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A Recruitment Marketer's Guide to the Candidate Journey

SmartDreamers Team
4 min. read

They say you shouldn’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Good advice for anyone, but especially potent when it comes to recruitment marketing. Gaining a better understanding of what your applicants are thinking and feeling when they encounter and engage with your company and its branding can go a long way towards informing smoother, more efficient recruiting processes. The best way to do this? By mastering the candidate journey. 


No doubt you’ve heard of the customer journey in reference to traditional marketing, but what, you might be asking, is the candidate journey? Essentially, it’s the recruitment funnel turned on its head, with each step understood from the candidate’s perspective rather than the recruiter’s. The candidate begins in the awareness stage, and hopefully moves from awareness to consideration, and from consideration to application and eventual hiring. At each stage along the journey, it’s crucial to offer up content and messaging that resonates with the applicant’s current level of interest, eventually building to one-on-one communication in the form of interviews.


The value of this way of thinking is twofold: first, it forces recruiters to reconsider the candidate experience they’re offering. (A recent study found that 60% of job candidates had had a negative candidate experience at some point, and 72% of those candidates had gone on to share their woes online or in person, and it’s easy to see how that type of negative sentiment can have a significant cooling effect on successful recruitment efforts.) Secondly, it gives recruiters the chance to reimagine the path that applicants take from awareness to hiring.   

The Awareness Stage


Just like the applicant funnel, the candidate journey begins with the awareness stage. Unlike the applicant funnel, the awareness stage of the candidate journey isn’t really part of a linear progression from one stage to the next. For some applicants, the awareness stage can go on for months or years before they’re ready to apply. For others, especially active job seekers, it’s possible to go from awareness to application within the space of a single job ad. Unfortunately for recruiters, the former seems to be more common than the latter. As in the case of traditional marketing, people often need to encounter your brand a number of times before they trust it enough to engage.


Because the awareness stage represents the first touch-point on the journey, it’s difficult to be in complete control of your company’s employer branding and messaging. Potential applicants are in many cases just as likely to hear of your business for the first time while talking to friends or coworkers, reading the news, or, depending on your industry, doing research as a consumer as they are to encounter your branding through job ads or normal web traffic. Naturally, this adds an element of chance to the process of developing a level of trust and interest between you and your potential talent pool, but there are ways to take control of this uncertainty. The first is to be as proactive as possible about promoting your employer brand on social media and through other channels, especially those that are not traditional recruitment platforms. In this way, your employer brand will reach the 80% of workers who are not actively job seeking at any given time.


The second is to go above and beyond when it comes to candidate experience. By delighting each and every candidate who passes through your application process, you increase the likelihood that when they share their experiences in person or online they’ll help to bolster your positive brand image. In this way, you can create a positive feedback loop in which delighted applicants encourage even more talented candidates to enter your recruitment pipeline. In this way, the complex, non-linear nature of the awareness stage for candidates can ultimately be a boon.   

The Consideration/Interest Stage


Now, having warm and fuzzy associations in applicants’ minds is all well and good, but the real goal of effective awareness stage content is to entice potential applicants into the next stage: consideration. Thus, each piece of employer-branded content, from social media ads to instructional blog posts, should give applicants the chance to learn more about your business. Most people (even those who will eventually enter your talent pool), won’t do too much more digging after the first time they encounter your brand, but some will be ready to engage with you, and you’ve got to be ready for them. For blog posts and other recruitment marketing content, this means having links and calls-to-action that can lead users deeper into your career site or website and offer them the chance to learn more about your mission, culture, and values. For online ads and job listings, this means creating readable landing pages for each job listing, so that users who click on your ads are able to access the application they want immediately without having to navigate through clutter and confusion to get there.


Creating a smooth pathway from the awareness stage to the consideration stage is especially crucial because consideration is, in some ways, the most important part of the journey. After all, this is the first moment in which applicants are making a conscious decision whether or not to engage with your company. Through research on your website, word of mouth, Glassdoor reviews, and other means, these candidates are building to the pivotal point at which your employer brand and reputation either attracts qualified applicants or scares off potential new hires.

The Application/Hiring Stage


From the candidate’s perspective, it may not seem like very much has happened by the time he or she gets a response to the initial application—but recruiters know otherwise. If you’re successful as a recruitment marketer, the awareness and consideration stages have given applicants enough time and information to think of your company as a trusted potential employer, and with any luck to be delighted by your brand along the way. From here, there’s still the matter of interviewing, potentially introducing candidates to their future teammates, and each side making a final decision, all of which requires the same desire to delight that the earlier stages called for. That said, paying careful attention to the early points on the candidate journey can really help to smooth out the later stages; rather than convincing skeptical talent that you’re company is a great place to work, you’ll be working towards a mutual understanding with an applicant who feels informed and respected. Competition for top talent may be at its fiercest right now, but mastering the candidate’s journey can go a long way towards making your business a top destination for smart, qualified hires.

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