How To Effectively Design and Run Candidate Experience Surveys

Candidate experience is critical for recruiters, but how can you know that yours is truly top notch? Is it even possible to take the assumptions and guesswork out of candidate experience?

The most effective way to know for sure is to get data from your candidates in the form of a survey. But, even then, not all surveys are created equal. Your survey needs to ask the right questions in the right way to truly get to the core of your candidate experience.

We spoke to several professionals in the Talent and Recruiting Operations space to see how they approach surveys, and what you can do to replicate their success. This article will walk you through what to ask, how to ask it, and what you should keep in mind as your candidates fill it out.

Why candidate experience is key

First impressions have a huge impact on how humans think and feel about new people and groups. And, for a potential new employee, candidate experience is their first impression of your company. You could be the best place to work in the world, but if the process of applying for a job is horrible, you’ll still struggle to attract quality talent.

“A company can unknowingly go from an amazing experience to a miserable one without the insights that allow your team to catch things like the need for interviewer training refreshers.” - Destiny Lalane

In a 2021 CareerPlug survey, they found that 58% of respondents declined a job offer because of a poor candidate experience. That’s a staggering number, but if you’ve ever had a poor hiring experience, you’re probably not surprised. It can feel frustrating, disorienting, or demeaning to go through a hiring process where the hiring team feels checked out, distant, or dismissive.

The problem is that no hiring team is acting that way on purpose. (After all, who would want to lose out on good candidates?) Most negative candidate experiences come from pure ignorance of how bad the process really is. That’s why no guide on how to improve your experience will help until you know what experience you’re already creating.

Destiny Lalane, Talent at Ashby, weighed in here. “A company can unknowingly go from an amazing experience to a miserable one without the insights that allow your team to catch things like the need for interviewer training refreshers.” You can avoid that ignorance by thoughtfully scaling your recruiting team, training your recruiters, and, as we’ll discuss here, studying data from high-quality surveys.

Now that you know how vital creating a good candidate experience survey is, let’s see how to do it.

Timing

When should you send your candidate experience survey? That depends on what you want.

The “end point” of your funnel is going to look different for different applicants, depending on how far along they get. Destiny says to ask yourself, “What kind of information are you trying to collect? At what volume are you interviewing? This will help you decide.”

Jeremy Lyons, Talent Partner at SGNL.ai and former Manager of Recruiting Operations at Wish, told us that, "The further along an applicant gets in your process, the more likely they are to fill out your survey and provide high-quality answers."

Make sure to note how far along a candidate was when they filled out the survey! That will help you to identify if your experience is great up to a point, or if you have an issue further along your pipeline.

For rejected candidates, there is one more element to consider: don’t send your survey too soon. Candidates who were rejected may not be quite so glowing as candidates who were hired. And if you send a survey and a rejection in the same email, you’re not setting yourself (or them) up for fair and objective feedback. Send the rejection, then wait two or three days for any especially negative feelings to die down before requesting feedback. This will help ease negative bias in the survey, even if it might not eliminate it fully.

Jeremy also pointed out that there’s more to timing than how long it’s been since you gave your applicant an answer. “Something that gets overlooked here is the time of day that you are sending your survey,” he told Ashby. “You want to send it between 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM. People are often distracted during that window and looking for something else to do. If that is the case, they'll blitz through a survey you send.”

Length

Once you’ve decided when to send your survey, you should consider the length. Brevity is your goal here; aim to get the best information in the shortest time possible.

Lalane recommends no more than five or six questions. “You're asking for a favor, for feedback, which is very valuable,” she told us. “You want it to be as easy as possible to get the information you most care about.”

That might mean you need to make a few trade offs. If you want a lot of detail, for instance, consider using long-form text boxes and asking open-ended questions, but just two or three total questions. On the other hand, you may be able to ask an extra question if all the questions are in a simple scale or multiple-choice style.

Beware survey fatigue! Odds are good that a candidate is filling out multiple job applications and being asked to complete multiple candidate experience surveys. Make it easy for them to choose to complete yours.

Questions

We’ll begin with a few guidelines for the types of questions you might need under different circumstances. Nobody outside of your organization can tell you exactly what questions to ask. Your company and interview process is unique, as is the information you want to learn with this survey, so your questions need to be custom-tailored to fit. That said, we’ve included a few examples for ways to get this information, along with the style of survey question it is.

Timelines of responses / Speed of responses- Are your communications prompt? Did the process drag out too long?

  • 1-10 Scale I didn’t have to wait long to hear back from my recruiter
  • Extended Response Did you feel that communication was prompt?

Professional attitudes- Was your team professional in all of their communications? Do your interviewers need more coaching on effective interviewing? Did your interviewers appear prepared? Did they give you time to complete your answers with minimal interruptions?

  • 1-10 Scale Everyone I spoke to was professional and polite.
  • Multiple Choice How would you describe the team members who interviewed you? (Professional, Rude, Excited, Knowledgeable, Disengaged, Withdrawn)

Sourcing- Where did you get the bulk of your candidates? This is especially useful to see if word of mouth, paid marketing, or in-house referrals are making a big impact on your sourcing.

  • Multiple Choice Please select where you heard about this job (Indeed, LinkedIn, Google, Other)
  • Short Response Can you tell us where you first heard about this role?

Quality of questions- This is useful if you’re looking to make sure that you’re asking the right questions to identify good talent. It’s also useful if you want to make sure that candidates feel heard and understood.

  • 1-10 Scale I found the interview questions challenging.
  • True or False I felt that the interviewers got a good sense of my skills.

Briefing- Does your candidate feel that they knew what to expect throughout the process?

  • True or False I knew exactly what to expect from each stage.
  • 1-10 Scale I wasn’t surprised by any part of the interviewing process.

Open ended response space- This is less a type of question than a type of answer. Consider leaving room at the end of your survey to ask candidates if they have anything else to say. They may show you problems you’d never have anticipated!

  • If I could change one thing about this hiring process, it would be...
  • Is there more our team should know?
  • What do you wish we’d done differently?

If any of these types resonate with you, you may need them, but don’t limit yourself. You may not even know what your blind spots are until you get candidate feedback.

Keep in mind as you customize and write your questions that they need to be as clear as possible so that the maximum number of applicants understand them. Clarity will also help you avoid asking leading questions that push respondents to a particular answer.

If you were to include all of these questions it would far exceed the recommended length. What information is most important to you? How much of that can you fit into the suggested length?

The many facets of candidate experience

When we think of “candidate experience,” you’re liking to think of the specific interview process. But keep in mind that candidate experience begins with the job posting itself, and continues through every element of the hiring process.

"The further along an applicant gets in your process, the more likely they are to fill out your survey and provide high-quality answers." - Jeremy Lyons

Here are some areas you might consider incorporating into your survey, or even auditing to get a better sense of your overall experience:

  • Language and accuracy of job listings
  • Emails
  • Glassdoor reviews
  • Website language (especially “about us” or “meet the team” pages)
  • Specific or niche industry review sites

As you craft your survey, don’t forget that first impressions and, by extension, your candidate experience, comes from more than just your interviews.

What else do you need to know?

As you form your questions and curate your survey length, there are a few other things to keep in mind.

You’ll need to decide if you want your surveys to be identified or anonymous. Identified answers have the benefit of making it easy to track and follow up, but it may come at the cost of candidates not wanting to tell you their true thoughts (especially if they’d like to reapply later.) If they’re anonymous, candidates should be assured of this up front, and it may encourage them to be more candid and open.

Regardless, allow applicants to skip any question they want. A required long-form answer may scare them off of being honest or may be too identifying for an anonymized survey. You want to encourage edge cases, like a candidate who accepts the job yet has strong feedback about the process.

Decide which responses are helpful after receiving them, not before. If you assume a swiftly denied candidate has nothing new to tell you, you rob yourself of the chance to learn something new. Give every candidate a chance to complete the survey.

That said, be prepared to see some negativity from rejected applicants. It never feels good to receive bad feedback, but if you find similar sentiments across different applicants, you may find exactly what you need to change to make future reviews much better.

This survey isn’t your only source of data about your candidate experience. Keep an eye on Glassdoor reviews, the language in candidate emails, and verbal feedback given to recruiters to see the whole picture.

Finally, be sure you really put this data to work. “A lot of people have these set up,” says Lalane, “But they don’t have a clear process of sharing the responses within the department, with hiring partners, or implementing feedback where appropriate.” You’re doing hard work, so don’t waste it!

Start maximizing your success

Candidate experience can be complex, but measuring it doesn’t have to be. Ask questions thoughtfully and measure it with care, and the rest will fall into place.

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