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What’s the Difference Between Candidate Experience and Candidate Engagement?

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Looking back on 2017, the big buzzword in recruiting was ‘candidate experience’—and rightly so. In this hyper-competitive market for skilled talent, that’s the right conversation to be having. The days of ‘post and pray’ are long gone and candidates are in control. Forward-thinking talent acquisition executives and recruiting pros need to think more broadly and strategically about how to interact with candidates throughout the entire process. In the war for talent, improving the quality, speed and effectiveness of candidate experience is the key to a sustainable, and defensible, competitive advantage.

However, there’s a problem in how we’re talking about ‘candidate experience.’ Too often we’re using ‘candidate experience’ and ‘candidate engagement’ interchangeably—as if they mean the same thing. They don’t.

If we’re going to effectively dig into the topic and make meaningful improvements, we need to get clear on what they mean and how to impact each of them.

Customer Experience and Customer Engagement: Detangled and Defined
Coming at this from a marketer’s perspective, there’s a big difference between ‘customer experience’ and ‘customer engagement.’ I like the way Hootsuite thinks about it.

  • “Customer experience is an emotional connection, or how the customer perceives your brand—and this is something you cannot control. However, you can help shape customer experience into a positive one by engaging with the customer beyond the point-of-sale—by means of social media, regular surveys and questionnaires, targeted ad campaigns, etc. All of the mentioned examples fall under the category of customer engagement.”

CustomerThink goes into more detail and puts a finer point on the distinctions between the two terms.

  • “Customer experience [CX] is more about the product of the interactions between a company and a customer throughout the duration of their relationship. Specifically, the way in which customers perceive these interactions. These are all the aspects that ultimately make you feel something and can include everything from the packaging an item arrived in, speaking to a customer service agent or receiving a notification email. CX involves the integration of physical, emotional and psychological processes that occur throughout the customer journey.”
  • “Customer engagement is a communication connection between a consumer and a company through various channels. It is the means by which a company can create a relationship with its customer base. Customer engagement is the process of actively building, nurturing and managing relationships with customers. The more engaged your customers are with your brand the more likely they are to remain loyal and increase their lifetime value.”

HR: Applying “Engagement” to Employees
Same goes for the HR side of the house. ‘Employee engagement’ is a very hot topic and an estimated $74B market. Why so large? Because engaged employees are more productive and generate better business results. According to Gallup, engaged employees are 17% more productive, achieve a 10% increase in customer ratings, a 20% increase in sales, and 21% greater profitability. Plus, these employees tend to stay longer; companies with engaged business units see a 24%-59% less turnover. PwC agrees. Their study showed that engaged employees put in 57% more effort on the job—and are 87% less likely to resign—than employees who consider themselves disengaged.

In this case, HR is using the term correctly. They orchestrate a series of employee interactions (employee engagement) that impact how they feel (employee experience) about working at an organization. The result is a positive experience with tangible business value that makes the investment well worth it.

What Needs to Happen: Continuous Candidate Engagement
Recruiting leadership can learn from both HR and Marketing and extend this correct definition of engagement even earlier in the process.

Instead of starting your engagement strategy when a candidate signs an offer letter or officially starts the job, engagement should start from the moment a candidate is aware of your employer brand.  After all, aren’t you engaging candidates then anyway?

So, here are the definitions:

  • Candidate engagement is about each interaction you have with a candidate. It is within your control.
  • Candidate experience is about how a candidate feels about those interactions and the impression they have about your brand. This is not in your control.

Applying the same approach that’s been proven successful for both customers and employees, candidate experience is the impression that a candidate has, based on a series of engagements with you, your company, and your brand. The orchestration of those candidate engagements, with a candidate at the core, should be continuous, from “first look to first day,” and extend seamlessly into employee engagement once they are on board.

By reframing how you engage with candidates, from transactional and episodic to continuous, always in the right way, at the right time, with the right message, you will lay the groundwork for a great candidate experience and a great hire.

This is what we’re thinking deeply about at Jobvite and we’ll be sharing more soon. In the meantime, I would like to hear from you. Do you agree with our definitions? Are you implementing a continuous candidate engagement strategy?


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