Last week we were lucky to host a packed event for HR professionals in London on how to create great candidate experiences from the very first point of contact between a candidate and a company.

It was a joint event sponsored by bob, Teamtailor and Talentful and featured talent experts from the tech space Ruth Penfold (VP of People at Onfido), Jessica Hayes (Group Head of Talent at McCann Worldgroup), Michael Kenway (Recruitment Manager at Box), and Anna Roe (Global Head of People at Airsorted). The panelists did a deep dive into what makes the ideal employee experience, from first contact right through to exit, with a focus on the rapidly expanding UK tech and digital sector, where there’s significant pressure to attract, engage, nurture and retain the best talent.

The panel discussion was moderated by Alice Roper, Director of Engagement at Talentful, and here were some of the key questions and takeaways from the evening:

What’s the difference between employee experience and employee engagement?

Employee experience should be built from a potential candidate’s very first contact with your brand: experience can be summed up by what people are saying when you’re not there.

Regarding employee engagement, meanwhile, many organisations are working from the wrong way around, being too prescriptive and trying to persuade people to simply get on board with the company’s values and mission. However, the smarter way to do this is to connect people’s individual sense of purpose with your mission as an organisation, which is where you get people’s whole heart and mind on board with the organisation.

You should have the goal of having a group of alumni who may not still work at the business but who speak highly of the business and send referrals your way – remember that with Glassdoor now in the public sphere, people are far more likely to leave a review if they’ve had a negative experience, so ensuring that they have a good experience all the way through their employment is important for future hiring.

To round off the discussion of experience versus engagement, experience and engagement are interlinked: if you have a good employee experience, good engagement should hopefully follow in the way that employees engage with the people, company, and mission.

How do you create a great candidate experience?

While you can automate many things, you can’t automate human connection, so you have to start with the question of what the candidate experience means in your organisation, and whether you’re designing it for your target candidates.

You have to create an authentic window into the company through the hiring process. You need to build a trusting relationship with people applying to roles in your company. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How do they want to develop personally and professionally?
  • What are their decision-making criteria?
  • What environment will help them thrive?
  • What are their perceptions of you as a business?

The following are some actionable tips on what steps can be taken to create that candidate experience and improve job acceptance rates:

  • Speak to the candidates you hire and find out what a great candidate experience is for them. At Box, the referral programme kicks in before starting in the role – if they’re referring people to the company before they’ve begun, it’s a clear sign that they’ve already had a great experience.
  • Create a flowchart of the whole hiring process, and ask your new hires which were the high and low points. What do other companies they interviewed with do that you’re not?
  • Talk to your “silver medallist” candidates. They will likely give more objective feedback than those who’ve just been hired, so they can be a great source of insight.
  • Speak to the “ones who got away” – for example, Michael described a company that invites those people out for dinner with the GM to ask why they pulled out of the process in a focus group type scenario.
  • Review the process quarterly to ensure continuous improvement.

What steps have you taken at your company to provide learning and development for employees?

Learn from your engineers and product people about how they work, that way you can productise many of the aspects of learning and development. So for example, the HR team can create squads of people interested in specific areas around things they want to develop.

Getting your leaders leading in the right way is also crucial to creating a learning and development environment. Many managers working in startup organisations are new to management, resulting in some managers struggling to become good leaders. Teach managers how to give feedback, how to have awkward conversations, and other small skills training elements like public speaking. You should also complement these internal trainings with external resources, but building it all under one specific umbrella of learning and development. That way can be a more integrated part of the employee experience of the business, and becoming not just a learning organisation, but a teaching one too.

How can technology and data help to improve the employee experience?

Going back to learning from product teams – there is no reason why your people team shouldn’t work like a product team: employees are like customers, as employment is fundamentally a business transaction. Use data to intelligently understand who you’re looking for and how to reach them.

Here are some avenues for data collection you can use to improve their recruitment and engagement strategies:

  • Running focus groups: what fundamentally drives these people? What is important to them when making a career change? Using that information to build a recruitment strategy to attract them.
  • Using software to measure things like this to understand what motivates and engage employees.
  • Conducting exit interviews.
  • Finding any place where you can gather data to understand what went wrong and looking for trends.

Go and talk to your product manager or read product management articles and look at how to apply it to people job: how to sell a company to someone and how to sell a product to someone are fundamentally similar ideas.

Some of the data points include:

  • Drop-off points: when do people exit the business and why?
  • What are the drop-off themes in the recruitment process?
  • Where do people go? What do those companies do that might be better than us?

How does creating a positive employee experience strategy for a small startup differ from doing the same for a larger more corporate company?

Corporates are different in some ways – startups go from not having a brand to having to inspire someone to join your brand. Meanwhile at corporate, their talent is being poached by newer companies and they need to evolve to figure it out. However, the problems internally are largely the same, just framed differently.

One major difference is in mobility: corporate companies tend to want to keep people in the business and move them around within the company, maintaining institutional knowledge. Meanwhile, in startups that’s typically not possible: the best talent reaches a ceiling and then move on.

In an ideal scenario, they will leave with the promise that when the company has a new problem to solve that really engages them, they will come back. If you build a culture where you’re delivering employees great challenges that continue to engage them, the issue of mobility is the only one that you need to be concerned by.

At the top 10 tech companies, the average time an employee stays is 1.8 years. How do you prepare for this through succession planning and pipelining?

Start by defining business-critical areas and roles first, then making sure there are excellent people ready for those roles and focusing on reducing time to hire.

At Box, hiring managers in business-critical areas have time marked in their schedule quarterly to meet with a talent pool. The pool has specific focuses: diverse talent, talent from competing companies and high achievers. This pipelining project helps to bring people on more quickly when the time comes, and also helps hiring managers to learn.

Also thinking about hiring ahead of attrition in close partnership with the finance department to calculate the cost of a seat being empty and the cost of onboarding a new hire.

Succession planning is an interesting challenge for startups: skills gaps between role tiers within the organisation can seem really big: if someone leaves, it can be a bit disastrous. Bridge that gap by figuring out what skills there are and how to build them before thinking about talent mapping and succession planning.

What can the audience start doing tomorrow to improve both their candidate and employee experience?

  • Regard these relationships like any other relationship in your life – start with listening to what those people’s experiences really are. Using that data to drive decision making – not just what you think is a good idea.
  • Meet the person or people who are at the heart of your business – what makes the company what it is? What’s special about us? Get to the minimum viable thing you want to be – define this and fight for it.
  • Be passionate about talent and about results. However, you also need to know the business. You can be as passionate as you want, but if you don’t really understand the pulse of the business is, how do you safeguard the culture and values?
  • Define what as a company you want people to say about you. Gather data and apply them to the attract, develop and retain strategies and make sure you’re living those values. It helps you define the culture and what great looks like in your business.

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From Danielle Mizrachi

Danielle is a Marketing Manager at Hibob. She studied Business and Psychology and believes in the power of utilising behavioral insights to form great companies. She enjoys discovering what the future of work might look like, listening to podcasts, traveling, and hiking.