What If You Helped Candidates Prepare For the Interview?

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Jan 24, 2020
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

It’s safe to say that the candidate experience was a hot topic for recruiters in 2019, and there’s a good reason for it. There’s a talent shortage, yet now more than ever candidates are taking to sites like Glassdoor to complain about their experiences with prospective employers.

How is it, that despite bending over backwards to make a good first impression, employers are still consistently getting it wrong? The last year brought a slew of statistics. We threw around shocking numbers about recruiter response rates and candidates’ willingness to spread the word about your company’s less-than-PC interview. We made a million and one guides about how, if only, you mapped out your candidate journey, you could truly improve your candidates’ experience.

But the reality is, we still haven’t really cracked the code. Candidates are still annoyed, and employers will struggle to cater to ever-shifting candidate desires.

What did we miss?

While companies were busy fixing response rates and ensuring candidates knew how to arrive at the office on time, they forgot a crucial component of the whole experience: the candidate.

Just because the word “candidate” dominates the concept of the candidate experience, the reality was that the candidate at hand seemed to remain out of focus. In the panic to capture a dwindling audience of qualified candidates, employers sought to fix the “candidate experience problem,” with the factors most immediately and obviously in their control.

Process focus

So far the conversation around the candidate experience has centered primarily around the process. We tick off some of the easiest things on our checklist like:

Many employers have, truthfully, succeeded when it comes to creating a uniform interviewing format for their candidates. More and more, employers are analyzing their interview results. In fact, there are now tools dedicated to providing in-depth interview analysis. Companies are tweaking the points where they see the highest candidate drop-off rates. Genuinely, and for the most part, employers want their interview process to dazzle and impress their candidates, which can only be a good thing, right?

The emotional aspect

But in the laser-like focus on the process, we’ve forgotten the important factors that are sometimes beyond our control: The emotional baggage that comes with each candidates’ job search. They fell in love with your job posting, they just got rejected from several other promising positions, they’re looking for a better work culture, the list can go on.

While many candidates have different priorities when it comes to their next job, there are some emotional commonalities:

  • High-stress – For many, interviewing at a new company is a high-stress situation. Often candidates are no longer happy in their position or are looking to take the next big step in their career. It’s not an easy decision to make, so naturally, the process is accompanied by a fair amount of stress.
  • Interview anxiety – It should come as no surprise that interviewing is not everyone’s strong suit.
  • Uncertainty – Candidates want the job, but are not always certain about what they need to do to get it. And it goes beyond what they can expect from the process. Are you looking for answers that highlight their soft skills? Or do you want in-depth case study-like examples? Maybe you want them to mirror your work cultural values?
  • Anticipation – Most candidates don’t interview (sometimes, even multiple times) without really wanting the job. It’s natural that candidates anxiously or hopefully await the results of their interviews.

Cleaning up your interview process can help alleviate some of these emotional components, but there are always unexpected reactions that can’t be managed by a standardized process. When a candidate gets rejected from a job they really wanted, does it matter that they got a quick response when they applied?

Candidate empowerment

What can we actually do to improve the candidate experience? While every recruiter loves the time-old, “interviewing is a lot like dating” analogy, the way most interviews are set up in this analogy is completely uneven.

On one side of the table, you have someone who has the upper hand (conversationally, financially) and, on the other, someone who’s uncertain, stressed, and, frankly, just trying to impress their date long enough to get a second one.

This is why we need to go back to the basics. We need to not only treat candidates like humans that carry emotional “baggage”, but also like equal partners at the table.

This is what some people are calling candidate empowerment.

Candidate empowerment is the not-so-radical notion that we should be treating our candidates like equals at the interview table. And while this may not seem so different, it requires a real shift in some attitudes that go beyond tinkering with your recruitment process.

Essentially, the purpose of the interview shifts. It shouldn’t necessarily be about getting to know the candidate — qualifying them against the requirements of the role, your company culture, or their team fit — but rather about finding out what they want from you.

Help them prepare

Seeing the candidate experience with candidate empowerment in focus can help you frame better conversations that manage expectations and assist in a better mutual match. You might share your core values and company culture with your candidates before their first interview rather than hoping their answers match up. Ask them to consider what they need to be successful in this role. Or ask them to prepare questions for the interview rather than prompting generic questions about the interviewer’s favorite part about working there.

It might seem like you’re helping your candidates prepare for the interview. And you are; that’s precisely the point. It should come as no surprise that students who study before an exam are less likely to experience stress/anxiety and earn better test results than those that do not.

I think it’s easy to agree that many interviews imitate the same test-taking environment, after all that seems to be where much of this “emotional baggage” lies. So why not reduce the stress by helping candidates feel prepared and ready to impress the interviewers?

In sum, candidate empowerment is about helping your candidates be successful. And not just by sending them instructions on how to find your office the day before, but rather helping them prepare to put their best foot forward.

Create an environment where your candidates can control just as much of the conversation as your interviewers. Tell them about what your team needs to know about them, let them frame their experience and skills in that context.

Candidate empowerment requires a mentality shift. It requires us to look at candidates not just as potential employees, but real partners in the workplace. And this is only possible when we stop talking about the candidate experience and really focus on the individual candidate.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.