4 Steps for Clear Candidate Communications

You’ve optimized your job listing, streamlined your hiring process, and showcased your company story, but there’s one crucial part of the hiring process you may be overlooking. Clear communication with potential candidates is essential to ensure you’re attracting top talent and giving candidates a positive experience. Poor communication can be incredibly damaging to your organization’s future hires and even affect your bottom line.

How damaging can poor communication be? According to a survey by CareerBuilder, of candidates who have experienced bad communications with an organization:

  • 42 percent are less likely to apply for future jobs with that organization
  • 22 percent will tell others not to apply for jobs at the organization
  • 9 percent will tell others not to buy products and services from the organization

The takeaway: candidate experience matters and you’ve got to make sure your interactions with applicants don’t negatively affect your employer brand—or, for that matter, your consumer brand.

Here are a few simple things you can do to instantly improve your communications with candidates.

1. Acknowledge the application

“I was so excited about the job. I spent hours customizing my resume and writing a cover letter but I never heard back from the employer… not even a confirmation that they got my application.” – Lisa S.

“It’s like my resume disappears into a black hole after I click ‘Send.’” – John I.

Of all the frustrations I hear from job seekers, the most common relates to poor communications early in the application process. Many organizations don’t confirm receipt of job applications—a bad practice that creates pain for both candidates and employers.

From the job seeker perspective, failure to acknowledge an application is a sign that the employer doesn’t care about candidates or respect their effort. It’s an instant black mark on your employer brand that starts the entire hiring process on a bad note. Who wants to work for an organization that can’t be bothered to send even a generic confirmation email?

Not confirming applications also leads to dysfunctional job seeker behavior which makes your job more difficult. Without knowing that you’ve received their application, candidates are more likely to submit duplicate documents, email you directly, call your office, or even show-up uninvited.

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As an employer I understand that it can be time consuming to email every candidate who applies, especially if you’ve got dozens (or hundreds) of applicants. But this is the bare minimum courtesy you can provide to candidates who want to work for you. Even an automated message with a simple, generic response is better than no confirmation at all.

2. Provide a timeline

“It’s been two weeks since I applied and I haven’t heard anything. What should I do?” – Terry K.

“The interviewer told me she would follow-up in a few days. It’s been a week. I don’t know whether I should sit tight, give her a call, or just give up.” – Robert S.

In both your confirmation email and in all subsequent interactions with candidates, you should provide a general schedule for the hiring process and a timeline for next steps. Whether you’re looking for make a quick hire, or have slower, more deliberative process, let candidates know so they can respond accordingly.

Setting clear expectations about timing is a professional courtesy to candidates. Remember: just as you have a timeline for finding a new employee, job seekers have their own timeline for finding a job. They may have other offers on the table; or need to find work sooner than you can hire; or maybe they’re willing to wait for a chance work for you. For candidates to make responsible decisions, they need to have a sense of your hiring process.

This starts with original job post, which should include at least a general outline for how long you’ll review applications, when you expect to start interviews, and when you want the candidate to start in their new role. Then, in all future touch points, provide concrete timeframes for next steps. For example:

  • “We’ll reach out by August 15 if we’d like to schedule an interview with you.”
  • “I’m interviewing candidates for the next two weeks. I’ll follow-up with you after that.”
  • “We plan to make an offer by the end of the month.”

Of course, you also need to follow-through on these  timelines. Nothing destroys your personal or organization credibility more than not following through with with deadlines you, yourself, have set. If you promise to call a candidate by the end of the week, you need to call them by the end of the week!

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Its okay if you have to change timelines—it always happens in hiring—but if you alter the schedule, make sure to let candidates know. This will lead to better-informed, more engaged talent and fewer uncomfortable phone calls with frustrated, anxious job seekers.

3. Let candidates know your decision

“The employer ‘ghosted’ me after the phone screening.” – Kyle B.

“I had an in-person interview with [[name redacted]] and never heard from them again. I learned they hired someone else for the position from their monthly newsletter.” – Elise R.

You’ve got to let candidates know where they are in the hiring process, even if that means they are no longer being considered for the role. How you share this less-than-happy news conveys a lot about your professional integrity, your organizational culture, and your commitment to a positive candidate experience.

It’s true that no one likes receiving bad news. But most job seekers would rather know that they’ve lost out on job than live with uncertainty about where they stand. While they’ll certainly feel disappointed about the situation—especially if they were deep into the hiring process—definitive closure is better than wondering “what happened?”

It’s also true that no one likes delivering bad news. Telling people they didn’t get hired is uncomfortable. But being as transparent and open as possible is a professional kindness. These conversations have the ability to soften the blow for what may be a very upsetting or surprising experience for candidates.

The more touch points you’ve had with a candidate, the greater your responsibility to let them know, personally, about their removal. Certainly, anyone who was a “finalist” deserves a personalized communication.

Whether that communication comes in the form of an email or phone conversation is an open question. For what it’s worth, my own informal Twitter survey showed that job seekers overwhelmingly said they would prefer an email. (Because, let’s be honest… it’s an awkward conversation for both parties.)   

4. Provide constructive feedback

“If no one tells you what you did wrong in the interview how are you supposed to get better at interviewing?” – Sara T.

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“It was like the job was written just for me. My resume was a perfect fit. If I couldn’t land an interview for this job I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” – Alex T.

This is a tough one but it’s something employers need to consider—not just for the viability of their talent pipelines, but also to inject some much-needed humanity into the job search process.

There are plenty of reasons why employers don’t offer feedback to rejected candidates. Most of these are related to minimizing organizational risk. But rejecting candidates without without any constructive feedback also presents a risk in-and-of-itself, both to your employer brand and your consumer brand.  

You never want to unnecessarily burn bridges with a candidate; the person who wasn’t the right fit for one job might be perfect for a job next month. (Plus, those candidates might also be prospective customers.) Showing a bit of kindness and support goes a long way to smoothing out hurt feelings. It’s the best way to make sure the candidate maintains a positive perception of your organization, even without getting the job.

It’s also the just right thing to do for job seekers, who might need a bit of help.

Remember what it was like last time you looked for a job? It’s lonely and dispiriting, there’s a whole lot more failure than victory, and sometimes the relationship with employers feels downright adversarial. A little bit of support, especially from a well placed source, can sometimes make all the difference.

When a candidate requests it, offer truthful but respectful feedback. You’ll be amazed by the goodwill this generates for you, as a professional, and for your employer brand.