What is an Ideal Applicant Experience?

Job seekers make themselves vulnerable by putting their work history and skills out there for judgment, and companies are spending time and resources to find the best person to join their team.

It’s an important process, but it’s also stressful. As a result, it’s also easy to mess up the applicant experience. But when a company provides an ideal applicant experience, they get a good reputation — and can even attract more highly qualified applicants. 

Here, we’ll dive into how you can make your applicant experience count.

What “Applicant Experience” Means

Also called the “candidate experience,” the applicant experience is how an applicant feels about your company during and after they go through your hiring process. These feelings affect an applicant’s decision to accept your offer, and whether they’d recommend your company to their friends.

While the specific experience that every applicant will have is based on their unique perspective, you can design a solid experience by focusing on:

  • Communication – in particular, don’t allow an applicant to wait too long before providing communication.  If it will be longer than 5 days, tell them that up front.
  • Empathy – Too many application and hiring processes lack empathy for the applicant who is putting themselves out there.
  • Feedback – Provide feedback (regardless of how the applicant performs)
  • Respect – Employees are not replaceable cogs in a machine.  They are people.  Respect their time, expertise and future.

Developing a great employee experience is not only the right thing to do, but in today’s world, anyone can share their negative experience online — and bad experiences will get around.   

If you do it right, you can improve your hiring efficiency and reduce costs:  job seekers are more eager to apply for or recommend a company that has positive reviews. 

If you do it wrong, expect fewer experienced candidates, higher overall recruitment expenses and a PR nightmare that might have your CEO knocking on your door.


One of the worst things a job seeker can experience is lack of communication.

Think back to your days of applying to several jobs at once. How many companies responded to your job application after it was submitted? The companies who failed to respond or even send an automated thank-you email probably didn’t leave a very good impression, did they? 

A specific response during this part of the application process is the first step in good communication. Give your applicant a solid deadline; rather than replying “Someone will follow up with you soon,” try “We’ll be in touch within a week if you’re a good fit.”

This small detail inspires confidence in your job seekers, because they’ll know your HR team is on it.

Open communication goes beyond the initial application, though. Remember to lay out your expectations clearly through the whole interview process.

Let applicants know what to expect during an interview so they can be prepared. Tell them who will be interviewing them, about how long it will take, and what they might talk about. And when an interview is over, let candidates know when they’ll be contacted and what the next steps might look like.

When you communicate honestly, you build trust and credibility with your applicants.

Have a structured interview process…and stick to it

Whether your interview process is pretty standard (screening, phone interview, face-to-face interview, follow up) or you prefer more unconventional methods, it’s important that you have structure.

Again, think back to those days when you were a bright-eyed job seeker. We bet you can remember an uncomfortable phone interview when the recruiter sounded like they were about to fall asleep, or when you were left alone for nearly an hour between interviews with different managers. You probably felt like you were a burden, or you were forgotten. Not very pleasant, right?

Put yourself in your job seeker’s shoes so you can meet their needs. How much time should we give an applicant to breathe between interviews? Is a phone interview plus three in-person interviews too overbearing? How long should we take to decide on a candidate? Once you have your applicant needs figured out, stick to a structured interview process. 

Everyone involved with interviewing an applicant should be on time, prepared, and energized (even if it takes a little extra coffee to get there).

Each person should know their role in the process: what they’re asking the applicant and why, who else is involved in interviews, when they need to make a decision, and so on. This way, your interview process for each applicant will be efficient, and you’ll be able to make decisions more quickly.

That’s a win for both you and the candidate. 

Ask for Feedback

You won’t be sure how your applicant experience seems unless you ask for feedback. You can’t improve without it. Ask for feedback from all your candidates — those you hire and those you don’t. Use their critiques in order to improve your process. You’ll keep things from getting stale and you’ll get some valuable insight. 

Asking for feedback works twofold: you’ll know how to do better next time, and you’ll show applicants respect and appreciation for their time and input. Asking for feedback doesn’t need to be a long, complicated process, either. Keep it simple, and ask your applicants a few questions in an email survey. 

Some questions to ask might include:

  • How was your overall experience?
  • What was helpful during your interview experience?
  • Would you recommend our company to a friend?
  • What could we have done better during the interview?
  • Would you apply again in the future if another job opening became available?

After you get feedback from applicants, remember to share the results! Hiring managers and leadership should be made aware of the average applicant experience. Then, tweak your hiring process so you can do better in the future.

Final Thoughts on Applicant Experience

Honest communication, an organized interview process, and openness to feedback makes for an ideal applicant experience.

When your applicants are happy with their experience, they’re more likely to spread good word-of-mouth to other job seekers, meaning your company will attract some great talent for other positions. And the applicants you do hire? Your professional relationship will start off on the right foot and they’ll be excited to start working for you.

Bottom line? Spend time making sure your applicant experience is a positive one. Your company is sure to benefit when you do.