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3 Rules for Creating a Candidate-First Hiring Process

candidate NPS meter with strong rating

In the tech talent world, having a standout candidate experience is a prerequisite to attracting developers. It’s what helps us stay ahead in an increasingly competitive talent landscape. But recruiters can only control so much of it.

Obviously, recruiters can’t shape every aspect of the candidate experience—things like historic brand impressions and hiring manager interactions are out of their hands. But as a major stakeholder on the hiring team, they can advocate for the candidate from start to finish. So what’s the most effective way to promote a candidate-first process within the team?

To learn how recruiters can influence candidate experience, I sat down with Derek Ling, Founder & CEO at Better. As a part of Better, Derek helps companies build efficient, world-class candidate experiences that help them stand apart in a competitive market.

In our discussion, we explored 3 key things that recruiters can do to influence candidate experience. Here’s what we covered:

1. Keep the focus on “why,” not “how”

The key to crafting a candidate-first experience starts with the recruiter/candidate relationship. Once you’ve verified that the candidate has the skills for the role, you need to understand why they’d take the role in the first place.

Learn what motivates them

According to Derek, that starts with understanding your candidate’s motivation. For the candidates he sources, he likes to start with a simple question: why did you respond to my outreach? The first reason, presumably, is because you wrote an engaging message. But more often than not, the candidate is responding to a specific aspect of your message: maybe they’re a fan of your brand, or they’re looking to work more with the technologies this role will utilize.

Check candidate:hiring manager alignment

Focusing on the core of their motivation can help shape the rest of their experience, too. Once you know why they’re interested in the job, relay that information back to your hiring manager. Let’s say they want to take the job because they’re interested in pursuing a high growth career path: is that something your hiring manager is willing to support? Does the candidate’s 5-year plan align with the vision your hiring manager has for the role?

Aligning high-level motivations up front will help weed out false positives early on. It ensures you only pass candidates that suit the skills and the context of the role. In the same token, it makes sure you don’t waste the time of a candidate that won’t be a strong team fit.

2. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach

Most tech recruiters cover a variety of roles. But that doesn’t mean the same recruiting process should apply to every role. If you want to make candidate experience your focal, you have to be willing to create a unique workflow for every role.

For example, with more junior candidates, or for high volumes of inbound applications, you can kick the process off with a skills assessment. But for a more senior candidate, or for lower volume roles that require outbound sourcing, you might save skills evaluations for later in the process. Your ideal workflow will shift by role, and by the flow of your funnel.

You can also tweak your process around the needs of a particular candidate. Say you’ve found a candidate that’s a great skills fit, and seems to be a great team fit, too—but they’re not 100% sold on life at your company. You could consider adding an extra step to the recruiting process, bringing them on-site for a casual, meet-and-greet lunch with the team. They can get face time with the team, and start to envision themselves at your company. Putting in the effort to recognize when the candidate needs extra support can help increase your odds of success.

3. Make candidate advocacy your mission

Recruiters are the candidate’s ultimate advocate. As the candidate’s primary touchpoint from initial contact to on boarding, they’re the first resource a candidate will turn to when they need support. And on the flip side, they’re responsible for vocalizing the candidate’s career interests throughout the hiring process. That means aligning with the hiring manager, interviewers, and leadership teams to ensure there’s a strong fit. That relationship is a strong opportunity to create a lasting connection with the candidate—and ultimately, to shore up offer acceptance rates down the line.

Prioritize the candidate’s needs

To be a true candidate ally, Derek says, you have to prioritize their needs. That starts at sourcing. Derek likes to provide as much information as he can up front: who they’d be working with, what they’d be working on, what the company mission is, and more. No secrets, no hook to get them on the phone—just an honest, clear representation of the role at hand. It’ll help you earn trust from the start.

Position yourself as their go-to contact

And for Derek, it doesn’t stop there. To build a natural connection, he likes to stay in close communication throughout the interview process. It means reaching out to the candidate every time there’s a company touch point. Just scheduled for an onsite? Send them a message a few days beforehand to see if they have any questions. Advancing to a second round of interviews? Reach out to gauge their feedback, and to give them an idea of what to expect.

By positioning yourself as a constant throughout the hiring process, you’ll help them feel valued in the process, and will help avoid common communication pitfalls. And even if they aren’t a fit, you still leave a lasting, positive impression on them. It leaves the door open for other roles down the line.


How do you advocate for candidate experience at your organization? Learn more about how to create a candidate-centric brand in our guide:

Download button for guide titled "Growing Your Tech Talent Brand"


blane-shields-hackerrank Blane Shields is the Head of the Customer Success team for North America at HackerRank. His team focuses on making sure that our customers are happy, providing best practices to ensure they find efficiency in technical hiring.

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