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How to design better candidate surveys

We all know candidate experience is important, but how do you know if yours is the cream of the crop? This post walks you through how to design an effective survey by asking the right questions, at the right time, and with the right tools to get to the core of your candidates' experience.

Candidate experience - a buzzword we hear all too often, but with good reason - it plays a vital role in attracting and retaining top talent. Put simply, candidate experience is how the candidate feels about your company once they experience your hiring process. Candidate experiences, whether good or bad, will sway the candidate to apply to your company, accept the job offer, spread positive word-of-mouth to others, or even call you out for their bad experience. How they feel during the hiring process also sends a message about how you treat your current employees and speaks to the perceived culture of your workplace - since how you are treated as a candidate is often how you are treated as an employee.

How do you know if your candidate's experience is the cream of the crop? At Amby, we like to think that a great candidate experience is one where a candidate is valued and respected, and that even if they were rejected, they would still recommend your company to others.

That’s great, but how do you capture and quantify that sentiment when you’re not exactly in these casual conversations where word of mouth is spread? Enter surveys.

That’s why the most effective way to know for sure is to gather quantitative and qualitative data from candidates directly who have been through your hiring process via a survey. Sounds simple enough, right? Sure, but not all surveys are created equally, and you need to make sure you are using the right tools, asking the right questions, and at the right time to get to the core of your candidates' experience.

How to collect candidate feedback

Gathering feedback from candidates is an integral part of understanding the candidate experience. To ensure the feedback is accurate and timely, it is crucial to use the right tools for the job. Here are some great tools to consider when gathering candidate feedback.

Land on your tool

Online surveys are a great way to quickly and easily gather feedback from candidates. You can use survey tools such as SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, or Typeform to create surveys that are easy to complete and analyze. At Amby, we opt for Typeform since they have the most flexibility in design and an analysis feature that stands out among the rest!

Create your questions 

It’s important to ask a combination of closed and open-ended questions in order to collect both the qualitative and quantitative data that you need. The exact questions that you ask will always depend on your organization and your hiring process, but here are a few key areas that we think are important to evaluate.

  • Effectiveness of the application process - It is important that every stage of your recruitment process serves a purpose, since you don’t want to waste your time or the candidates. We suggest providing candidates with a mandatory scale (e.g., 1-5 or 1-10) to rate the effectiveness of your hiring process as well as an optional space to express any thoughts they might have about the necessity of each stage. The combination of quantitative and qualitative data that this question can yield can help your company optimise its hiring process and resources.
  • Source attribution - It’s always great to know where your candidates are coming from, and the best way to get to the bottom of it is to ask them “Where did you hear about this job?” This is common practice in sales and marketing and is referred to as self-reported attribution. It will give you a clearer overview of which channels a majority of your applicants come from, and if they applied themselves or if they were headhunted. Provide the candidate with a few select options to choose from so that you can keep your data structured (i.e., LinkedIn, Referral, Google, Other).
  • Communication (speed and quality) - It is a nerve-wracking experience waiting for an email after an interview to let you know whether or not you have progressed in the hiring process, which is why a personalized and timely response can make all the difference. Ask your candidates to rate the recruiter in terms of the promptness and calibre of their communication. It is best to separate the question into two parts, the first asking candidates to rate the speed of the recruiter’s response and the second focusing on the quality. Touching on two separate areas in the same question creates what is known as a double-barrelled question and may cause confusion for the candidate if they have conflicting views and are only able to give one answer.
  • Professionalism and tone - It is important that your recruiters and hiring managers alike conduct themselves in a professional manner throughout the hiring process. Their communications, interviews, and overall presence represent the company and can say a lot about the inter-workings of your culture. By asking candidates to rate the level of professionalism they felt during their dealings with the company, recruiters can work with team members to make sure they are representing your employer brand better in the future.
  • Potential areas of improvement - This is a perfect opportunity to gather qualitative data by providing the candidate with an open-ended question such as “What do you think would make our hiring process better?” Combing through these answers can help you spot common issues that need to be addressed and ultimately improved.
  • Overall experience with the hiring process - Now that you’ve investigated all the pieces of the process individually, ask candidates to rate the process as a whole. Utilising a standard rating scale and asking a question along the lines of “How would you rate your overall experience with our hiring process” can provide you with a quantitative overview of the candidate’s journey with your organization from start to finish. Also, keep your scales consistent throughout each question. In other words, if you ask the candidate to rate communication from 1-5, they should rate their overall experience from 1-5 as well.
  • Recommendation score - A great way to end the candidate survey is by utilising another standard scale asking candidates how likely they are to recommend your company to others. Word of mouth is still a strong form of marketing and a high likelihood to recommend a company is a sign that your organization is on the right track to being an excellent employer.

Notice that we did not include any questions that could reveal a candidates identity here (e.g., name or specific role they were applying for), since we always advocate for the surveys to be anonymized - but more on that later.

Automate your send-out

Use automated emails to send surveys to candidates after they have gone through the hiring process. Often, you can do this through your ATS by creating email send-outs that are automatically triggered as the candidate moves through different stages of the funnel. If you don't have triggers in your ATS, tools like Delighted and SimpleFeedback allow you to customize and automate emails to ensure timely and accurate feedback.

 

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What to keep in mind when measuring candidate experience

Now that you're familiar with some of the technicalities around designing your survey, let's look at some key things to remember when gathering candidate data.

Timing

Timing is vital when it comes to running candidate surveys. To get the most accurate feedback, send the survey immediately after the candidate has gone through the hiring process. That way, the feedback is fresh, and the candidate remembers their experience clearly. This will also ensure that you capture accurate qualitative feedback that is still top of mind for them.

Length

Keep in mind that candidates are busy and they’ve got their own lives to lead. In a competitive market, they may not even be convinced to spend time in your process, let alone on your survey. Do what you can to keep your survey short and sweet so that it doesn’t take up too much of their time. However, your survey also shouldn’t be so short that you are unable to collect the necessary data that you need. It is all about striking a balance. We recommend that your survey should be around 5 to 6 minutes to complete with a maximum of 12-15 questions. It may be tempting to investigate every aspect of your hiring process but nothing will hurt your analysis more than incomplete responses.

Anonymity 

This should go without saying, but like with any survey, make sure that the surveys are anonymous. Anonymity creates a safe space for the candidate to open up and give honest feedback without fear of retribution or bias. The candidate should be fully aware that the company will not associate the feedback with them but that its purpose is to improve the process for others. With that said, you can ask basic identifier questions, such as which department the candidate was interviewing for, since recruitment teams and processes can differ depending on the team. Also, we recommend splitting the survey into two: one for hired candidates and one for rejected candidates. The questions within these surveys can be the same, but it is interesting to compare the results and trends between the two groups. By separating the surveys on the backend, you still have the option to compare the groups without having to bluntly ask the candidate if they were hired or not.

Non-mandatory questions

Allowing candidates to skip questions may seem odd, but it can do wonders for your completion rates. We recommend making qualitative, open-ended questions optional so that candidates aren’t scared off by being forced to type a long response. The reality is that sometimes candidates don’t have anything to add to their quantitative score, or they may feel like their long-response answer will identify who they are (i.e., defeating the point of anonymity). With that said, we still recommend keeping quantitative answers (e.g., a 1-10 scale) mandatory so that you have a complete data set.

Dual Analysis

It is important to dig into both qualitative feedback and qualitative responses. It may be tempting to lean on quantitative data since it is easier to see trends and averages, but doing so will create gaps and inaccuracies in your analysis. A driving factor of this comes down to the fact that different individuals have different standards and a baseline for what a "great candidate experience" is. For example, for some candidates, excellence is 7, while for others, it's a clear 10. Even though these two candidates thought their experience was far above average, the qualitative data may paint a different picture.

Additionally, when starting with surveys, you may need a larger sample size to run advanced analysis or spot trends with quantitative data alone. Therefore, the rich data that comes with qualitative responses may play a more prominent role in your analysis.

A great way to start looking at qualitative answers is to look at the overall sentiment of the responses. Are most of the responses positive or negative? Are there any common themes or areas of improvement? If so, try bucketing these responses into common themes and create action points on improving each area.

Gathering feedback from candidates is an essential part of understanding the candidate experience. We hope that this blog provided you with advice on how to design effective candidate surveys, including the best tools to use, how to create questions, and what to keep in mind during the design process. Best of luck!

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