Perception Is Reality: Talent Magnets Attract The Best People

‘We don’t much care about having you as an employee. Move along.’

I’m hearing a lot from top performing talent at leading technology companies jumping ship in droves. When it’s an AOL or a Yahoo facing tremendous uncertainty, dropping stock price, and competition on all fronts, it’s not difficult to understand. At some point you have to look out for number one. When it’s a LinkedIn, which negotiated its IPO with reasonable grace, it’s also not hard to understand – stock option lockups are expiring and people are finally free to look for the next big career thing. When it’s a Microsoft or an IBM, the reasons may be more about company culture, bureaucracy, or lack of leadership vision – also not hard to understand.

Not everyone is a top performer, though. Not everyone can be in the top one percent with nearly limitless opportunity. Most employees are distributed somewhere on the curve between the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent that Jack Welch made famous. For these employees – and for those new to the job market – candidate experience matters. Candidate experience relates to how a company handles the recruitment, interview and hiring dance and influences everything that follows. I mean everything.

For today’s social-media empowered candidate, it’s not trivial to pan a company for a bad candidate or work experience. Sites like do more than give salary ranges and titles to job seekers – they provide the tools to strike back at a former employer or critique a prospective employer’s hiring process. That’s why it’s more important than ever for HR and hiring executives to manage the candidate experience very closely.

A report by The Talent Board revealed the results of a series of surveys the organization ran as part of its CandE Award, an annual (2011 was the first) competition designed to let companies benchmark their candidate experience against peer companies and organizations. This is worth a read, the report can give Leaders and HR new perspectives on what it’s like to be on the other end of the hiring experience – and where to improve. Something I’m passionate about of course. Not surprisingly, 2011 CandE winners proved to be extremely financially successful. Adidas ADDYY +% saw stock prices soar by 38% over that year, Herman Miller stock climbed 20%, and State Farm stock grew by over 11%. These companies are attracting – and keeping – top talent, so it stands to reason that their success will not be short-lived.

I came away from reading the report again thinking about my top 5 reasons for improving the candidate experience as this notion finds a wider audience each year. While many leaders might not believe it matters, with far more candidates available than jobs, it does. Someday unemployment will drop below eight percent and the economy will recover. When it does, you want employee prospects to have a productive candidate experience, or you may find hiring and retention of your talent to be problematic.

Here are my top 5 reasons why candidate experience matters to hiring leaders and recruiters alike:

1) First impressions are lasting impressions. If your career website is clunky, or if it takes an hour and 50 mouse-clicks to find a job listing and apply, you’re sending a not-so-subtle signal to job prospects: ‘We don’t much care about having you as an employee. Move along.’ Does anyone really want to work for this type of company?

2) Employees who like their jobs often try to get their friends on the same team. Many companies weight the hiring process toward employee referrals. Some even have a hiring bonus system in place. But if you force all candidates to go through a poorly thought out career website, even when their resumes have been hand-delivered to hiring managers, you haven’t optimized the process at all. And employees may begin to question the company’s culture or motives if people they recommend fall into the hiring black hole.

3) Job seekers want feedback. If you’re not going to hire a person, tell him or her quickly, and if possible tell the candidate why so he can improve his approach – or resume. It’s not enough to simply acknowledge the receipt of the resume or application and then drop all communication. You’ll create a negative impression – one which might find its way to Twitter or Facebook.

4) People move around in the course of a career. It’s inevitable. People are hired, work, and then something more exciting, challenging, meaningful, or profitable comes along. In the process they’re talking to lots of colleagues, people your company might be interested in hiring. If they had a bad experience during your hiring process or as an employee, the word will spread.

5) People want to believe they made a good choice. If you make the hiring process difficult it will be less likely, even if an offer is made, that you’ll be able to retain the employee. The hiring process sets expectations. It’s your opportunity to convince candidates your company is well-managed, fair to employees, and a good place to work.

Think about your first experience applying for a job. Was it frustrating, embarrassing, demoralizing? Odds are high you’ve had that experience at least once. Odds are it still stings. Don’t be that person, and don’t be that company. Be better now. Don’t wait until your talent slams the door.

A version of this post was first published on on June 18, 2012

photo credit: magnetic field shown by compass needles via photopin (license)