Remember the applicant experience!

Present for the interview was the entire board – but there was clearly no division of labor of any kind between them, and they didn’t seem to have chosen anyone to lead the interview. The interview had no agenda or structure. The chairperson of the board seemed to be the poodle of one particular board member.

This is how a candidate for the post of CEO at a certain company described the interview situation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the candidate decided to withdraw. For this interviewee, the way the interview went was representative of the board’s activity in general. The performance by the board made a decidedly poor impression on an applicant who, if he or she had eventually been offered and accepted the job, would have to work with this board as the CEO’s most important cooperation partner.

How much do you, as an interviewer, think about the applicant’s experience of the interview situation? Considering how decisive the applicant’s impressions and interpretations of the situation can be, hopefully you think about it a lot! The responsibility is yours to ensure that the applicant’s interest in and respect for your organization remain high after the interview also. The many phases of the recruitment process have a huge effect on the applicant experience, as do applicant communications in particular. But the interview itself, as the first face-to-face meeting, is the most important situation of all.

Applicant experience – what’s that?

The applicant experience is simply the applicant’s personal experience of the job-seeking situation – of course it’s subjective, but for that applicant it is entirely genuine and actual. The applicant experience is the sum total of emotions, impressions, and “vibes” that the applicant gets or picks up on in relation to his or her observations of a given organization. So if, during the interview, you are glancing at your smartphone or are otherwise absent or aloof, then you’re wasting your time telling the applicant that you’re a listening and attentive employer who cares about the views of people you hire for the organization. The vital first impression, or first performance as we’ve already put it, can be given only once.

What kinds of things need your particular attention?

The opening example emphasized the importance of cooperation between the interviewers. For this to be in order, the interviewers need to decide on a division of labor and responsibilities in advance of the interview. At the outset of the interview, it’s a good idea to tell the interviewee what each participant’s role in the situation will be, and to give a brief outline of the aims of the interview and how it will proceed. The situation is really no different from everyday working life. If they could, just about everyone would choose to be in a meeting where the overall objective and the roles of each participant are readily apparent, and where the careful advance planning shines through, and where these is clear leadership. This applies equally to the interviewer: a carefully prepared interview that goes smoothly demonstrates to the applicant the interviewer’s skill and professionalism.

A positive interview atmosphere is essential for the most basic purpose of the interview to be fulfilled. And it, too, contributes to the applicant experience. A feeling of trust, and a calm atmosphere suited to dialogue, set the scene for an open discussion. The interviewer’s own frame of mind and its effects on the atmosphere should be acknowledged. For instance, did the tough negotiating session you had shortly before the interview “stay on” in your mind, meaning that you come to this entirely different situation already feeling irritable? Or has an overly demanding schedule over the past few days left you feeling drained and stressed? Another factor that brings is own complications to the interview situation is the presence of multiple interviewers. At its best, this allows the applicant to see his or her own potential team or other work community members work together, and to get a glimpse of the chemistry between them.

The interviewer’s attitude and disposition towards the applicant are, in the applicant’s eyes, the attitude and disposition of the organization, or those of the recruiting supervisor towards his or her employees. Being mentally present, treating and relating to other people respectfully, giving them the chance to present themselves at their best, and answering their questions are virtues that we surely take for granted in other social interactions. Nobody is suggesting that an interview situation is supposed to be friendly chitchat. But neither should it be an interrogation. Its purpose is to serve both the interviewer and the interviewee.

A good rule of thumb, one that you might even be fond of pointing out to recruiting supervisors, is this: try stepping into the applicant’s shoes. If you were the applicant, what would your expectations be, and what would you not want to experience?

If you would like to learn more about how the applicant experience contributes to building your organization’s image as an employer, sign up for our training course!