There’s been a lot of attention in recent years on the importance of the candidate experience, and its subsequent impact on hiring success. A lot of these discussions focus on the communication aspect of the hiring process such as responding to candidates quickly, letting them know where they stand, and so on. Some of those aspects can be handled with technology, i.e. chatbots with FAQs and answers loaded into them. But, while we’ve been interviewing candidates for decades, a lot of the “candidate experience and interview” dialogue out there on the Internet is about the typical interview style, how to dress, and how to answer the usual round of questions. Rarely do we dive into the candidate side of the equation to examine what they want out of an interview (aside from a job of course!) and what red flags might send your great candidates sprinting in the opposite direction. What can companies do to meet candidate expectations during an interview and protect those all-star job applicants from walking away?
What are candidates watching for?
These days, candidates are vetting companies just as much as companies are vetting them. While a hiring manager might walk into an interview with a list of what they need to find out, a well-prepared candidate will do the same thing. Candidates want to know what their work-life would be like at a company and whether this next job jump will be better than their current one. They've likely already read your Glassdoor views and scoped out all they can about the company on LinkedIn. If they reach the interview stage, they usually have a sense of the employer brand and are waiting for their interviewers to either confirm or add more information to the opinion of the company a candidate has already started forming. That's where the interview and any possible red flags come into play.
At the most basic level, candidates expect the following in their interviews:
- Punctuality from the interviewer
- Professionalism in dress, relative to the type of organization (startup vs. established, different industries have different norms on dress)
- The interviewer is prepared and clearly knows a decent amount about the candidate
- The questions are specific and focused; there is some small talk but not a lot of broad, general questions or “get to know you” banter
- The interviewer seems to understand the role and can answer questions about it: What it does all day/week, potential advancement path from the role, compensation, etc.
And honestly, looking at this list nothing should be shocking or new. However, you'd be surprised by how many hiring managers walk into an interview without fully reading a candidate's resume first. Basically the name of the game here is to be professional and prepared, just as you are expecting your candidate to be.
Going a level deeper
Beyond a basic level of respect and competency, the best candidates will be looking for more in their interviews to help inform their decisions. They'll like want to probe deeper into the following areas:
- Culture: It should be no surprise this one tops the list. A good candidate is going to want to know about company culture and how that impacts the role they'll be stepping into. If your answer is vague (or if you haven't thought much about culture) it will send a red flag that this may not be a priority to the company or that the company values may not align with the candidates'. And sending the message that culture doesn't matter also implies engagement and work satisfaction might be lower as a result.
- Work-life balance: Most candidates won't openly ask about this as it violates the unwritten rule about asking questions that touch on salary or benefits. However, every candidate wants to know about what their work-life will be like and will try to read between the lines to find out. Questions about work challenges or typical workday responsibilities are pointing at this balance. So be open about what a candidate really wants to know. Is this a role that requires overtime or is it one that is more flexible?
- Management style: Candidates know what their best manager style is and odds are, they've had a bad manager in the past. So they'll likely want to know as much as possible about their future leader. Painting a picture of a typical day in the office or even asking the candidate what their preferred management style is can bring this conversation out in the open. If there's no alignment on the management style between a candidate and a manager, this might be a red flag for both parties.
- Employee experience: These days everyone want to know about the employee experience and candidates might explicitly ask about it. Make sure you're prepared to talk about work-life, career progression, learning opportunities, and the employee value prop. Not knowing the answers to any of these areas will again cause a candidate to wonder if the concepts are important to the company, and that answer might be key to the candidate's decision-making process.
Questions interviewers should be prepared for
If you want to prep for possible job seeker interview questions, here's a good list to start with:
- What is the culture actually like? What are the good and bad elements? How hard do people work/how late do they stay? What is the work-life balance like? What are some stories about current and past employees that might best illustrate the culture?
- How are decisions made? Is it mostly top-down or are there possibilities for ideas and innovations from other levels?
- What is the team I’d be entering like? How big is the team? What have been the challenges of the team to this point? What have been the successes?
- How often are people advanced/are there opportunities for growth? Is this in terms of salary or responsibility? How often do people tend to advance?
- How does the company make money? What are the revenue streams now? What are other areas the company is considering in the future?
- What is the team I’d be entering measured on? What metrics are used to evaluate this team? How often is the team evaluated? What about individuals on the team?
- Are there opportunities for learning and training? Do you develop your employees?
- How is collaboration? Do different teams and silos collaborate well, or is it mostly divided by working with your functional expertise group?
Candidate experience is here to stay
Job seekers are becoming more aware of a company prior to applying and more prepared for the interview process than ever before. With a tight hiring market, this pushes the onus onto hiring managers to provide a great candidate experience that gives potential new hires the information they need to come onboard. While the basics like ensuring you follow-up with each interviewee remain important, many candidates are looking for more. They want to know the ins and outs of a role before they sign on the dotted line and really, don't honest interview conversations benefit both the company and the candidate alike in the long run? A positive experience goes a long way toward getting that stellar candidate to say yes to your job offer and if the candidate is considering multiple offers, it can help tip the scale in the direction of yours. The bottom line is, give candidates the respect they deserve and make sure your hiring team is prepared to meet them. A positive interview experience can make or break your offer so give that resume another run through before you go off to meet them.