7 Essential Steps to Engaging Today's Candidates

It doesn’t take long for top talent to find a job. They’re looking and every employer wants them. Still, even in today’s market a majority of candidates consider job search to be one of the most stressful experiences of their lives. Employers can make it easier for them by making a special effort in seven key areas. Candidate engagement amounts to the sum of all the critical “little” things you do throughout the hiring process—the ones that make people feel valued and enable you to successfully compete for their talent.

Despite the Great Resignation, most people actually do want to work. They simply want to work for the “right kind” of company, a definition that has dramatically changed in recent years. Everything related to work is in a state of flux these days, making it difficult for any employer to feel in control. My advice is to lean into those things you can control. One of them is how you go about engaging with candidates. Put your focus where it matters most, on attracting (and retaining) the right people.

1. Check Your Brand

Your employment brand, whether it’s positive, negative, or nonexistent, significantly impacts your ability to attract top talent. What makes your organization a great place to work? It’s important that you understand how your policies, practices, and culture make employees feel, because they’re out there telling the world about it. You cannot control how your employees describe you, nor can you hide the impressions you make on vendors and customers. This means you can’t just say who you are as an organization, you have to be it.

A strong employment brand clearly communicates your workplace culture, mission, and values. It gives potential candidates a compelling reason to consider you as their next employer, and a reason for current employees to stay.

There are several ways you can get an accurate view of your employer brand. One is to regularly ask your current employees what they like and don’t like about working for you. In employee surveys, ask how likely employees are to refer friends to work for your organization, the question many experts believe is the most telling. Check how employees describe you on sites like Glassdoor. Hire first for values and attitude rather than for experience to ensure candidates are the right fit with your culture and more able to succeed.

2. Understand Trends and Expectations

Today, no one would disagree that workplaces have fundamentally changed. It’s clear that many workers took stock of their priorities over the pandemic years and have raised their expectations of employers. They’ve moved from having to accept whatever employers mandated to demanding more humane environments based on things like empathy, flexibility, purpose, safety, work/life balance, transparency, inclusiveness, and fairness. Trends are leaning toward remote and hybrid work, wellbeing, and personal accommodation.

As many companies finally implement return to office policies, a lot of workers are choosing to leave for fully remote or hybrid jobs, higher pay, better working conditions, or more opportunity for growth. Watch trends, understand changing expectations, and update continually. There is no more one and done when it comes to workplace environments.

3. Personalize the Experience

While there is a definite trend toward automation in recruiting, the human touch is still powerful and important and increasingly valued by candidates looking for human-centered workplaces. You can personalize your candidates’ experience by:

  • Creating messaging specific to each job.
  • Leveraging social channels and references to connect directly with prospective candidates; moving from email and/or text to personal calls as soon as possible.
  • Researching individuals to see what’s important to them in life and work and letting them know how your company can support their interests and values.
  • Develop a relationship with each candidate over 10-12 touchpoints.

4. Communicate Frequently

There are many ways to communicate with candidates; find the right balance of timeliness and relevancy for individual candidates so you don’t risk turning them off by not keeping them updated. At a minimum:

  • Use a variety of contact methods, from social media to personal notes that express appreciation and respect for their time and effort.
  • Write interesting, honest, and detailed job descriptions that cast a wide net and don’t eliminate good candidates with unnecessary requirements. (Does that job really need a college degree? Does it require 10 years’ experience or just “solid” experience?)
  • Develop an inviting careers page on your website that includes videos and employee testimonials along with information about mission, values, and culture.
  • Get feedback on your process.

5. Lead with Empathy

Empathy is about taking time to listen, putting yourself in someone else’s place, and sharing feelings. It requires a willingness to take yourself off center stage, be vulnerable, and not judge. These acts are often difficult for leaders to perform. And yet empathy has been shown to be the most important trait the best leaders share. When leaders dare to care about their people it creates the kind of human-centric culture candidates and employees everywhere are looking for. Be brave and allow yourself to connect with people on deeper levels.

6. Ask and Tell Stories

Storytelling is the best way to get to the truth. When both organization and candidate are putting only their best foot forward, they forget that it takes two feet to get where they want to go. By inserting storytelling into the interview process, you elicit greater authenticity, make stronger connection, and are the one who is remembered.

Storytelling should not replace your normal interview questions and assessments, but it helps you look beyond skills and experience to attitude and cultural fit. It gives you a broader and deeper look at each other, leading to better, more lasting employment decisions. Some questions that generate storytelling are:

  • What’s your most memorable work experience? What’s your second most memorable?
  • Describe a time when what you did deeply reflected who you are.
  • When in your career have you so passionately focused on something that you lost track of time and were completely lost in what you were doing?
  • Describe a time in your career when you felt uniquely valued.
  • What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and how did it make you feel?
  • How do you hope it would feel working for this organization?

7. Streamline Your Process

If your hiring process stretches on for too long, you risk losing candidates to a competitor who acts more quickly. Here are tips to ensure a speedy, responsive hiring process:

  • Establish a standard hiring process emphasizing timeliness and quality candidates and get all stakeholders on board.
  • Set timelines for all stakeholders and communicate regularly to ensure everyone is keeping pace.
  • Take advantage of current tools such as interview scheduling programs, automated email reminders, and online pre-screen questionnaires.
  • Ensure that anyone involved in the interview/selection process is coached well.
  • Stay in touch with candidates and keep them informed of their progress. It's better to explain a delay rather than leave them wondering.
  • Look for areas in your hiring and onboarding processes that you can innovate.

If you want to win top talent, make sure you are offering candidates what they are looking for and that you treat them like the potential assets they are. People decide to work for you for the same reasons they buy your products or services: largely because they’ve come to trust or like you based on what you say and do. You’ll never have trouble engaging top candidates if you remember that everything about your business begins with people, not profits.

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