Skip to main content

Why You Should Care Less About Candidate Experience

By June 2, 20166 Comments

Out of the soporific hum and chit chat of last night’s Auckland Recruitment Meet Up there sprung a surprisingly vigorous debate. The team at Beca, lead by the ever-suave Richard Long, got everyone up on their feet. The purpose: To position our bodies in different zones of the room denoting whether we thought our business provided terrible candidate experience, kinda ok candidate experience, or amazingly fab candidate experience.

Yes this is a blog post on candidate experience.  Well sort of.  Please bear with me though.

So anyway, predictably enough the middle ground bulged with the majority of the event’s attendees placing themselves firmly on the fence. As did I, to be fair, although it was slightly chastening to find myself next to an actual candidate of mine that I placed last year who suggested I should move myself across to the “bad” side.  He was joking.  I think.

So the usual hand-wringing ensued. Us recruiters get such a bad rap for being terrible at communicating with candidates and so disdainful towards the feelings of candidates out there that many of us have adopted Mother Theresa stances where we feel we must be seen to be helping everyone out. But fortunately, things got interesting when people started suggesting, quite reasonably, that the amount of serial appliers we get for our jobs nowadays means we can’t be reasonably expected to provide awesome experiences to everyone who is happy to constantly spam their CV out for jobs they aren’t remotely suitable for.

Not everyone agreed, of course. The debate heated up nicely, fueled by the free-flowing bottles of Steinlager Shitelager, and someone who lives in West Hollywood and has 50,000 Twitter followers suggested they are all humans and should be treated like the individuals they are. It’s possible that in her 7 months of running an actual recruitment desk she was able to achieve this, but the reality is that we now operate in a system whereby that is no longer commercially viable.

We pay money to job boards whose mission is to get as many people applying to our job vacancies as possible. Some of us then pay money to have all of those applicants filtered and trimmed down and sorted.  We then pay money to Applicant Tracking Systems or recruitment CRM’s to give us the ability to send generic reject emails at the click of a button.  And we hope that the email is branded nicely, cosily worded in such a way that we don’t cause offence, wish the job seeker well. And then we set up systems where people serially applying over and over again are cut out and remain unseen.

We do all of this and hope we are providing “great” candidate experience? No chance. We are paying lip service.

But you know what? It’s really OK. You see, the real problem with all of this is the term “candidate experience”. I think candidate experience is crucial and I will go out of my way to do it as best I can, to treat people like the humans they are and handle them with dignity and respect and all that good stuff.  But then, my idea of who is a “candidate” is apparently different to all the other hand-wringing purists out there.

A candidate is someone who is actually suitable for the job, even just partly or in a small way, and should therefore be assessed against the criteria for the position. But most of the people who apply to our vacancies are in no way shape or form even remotely relevant for the position. And they don’t even know what they are applying for. They are in the same system mentioned above, caught up in a world of technology, automation and cool user experience where it is so damn easy to apply for a role at the click of a button that they do so like some demented morse code operative.

Many of them get my generic rejection email. Many more just get deleted. Because in this instance we are talking about the applicant experience, rather than the candidate experience. The difference is critical. You want it to be nice and easy and straight-forward for applicants to apply for your jobs, sure, but your duty of care ends there. If they send you a real, personal, non-generic email themselves, even if they’re unsuitable for the job, then sure, that’s a “candidate” and should be communicated with in kind.

But anything else, they’re just an applicant, and you’re being foolish if you’re spending too much time giving every single person a nice and fluffy experience.

OK, rant over. If you’re reading this in New Zealand then enjoy the long weekend 🙂


Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Sean says:

    I wasn’t in attendance, but I’d be interested to know where Beca placed themselves in terms of candidate experience. Anecdotally, through reputation, and through personal experience, they’ve consistently provided the worst candidate experience that I’ve experienced in 10 years of recruiting. Admittedly, this may have changed under Richard Long’s tenure. He’s a good sort, and probably cares about these things. When I heard the theme of the MeetUp and the hosts, I must admit that I assumed that the organisers were being ironic.

    Good blog though. We all fail at pleasing all the people all the time. Often us recruiters put more time in to an (unsuccessful) application than the applicant ever does. Sadly, this often passes without recognition.

  • Richard Long says:

    Hey Sean – ouch! Well, you put a topic out there and all that… thanks for your straight up feedback! For the record we were pretty clear with the group that whilst this topic is very high on ours strategic agenda right now and something we want to become great at, we’re at the very start of the candidate experience journey (so we joined the small group at the bottom with lots to learn…). That’s part of the reason we ran the session – to learn. As you are a guy with 10 years experience in recruitment and a strong view on this topic I’d love to catch up with you at some point hear about what you’re doing and why we suck at this. If you’re up for it, lets catch up…

    Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with your final para – great blog, sometimes we don’t get the recognition we deserve and we cant please all of the candidates all of the time!

    • Sean says:

      Always keen to catch up for a beer Richard. I’ll drop you a line next week.

      • Richard Long says:

        Once again beer brings us together Sean… and may help us solve these issues 🙂 Great, I’m looking forward to that.

  • Kathryn Stewart says:

    NZ is a village, and a village talks. Even though the applicant may not be suitable for the role/company/recruiter they could be a few years down the line or their sister/friend/workmate may be perfect for the role. Surely it’s just common sense (and kind) to help anyone that approaches you as much as you can within the restraints of your working environment?

    As for the repeat application, “irrelevant” candidates (which I mainly mean overseas people that aren’t likely to be getting a visa) I figure they probably frustrate their network in person as much as they frustrate us with their applications so anything negative they say won’t really count for much in our commercial world (village)?

  • Paul says:

    Serial applicants, and those who apply but are not right for the role, should expect a generic rejection email, after all, they have made a generic application. For me ensuring a great candidate experience is about making sure those candidates who progress to ANY stage beyond “applied” deserve a decent experience.

    The one thing I find most frustrating, and have been on the end of a couple of times, is when you have interviewed and get rejected by a template email. Now, I dont mind getting rejected, it’s just a fact of life, some jobs/companies you are suited to and some you are not. But if you think a candidate is good enough to interview, and they have taken time to come to your office, then they at a minimum deserve a phone call. Well, this is how I see and do things anyway. Maybe I’m wrong…

    p.s. one of the people who recently did this to me proudly states on his linkedin profile something along the lines of his role is to “ensure each and every candidate has a great experience”. Miserable fail.