Bad applicant experiences? It's not them. It's you.

Applicant experience

Having a good applicant experience is a major building block of successful hiring. But many companies end up working against themselves, with prohibitive hiring practices that inadvertently slow hiring and leave applicants with a bad taste in their mouth.

But what are these applicant experience pitfalls? And how can you go about improving the hiring process for your current and future applicants? We spoke to four independent companies to find out their experiences: what they did wrong, and how they went about improving.

The Mistakes.

After talking to these companies, we identified six key mistakes. Let’s take a closer look.

1. Drawn-out interview processes.

It’s natural for companies to want to be thorough when assessing a possible new hire. However, there’s a big difference between two-stage thorough and five-stage thorough. One recent article about the modern job interview process outlined SIX stages – not including the screening call!

Thankfully, the companies we spoke to were never that excessive. But even they pushed the limits; one had a four-stage interview, along with one take-home technical test.

The issue with having so many stages is that it can lead to interview fatigue – both for applicants and your hiring team. Long interview processes also make it more likely that applicants will be given other offers – especially when the applicants in question come from today’s high-demand tech talent pool.

2. Lack of communication.

Which leads on to the next point; the longer you dally in making a decision of whether or not to make an offer to a candidate, the more likely it is that they’ll be lost to another company. To put it simply: you snooze, you lose!

That being said, don’t just throw offers out before you’re sure! What you can do instead is ensure your applicants stay engaged throughout the process. This can be done by staying in contact with them in between interviews, and by condensing your interview process as much as possible.

Equally important is that you properly communicate with the applicants you decide not to move forward with. If you work with recruiters, be sure to give them feedback to pass on to applicants after an interview. And once you decide not to go forward with somebody, don’t delay in telling them.

3. Misaligned interview expectations.

In one of the companies that we interviewed – a fairly new start-up – they found that their interview process suffered from a certain bipolarity due to each of the interviewers having differing opinions of how to interview.

This is actually a very common problem. When interviewers’ methods aren’t aligned, the result is a confusing mess – one that, most critically, often results in interviewers leaving interviews unsure of whether or not the applicant would be a good fit for the role.

4. Old-school interview methods.

Back in the day, the interview technique of choice was to hammer applicants with lines of questioning, reminiscent of police interrogations on TV.

This doesn’t work. Interrogation-style interviews make applicants feel unwelcome and uncomfortable with the company. An easy way to improve the applicant experience is to approach interviews with a more conversational, guiding tone. After all, the aim is to find out how they handle themselves on a normal, day-by-day basis – not when they feel like they’re up for ten years to life!

5. Unnecessary tests and practices.

The internet is rife with articles that offer advice such as “How to Trip Up Your Applicants During Interview!” and “Five Trick Questions for Interviewers”. Many companies, not knowing better, seek to emulate larger companies such as Google and Goldman-Sachs by employing these ‘quirky’ interview techniques, thinking they’ll offer some insight into the applicant’s mind.

The truth, however, is that they simply don’t work. Every study into these “problem solving” hypotheticals has found that they fail to actually unearth relevant traits. They aren’t quantifiably beneficial, and instead seem to be used as a smokescreen for enabling “gut feel” hiring.

6. Irrelevant or misdirected interview questions.

Similar to the above, another tactic that tends to cause more harm than good is the tendency to ask questions that don’t actually relate much to the job in question. While it’s fine to get a feel for an applicant’s broader skills base, disqualifying applicants based on previously unmentioned criteria that exist solely in the interviewer’s mind is a sure-fire way to hobble your interview process and leave applicants feeling discontented with your company and your methods.

Instead, ensure that all interviewers have an agreed-upon set of qualifying criteria pre-established before the interview. Doing so will mean that the questions and tasks asked during the interview help determine an applicant’s suitability based on actual business needs, rather than individual biases. Transparency is always your friend!

The Fixes.

The good news is that all the companies we investigated had successfully managed to change their interview practices and, by doing so, improve their applicant experience.

Here are some of the most productive steps that they took:

1. Streamlining the interview process.

Instead of having multiple stages that required applicants to attend interviews in-person, the companies added an extra layer of in-depth telephone screening. By doing this, they saved time for applicants, and ensured that everyone who they met at their office was a serious contender for the role.

2. Prioritising applicants’ time.

When multiple interviews were required, they went to lengths to make sure that the applicants could meet everyone necessary in a single day, preventing them having to travel into the office multiple times. And, if an important interviewer was unable to attend, they would schedule a more casual meet-up over coffee for the interviewer and the applicant.

3. Undergoing interview training to align hiring expectations.

By attending the same training and agreeing on a consistent framework, all of the interviewers were able to align their expectations and their interview methods.

Doing this meant that they could work together as a cohesive team, even when they were conducting separate interviews. It also meant that, when it came time to deciding on whether or not to make an offer, the interviewers were definitively able to say yes or no.

4. Becoming more open and engaging with applicants.

The companies also made strides to make the interview process less intimidating and more friendly. One company introduced an internal interview crib sheet that outlined interview must-dos such as offering applicants some water and conducting a quick office tour at the start of the day.

By doing this, they ensured that all applicants would have the same, positive experience. This welcoming procedure also helped to make applicants feel more wanted, better enabling them to see how they would fit into the company.

    Key Takeaways

    It’s time to take your mum’s advice: treat people the way you would want to be treated.

    The old-school interview methodology of intimidating and grilling applicants is one that deserves to stay in the past. Instead, treat your applicants like the potential employees they are. Even if you decide they’re not the best fit, you want them to leave an interview champing at the bit, eager to work for you in the future.

    So, offer your applicants a drink before the interview. Show them around the office; perhaps even introduce them to the people and tools they might be working with. Doing this not only gives applicants a good impression of your company culture and team but will also give you a chance to get a feel for the applicant’s less formal personality.

    Less is more! As much as possible, try to condense your interview process.

    You don’t need a five-stage interview with two take-home tests. Trust us on this. As much as possible, try to limit it to just one or two (max!) face-to-face interviews. This can easily be done by thoroughly vetting applicants over the phone beforehand, so that you know those you see meet certain key criteria. This, in turn, lets you focus on other considerations.

    On top of that, make sure your interviewers know what they are actually looking for in an applicant. While it may seem obvious, often different interviewers have different expectations and judgement criteria – which can lead to disconnect and confusion both during the interview and after.

    Work with your recruiter or hiring team to ensure applicants are prepared.

    Nobody is at their best when they’re nervous or stressed. And while it may seem like a good idea to use interviews as a way to test how your applicant does under pressure, in the long-term this won’t identify the best fit for your team.

    That’s why we recommend that you establish must-have criteria before the interview, and tell your applicants what they will need to prepare for. This allows them to relax and feel more secure in terms of your expectations of them, which in turn will lead to them showcasing their competencies and capability to you within the interview more completely.

    Communication is key.

    Most importantly, make sure you stay in contact with your applicants and give them updates. This can make the difference between an applicant feeling supported and engaged, or feeling unappreciated and forgotten. If your decision-making process will be a long one, warn the applicants. If they don’t make the cut and don’t quite fit this role, tell them. Show them you appreciate their efforts, regardless of the outcome!

    A study found that 65% of applicants never or rarely get told they didn’t get the job. And applicants who are not informed of the status or decision of their application are 3.5x less likely to re-apply to the same company. 72% of those applicants also said that they have or would share their bad experience either online or with those they know. That means that, in London’s interconnected tech talent pool, one applicant’s bad experience could have serious long-term effects on your employer brand.