In such a tight, fast-moving labor market, you need to figure out how to gain a talent acquisition advantage. One way to do that is to develop a comprehensive candidate experience component to your employer brand strategy. The term “candidate experience” is moving from a catchphrase classification to a full-fledged area of focus under the talent acquisition umbrella of processes, and in my view, this is promising. Left unattended, candidate experience can have a dramatic negative effect on your organization’s employer brand and ability to attract top talent.

Research has found that candidates who had a bad candidate experience are far more likely to tell others not to apply to an organization, which could include a negative Comparably or Glassdoor review. With that in mind, you should just assume that every candidate who applies for a role with your organization is researching those types of sites prior to deciding to interview. What your employer brand is saying about your organization likely determines whether you will ever get a chance to speak with the candidates you wish to attract.

As I talk to many CEOs and CHROs, I still get asked this question a lot: “So what exactly is candidate experience?” which tells me that it is not getting the attention it deserves in the talent acquisition process and organizations don’t understand how it impacts their employer brand and the perception of their corporate culture.

My best explanation of candidate experience is that it should be viewed as your report card from past candidates and prospective talent on how well they were treated and communicated with during your hiring process. Now that we are in a social recruiting environment, that report card is posted all over social media for the talent world to see. So, your organization should be doing whatever it can to help craft that employer brand message from the inside. One of the best ways to do that is to improve your candidate experience.

Where do you start in the evaluation of your candidate experience processes? My recommendation is to start first with a clear view of your current employer brand. What are the employer rating sites saying about your organization culture and processes? Peter Drucker is often credited with saying, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Whether it is a perception or a reality, you need to start corrective action work on the top themes you see in the feedback from these sites. It is also critical that you respond to the feedback that is posted so past and future candidates know that you understand what has been flawed in your processes, and that you care about the feedback and are working on a fix.

Feedback on an organization’s candidate experience tends to fall within three key areas:

• Communication: I do not think I could overstate how important it is to communicate often with the candidate once you connect with them. They want to understand the application and screening process and be kept in the loop along the way. Make sure to be transparent on the process.

• The interview: To ensure that your candidates are treated well during the onsite interview, it is critical that HR and the hiring manager are both clear on their role in creating a great candidate experience. Expectations need to be set ahead of time for the candidate, and the hiring team needs to stick to that process. Candidates often complain that the process is generally loose and bends to the needs of the company, not the candidate. This should be flipped. The candidate should feel like they are the most important part of the interview process — because they are.

• The follow-up: Regardless of how the interview goes, you should always follow up with the candidates and give them honest and open feedback. Be as clear as you can on why they did or did not meet the needs of the job and make sure the feedback is timely. Rest assured that each candidate is highly likely to recommend or not recommend your company based on how they were treated and communicated with during the process, regardless of the offer. You want them to not only recommend others, but also apply for future positions that might be a better match.

With your process perfected, you may want to apply for the Talent Board Candidate Experience (CandE) Award. My company was among the 2018 winners, so I know how encouraging it can be to have your candidate experience evaluated by an external source. My advice is to not go into it with the thought of winning, but with the goal of getting a clear benchmark of your current process so that you and your team can consider any further changes needed to create a best-in-class candidate experience.

It is important to keep in mind that a great candidate experience is an excellent employer brand message for your organization. Your employer brand can make or break your chances of acquiring top talent, so it needs to be managed with intention. Take the next steps to ensure you have an employer brand strategy in place with a heavy focus on candidate experience.

By Stephen Childs

First published in Forbes Magazine April 2019