Candidate relationship management: using HR technology to get it right



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9 mins

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Employers need to work hard to find and hire the right candidates. Candidate relationship management tools can make this process simpler and more reliable

Jobseekers have never had more power. Before the internet revolutionised how organisations advertised roles and candidates could find a review of an employer with a few clicks of a mouse, employers would set an application process and everyone would have to follow it. Unless you were successful in getting the role, it was rare to know how many others applied or whether your skills might have been a good fit. Applications or assessments that might have taken hours of precious time were never to be seen again.

Since then, a glut of technology has emerged to enable companies to track candidates, build talent pools of potential applicants they’ve gleaned from past campaigns or other interactions, and to engage with those they want to bring on board. In a tight labour market, tools such as HR recruitment softwares are a must-have for employers looking to reduce their time to hire and manage high volumes of applicants without overwhelming the recruitment team.

At the same time, however, candidates have come to expect an experience more akin to something they would get as a consumer, says Johnny Campbell, CEO of hiring consultancy SocialTalent. He references Matt Watkinson’s book The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences as a guide that can equally be applied to the candidate journey. “Think about something as simple as being put on hold – the brand that tells you you’re 26th in the queue is better at managing your expectations than the one playing hold music,” he says. “It’s all about the peak and the end – people will remember the peak of their experience and how it ended, and their experience is an aggregate of all these small actions. At each point your organisation has the opportunity to make it a better experience.”

And while a great experience will make candidates feel good about your company because of how you treated them, a bad one will make them lose respect for you both as an employer and as a brand. According to Talent Board, which conducts research on candidate experience, the proportion of applicants willing to sever their relationship with a company after having a negative experience has increased by 25% since 2016. LinkedIn’s Talent Trends research, meanwhile, has shown that 94% of candidates want feedback after an interview, yet only 41% have ever received it. Prospective recruits expect the process to be seamless – so whether they’re just registering their interest in a career with your organisation, moving on to the application process, carrying out an assessment, or sharing a role with a friend, bouncing them around poorly integrated HR and recruitment systems means there are multiple opportunities for them to drop out.

With demands on recruitment teams to reduce time to hire, or to make sure they keep hold of in-demand candidates before they are snatched up by a competitor, it can be tempting to automate as many of these stages as possible. But Katrina Collier, facilitator, speaker, and author of The Robot-Proof Recruiter, advises against taking this approach. “If the tech doesn’t put the human first, or save you time to put the human first, it won’t work,” she says. “Recruitment is complicated and involves opinions and emotions. You need to build trust, and technology can break that trust.” The ubiquity of job boards, quick-apply buttons and social media means recruitment teams are often dealing with huge amounts of candidate data every day, but it’s still possible to use technology to filter through the noise and build positive relationships with potential hires.

An applicant tracking system (ATS) can help you identify where candidates are in the process and keep up with compliance requirements, but is that enough? As a workflow tool and repository for candidate data, an ATS is sufficient, but arguably a candidate relationship management platform will perform better in giving you those ‘richer’ interactions with candidates that make them feel good about your brand – even if they don’t ultimately get the role. Put simply, they are a system of engagement rather than a system of record.

With support from a robust candidate relationship management system, hiring teams can break down the stages of the process and curate which elements can be automated without breaking that all-important bond with potential hires. At each point, the message can be tailored to reflect the employer brand or the expectations that might be going through the applicant’s mind at that stage. Crucially, they can also funnel information from multiple sources to build a talent pool for future campaigns, aggregating data on active candidates (who may have applied for a role before or have proactively contacted the company via a careers portal), as well as passive ones. This means recruiters don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each new hiring campaign, saving time and money on recruitment marketing and attraction. A candidate relationship management system should help you engage with candidates who are not actively in the recruitment process or were unsuccessful the first time around – such as through targeted content or information about company developments – so they’re the first people you contact when you’re hiring for a similar role.

“The personal touch can be in the setup of the system,” says Campbell. “So an automated response to a job application can be engineered to reflect the brand. You can empower candidates to set up their own video assessments and do them in their own time. You could set up an automated message they receive the night before an interview giving them tips on how to get to the location or how to access the video-conferencing software.” Because applying for a new job can be an emotional experience, people tend to buy into the ‘personality’ of the brand and crave familiarity – so it’s often about how you automate elements of the process rather than breaking things down to an ‘either/ or’. Proactively providing candidates with an insight into your company culture can also prompt those applicants who don’t see themselves as a good fit to deselect themselves from the process, ensuring the ones who make it to interview or are eventually hired are genuinely bought in to what you do.

Here are some examples of how automation in the candidate engagement process can be humanised:

  • An email acknowledging an application and signposting next steps, including setting expectations on when to expect a response
  • Inviting candidates to book their own interview time through a self-service system rather than sending emails back and forth
  • Responding to unsuccessful applicants (in early stages) but including career development content or even a voucher for your product or service
  • A rich media text message that reflects your employer and consumer brand, which confirms you received an application and directs the applicant to your social media channels

Managing expectations and providing transparency around where candidates are in the process are as important as humanising your interactions with them, and your candidate engagement system should be able to support this. Telling someone they’ll receive feedback and never giving it is unacceptable, says Collier, and this is where automation can help. “A tool to prompt hiring managers to give feedback is where we can show humanity in the automation of the details,” she says. Key ‘moments’ in the journey – such as giving final interview feedback or making someone an offer – can be done face-to-face or over the phone, but that doesn’t mean your underlying technology can’t provide a useful prompt.

Another important consideration is whether candidates feel like they have to ‘game’ the system just to progress. For example, many candidate relationship management systems allow hiring teams to input rules so they can filter out the less suitable candidates, and progress others through to the next stage. “Think about the keywords you use or whether someone who doesn’t have a degree might get a knockback,” adds Collier. “This introduces bias and makes candidates feel as though they have to game the system to get through to a human or make it to the next stage.”

The data generated by a candidate relationship management system can help hiring teams to get feedback on their own performance. Adding an anonymous survey can show whether candidates have valued the experience, explains Adrian McDonagh, co-founder of hireful, which helps recruiters improve their hiring practices. “You can measure this from a diversity perspective too, to see if minority or outlier candidates have had a different experience – treat it like a mystery shop.” Asking candidates for feedback before a selection decision is made – ensuring the questions are only valid for a certain time – helps to make sure this feedback is unbiased. Any ATS or candidate relationship management system should be able to produce data on simple metrics such as how long it took to respond to a first contact or the length of time between final interview and offer.

McDonagh believes many organisations could improve how they interact with candidates for a relatively low cost and effort. “It’s the difference between making candidates feel like ‘one of us’ and beans on a shelf,” he concludes. Setting goals for how you treat candidates in the same way you might for customers – for example, publishing a candidate charter on your careers page explaining all the things you will do (or not) during the hiring process – is a good start. Your candidate engagement technology is simply the engine that makes sure you keep those promises.

Five key takeaways 

  1. Do personalise your candidate experience – no one wants to feel like just a number
  2. Automate simple processes such as interview arrangements, but humanise key moments like making an offer
  3. Use the data from your candidate relationship management technology to spot pain points and improve them
  4. Enrich automated responses with your organisation’s personality, even if the candidate is unsuccessful
  5. Ask for candidate feedback on the process – and use it


This is an extract from Good Work, Great Technology: Enabling strategic success through digital tools, published by leading UK HR software provider Ciphr.