individuals who are going to be high potential performers in your role. Another key concern is misleading expectations. So how do you make sure that you are being super transparent about what these candidates can expect from the role and from the culture? Making your organization and the job seem super desirable without adding too much of a silver lining or being completely misleading. We’ll get into some of this content now.

The first thing is why is the candidate experience so experience? First of all, we understand that this year about 40% of employers who hire domestically and globally are experiencing shortages of talent. Across the board what we’re hearing in many of our client’s verticals is that they’re having trouble sourcing and finding quality candidates. Additionally, what we’re seeing as of September 2017 there’s a 4.4% unemployment rate. This means that there are more open jobs than there are unemployed individuals. So right now it’s more important now than ever before to make it clear to your market what differentiates your organization as a desirable place to work.

The competition to draw qualified talent to your organization and keep them engaged is very high. We’re seeing cases where some of our client’s competition are directly, or indirectly poaching their talent, either by making it clear through messaging how they might be more desirable, such as offering higher than local average wages or salary for very similar types of jobs.

Another reason the candidate experience is so important is that it can make or break the relationship that you’re building with your candidates and potential new hires. As they’re going through and learning about your organization and interacting with the various members, whether through automated messaging on your website, going through your application process, or even talking to your recruiters, you want to make sure that you’re presenting them with a delightful experience that is going to make them want to come back to you and be part of your organization.

One of the ways that we can help you start to identify problems with the candidate experience is digging into some questions. The first question to ask yourself is how long is your entire application process? Put yourself in the shoes of the candidate. The candidate is spending on average an hour per job just doing research, and preparing their resume, customizing and tweaking that resume and cover level, specifically for professional level roles, to go ahead and put their best foot forward. So, have you and your team gone through and actually tested the process?  From reviewing your job description through to submitting a test application, a test resume, and seeing what kind of follow-up you get.

From what we’ve learned the majority of candidates will quit an application process due to its length or perceived unnecessary complexity.

We’ve seen a client that had a 45-min long assessment for hourly level retail roles. Again, this is an hourly level role, so asking a candidate to go through and take 45 minutes to take an assessment, we were seeing a lot of drop-offs there. Once this particular client went ahead and cut down the assessment to about a 15-20 minute length they saw their completion soar up to about 97%. So being respectful of the candidate’s time and their experience is really going to increase the completion rates that you see with the individuals that are being drawn to your organization.

Another question you might ask yourself is do you send a notification to the candidates about the application? Again, put yourself in the shoes of a job seeker. If you’re going through submitting your application resume, filling in all the questions online, maybe to a retail manager role. Imagine now that you don’t hear any response, you might assume that a human may have never actually reviewed your application or resume. In some cases, we hear that candidates don’t receive any sort of communication until one-two months later after submitting their job information and resume. At that point, a lot of candidates have already moved on in their job search process.

So how likely do you think it is that that candidate would be to reapply to your company?

Another thing that you can do above and beyond following up and this may be specific just to professional level roles, is offering constructive feedback to the candidate. Anybody who has recently applied to jobs or gone through this process can relate. But getting any sort of feedback in terms of why they weren’t considered for the role, or what happened in terms of closing out the role. Did they find somebody that had better fit qualifications? That could improve the perceptions that a candidate has to your organization and make them more likely to reapply in the future.

Another way to identify a problem with the candidate experience, you may ask yourself, “Are we seeking feedback directly from candidates about their experience?” Only about a quarter of employers that we know of are currently doing this regularly. As we know candidates will share information with others either in person or online, so make sure that you and your team are doing your best to stay aware of what trends are emerging from candidate experiences. You can start with Google search, go on Glassdoor, look at different message boards online and get a sense of what candidates are saying.

We do have one particular client in the retail space who uses surveys to learn about perceptions of their hiring process. Through that process, they actually learned that expectations they actually learned that expectations were not being set properly with candidates up front. So, in terms of what the role was like, what the organization was like, those expectations were not clear. Once these candidates were actually hired into the job we saw a link between those poorly set expectations and actual dissatisfaction on the job. So, having this survey in place our client was able to use this feedback to go ahead and tweak the process. They talked to their recruiters, they revisited their job descriptions, and their company description on their website and they were able to clear up and add more transparency to expectations they were setting about their jobs and their organization up front. If they hadn’t sought out this type of feedback they wouldn’t have had an opportunity to go ahead and improve it.

Some of the barriers that we have in terms of understanding the candidate experience. What we’ve seen across a lot of organizations is that there are fragmented understandings of the actual process that candidates are going through. We know everybody has their set goals, and they are working as teams to put together different processes, make sure that messaging is consistent. But with different systems talking to each other and different steps being put together, to sort through the source and bring in candidates, have you actually gone through the full process from start to finish? Testing the process for the flow, the accuracy of information, how consistent your voice is in this process, how respectful you’re being of the candidate time. Just making sure that this is something that you’re putting into regular practice.

You’d be surprised how many times we’ve gone through this process, and each person in an organization has tested their own part of the process, but in a lot of cases, we have seen organizations that haven’t tested all the way through to get a sense of what the candidates are experiencing.

Another barrier might be not listening or being ignorant to that candidate feedback. So not doing those Google searches, or not implementing some type of survey to capture candidate feedback about the process. What that means essentially is that we see organizations that are not actively seeking or researching what candidates have to say about the company. So they might not even be aware of what’s being said.

Now there are two types you can take here. There are the employment brand and candidate experience. Seeking this information from both is very important, and that’s what we’ve seen across clients as well. Asking your current employees how they would define the culture, is it accurate with what is being described in your employment branding? And then asking for feedback from the candidates; having a sense of what the candidate experience truly is, is going to help you understand what steps you have to take to bridge the gap between where you currently stand within the candidate experience and where you want to be with that process.

Another barrier we see is defining the company from the inside out. In your strategy meetings, and your board meetings we see cases where clients might be actually creating messaging that focuses on what employees want to see. And what they want the public to think about their company’s reputation. While that’s helpful it’s not creating true transparency into what the culture is truly like to the organization. So, seeking out that feedback from your current employees or candidates that are currently going through the process is going to allow you to put the steps into place to set goals to help you meet that desired end state of what you want the public to truly think and take away from their experience with your company, whether as a candidate or as a current employee.

That certainly isn’t going to happen from the inside with how everybody would like to think of the organization. Collecting information from individuals across levels at your company as well as those that are outside of your company is really going to help make you aware and have a true sense of what transparency will look like in your messaging.

How to fix the candidate experience. 

First and foremost, you need to focus on designing a complete process. So, going through, looking for consistent messaging, whether it’s on your website, your job descriptions, through your ATS system, making sure you have a similar voice, setting clear expectations on each step that a candidate will have to take in going through the application process, when they might expect to hear back from you, how much of their time they can anticipate investing in this application process.

Go through and test, make sure the steps are easy to follow. Are you putting out accurate, descriptive information of what the application process looks like? Do you have a protocol in place for follow-up? We all know that a lot of companies have that automated follow-up e-mail: Thank-you, you’ve submitted your application. What happens after that step? Are your recruiters reaching out directly? Is there another follow-up e-mail letting candidates know that the job has been closed out? Really closing that loop is a common courtesy that will go a long way in the expectations being set for your candidates and how they perceive your organization moving forward.

Again that respect for candidate time. Have you gone through the whole process? Have you tested how long it takes to submit your resume and go through each step in the application process? Having an awareness of that average completion time can help you keep your fingers on the gauge of how you might improve the candidate experience.

Secondly, make sure that you’re listening to current and prospective employees. From your current employees, you may reach out and ask them for information. Most frequently we see a lot of benefit for asking for this information anonymously, so not tying the employee’s name to the feedback. But ask them about their perceptions of the current culture, how they feel about the benefits. Are they satisfied in their current role? If they are newly hired employees you might ask them how the expectations that were set for them as they were a candidate actually compared to the experience they are having on the job. So how well are you describing the company and the role before somebody is joining?

In terms of listening to your candidates, the type of information you may seek from them is the perceptions of your company. Again, this may be publicly available on different websites and message boards. You may have your recruiters asking for this type of information or setting up a very short survey asking about perceptions of the whole application process. But seeking out and being aware of that information is only going to help you to know what you’re doing well and what you might improve on.

Also prioritizing the recruitment brand and candidate experience. We know that in your strategic goals there’s always a battle for what comes first. Right now, about three-quarters of candidates in the job market believe that the candidate experience is a way to evaluate how the organization values its people. So, make a case for investing more resources into improving your company’s reputation and culture. You may start with those current employee and candidate surveys as a way of opening eyes across your organization of how things are being currently perceived and be pinning that against how your internal team wants the company to be perceived.

Getting a sense of how many open seats you have, how many jobs you have to fill. What does your candidate flow look like? This type of data will help you come to the table more prepared and able to speak to why you should prioritize investment and energy into ramping up that recruitment brand and candidate experience.

Questions? 

  1. You mentioned you can identify quality candidates using assessments. Does using them negatively affect the candidate experience? 

Answer: Not all assessments are created equally. First of all, understanding that a quality provider is going to use science and proven data to set up a predictive assessment in the shortest amount of time that it takes for candidates to provide necessary information. We do see cases where much longer assessments lead to higher amounts of drop-off which can be seen as a negative for the candidate experience. So you want to make sure you’re talking to your provider, learning about the predictive ability and the process they’re taking to set up their assessment. The true value and science that drives those scores that you’re getting back in your process will help you to understand the minimal amount of questions required, how you can respect the candidates time by not adding additional questions to the process that don’t add additional value. So again, aiming for that 15-minute survey time frame is going to help to protect you from the unnecessary drop-off. Those are some of the key points to keep in mind with that question.

  1. Are more channels for content than a few targeted ones? 

Answer: Absolutely. That could depend on the budget, but many of the channels are free. Most social media is free, but some are not for example partnerships. But even if you are targeting a certain person, tailor the content but not the distribution. The more content you can get out there the better chance you are being seen because the more content means your name is out there in more places. Make sure to add links to your website, your career page, and things like that. This is all good for search optimization or SEO. Google web crawlers will go to those links and they’ll come back to your site and things like that.

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