Sally HartnellApril 22, 2022
Topics: Candidate Experience

The Definitive Guide to Candidate Experience

In the wake of societal and technological shifts, the rise of candidate experience continues to shape modern hiring and engagement practices. The competition for talent is fiercer than ever — and candidates are choosing their next move carefully.

But what exactly are they looking for?

According to SHRM, 46% of surveyed job seekers were looking for a new role because they didn’t feel connected to their company’s purpose, and over 50% cited better compensation and benefits along with better work-life balance as the top reasons they’re leaving their current job. Another survey found that 70% of employees left due to lack of career development opportunities.

To stand out among the competition, employers need to shift their focus towards creating an experience that meets the heightened expectations of candidates — and clearly communicates the value of joining their organization.

Phenom created The Definitive Guide to the Candidate Experience to assist employers with taking a more holistic approach to the hiring process that attracts top performers, builds a robust talent pipeline, converts best-fit candidates, and authentically communicates your employer brand. In this guide you’ll learn:

  • What the candidate experience is and why it’s important
  • Today’s job market challenges and ways to navigate them
  • How organizations can build an exceptional candidate experience
  • Why personalized experiences are invaluable and how to create them
  • How to ensure Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with the help of AI
  • What AI-powered HR technologies can help streamline your TA processes

Table of Contents

Navigating Candidate Expectations and Today’s Job Market Challenge

Companies across many industries are striving to find short- and long-term solutions to hiring shortages, mass resignations, and scarce talent availability. With a growing number of open positions and increased competition, organizations are struggling to meet the shifting expectations of candidates to fill critical roles.

Recruiters, hiring managers, and talent acquisition professionals are tasked with understanding and implementing changes in best practices, helping their teams adapt to new technologies and ways of operating, and navigating a tight labor market.

In addition to expecting competitive pay, today's job seekers are looking for more than the traditional perks and offerings. Candidates are searching for greater work-life balance, more PTO, mental health resources, and genuinely inclusive work environments. But more importantly, job seekers are looking to work for organizations that invest in them through learning and development opportunities, career pathing, and mentoring.

Job seekers are looking for more than just a job — they want to work for a company that aligns with their professional aspirations, and possesses a culture, mission, and set of core values that resonate with them. So how do you get them in the door?

This new wave of candidates is setting their sights high, and HR teams must find ways to dissolve potential hiring barriers — such as a lengthy application process, lack of useful information on a career site, and vagueness surrounding company culture.

By finding this alignment between candidate priorities and company culture, organizations can personalize and improve the candidate experience to convert and retain best-fit talent.

Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all secret to attracting and engaging top talent. Organizations have to take a step back, and make sure they're managing all aspects of hiring challenges, from filling hard-to-fill roles and offering benefits to make post-pandemic life easier to demonstrating a rich company culture that candidates want to embrace.

"Candidates want to feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves, and that the company they're working for and with has shared beliefs and morals," said Will Staney, CEO and Co-Founder of Proactive Talent.

What is the Candidate Experience?

The candidate experience consists of every moment a job seeker interacts with your organization, all the way through the interview process. Ultimately, it is a cyclical process that applies to every job seeker who interacts with your organization, regardless if they apply for a position or not.

Definition of candidate experience

This experience can look very different from organization to organization, depending on the quality and number of interactions each candidate has with a company during the recruiting process. Regardless of quality, the candidate experience influences:

  • What they say to others about your company and your hiring process
  • Whether or not they become a member of your talent community
  • If they choose to apply for other positions at the company in the future

Why is the Candidate Experience Important?

Candidate experiences are extremely influential — especially in today’s tight labor market. For every organization, a job seeker's experience can range from a seamless and integrated process to inconsistent and off-putting. Between lengthy job applications, poorly written job descriptions, and underwhelming career sites, a concerning number of candidates drop off before submitting a resume.

One bad impression can be detrimental to your search for top talent. According to the 2019 Talent Board North American Candidate Experience Research Report, 71% of candidates shared their negative experiences with others. Glassdoor’s report on How to Respond to Reviews also showed that:

  • 60% of job hunters reported a negative candidate experience with the employers they'd engaged with
  • 72% shared their poor candidate experience with various employers online
  • 55% would avoid certain companies because of a negative experience

To stand out among the competition, TA leaders and recruiters must embrace personalization and simplification to deliver a meaningful, engaging, and stress-free experience. But where do you start?

What it Takes to Deliver Excellent Candidate Experiences

The key to converting top talent goes beyond what you include in a job offer. Everything the candidate sees on your career site, how often you communicate with them, and their impressions throughout the hiring process all influence a candidate’s experience, and ultimately, their employment decision.

Delivering the finest candidate experience has two fundamental principles: make it intuitive and make it personal. HR technology is what enables organizations to deliver personalized candidate experiences, which is the difference between a decent candidate experience and a great one.

Throughout the recruiting process, AI technology, chatbots, and career sites can passively collect information about job seekers skills, interests, years of experience, and geographic location. This information can aid your recruiters in delivering personalized candidate experiences and automated, customized job recommendations.

Communication can make or break a candidate’s experience and should be designed with the candidate as a top priority. Your recruiters should be reaching out with regular updates throughout the interview process from the hiring manager and management team, news on the application status and, at the end, a job offer or letter of rejection.

AI-powered HR tech delivers personalized experiences that help job seekers connect with your employer brand, receive best-fit job recommendations and content that match their skills, interests, and geographic location, as well as proactively get answers to frequently asked questions.

“Why do we care about AI? Because it delivers candidates an exceptional experience. A poor experience can really damage your brand if a candidate hits your site and they don’t know how to move forward.” — Heidi Chapeau, former Recruitment Marketing Director, Magellan Health

A poor candidate experience impacts more than employer brand and company reputation — it can prevent top talent from even considering a job, much less applying for it.

Here are some other ways employers can improve your candidate experience across the board:

  • Refine how you showcase your employer brand to highlight what makes your company different — use your EVP to reinforce it and make sure employees are aligned.
  • Update your career site to attract more talent and deliver personalized jobs and content (think Netflix and Amazon) that match candidates' skills, job interests, and geographic locations.
  • Use video content and employee testimonials to demonstrate company culture and your commitment to their career development.
  • Provide an efficient, hassle-free application process that demonstrates respect for candidates’ time and effort.
  • Communicate often throughout the interview and application process. Let candidates know where they stand and provide status updates.

Pro tip: Integrating your AI-powered CRM software that works with your ATS is an ideal way to supercharge the candidate experience.

Organizations can successfully attract and engage top talent when they connect with them in a relatable, personal way. Set your company up for success by humanizing the hiring process and leveraging HR technology to create a stellar candidate experience.

Resource: How Mercy is Hiring Nurses Faster with Phenom CRM, Events & Campaigns

Defining and Identifying the Candidate Journey

The candidate experience is not to be confused with the candidate journey, which is the process an individual goes through during their job search. A candidate's journey starts at their initial job search and is closely aligned with the recruitment process — including the steps a person takes before they accept a job offer and become an employee. This means that no two candidates will take the exact same journey — nor will they have the exact same experience.

The candidate journey is not linear, and mapping the candidate journey is a critical part of building a great candidate experience. A candidate journey map should also help visualize the collective thoughts, feelings, and actions of candidates as they discover new opportunities, research open positions, and decide whether to apply for an open position.

The candidate journey map should come to life based on the candidate's point of view and capture their needs, wants, and values, including the steps they can take during the talent acquisition process at your company.

So what’s the importance of mapping out all of these steps? The candidate journey map guides organizations to create unique experiences for the top talent you ultimately want to hire and onboard, now and in the future.

Download: Phenom's Candidate Journey Template

The candidate journey can be broken down into four categories: attract, engage, nurture, and convert. Here are a few tips to improve the experience throughout the entire journey and measure your success along the way:


Career sites should be easy to find and make a great first impression. Career site content showcases who the company is, what it cares about, where it's going, and how it maintains relationships with employees — ultimately it should enable candidates to connect with your employer brand.

Resource: Career Site Essentials: How UScellular Connects with Top Talent

Keeping career site content up-to-date is simple with a Content Management System (CMS). With a CMS, your organization can easily create, edit, and publish content like new open roles, upcoming events, user-generated video content, and employee testimonials.

Career site content sets the stage for personal connections between each candidate and your company's team so candidates can get a sense of whether they'd add to the culture or align with the company’s mission, values, and vision.

Branding should also extend to external sites where your company might have a presence, like social media profiles and job boards. One key point? It should be consistent wherever your company's name or information may appear.

Pro tip: Keep your profile logos and URLs up-to-date. Candidates are savvy and outdated information could deter them from further exploring your job board or social profiles.


A great way to give candidates the information they need is through personalization — such as customized job recommendations based on their skills, experience, and location. If your organization delivers personalized, tailored content, talent will be better positioned to move through the process and apply. All of this also goes a long way in creating a powerful, memorable experience.

Implementing a chatbot is an easy way to deliver tailored job recommendations, schedule interviews, and answer FAQs to help engage potential candidates at any hour of the day. This also provides job seekers with a resource that can interact with to learn more about your organization before starting an application.

Starting an application is a big step for candidates. Submitting a completed one is even bigger. Before getting started, candidates need to know what they're getting themselves into, including:

  • How long will it take?
  • What does the interview process look like?
  • Should they expect "homework" along the way?

Provide answers to questions like these on your career site, and showcase your culture with employee-generated videos to attract the best-fit candidates. By addressing this information on your career site, you'll give candidates a valuable heads up and the transparency needed for a positive overall experience.


Whenever a candidate stops by your career site or connects with your company on social media, think of them as someone you want to know. Encourage candidates to sign up and join your Talent Community to ensure they stay connected with your organization. Using one-off email campaigns, or building drip and automated nurture campaigns, your team can educate potential job seekers about your company, open roles, networking events, and more.

University recruiting and virtual events are also great ways to nurture existing talent and new potential candidates to your pipeline. By leveraging mobile applications and virtual event management features, you can speed up lines, instantly capture candidate data, and automate long-term nurturing campaigns so your organization stays top of mind.

Communication is key. Creating a well-rounded communication strategy helps build and maintain an engaged pipeline for hard-to-fill roles — whether they require niche skills, specialized experience, or are in a location that's difficult to recruit for. This approach makes it easier for your HR team to stay in touch with high quality candidates (even if they're not yet ready to apply).

If a candidate does apply, be sure to stay in touch. A common pain point among candidates is applying for a job, only to never hear back. While an automated response after you've received their application helps, the communication shouldn't stop there. A memorable follow-up should be customized according to your brand so it sticks with the candidate longer than a typical auto-reply.

Even if a candidate doesn't get an offer, the sincerity your company conveys won’t be easy to forget. And if that candidate is a silver medalist, you'll already be set up for success when a future role becomes available!


A one-size-fits-all approach to interviewing is a thing of the past. Today, tailored interviews are the name of the game and should help you gather enough information to make the best hiring decision possible.

To help determine the core components of your interview structure, consider the needs of both your company and the candidate. But remember: interviews are a two-way street. While recruiters and hiring managers should focus on getting enough information from the candidates, they should share an appropriate amount of information about the company, role, and development opportunities so candidates can make a sound decision too.

Here are some core questions that interviewers should be able to answer during an interview:

  • What does growth and development at your organization look like?
  • What structures are in place to reinforce that employees are valued?
  • How will their role contribute to your business, its purpose, and mission?

By preparing beforehand, recruiters can maximize the brief time they have with qualified candidates so they can make a knowledgeable recommendation to the hiring manager.

Before ending an interview, recruiters should always set expectations with potential candidates about next steps as well to maintain full transparency. By accurately setting expectations, candidates won’t feel like they’ve been ghosted or cast aside.

Whether the candidate makes it through one round of your interview process or is extended a job offer, communication, tailored experiences, and properly setting expectations can all help transition top talent into employees that are excited to join your team and your organization.


The first interaction an active or passive candidate has with your career site is when you should start measuring their experience. Here are some analytics and conversions you need to know about when measuring the success of your talent acquisition process:

Application Conversion Rate: The number of complete applications divided by the number of applications started.

Talent acquisition leaders can use this metric to take a direct route to any problems within the application process. If your conversion rate is high, that's a good thing! It means your application process is optimized for the candidate experience. However, a low conversion rate tells you that candidates drop off which means there's room for improvement in your application process.

Candidate Drop-off: Where are candidates abandon the application process?

This metric will help you understand why candidates aren't completing and submitting an application. Make sure you can view the page-to-page drop-off rate on your career site from the homepage to the application submission page. This allows you to pinpoint exactly where you’re losing job applicants.

It's also essential to find out where candidates stop applying in the apply funnel. From there, talent acquisition leaders can improve the experience of filling out an application, learn how to improve the application flow, and in turn, work to lower drop-off rates.

Career Site Engagement: What content on your career site do candidates view the least or most?

Organizations often find it challenging to know which blogs, employee testimonials, videos, and articles are really engaging candidates and ultimately leading them to complete an application.

If certain pieces of content lead to a submitted application, an interview, or a hire, then you know it's valuable to refer to when planning future content. Build "sticky" content that attracts the high-value candidates you want!

Traffic Channels: Which sources are delivering the most traffic to your career site?

Companies spend billions of dollars each year on talent acquisition, but they can't easily determine which sources convert visitors into applicants and (hopefully) great hires.

That's where tracking traffic channels becomes key. Traffic Channels indicate where candidates come from, and allow you to determine the effectiveness of your company's marketing efforts, and where you can optimize impact.

Four traffic channels to track include:

  • Direct traffic: Visitors from direct links and/or saved bookmarks.
  • Job Boards: Websites like Indeed and LinkedIn that send candidates to your career site.
  • Organic: Search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
  • Social Media: Platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Additionally, you can use traffic channel metrics to break down your cost per application and cost per hire.

Candidate Quality: Are the candidates who visit your career site, read job descriptions, interact with content, and apply for roles good fits for the job?

Companies have spent decades trying to determine how to best measure the quality of candidates they attract. But it doesn't mean much if you get a large number of career site visits and completed applications — it's all about the sources of high-performing candidates and pairing them with historical hires and current key employees. From there, talent acquisition leaders can learn how to best allocate their budget among sources.

Ways to Get Candidate Feedback

Finding the right insights when it comes to recruiting is often a challenge. A major source of information is collected from candidate behaviors on a company's careers site, and it takes helpful HR technology to generate quantitative and qualitative data.

For instance, when implementing Phenom's Net Promoter Score (NPS) widget, users get direct feedback from candidates on their experience with the career site. Adding the NPS widget exclusively to the apply pages of the career site will generate information specifically on the candidate's apply experience. Adding the widget only to content and job pages for a specific job category will produce feedback from those particular candidates.

Data and analytics help recruiters and managers (and anyone else involved in hiring) do their jobs on a daily basis. Because of data, decisions are better informed, and your organization is well-suited to optimize your recruiting process to attract high-value candidates.

How to Choose the Right Technology to Deliver Amazing Candidate Experiences

HR technologies powered by artificial intelligence (AI) with automation play a significant role in removing hurdles in today’s talent acquisition processes and transforming the candidate experience to help candidates find best-fit jobs faster. But not all AI is created equal.

AI-powered HR tech platforms with intelligent automation enable talent acquisition teams to do more with less. For example, job seekers can engage with an AI-powered chatbot to receive tailored job recommendations, schedule interviews, and get answers to commonly asked questions.

"If we estimate that recruiters would spend one to five minutes answering each question, it means the chatbot has saved us between 18,000 and 92,000 hours. Having a measurable way to give time back to recruiters proved to be a huge value-add." — Sarah Steinmann, Talent Acquisition Specialist, Southwest Airlines

AI-driven HR tech is invaluable when used to automate tedious tasks — alleviating the heavy workload for recruiters and creating more human-like interactions at every stage of the hiring process to help deliver a positive candidate experience.

AI can improve your entire talent acquisition process by:

  • Empowering and guiding job candidates who visit your career site
  • Matching candidates with jobs that suit their unique skills and interests
  • Speeding up recruiters' hunt for best-fit, high-performing applicants
  • Enabling recruiters to engage with job seekers at various points in the candidate journey

Without an AI-powered platform, you may be missing out on numerous impactful features that can help your team attract, engage, and convert top talent at scale. AI plays an influential role in creating positive candidate interactions at every stage of the recruitment process. Here’s how:

Personalization: Customized candidate experiences connect people to work they're not only interested in, but qualified for. Job recommendations are based on interests as well as job history, skills, positions viewed, and geographic location. This helps candidates discover open positions based on their skills and qualifications so they can apply quickly and easily.

Intelligent Search: AI offers intelligent search capabilities through best-in-class capabilities such as synonym recognition, query expansion, natural language processing, predictions and more, on a mass scale. This means that candidates are able to find relevant results for what they're looking for — regardless of how they may be referencing a role.

Actionable Insights: AI-powered insights like fit score help teams find new job seekers, reconnect with existing candidates, understand candidate intent, hiring trends in the candidate pipeline, and more.

Resource: How to Become a Recruitment Marketing Leader with Newell Brands

The Future of AI: Transforming Talent Acquisition

There's no doubt that AI is shaping talent acquisition strategies, and will continue to develop and support more sophisticated use cases, like:

  • Leveraging intelligent automation and AI chatbots with voice assistants that imitate human interactions using natural language processing to reschedule interviews
  • Applicant screening with AI's ability to interpret nonbinary responses
  • Generating candidate matches based on what the recruiter wants in a top applicant
  • Comparing the performance of job descriptions to inform recruiters and hiring managers of what works and what doesn't

The more capable AI becomes, the more likely evolution is for the entire recruiting process. Recruiters could lean on AI for even more help with burdensome tasks, like setting reminders for interactions with candidates throughout the journey. If AI could notify recruiters of salary conversations, seek follow-up information on a specific topic, and communicate with candidates, it would streamline the experience and make it more efficient.

As recruiters hand tasks over to AI, it’s important to remember that humans will not be replaced by AI — it won't be able to think or interact like a human, nor will it take on relationship building and strategic decision making. Recruiters have full plates of administrative, repetitive tasks, and AI can help create bandwidth needed for meaningful work that matters most — establishing and cultivating relationships with candidates.

With this technological evolution, the recruiter role can evolve into that of a strategic talent advisor — focused on closing talent faster, advising talent to reduce potential frustration, strategically implementing ethics management — while AI and automation take the burden off recruiters, build talent pools, identify best-fit candidates, and more.

Resource: The Definitive Guide to Artificial Intelligence

How Phenom Helps Employers Improve Candidate Experience

Creating a stellar candidate experience is all about leveraging the right recruiting software to help your team attract, engage, and convert top talent. Phenom Candidate Experience (CX) helps enterprise organizations attract the right talent, showcase their employer brand, build a robust talent pipeline and convert best-fit candidates. With Phenom, your recruitment and TA teams can:

  • Use engaging, personalized career sites to attract the right candidates and increase applicant submissions
  • Implement intelligent chatbots to gather valuable information about job seekers at scale
  • Strategically build talent pipelines and workflows for hard-to-fill positions
  • Improve communication with top talent throughout the candidate journey
  • Fill critical roles faster with AI analytics and automation

Career Site A company’s career site is the foundation on which a talent acquisition strategy is built, and serves as the front door to the talent pool that exists outside of your organization. Phenom’s Career Site empowers organizations to welcome candidates with tailored job recommendations and custom content and avoids a one-size-fits-all recruitment approach. Personalized candidate experiences more quickly connect top job seekers with your employer brand, providing custom job recommendations and content based on skills, interests, and geographic locations.

"[Phenom's AI] gets smarter the more a candidate shares so they're incentivized to share, and the result is a better, personalized experience," Dobby Gibson, Digital Communications Manager, Land O' Lakes said.

Phenom helps you publish career sites for multiple brands, and that are user-friendly for people in multinational locations. Phenom career sites let recruiters do it all in one place, with the ability to toggle between each site to edit content, check out candidate pipelines and track data and analytics. The style, type and color of career site text can be easily changed to maintain brand consistency.

Chatbots powered by AI allow organizations to engage and hire top talent faster by automating screening and connecting job seekers with best-fit roles. A chatbot qualifies candidates before the first recruiter interaction.

Initially viewed as a mere add-on to the career site, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) chatbot has added unexpected value to the entire recruiting function. Not only does this virtual assistant give candidates a modern, convenient experience, it saves recruiters time answering FAQs. It’s also been key to passive sourcing efforts, generating approximately 350 new CRM profiles in six months, according to Sharon Giotis, VP, Talent Acquisition and Internal Mobility at LLS.

CMS is career site content management made simple.

A compelling career site that's easy to use to create, edit and publish content enables an organization to showcase their employer brand through videos, personalized job recommendations, company overviews and employee testimonials.

CMS makes it easy to maintain fresh, regularly updated content, change content with no coding or help from IT, and make updates in just a few minutes with a drag-and-drop content editor. Widgets allow users to add text, images, videos, Glassdoor reviews and more to create a career site that doesn't look like that of competitors.

An inclusive career site must meet WCAG 2.0 standards, and Phenom's comes with canvases and widgets that are creative and pre-approved for compliance.

Read More: Designing Your Career Site to Work for Everyone

In addition to enhancing the candidate experience, the full Phenom Talent Experience Management (TXM) platform unifies every key stakeholder in the talent lifecycle to help organizations better attract, engage, convert, and retain top talent at scale. With AI-powered analytics and features like a Talent CRM, fit scores, SMS and email campaigns, your team can nurture potential leads and move them through the funnel with ease.

“Phenom's platform has helped Mercy to be on the front end of innovation and technology while using artificial intelligence to increase our sourcing and recruitment efforts," Kayla Drady, Mercy's Director of Talent Acquisition Strategy and Operations said. "Leveraging Phenom's CRM has been crucial to our success in reaching candidates as quickly as possible with the text messaging capabilities and sending candidates engaging content."

Case Study: How Mercy Converted 69% of Job Seekers

Key Takeaways

Managers must support change and instill confidence

Big ideas, process assessments, and thoughtful adjustments will be the enablers of success. Managers should advocate for courageous decisions that help their team become more confident and efficient while recruiting and hiring top talent. By creating an environment that’s open to new ideas and change, TA teams can continually evolve and meet ever-changing business needs.

Top talents' expectations have drastically changed

It takes a well-balanced TA team to provide a candidate experience that meets the mark. But don’t forget candidates become employees and based on their experience during the recruiting process, they may expect a lot from their future employer.

Organizations will need to showcase what they offer in a way that stands out among competitors: upskilling, work-life flexibility, inclusion, a well-communicated value proposition, and an employee experience that provides a sense of purpose, growth, and pride. A candidate experience that promises the modern demands of top talent can make or break their acceptance of a job offer.

AI and automation help deliver what candidates want

Candidates expect an experience like no other — one that AI and automation make possible by providing personalization, data-based insights, and more to make the process seamless and simple. AI and automation are key for helping HR teams deliver ease in finding job opportunities, an efficient application process, and relevant information that's customized for each candidate.

The Candidate Journey is about the individual

Broken down into four categories — Attract, Engage, Nurture, and Convert — the candidate journey should be unique among job seekers. Mapping the candidate journey is critical in building a great experience based on the individual candidate.

Employer branding is key to creating great candidate experiences

A company's employer brand is a big part of delivering a first-rate candidate experience. HR teams can enhance their employer brand by evaluating the company's vision and mission, communicating what makes the company stand out, and ensuring employees are on the same page.


Attracting, engaging, and converting today's talent demands more from organizations. The familiar tactics and processes no longer work — and organizations must make critical changes in their candidate experiences to enable hiring success, especially in a tight labor market.

Finding best-fit talent, enhancing your employer brand, meeting the highest talent expectations, and managing changing business demands isn't easy — but it's possible. It takes a human-centric approach of personalized experiences, streamlined communication, AI, and automation to facilitate a strong connection between recruiters and candidates, and more, resulting in a remarkable candidate experience that helps you thrive.

Streamline how your team attracts, engages, and converts top talent with Phenom! Request a demo.

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