One of the most common terms around recruiting these days is candidate experience. If you’re late to the game, it’s basically a look at how candidates are treated as they enter your recruiting funnel all the way to getting an offer, if they move that far. It’s comparable to the customer experience: how they are treated, how they feel about the organization, etc. I’ve long held that candidate experience is seen as unimportant not because it doesn’t matter, but because companies just don’t know how to make it stick.

Think about it. If I told you starting today that you had to treat every candidate with the same reverence you offered your customers, you would have a hard time making it work among your other job duties. In addition, you’d probably be unsure just how to make that a reality. I recently wrote about how to revolutionize candidate experience (here). The gist:

  1. Measure it continuously
  2. Make it automatic
  3. Make it part of recruiting performance
  4. Make it more important than something else
  5. Make it a business priority, not an HR one

Those are good, helpful pieces of information, but I’ll do you one better. My friend Jane, the HR leader for a startup technology company in Boston, left me a comment that was worth sharing. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because she has authored a few previous guest posts here (How to Select a Third Party RecruiterThe Struggle Between a Caring Work Environment and Talent Density. and Applying Marketing Principles to HR). Here’s Jane’s take on practical ways to impact candidate experience:

It didn’t seem to push through, but figured I’d share on your candidate experience article:

Ben, great article. My experience is that the candidate (and employee) experience becomes acutely important when in a highly-competitive market where you want to hire people better than the job criteria … but so does everyone else.

I’ll give you an example – in one of my positions, we posted on craigslist, got a bunch of applicants, handled them the average HR way, and hired people who met our criteria – most of whom were fine. In retrospect, many (but not all – I worked with some really great people) were looking for a less-bad job than their last.

In another position, we wanted the cream of the crop (without being able to pay Google money). To win those candidates, it became much more important to give them access to our CEO, mission and strategy. To woo them by meeting members of the team. And to actively court them. Unless we were in love with a candidate, we weren’t extending an offer. And if we extended that offer, we really wanted a yes.

Ultimately, you need buy in from the top-down because hiring (and the way candidates are treated) needs to become more important than everything else on people’s plates. The pay-off? Spectacular talent. A competitive advantage in the market. Awesome referrals. And people who leave for greener pastures, but want to return.

What I like in particular about their approach is the clear delineation between “what we did” and “what we do now” with regard to how candidates are treated. This is the same approach I took when I was leading the HR function at Pinnacle Solutions. Things like access to the CEO, the opportunity to bring a spouse/SO to the office to meet people before accepting an offer, or even just a private meeting with peers to ask questions they didn’t feel comfortable asking me or the hiring manager are all incredibly powerful tools in these circumstances.

How does your organization make the overall experience for candidates a priority? Has it worked for you? 

Today we’re hosting a guest post from a long-time friend and fellow HR practitioner. Jane Jaxon is the rockstar HR Director for a tech company in Boston. Learn more about her in the bio below the article. 

Zappos is my HR idol. I have posters on the wall, read articles about them in HR Beat, ask them to sign things – you know how these crushes go. I’m obsessed not because of their dreamy eyes or perfect coif, but because they are known world-wide for their happy employees (many of whom are in a call-center – no easy task!), clearly defined values (that they have the cojones to hire and fire by), and because they scaled culture without negatively impacting their bottom line (they still are the dominant player in their market).

I was lucky enough to tour their HQ in Las Vegas recently. They do Insights tours daily and quite literally open their doors on company culture. There were some obvious takeaways as to what makes them special – the perks, zany work environment, and tons of things they do to make work-life easier for employees – but I walked away thinking I finally get their special sauce. Hint: it isn’t what companies focus on poaching when trying to create a special culture, but it’s what they should focus on.

The Zappos secret

So what makes Zappos, Zappos? Employees really, truly feel comfortable being themselves. It’s not just a show they put on for the tour, it’s palpable. Zapponians dress in what makes them comfortable. Work stations are tailored entirely to their owner – be it a prim and proper organizational center or an ode the their favorite sports team or hobby. Work seems to be an extension of who each and every employee is as a person. Oh yeah, and their CEO is out there for everyone to run into, talk to, and approach with issues.

How can we, as HR professionals, allow and encourage employees to be themselves? It starts with the interview (maybe even before). Give candidates a chance to talk about what gets them excited outside of work … and genuinely care to hear the answer. It will let them know that they can be more than a contributor at your company – they can be a person. Boy does that make a difference!

It also comes from the top. Is the leadership team opening up and sharing a bit about who they are as people with your employees? Is your CEO accessible and open with employees? Do you celebrate your employees as people instead of just as contributors? The answers to all of the above should be a resounding yes.

Aspiring to be like Zappos is a challenge, but I’m convinced that there is a business reason to try. Recruiting gets easier through referrals and word of mouth. Happy, engaged employees will work harder, be invested in the company’s success and stick around much longer. And coming to work doesn’t feel like, well, work. Who wouldn’t want that?

About the author: Jane Jaxon is the HR Director of a high-growth tech company in Boston where she gets to focus on building a great workplace and scaling people operations. Jane’s favorite buzzwords of the trade are eNPS, talent density and (of course) people operations. She likes neither pina colada’s nor getting caught in the rain, but sure loves marathoning critically-acclaimed tv series, reading in the sun, plotting her fantasy football world domination and, lastly, keeping a stealthy social media presence. Find her on LinkedIn.