Providing a bad experience to job applicants can irreparably damage your employer brand. Richard MacKinnon of Talent Q claims that good practice can be gleaned from the four mistakes typically made by organisations.

A generic ‘thanks but no thanks’ email is all that many candidates receive after an unsuccessful job application. Some companies don’t even bother to send that. It’s ironic how an organisation can strive to become an employer of choice – by building a strong brand and creating a friendly culture, great working conditions and good opportunities for training and progression – only to throw its values and reputation out of the window, when it comes to recruitment, by providing such a bad experience to job applicants.

At last, organisations are waking up to the impact of the ‘candidate experience’ – the end-to-end process which begins when a candidate applies for a job and finishes with them getting feedback on whether or not they were successful in their application.

One way to create a great candidate experience is to understand what most annoys or confuses candidates and why they drop out of the application process. Here’s where many organisations fall down:

1.They don’t explain the reason for assessments.
Psychometric tests are increasingly used to sift and select candidates. However, recruiters often fail to explain why candidates are being asked to undertake these tests; why the information is needed; how this is relevant to the job; what the organisation will do with the data and who will actually see it.

Before tests moved online, candidates would physically go into organisations to complete paper-based versions. Recruiters would invariably take this opportunity to explain in detail the objectives of the assessment and how the data would be used. It was seen as a ‘sales opportunity’, a chance to positively impress the candidates. With the advent of technology – and the increase in the number of candidates applying for positions – the concept of pre-assessment communication has slipped through the net in many organisations.

Good practice is to very clearly explain why you are using assessments as part of your selection process. For example, if you are using a personality questionnaire, you could explain how certain personalities lend themselves to certain roles in the organisation and that you’re looking to gain an insight into aspects such as how the candidate likes to approach the world of work, how they’ll interact with people in the work environment and how they’ll manage tasks and projects. You could also state that the results would be used to inform an interview with the candidate.

2.They don’t offer any feedback after conducting assessments.
Everyone who uses psychometric assessments has to take part in accredited training that meets the requirements of the British Psychological Society (BPS). Among other things, these requirements stipulate that organisations must treat data with confidentiality and they should provide feedback to candidates.

However, with the pressure that today’s recruiters are under, feedback has become an expensive luxury rather than an intrinsic element of the recruitment process. Some recruiters will question whether it is practical to provide feedback to large numbers of applicants. However, our experience is that offering detailed feedback is not the same thing as providing it. Only a very small proportion of applicants will actually take you up on the offer.

Good practice is to utilise the ‘automatic reporting’ functionality that some assessment companies provide. Without cost or inconvenience to you, this allows each candidate to access their own feedback report containing the results of each psychometric assessment they have completed, such as ability tests or personality questionnaires. You can then ‘offer’ to supplement this with more detailed feedback, if it is required.

3.They don’t tell the candidate why he or she was unsuccessful.
In the absence of any information from the organisation, candidates will often form their own opinions about why they were unsuccessful in their application. Their conclusions are often wrong. For example, candidates might assume that a personality questionnaire cost them the job, when in fact it was something else, such as their performance at an interview.

Personality questionnaires have been shown to be a valid way of assessing a candidate’s approach to tasks and projects, their relationships with others, their drivers and their emotions. However if they are deployed in the recruitment process without context or instruction – and no feedback is given afterwards – it is understandable that candidates may treat them with suspicion and distrust.

Good practice is to provide specific feedback to candidates on why their application was unsuccessful. Ideally this should include details of where they were strong against the required competencies and where they were weak. Suggested development points may even be offered. This is particularly important for a business-to-consumer organisation, as any candidates are also likely to be your customers.

4.They don’t centralise the data from the selection process.
Some organisations don’t use the data they collect from assessments at all. Others do but they don’t keep a centralised record of the candidate’s information. As a result, candidates can be asked the same questions by different interviewers. Overlapping the selection process not only causes duplicated results, it also irritates the candidates. If the application process isn’t seen as valid, some candidates will drop out of it. The hiring organisation therefore risks losing talented people through inefficiency.

Good practice is to be clear about what information you want from candidates; to proactively plan the process from their point of view; to use relevant assessments; to communicate clearly; to offer feedback to candidates throughout and to use – and share – the resultant information.

At the interview stage, you should conduct a verification test to check the candidate’s results in the assessments used earlier in the process. It is also worth thanking the candidates for undertaking the initial assessments and explaining that the time they spent on them was worthwhile because the data gained will be used to support the interview and the subsequent stages of the process. At all times, you want candidates to feel valued and engaged, even if they will not be appointed.

What would happen if your customers experienced a lack of response, a lack of information or lack of feedback? Ultimately, good practice – and the real way to deliver a great candidate experience that enhances your employer brand – is to treat your job applicants with the same care and consideration as you would treat your customers.

Richard MacKinnon is head of learning & development solutions at Talent Q.