Nearly 60 percent of job seekers say they’ve had a poor candidate experience, and most have shared it online or with someone directly.

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Ask any job seeker about their candidate experiences and you’re sure to hear a lot of horror stories.

While no one expects the hiring process to be perfect, it seems like more and more job seekers are complaining about their experiences, everything from the online application process to responses after interviews (or lack thereof).

“I spent three hours customizing my résumé for the job opportunity and writing my cover letter. Then it took me over an hour to trudge through the online application process. I couldn’t believe how difficult they made it.”

“After applying online, I received an auto-generated email that looked like it had been written by a robot. A robot with terrible grammar and poor spelling, I should add.”

“The recruiter scheduled a telephone interview, then never called. After I emailed him, he rescheduled twice and blew me off two more times. You can be sure I’ll never consider that company for employment again and I can’t wait to share my thoughts in a Glassdoor review.”

Why the seeming increase in poor job candidate experiences? During the Great Recession, roughly 8.1 million U.S. jobs were shed, and unemployment peaked at about 10 percent. Companies were in survival mode and the focus was on retaining and gaining customers while reducing costs. The job candidate selection process wasn’t deemed all that important, because there were so many job seekers available.

Negative candidate experiences impacting employers

Over the last several years, the unemployment rate has steadily dropped back down to the pre-recession level of 4.4 percent, which means fewer job seekers for each opportunity and more difficulty for employers in finding qualified candidates. This puts pressure on companies to focus attention on candidate experiences and to make it a key element of their talent acquisition and/or employer brand strategy.

“What I believe many companies are waking up to is the realization that job candidates are also consumers of their brand,” notes Lisa Chartier, head of employer brand and recruitment marketing at Philips, a global health technology company with offices in Bothell. “The candidate experience during the recruitment process not only determines their willingness to join the company, it also shapes the relationship they have with the brand and their willingness to make purchases from a company longer term.”

“Companies that don’t focus on improving the candidate experience journey could actually end up harming their employer brand,” warns Lian Shao, a human resources and organizational behavior lecturer at the University of Washington Foster School of Business. “That’s because it’s now much easier for job seekers to share their poor experiences in global online forums.”

Wit the ubiquity of the internet and social media, disgruntled job seekers have become more vocal about their candidate experiences. According to a CareerArc survey, nearly 60 percent of candidates surveyed said they had a poor candidate experience, and 72 percent of those candidates shared that experience online or with someone directly.

How to improve the candidate experience

Whether your company is new to the concept of job candidate journey-mapping or is already working on ways to improve the candidate experience, here are six tips that are sure to help.

Identify all candidate experience touch-points. “This shouldn’t just include the most common touch-points, such as telephone screening interviews or in-person interviews,” notes UW’s Shao. It should identify every point along the entire talent acquisition process; everything from brand discovery to job descriptions, the online application, telephone and in-person interviews, the job offer — all the way through onboarding activities.

Analyze the current situation. Use surveys, interviews and data mining to learn everything possible (good or bad) about each touch-point. Speaking with recently hired employees and analyzing comments on employer review sites such as Glassdoor can provide a wealth of information and rich insights into what candidates are experiencing with your company.

Determine areas for improvement. Rate your company in each area of the candidate journey to discover the areas needing the most improvement. Then, determine where you can make the biggest impact, how long it will take and the resources necessary (people, technology tools and budget).

Dedicate qualified resources. To improve the candidate journey experience, dedicate enough qualified resources and budget. Especially helpful are resources who have marketing/communications and branding experience and who also have in-depth knowledge of HR, expertise in process improvement techniques and are tech-savvy.

Be smart about scoping. Inevitably, there will be more work to be done than there is time (or budget) available. That means you’ll need to carefully consider how much can be tackled within a given time frame or budget cycle. It can also help to structure activities as a continuous improvement program versus a one-time project.

Seek inspiration. There’s a lot that can be learned from other companies and industries. “Digital Marketing and other B2C domains are further along their journeys to better meeting customer expectations in today’s digital-driven, multi-generational environment,” says Chartier. “There’s a lot that we can learn from them and apply to our own HR challenges, instead of reinventing the wheel.”

The need for a human touch. Creating a comprehensive, integrated approach to providing a positive candidate experience can improve your employer brand, especially if each step of the journey is aligned with your company’s mission, values and business objectives. The most important aspect? Ensuring a human touch during each step of the candidate journey.

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.