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Is Elevating Candidate Experience an Art or a Science?

Delivering a great experience to candidates will not only positively impact your hiring but also business outcomes.

Elevating candidate experience has been one of the toughest nuts to crack for recruiters. In the latest research conducted by the TalentBoard, 85% of the organizations surveyed shared that improving candidate experience was their recruiting focus. And still, candidates are often not happy increasing resentment rates by 40% since 2016.

In this digital age of hyper-connectivity, bad experiences can have a direct impact on the quality of your talent pipeline, referrals, and business outcomes. Candidates increasingly share their experiences with their network and others across social media, job portals, and other channels. And, we see more negative experiences being shared than positive ones.

But before we delve into how to deliver a great experience to candidates, we must first understand the candidate’s expectations from the hiring process.


Candidates expect a fair process that offers an equitable chance to showcase their skills; they are wary of black-box approaches where they submit their application and only hear if they are rejected or when the interview is scheduled.

COVID and the Black Lives Matters movement has increased the importance of delivering a fair hiring process. With large volumes of job applicants due to the all-time high unemployment rate, each candidate needs assurance that the process will be fair and provide an equal chance to everyone. The first step towards building a diverse workforce is ensuring a fair and equitable sourcing and screening process.

Healthy Relationship

Candidates do not view the hiring process as a transactional relationship where they apply and either land with a job or get rejected. They perceive it as the start of a long-term relationship with their future employer. And, like any relationship, this too rests on trust and regular communication. Candidates expect clear communication from employers, including your value system, what you stand for, what the role is about, and all details about the hiring process. Regular communication at every stage of the hiring process is necessary so candidates do not feel lost.


This is the number one pain point for candidates as organizations feel that sharing feedback about rejection may open a Pandora’s box for them. But, in reality, research shows that resentment drops by 30% when feedback is shared with rejected candidates.  And, any feedback shared during the interview process increases the candidate’s perception of a great experience by 20%.

So, if you can deliver a fair and ethical hiring process, maintain healthy communications, and provide feedback to candidates – it will help improve their experience and reduce candidate frustration and resentment with the hiring process. This will result in candidates recommending your organization to their friends and network, write good reviews, and positively influence your prospective employees and customers.

If you can deliver a fair and ethical hiring process, maintain healthy communications, and provide feedback to candidates—it will help improve their experience.

But, what is the secret sauce to delivering a delightful experience to candidates? Well, based on our research and working with customers worldwide, we feel it is a combination of both art and science in your approach. Organizations need to adopt an objective and scientific approach and couple it up with innovative hiring practices to hit the right ‘wow-factor’ in the candidates’ minds.

Let’s talk about the art behind candidate experience with an example of how the City and County of Denver enhanced their outreach efforts in a highly competitive labor market. The city developed a talent acquisition and employment branding strategy designed to attract and retain top talent. The strategy was based on storytelling and spotlighting employee champions who tell their story about their passion for the city and their work. Key messaging used for the campaign was based on extensive market research designed to reveal perceptions about the city as an employer. The research was conducted among target markets and different segments of the workforce population.

The talent acquisition team then built an interesting marketing campaign based on the research and targeting the right talent with the right messages across the three key segments. The research revealed what matters to these target segments and their perception of City and County of Denver. These insights were used to craft the right message in the job advertisements.

These messages were then released through multiple outreach channels like social media, job portals, and career sites that resonated with the candidates. As a result, the county was able to attract board the right talent, and it built a strong employer brand for the city in a highly competitive job market. Another important outcome was enhanced employee engagement through the utilization of city employees in campaign advertising. Employees were truly honored to be a part of the campaign and delighted to tell their stories. Utilizing their voice was the cornerstone of the strategy to create a sincere messaging platform.

Now, let’s talk about the science behind the candidate experience. It is important to adopt a data-driven approach to understand candidate behavior and use the right technology to deliver an experience that is interactive, fast, focused, and delivers value to candidates.

For a long time, we have focused on whether candidates were happy or satisfied rather than focusing on whether or not they received value. It turns out, “value” is a powerful driver of engagement and commitment compared to happiness alone. If you deliver a transparent and fair hiring process and provide feedback to candidates, they derive immense value from the whole experience.

Also, candidates are looking to engage and interact with your brand. They want to learn more about you even before they join. Use of immersive technology that helps candidates learn more about your business through photos, videos of your culture, previous recruits, and realistic job previews should be employed.

And lastly, these experiences need to be nimble and light and curated in such a way so as to drive speed. Time is often your biggest competitor, do not lose out on great candidates because someone else got to them before you. Adopt a digital hiring process using science-backed assessments and interview solutions that help candidates showcase their skills. These digital assessment tools help to objectively evaluate candidates and ensure a highly fair and equitable hiring process where decisions are based on data and not intuition.

If delivering a great experience is high on your priority list, then it’s time that you put on a different hat that enables your recruiters to use the right data and creative skills to deliver an immersive and delightful experience to candidates. And, remember that improving the candidate experience is not a short-term formula to attract talent but a long-term strategic approach towards recruitment.

Learn more about how to apply art and science to your candidate experience on

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Andrew Nelesen

Andy Nelesen is the global leader of SHL’s Volume Hiring practice, partnering with SHL customers on the design and optimization of data-driving hiring solutions for the past 10+ years.

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