RPO & StaffingTalent Acquisition

Brand Beware

A new report reveals the importance of brand and candidate experience in the hiring process.
Alexander Mann Solutions’ new report Candidates, Consumers and Your Global Brand dives deeply into the impact of candidate experience on consumer preferences and the hiring process. Despite the global downturn of recent years, leading organizations are still competing for the best talent around the world.
Employers that are succeeding in this war for talent recognize the importance of actively maintaining a well-managed and consistently positive employer brand, as the most talented individuals cherry pick the companies they would like to work for. And the war for talent has not ceased. Deloitte’s recent Talent Edge 2020 study of more than 350 employees at large companies found that nearly two in three were actively testing the job market.
But as we understand more about how an organization’s brand develops, it has become clear that corporate reputations are formed over a multitude of touch points with consumers, current employees, and jobseekers alike. For multinational organizations working across multiple regions, there is the added complication that while some rules of best practice may apply throughout the world, there are also cultural differences to consider. Understanding these differences and reacting accordingly can help organizations not only to appeal to the best and brightest talent across the globe, but also to ensure that whenever these individuals come into contact with an organization, its corporate brand as well as its employer value proposition are reinforced. Our research shows how this can maximize bottom-line profitability for corporations across all industries, but only when done effectively. Get it wrong, or be ineffective, and corporations incur real risks.
Don’t Overlook the Employee Lifecycle
One of the most direct and meaningful contact points between any individual and a brand (beyond employment itself) is, of course, the recruitment and selection process. It represents an interesting sliding door, a moment of transition in which an existing or potential customer is in the early stages of becoming part of the brand itself. It is often an emotive experience for candidates and an opportunity for employers to demonstrate the brand values they espouse.

Unfortunately, this essential part of the employee experience is all-too-often overlooked, or poorly ranked as a component of the wider business strategy. Yet the manner in which candidates are treated throughout the course of their application, and the level of attention given to important cultural conventions—especially at a local level—can significantly influence whether they choose to take up employment with an organization.
However, there is a further unseen factor. Our research reveals this brief initial experience greatly influences the candidate’s ongoing attitude in context of their relationship with the company as a consumer or as a business buyer.
If a candidate’s experience is negative, regardless of whether the candidate’s application is successful or unsuccessful, organizations do not just risk alienating one customer—they also risk losing a potential evangelist of the company’s products or services. Our research shows a readiness on the part of candidates from all regions to tell their story to contacts in their personal and professional networks—and this has been exacerbated by the ubiquitous nature of social media, which gives users the ability to communicate bad news quickly, and to a large number of people with ease.
In this way, one of the most vital skills for the expert sourcer, recruiter, hiring manager, or HR professional is understanding the crucial role social media now plays in recruitment and corporate reputation across different local markets. It is important to consider all touch points within the employee lifecycle when thinking about brand impact on candidates.
Candidates as Consumers
There’s particularly alarming news for any business wishing to retain control of its reputation and brand. More than half (52 percent) of respondents across the world said a negative interview experience would likely impact on their buying products or services from that organization in the future. Only 10 percent said it would not, with the remainder undecided.
“As an employer you have to get that whole journey right, because it doesn’t stop with the unsuccessful candidate or the departing employee any more. That person will continue to exist as a potential customer, product advocate, and as a possible future hire or rehire,” says Simon Thomas, head of global brand and insight, Alexander Mann Solutions. “Maximizing their experience, wherever they sit on those first two wheels, is vital to ensuring that they will continue to view your brand favorably.”
By not doing so presents a threat to all organizations, and where it hurts: the bottom line. In an economic environment where recruitment and HR resources are already stretched, the added possibility that a bad interview or job seeking experience for a candidate may negatively influence their buying decision for that brand is alarming.
With a firm correlation between the quality of a business’s recruitment cycle, and its ongoing attractiveness to any candidate engaged in that cycle, organizations must look to what the potential financial implications of a poor recruitment experience could be.
Interestingly, what’s important in a candidate experience varies by region, and in fact, organizational awareness and knowledge of differing regional tastes is essential, as is understanding how cultural variances factor in the recruitment process. Respondents from the United Kingdom, for instance, seem particularly sensitive to the quality of their interview experience. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed in the U.K. were likely to be put off by a poor or negative experience, admitting that it would definitely or probably have a damaging effect on future buying decisions. While the situation in the United States and China may be slightly less acute (50 percent and 47 percent of respondents respectively said that a negative interview had the potential to change their purchasing decisions), overall the figures remain significant.
Respondents in China indicated a sensitivity to initial messaging prior to first interview, while the U.S. audience highlighted the period between interview and acceptance as critical, because it is at this point that disengagement is most likely to occur.
“There’s a single global principle that holds true to all markets: Employers need to dispose of the mentality that it’s a one-way, single-pronged journey of engagement with their company,” notes Lisa Chartier, head of resourcing communications U.S. for AMS. “There has been a noticeable shift of power. Individuals can now choose whether to connect with an organization or not, and they have a clear option to do so both as a candidate and as a consumer. Organizations need to be humble enough to accept this, to fully understand their audiences, and to cater to their candidate’s needs and wants.”
Simply put, organizations need to ensure they manage consistency and quality of experience throughout every stage of the candidate journey, or they risk losing both a candidate and a customer. And the benefits of such an approach are obvious. Ensure that each applicant—regardless of caliber or level—enjoys the candidate experience, and the company is assured continued patronage, purchase of products and services. More importantly, they secure a long-lasting advocate for their consumer and corporate brands.
Ensuring a Positive Brand Experience
One of the clearest messages from this research is the need for organizations to ensure a positive experience at every touch point with potential customers and employees. AMS’s study clearly indicates that regardless of region, every organization’s reputation is at risk during each interaction with a candidate—including the interview and post-hire process. All regions showed a strong correlation between the candidate experience and the subsequent impact on consumer buying intentions.
“I think that consistency is one of the biggest challenges facing the recruitment industry right now,” says Todd Raphael, editor-in-chief of ERE.net, a recruiting community. “There are so many different channels and touch points for candidates that maintaining the same standard of brand experience across them all is incredibly difficult.”
Social Media: The Good and the Bad
The internet has created limitless opportunities for businesses. It has also given customers a voice, and that voice is not always a happy one.
Social media—in particular, branded feeds and fan pages—has given angry or frustrated customers the perfect arena in which to vent their displeasure. A survey conducted by Lightspeed Research in January 2011 found that 15 percent of 18 to 34 year olds have used an official Facebook page to complain about a brand.
Naturally, this attitude extends into the recruitment world. In the social media age, the relating of negative interview experiences is unlikely to stop with immediate family and friends—it’s likely to be shared widely and happily. The old English adage “bad news travels fast” is particularly apt in an environment where opinions are openly shared, where communication channels serve thousands of people, and when the sharing of information occurs with a click of a button.
From the survey, when asked if you had a negative candidate experience with an employer, which are you most likely to tell about it:
• 77 percent of respondents said they are likely to tell people within either their professional or personal networks (or both) if they have had a negative interview experience.
• 33 percent of respondents said they are likely to share the bad news among only one network of acquaintances, preferably their personal circle.
Naturally, this is an area where location dictates common practices. Candidates from the U.K. are more likely to tell both personal and professional networks, while those from China either tell people in their personal network or no one at all. Candidates from the U.S. are most likely to spread news of a negative interview experience among their professional connections.
“We track and monitor online mentions for some of the world’s biggest brands across 200 million different sites,” adds Dan Purvis, director of public relations at The Meltwater Group. “So we have great insight into just how fast news spreads online. That’s something that big companies are particularly interested in, and it’s particularly relevant to brand perception and recruitment too.”
Meltwater Buzz, a tool that specializes in providing sentiment analysis from social media and online comments, is finding favor with some of the world’s biggest firms. “It’s a natural extension of press monitoring in many ways. Companies want to know what’s being said about them, where, and how that impacts on their reputation,” he says.
“There’s a big HR element to that; candidate attraction relies on having a credible, attractive brand, and you don’t want anything getting in the way of that.”
It’s clear that organizations risk compromising long-term sustainability by ignoring the impact of the candidate experience. And there are compelling reasons for organizations to align the activities of HR departments with existing marketing teams and brand custodians, and to ensure an organization’s aims and values are aligned to the complete hiring process—be it selection, assessment, interviewing, or on-boarding of candidates.
At the same time, this alignment must be driven by an understanding of the expectations and cultural preferences of candidates in local markets. In many instances, a close working partnership between HR, marketing, and the recruitment functions can provide valuable insight into the audiences and communities accessed by all three. A deeper relationship between these business functions can lessen the risk of alienating candidates, enable the identification of potential candidate pools or target markets, and ultimately enhance profitability.
The statistics referenced in this paper form the results of research conducted by Alexander Mann Solutions in late 2010. The research, conducted as a survey, aimed to establish global views on candidate and employee experiences and the correlation of subsequent impact on brand and consumer activity. Findings are based on answers from 540 respondents in the United Kingdom (36 percent), the United States (29 percent), and China (35 percent).

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