Candidate Engagement – it’s not complicated!

Did you ever play the Sims on PC years back? My younger sister was obsessed with that game. When two characters had a relationship the strength of that relationship was indicated through a bar which would fill up.  The strength of that relationship would influence how they reacted when they saw each other, the actions and interactions they could have with each other, and had a knock on effect on some of their other mood bars.

The best way to think of candidate engagement is as a value between 0 to 100 where 100 is absolutely fully engaged and 0 is completely disengaged.  Broadly speaking this value expresses the extent to which a candidate is bought into your business, enthused about an opportunity, engaged with a recruitment process and/or hiring managers and teams. The level of candidate engagement can also have a significant impact on a number of different areas, including speed of response, frequency and quality of communication, interview attendance, interview performance, offer acceptance and even performance throughout training and induction periods (after which point the subject shifts to ‘employee engagement’ – which is a different kettle of fish altogether!).

A candidate who is highly engaged, for example, will generally:

  • Move heaven and earth to attend interview dates, even if this means swapping shifts, travelling significant distances on days off, or fitting in interviews around working days and/or holidays, and will be apologetic, communicative and proactive if for whatever reason they cannot attend an interview – usually supplying alternative dates and chasing down confirmation of the rescheduled interview.
  • Go to great lengths to prepare themselves for interviews; researching the company, visiting businesses, preparing reports or SWOT analyses, connecting with the hiring manager and other key company figures, preparing relevant examples and ensuring they are impeccably presented.
  • Respond quickly to any communication and make an effort to be contactable at any and all times.
  • Be proactive around chasing down feedback.
  • Almost certainly accept a competitive job offer.
  • Continue to be communicative in the period leading up to their start date.
  • Approach their induction and training period with a fantastic positive attitude, throw themselves into the business and make an effort to make the best possible first impression, remaining positive even if things go wrong during the first few months.

A candidate who is moderately engaged will tend to:

  • Attend interviews with reasonable notice, as long as it doesn’t massively interfere with their existing personal or professional commitments.  Additionally, will communicate if they cannot attend an interview and state that they are keen to reschedule.
  • Invest some time into preparing for interviews, researching the company, possibly visiting a site (again, if this works around their work and personal life).
  • Respond to communication at times which are convenient for them.
  • Have a fairly good chance of accepting a competitive job offer.
  • Generally respond to additional communication during notice period however may not initiate this proactively.
  • Make a reasonable effort to immerse themselves in the business once they commence employment, although if things go wrong during their training/induction period this may cause them to lose engagement.

A candidate who is not engaged, broadly speaking will:

  • Make a decision around whether or not they attend an interview based on how they feel on the day.  If they are not able to attend or decide not to bother they may either communicate via email or text or not at all.
  • Invest little to no time in preparing for the interview itself.
  • Be difficult to contact and response to communication is sporadic at best.
  • Be unlikely to accept a job offer.
  • Potentially go completely silent during their notice period and potentially not start at all.
  • Make little effort during their training and induction period and will tend to leave/walk out at the first sign of trouble.

As we can see from the above, engagement has a deeper impact than many people realise. It’s not just about people attending interviews; it’s also about their performance at that interview, and even when they get into the role! Note as well that I haven’t commented about the quality or strength of the candidates because for the purpose of this exercise, it isn’t relevant. A moderately engaged candidate or a disengaged candidate isn’t necessarily a bad candidate – the question is: What have YOU done to engage them?

Engagement is like that houseplant you’ve been trying to keep alive – it needs attention and love.  Imagine that bar which measures engagement.  Now let’s introduce another variable – time.  Engagement, like a neglected houseplant, decays over time, and this can impact massively on a recruitment process.  You’ve just met a candidate for interview and it went amazingly well; you had a great laugh together, they ticked all the boxes, they’d done their homework and there was a clear cultural alignment between their values and your company’s own.  The candidate walks out of the interview 100% engaged with a real spring in their step.  But then days pass and they receive no feedback.  Doubt begins to creep in – did they misread the situation completely? Has another candidate appeared and overshadowed them? Has the role been withdrawn? Have the company decided they can’t accommodate another salary? That engagement bar begins to decay and drop right down.  Then when the hiring manager contacts the candidate that they had such a great conversation with 5 days ago, they can’t fathom why the response is lukewarm.  Or when, after successfully offering a candidate and telling them you’ll see them in 4 weeks, you’re surprised when they don’t turn up on their first day.

So how do we generate, maintain and nurture engagement? Here’s the great news for you hiring managers out there – it’s easy to do and it won’t cost you a penny!

First and foremost, a great, slick recruitment process is a fantastic way to build engagement.  You’ve booked a candidate in to meet with a site manager next week, great! When you call them on the morning of the interview to check in with them and wish them good luck, they will really appreciate the personal touch, and what’s more, that little boost in engagement might just give them the edge at interview that they need to impress the hiring manager.  If a candidate has had an interview and you know they’re going to be waiting a while for feedback as the hiring manager has more people to see, drop them an email, give them a quick call – it costs nothing, and it will give that engagement bar a nice little top up. 

Finally, you’ve offered a candidate and they are due to start with your business in 4 weeks time -  get the hiring manager to meet them for a coffee, invite them in to meet the team again.  They may have an emotional attachment to their old employer, be close to their team and the prospect of leaving those people behind can start to sap that engagement bar over time if the positive momentum generated from the successful job offer isn’t maintained.

But what about the old school mentality that some businesses and hiring managers have? The one that says “if they really want to work for us, they’ll wait” or “if they drop out of the process or take another offer, then it just wasn’t meant to be” well remember earlier when I said that the quality of the candidates wasn’t relevant? Those candidates who dropped out of the process or took other offers weren’t necessarily bad candidates – after all, you were interested in them enough to invite them for interview, right? – perhaps it’s just time to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself whether it really wasn’t meant to be, or whether you simply failed to generate and maintain sufficient engagement to get them through the process and into your business, bright eyed, bushy tailed and bought in to your brand.  Furthermore, I would bet money that the businesses who still have that mentality are the ones who are always advertising the same vacancies and have the highest turnover...funny coincidence?


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