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The Key to Improving Your Candidate Experience: Focus on the Pre-Application Stage

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As far as I’m concerned too many companies are spending too much time, money and energy on improving the candidate experience after the person applies. In my opinion, a better approach is to rethink the candidate experience before the person is hired.

By improving the pre-candidate experience it will be easier to manage the true candidate experience. And by focusing on how you engage talent before they apply, you’ll be bringing in people who are more qualified for the role.

How to make the pre-apply experience more effective

1. Eliminate the apply button

The best people, often passive candidates, won’t apply, and the best people who will apply are clever enough to figure out how to get referred by someone in the company without applying. It seems to me, these are the people the candidate experience should be designed around.

2. Implement a “let’s have a chat” or pre-apply button

Here’s an email I sent to a bunch of people for an HR leadership role. In it I asked people not to apply but instead describe a major business accomplishment most comparable to implementing a worldwide HR system.

3. Make it harder to apply but guarantee a personal meeting

Creating a great candidate experience for people who shouldn’t have applied to begin with makes no sense. One obvious solution is making it more difficult to apply. For example, have the person solve a job-related problem or describe a major accomplishment related to real job needs. This type of self-selection process will narrow the field giving the company a chance to offer a more personal and custom candidate experience for this smaller group of people who apply.

4. Follow the Golden Rule: Set up a custom pre-apply approach that maps to how the person wants to pre-apply

I was talking with a talent leader for a niche fashion site last month working on different pre-apply ideas. The major point was that a fashion designer would rather pre-apply with a portfolio whereas an accounting manager would rather submit a sample of a pro forma EPS for the upcoming year and a warehouse manager would rather compare two cross-docking ideas in real time.

5. Use the two-step

Use your CRM to automatically send everyone who applies a request asking them to submit a sample of their best work related to some real job need. Only those who respond need to be tracked since the others have voluntarily opted-out of your application process. (Here’s the OFCCP validation justifying this idea.)

6. Use an AI-designed hub and spoke and eliminate all job postings

Instead of posting individual jobs, create a microsite hub for all functionally related jobs like software or sales or accounting. Describe some of the big challenges in the job and let people pre-apply using some customized approach. Then let the AI-designed system find jobs that best match the person’s ability and interests when they become available.

7. Don’t offer jobs, offer careers

Let’s be frank, most job postings are boring and appeal to those who are willing to take lateral transfers and endure the impersonal application process most companies have erected to keep out the weak. A better approach that needs to be embedded into all of the above ideas is to describe the challenges in the job, the importance of the job and why it makes career sense for the right person. Done properly, the best people will be willing to participate long before they’re forced to look for another job. This is how you can use a pre-apply candidate experience to attract stronger talent for the right reasons.

Imagine how much better your candidate and pre-candidate experience would be if you implemented most of the above. More important, imagine how many more talented people you’d be attracting and hiring by solving the right problem, rather than being more efficient solving the wrong problem.

Naturally, the first reaction to much of this by traditional HR folks is that it’s not compliant. Of course, since I’m not a traditional HR person I’ll say that’s why it’s so effective and why it doesn’t matter anyway. Then I’ll point the naysayers to a whitepaper in my book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, written by a top U.S. labor attorney that validates all of the above. Here’s the downloadable version if you choose not to read the book. Of course, then you’ll miss the chance to hire some really awesome people who will have a great candidate experience.