Candidate Experience Is Greater Than a Hiring Process

Process - Noun; ​​a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end.

Experience - Noun; an event or occurrence that leaves an impression on someone.

Experience - Verb; feel (an emotion).


When was the last time you applied for one of your company’s jobs? When was the last time you were a candidate? Have you ever interacted with a career site chatbot or received a “thanks but no thanks” auto-rejection email? 

How did it make you feel? 

What perception did it establish about the company? 

Did it create a positive or negative impression on you?

Let’s make this the year we stop using “process” to describe recruitment and hiring. Today’s candidates need HR and talent acquisition to be greater than a process. They need us to realize that every communication they have with our organization creates emotion. Every piece of content leaves an impression. Every touch point is an opportunity to build an employment relationship. Now is the time to shift our mindset from “process” to “experience.”


Following the January 2024 job report, NPR reported on the job market, calling it “a tough gig” for both employers and job seekers, and stating that “employers need workers more than workers need employers.” According to Randstad’s 2023 Global Talent Trends report, “76% of human capital leaders say talent experience has become more important to their organizations during the past 12 months.” 

Here at exaqueo, we continue to see organizations deprioritize the candidate experience. On the flip side, we also see household names investing in it, aiming to elevate the experience from merely satisfying basic needs to truly captivating the hearts and minds of potential future hires.

So, what do we mean by "candidate experience"? 

Put simply, candidate experience is the sum of all interactions between people (the candidates) and an organization (the employer). It's the cumulative set of social, digital, conversational, and experiential touchpoints one can have. It starts when a person first becomes aware that an organization exists and continues through their early days as an employee.

Candidate experience is bigger than an HR tech stack. It’s more than communications from the applicant tracking system (ATS) or any one interview. It’s all these things and more. It’s what people know, learn, feel, and do at every point along a journey.


Understanding an organization’s candidate experience requires dissecting the 'cumulative set,' uncovering priority moments that matter, and defining what 'greater than' looks like. As a former agency and corporate recruiter, I've been on the front line delivering candidate experiences. As a consultant, I dive into my clients' candidate experiences using a disciplined approach to uncover gaps.

This disciplined approach is embodied in the Employment Lifecycle and Candidate Experience Model, developed in 2020 in collaboration with exaqueo, the Talent Board, CareerXRoads, and various Fortune 500 talent acquisition executives. The team spent more than a year building, socializing, and pressure-testing the model by applying it to client work. Now, years later, we've applied the model across clients and industries, consistently demonstrating that an unbiased, rigorous approach produces actionable insights and tangible outcomes.


Candidate experience starts at Understanding and ends at Belonging.


Worldwide, there are an estimated 334 million companies. By 2026, the United States is projected to have 126,251 companies employing between 100 and 499 people (Statista). Recently, I was on a call with an HR professional representing one of the largest employers in a small, midwestern community; she is often surprised when local candidates have no idea what the company is or does. 

Unless you are Amazon, Nike, or Coca-Cola, you cannot assume people have knowledge that your organization exists, let alone be aware of your organization as an employer. Additionally, knowledge and awareness may vary by talent segment. For example, if you are a manufacturing, consumer goods, or retail company, tech talent may be less aware of your organization as a place to work. Even if they are familiar, they may have perceptions about your brand, and you will need to build trust and credibility with them.  

Here are a few ways for you to uncover whether or not candidates are aware of your organization:

  1. Google Trends: This is a free tool visualizing the data for up to five Google search requests at a time. You can filter by country, time, category, and type of web search. Try searching for your company name, name + jobs, name + careers, and name + internships in the “Jobs & Education” category to understand how often candidates are searching for careers at your company.
  2. Careers Site Traffic: Website reports will show geographically where traffic is coming from. If you are growing and hiring in South Africa, but see no site traffic from that country, that’s an indicator you’ll need to build awareness to achieve your goals.
  3. New Hire Surveys: Ask your new hires how familiar they were with your organization before applying. This can be an always-on measure to keep a pulse on your employer brand awareness. 


Once a candidate is aware an organization exists as an employer, they enter the attraction phase which, in our model, includes two key dimensions: interest and alignment. Showing interest in an employer is like deciding whether to see a movie based on watching its trailer, rather than just knowing it's out in theaters. It’s determining whether or not there is a reason to learn more. 

Alignment comes as a result of interest. It’s where candidates seek a baseline of information about an organization to determine if the employer aligns with their needs and wants. For some candidates, this is as straightforward as job title, compensation, location, or commute. For others, it includes factors such as organizational values, perceived career growth, sustainability commitments, or culture. It’s this educational phase that ultimately compels further actions. 

Here are some tips for gleaning candidate attraction insights:

  1. Social Media Analytics: Engagement on posts and follower growth are two top-of-funnel metrics to track over time, especially after significant campaign activations.
  2. Careers Site Analytics: Look at the metrics related to site traffic, new visitors, time on site, page views, and top pages.
  3. ATS Analytics: Do you know the ratio of application starts to stops? Where are candidates falling out of the experience? Why? 
Assessing dimensions of the candidate experience from subpar to satisfy, engage, or captivate.


In a 2023 study by Gartner, the firm found that “among nearly 2,000 respondents who recently started a new job, 47 percent said they were still open to other job offers.” Competing offers are not uncommon in today’s market. While interviewees are competing for jobs—organizations are also competing for top talent. An interview that starts late, a hiring manager who takes a call in the middle of an interview, or an interviewer who doesn’t offer water or a bio break can make a candidate feel undervalued and as if they're going through a flawed process.

In exaqueo’s research over the past decade, we’ve learned first-hand that hiring managers are very influential when it comes to attracting and hiring top talent. Creating a positive candidate experience cannot live just in HR—teams and managers must have a stake in it. Here are some low-cost and no-cost ways to influence candidates’ preferences: 

  1. Mindset Shift: Treat interviewees as a guest of your organization, and ensure all meetings start and end on time to show candidates you respect their time. 
  2. Advanced Preparation: Reserve a parking spot with the candidate’s name on it and provide a personalized schedule (with names and contact information) to show the team is prepared.
  3. Personalized Experience: Offer their favorite drink in a branded mug or provide a water bottle, as well as a tour of the office to make the experience more candidate-centric. 

While much of the candidate experience is online, offline communication and personal interactions are incredibly important. Treating people with respect and professionalism is an opportunity to differentiate.


Let’s assume you’re about to make an offer to a top candidate. Now, put yourself in the candidate’s shoes for a moment. This offer could be the difference between putting dinner on the table or not, the confidence boost a mother returning to work needs, or a big move to a new part of the country or world—it’s going to trigger an emotion. 

Once an offer is accepted, some employers experience a start-day ghosting problem. Twenty-five years ago when I started recruiting, we simply called these “no-shows.” If ghosting or no-shows are an issue at your workplace, this may be a priority moment that matters in your candidate experience. Instead of trying to fix the ghosting problem by acquiring more applications, you may need to focus your energy in the shift from candidate to employee. 

Making the decision to accept an offer and committing to a new job means organizations need to be ready to commit to the new hire, too. How do you humanize this phase of the experience? How can you anticipate people’s needs? How will you deliver on the promises made throughout the candidate experience? Here are a few tips to help you convert offers to hires: 

  1. Coworker Relationship: One of the touch points we have in exaqueo’s candidate experience is a call with a colleague; it’s a safe space to ask the current colleague questions, get to know them, and gain deep insight into what it’s like to work here.
  2. Benefits Overview: Throughout our workforce research and in our 2021 Gen Z study, ‘benefits’  have consistently been a talent attractor. While they are not the only reason someone accepts an offer, they are a factor. Increase transparency and accessibility of the benefits offered through one-on-one conversations, simplified overview PDFs that can be emailed, and up-to-date information on your career site and other third-party sites.
  3. Manager Relationship: While many organizations rely on recruiters to keep candidates informed and make offers, keeping hiring managers involved in communication is a strategic investment to close top candidates. Who delivers an offer—and how—matters. Train and empower your managers to own more of the experience so they can start building their relationships with future hires sooner. 

Chances are your candidate experience feels like a process. Experience has fundamentally propelled consumer brand and marketing leaders to overhaul and innovate the way customers experience their brands. Now it’s HR’s turn. To lead the charge, HR must start prioritizing the candidate experience. Then, audit the current state experience, know what to look for, understand what matters to candidates, objectively assess how your organization is performing, identify the opportunities, and then prioritize them. 

If you’re ready to get started, these models and methodology offer a framework in which to objectively assess how your organization is delivering on the candidate experience. For additional resources, visit exaqueo’s knowledge share page or schedule a 30-minute meeting with me, Shannon Smedstad, exaqueo’s Managing Director - Experience, for an initial conversation. I’d love to talk shop with you.

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