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 min read

Candidate Engagement: the ultimate how to guide

Candidate engagement is the biggest differentiator for recruiters in 2023 and beyond, this is the why, what and how of candidate engagement.

September 29, 2020
Yuma Heymans
December 7, 2022
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In this complete guide on candidate engagement we'll go through the following topics:

  1. What is candidate engagement
  2. Why candidate engagement is important
  3. Stages in candidate engagement
  4. The practical guide to candidate engagement

1. What is candidate engagement

Candidate engagement is the practice of interacting with potential candidates over several touchpoints during the recruiting cycle in order to build relationships and create a positive candidate experience.

A great candidate experience is for a big part the result of great candidate engagement. 

Candidate engagement is about involving candidates in your company brand, mission and job positions through several touchpoints in the recruitment funnel.

The goal of candidate engagement at a candidate level is to inform, educate and nurture the candidate with the right resources at the right time in order for them to make an informed decision about taking next steps with your company and for any open job.

Candidate engagement is also sometimes referred to as talent engagement, but candidate engagement is the more accurate term because talent engagement can also be about workforce engagement (the current employee base). This guide is not about workforce engagement but about candidate engagement.

2. Why candidate engagement is important

We are living in a time where information is accessible with the touch of a finger.

Expectations are higher than ever in terms of speed, information quality and timing.

How new relationships are built is also continuously changing.

New stories.

More channels.

Faster interactions.

Stronger expectations.

Candidates want a lot and want it quick.

You have to not only fulfil needs, but also create needs.

People don’t know what they want anymore because everything is possible. You have to provide them with options they weren’t looking for and enough information at the right time to support your argument for a change.

“Give me what you got and I’ll swipe”.

The time that you stay top of mind gets shorter and shorter. Distraction is everywhere and the next opportunity around the corner.

The market is not demand driven, it’s not candidate driven, it’s opportunity abundant.

Reaching the right candidates is not enough.

Making them interested in your offer is not enough.

You need to engage them into the employment experience.

The numbers don’t lie about the importance of engagement

These market figures indicate why candidate engagement has become so important:

Candidates have more opportunities and higher expectations than ever before

62% of millennials are convinced that if they lose a job today, they will find a great job opportunity within 3 months.

The number of candidates who drop-off from the hiring process has increased by 20% in recent years.

Candidates highly value being informed at the right time

65% of candidates lose interest in the job opening after a negative experience during the process.

A great candidate experience results in 70% quality improvement of the new hires.

80% of candidates don’t consider any other relevant job openings at a company that didn’t notify them about their application status.

They are on average 3.5 times more likely to apply to other open positions at a company that was keeping them updated.

52% of job seekers say that the lack of quick response from employers is a significant challenge during the job application process.

Firing one shot generic messages away is just not enough anymore

42% of recruiters say that one of the major barriers to identifying qualified candidates is people not responding to emails and calls.

47% of candidates fail job interviews because they do not have enough information about the company.

Candidates have access to multiple sources of information, researching a company has never been so easy. 79% of job seekers utilize social media in their job search.

This makes the engagement mindset even more important since candidates have to be convinced multiple times and with plenty of information to support your case for being a great employer.

The reducing attention span

One underlying phenomenon that drives the increasing importance of candidate engagement is that candidates’ attention spans, and actually attention spans of people in general, are becoming shorter and shorter.

People look at a post on social media for an average time of 2 seconds.

This also means that candidates look at the information your serve them shorter and shorter.

To prevent that candidates forget about you as quickly as they got introduced to you, you need several touchpoints to get them more engaged with your employer brand and open job. You need to expand the candidate experience and stay top of mind over a longer period of time to pull candidates in.

The difference between conventional recruitment and candidate engagement

Think about the last time you gave a presentation:

Were you sending a message and maybe saw some people nodding their heads?

Were you sharing a story and maybe got some questions in return?

OR

Were you inviting people to become part of what you believe and do?

Traditional recruitment has a very transactional character. The recruiter reaches out and expects that the candidate will respond in a certain time frame. If they don’t, the candidate is regarded ‘unresponsive’. Exactly because of this reason traditional (or transactional) recruitment is becoming less effective. 

With the philosophy of candidate engagement you don’t spray and pray and transact, you rather engage with several sources of information, across multiple channels and at different times.

Here’s how recruitment has evolved:

  • The old - “Recruit”: recruiting is as old as mankind and puts the emphasis on filling job positions with a one way goal and target.
  • The current - “Attract”: a more modern term that puts more emphasis on the candidate’s interests and preference for communication but lacking the focus on action.
  • The new - “Engage”: a new way of thinking in talent acquisition which focuses on getting people to experience what you’re part of so they feel inclined to take action.

3. Stages in candidate engagement

Candidate engagement is a combination of marketing and sales. In recruitment terms that means that candidate engagement is about employer brand, recruitment marketing en direct recruitment.

To get a better understanding of the phases a candidate goes to from an engagement perspective, it helps to look at the marketing funnel as a reference model: the marketing funnel is a concept designed to show the stages that a lead moves through when evaluating a product. The same funnel can be applied to the (passive) candidate evaluation of their next potential employer.

Source original image: Sprout

These are the stages of the marketing funnel translated to the candidate journey:

  • Awareness: the candidate knows of the existence of the hiring company
  • Consideration: the candidate considers becoming an employee of the company
  • Conversion: the candidate goes through the process of becoming an employee of the company
  • Loyalty (employees): the employee decides to stay for a bit with the company
  • Advocacy (employees): the employee becomes the ‘recruiter’ themselves and promotes the employer brand

Awareness

The candidate is yet to be made aware of your employer brand, team culture and job opportunities in the awareness stage. They have yet to hear from you and realize that you exist.

It is critical to present the correct information in an attractive manner during the recognition stage in order to arouse the interest of potential applicants.

The objective of the awareness stage is to spark the interest of the candidate, so that they will want to find out more about your organization.

Consideration

In the consideration stage the passive candidate has seen your initial outreach and has expressed initial interest in the hiring company and open jobs.

They are currently contemplating switching jobs, but are still undecided if they should. They are considering their possibilities, such as you and your employer, the team, and the job opening, and researching them all.

The goal of the consideration stage is to focus the candidate’s attention on you as their best option.

Conversion

In the conversion stage the passive candidate will confirm (or not confirm) their interest by making a decision about proceeding with their application. The most important decision in this stage for the candidate will be if they will take the job when offered.

The goal of the conversion stage is to give the right information to the candidate about the company, team, job and benefits and excite the candidate about the prospect of becoming an employee.

Many candidates, or leads, drop off during the engagement with the hiring company because they get disengaged as a result of a variety of reasons like having found another (better) opportunity or because they lost their attention. The latter is something you can prevent by providing the right touchpoints in the funnel.

Most of the engagement activities can be partly automated. See the last part of this guide on tools you can use to do this.

Especially for passive candidates, candidates who are not actively looking for a job, engagement is important because they have yet to be convinced to make an important decision like switching jobs.

Learn more here about how to engage passive candidates.

4. The practical guide to candidate engagement

In this part we’ll go through the practical steps that you can take to start with candidate engagement or improve your current candidate engagement processes.

These are the steps to take for better candidate engagement:

  1. Step 1. Map the candidate journey
  2. Step 2. Select candidate engagement strategy and channels
  3. Step 3. Engage and iterate
  4. Step 4. Measure candidate engagement

Step 1. Map the current candidate journey.

In an ideal world, the candidate journey should be seamless and effortless for the job seeker. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

Companies often struggle to establish a clear, consistent, and effective process for engaging candidates. To ensure a positive candidate experience, employers must have a thorough understanding of the candidate journey and be able to map it out with precision.

Mapping the candidate journey is a vital step in the recruitment process. It provides a clear view of how a candidate moves through the recruitment funnel, from initial contact to onboarding and beyond. By identifying each step in the journey, employers can create a more streamlined process that allows them to better engage, assess, and onboard the right candidates.

The first step in mapping the candidate journey is to identify the key stages. Common stages include:

1. Attracting & Sourcing – This is the first stage of the journey and involves developing a strategy to attract and source suitable candidates. This might involve using job boards, social media, or other recruitment outlets to advertise roles. 

2. Pre-screening & interviews – In this stage, employers can review resumes and conduct initial interviews to assess the suitability of candidates.

3. Assessments – Depending on the role, employers may choose to conduct assessments or tests to determine a candidate’s skillset and suitability for the position.

4. Final Interviews – Final interviews are used to further assess a candidate’s qualifications and make a final decision about their suitability for a role.

5. Onboarding – This is the final stage of the journey and involves introducing the candidate to their new role and setting them up for success.

Once all stages have been identified, employers should map the touchpoints in every stage. A touchpoint is an interaction with the candidate, this can be for example an email, SMS, call or social media engagement.

Once the candidate journey has been mapped out, employers can then begin to create a plan for improving the candidate experience. This might involve introducing new technologies, streamlining processes, or providing additional support to ensure a positive experience.

Example of a Candidate Journey Map. Source: Rally Recruitment Marketing

Step 2. Select candidate engagement strategy and tools.

Candidate engagement strategies can range from traditional methods such as job postings and job fairs, to more modern strategies such as social media campaigns combined with automated and personalized email outreach. It is important to select the right strategies and channels in order to reach the right target audience with the right message at the right time. 

One of the key components to consider when selecting a candidate engagement strategy is to determine which channels are most effective in reaching and engaging potential applicants. Traditional methods such as job postings, job fairs, and print media can be effective, however, they may not be the most effective way to reach your target candidates. 

When selecting the right strategy, you’re thinking about what the right combination of channels, tools and messaging is to engage candidates in a way that they have a positive candidate experience.

These are some candidate engagement strategies that might work for your company:

  1. Multi-channel strategy
  2. Hyper-personalization strategy
  3. Content driven strategy
  4. High-touch strategy

Strategy 1. Multi-channel strategy.

The multi-channel strategy is about using any relevant platform as a means of communicating with candidates.

And this means that every channel out there is a potential channel to activate candidates on:

  • Social media (LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok…)
  • Chatbots (career site chatbots, automated/non-automated chatbots…)
  • Email (direct email, opt-in email, transactional email…)
  • Messaging apps (WhatsApp, Slack, Discord…)
  • SMS
  • Direct phone call

In a multi-channel strategy the candidate is reminded of your company and open job positions across all the channels they are active on daily.

Strategy 2. Hyper-personalization strategy.

The hyper-personalization strategy is about making all interactions as personal as possible.

Simple personalizations like [first name] and the candidate’s location can already improve engagement rates significantly.

But if you really want to deploy an effective hyper-personalization strategy you need to go a step further.

Here’s a list of personalizations that can be used in most all of your communication:

  • [first name]
  • [last name]
  • [current company name]
  • [previous company name]
  • [top skills]
  • [candidate location]
  • [current job title]
  • [previous job title]
  • [date applied]
  • [content viewed]

Strategy 3. Content driven strategy.

The content driven engagement strategy is about sharing relevant content with the candidate to educate and inspire them throughout their candidate journey.

Examples of content pieces that can be shared with candidates throughout the cycle:

  • Blogs 
  • Employee experience videos
  • Behind the scenes company videos
  • Employer brand movie
  • Reels
  • Newsletters
  • Social media posts
  • Webinars
  • TikToks
  • Job field guides
  • Contests
  • Podcasts
  • Product demos
  • Salary benchmarks

Strategy 4. High-touch strategy.

The High-touch engagement strategy is all about building a personal relationship with candidates by means of direct communication like in person conversations, personal emails, phone calls and small events.

This approach has a lot of elements of all the previously mentioned strategies but focuses on the continuous check-in with candidates: are they still interested? If not, why? Do they have feedback? Questions? Need for information?

Candidate journey with high-touch approach.

See here a deep dive on candidate engagement strategies.

Engagement tooling

Candidate engagement tooling is a suite of applications designed to help employers streamline the engagement process for all stakeholders involved, candidates but also recruiters themselves, to eventually improve candidate experience and process efficiency. 

Through the use of automated workflows, analytics, and communication tools, employers can ensure that every step of the process is efficient and effective. This technology can be used to identify, nurture, and engage the best candidate for the job, while ensuring that the recruitment process is completed in a timely fashion.

Every engagement tool has its own benefits and generally serves its own niche.

Here’s a list of some of the proven candidate engagement platforms:

  1. HeroHunt.ai
  2. iCIMS Talent Cloud
  3. Bullhorn
  4. Sense
  5. Gem
1. HeroHunt.ai

HeroHunt.ai is the talent search and engagement platform that enables recruiters to find 1 billion candidates worldwide and engage them with highly personalized automated outreach.

Best for: talent search and initial engagement - finding new profiles, sending personalized messages, message sequences

Ideal user: small, medium and bigger companies with a hiring need

Free trial: yes available (get free trial)

2. iCIMS Talent Cloud

iCIMS Talent Cloud is a talent relationship management platform that helps to continually engage with candidates in the talent pipeline. 

Best for: recruitment marketing automation - multi touch campaigns based on your current ATS contacts

Ideal user: large companies with a big and well maintained ATS system with lots of contacts

Free trial: not available (demo)

3. Bullhorn

Bullhorn is staffing and recruiting software that provides one platform to build high-touch relationships throughout the candidate journey from the first call to placement.

Best for: candidate relationship management for recruitment agencies - nurturing existing candidates in the ATS with campaigns

Ideal user: staffing agencies with a big and well maintained ATS system with many contacts

Free trial: not available (demo)

4. Sense

Sense is a candidate engagement platform that helps to accelerate hiring and strengthen your brand by delivering a personalized candidate experience.

Best for: candidate experience improvement for volume hiring - with smart scheduling, candidate chatbot, text messaging and referral management

Ideal user: blue collar employers hiring larger volumes and looking to personalize and automate the hiring process

Free trial: not available (demo)

5. Gem

Gem is a strategic recruiting platform that finds real-time data, unifies workflows and lets recruiters engage talent with automated workflows.

Best for: longer term candidate engagement based on sync with your current ATS

Ideal user: large enterprises with a very big current candidate database

Free trial: yes available (free trial)

Learn more here in this engagement tooling guide.

Step 3. Engage and iterate.

Now you have a better idea about your engagement strategy and tooling you can start integrating new ways of working and tools in your engagement strategy.

The best way to look at the new ways of engaging candidates is to look at the stages the candidate goes through.

Earlier we talked about the three most important stages in the engagement cycle: awareness, consideration and conversion.

In every stage there is a different focus on which kind of channels and activities you can utilize.

Here’s an overview with examples of engagement activities for every stage: 

Awareness

How to engage candidates in the awareness stage:

  1. Use outbound recruiting like cold email or LinkedIn outreach to land in the personal mailbox of the candidate and proactively make them aware about your company and open job positions (see here the full email outreach guide).
  2. Write content about your company, product or services, team and culture to inspire candidates with your employer value proposition.
  3. Create educational content like guides, articles, instruction videos and market reports to attract talent that is looking for answers in search engines to their professional questions, might end up consuming your content and eventually apply for your job.
  4. Launch an Employer Brand Awareness campaign by sharing your created content with your target audience across channels.

Consideration

How to engage candidates in the consideration stage:

  1. Send personal follow up mails when the candidate shows interest in the job and company and share additional information on the company, role, team, culture and benefits (here’s a full guide on personalization).
  2. Offer multiple portals for candidates to ask questions and learn more, use channels like chatbots, social media, email, forums and communities to interact with candidates.
  3. Send a weekly email newsletter to candidates about updates on the company (like funding rounds, new leadership, new jobs, acquisitions, etc) to keep them updated with the developments of the company.
  4. Connect with the candidate on social media so you don’t only update them but also keep updated about their professional lives. In the end this helps to better understand what they value and their updates can provide the right triggers to take next steps.

Conversion

How to engage candidates in the conversion stage:

  1. Check-in with the candidate with email, direct messaging or phone call and see if they’re ready to move on to the next stage.
  2. Use more direct and personal communication channels now you have built up the relationship with the candidate. Use channels like Whatsapp or SMS to check-in and keep the candidate informed about the rest of the process.
  3. Introduce more stakeholders in the process like future team members and executives so the candidate feels appreciated, gets acquainted with the team and feels more invested in the company.
  4. Send relevant notifications on the platform of choice of the candidate about the status of their application process. Provide updates about outcomes of interviews and assessments and give instructions for the next rounds.
  5. If the candidate doesn’t take a job offer directly, nurture the candidate with valuable information and updates about the company and new job opportunities that might be a better fit.

To bring this all together you need to assess which engagement platforms and tooling you pick to orchestrate the complete set of activities and generate valuable insights in the performance of your engagement efforts.

Step 4. Measure candidate engagement.

To know how effective your engagement strategy is, you can measure several underlying factors that can provide insights in speed, candidate experience and efficiency of your process.

Oce you know the status quo of these metrics you can keep track of them and monitor for points of improvements.

An example can be the metric candidate experience. This is the overall experience of a candidate during the entire recruitment cycle. The goal of measuring candidate experience is to be able to highlight flaws in the engagement process from a candidate perspective which you can highlight and improve to eventually improve the overall perception of the candidate about your employment brand.

These are some of the important metrics to track and improve on for a better engagement process:

  1. Time to hire
  2. Time to fill
  3. Quality of hire
  4. Cost per hire
  5. Candidate experience
  6. Outreach conversions
  7. Average number of applicants to fill
  8. Funnel conversion
  9. Conversion time
  10. Offer acceptance rate
  11. Top sources of hire
  12. Top reasons for decline
  13. Active/Passive ratio

See this blog for a full guide on recruitment metrics.

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