How do you define the early-career candidate experience?
According to industry experts, the candidate journey doesn’t start and end with the interview process. Instead, the candidate experience spans from the time a candidate first interacts with your company, to their first year (or more) within the role.
“[The early career candidate experience begins] the moment you start to engage with someone,” says Elizabeth Diley, Campus TA Leader of General Mills. “For some, that could be freshman or sophomore year on campus. For others, it could be in high school.”
Switching your mindset and re-defining the early-career candidate experience can have long-term impacts at your company. As described by Paul Bauer, a university recruiting expert who transformed early-career recruiting efforts at renowned companies like Salesforce, Expedia, and GoPuff; broadening your definition of the candidate experience has the opportunity to increase retention rates, increase intern to full-time employee (FTE) rates, and transform candidates into brand champions at your company.
Recently, Scholars sat down with these two industry experts to ask the question, “How should companies define the early-career candidate experience?” Below, we recap our conversation, offering guidance on how this shift can help build an early-career recruiting program to reduce turnover and renege rates. (View the full webinar, here.)
How Redefining the Early-Career Candidate Experience Impacts Your Company Long-Term
The early-career candidate experience doesn’t begin when a candidate first submits an application. Instead, it starts when a potential applicant is first exposed to your employer’s brand — which could begin as early as their high school years.
Using this broad definition of the early-career candidate experience puts employers in a better position to attract top talent — a necessity in today’s labor market. “In this job market, interviewers are selling, not assessing,” says Elizabeth. In 2022, 57% of hiring managers believe that “candidates hold the power,” with companies hiring 26.6% more graduates than they did the year prior (and offering much higher salaries).
With ample opportunities to pick from, today’s graduating class isn’t interested in working for employers who show minimal interest in them or their future. Instead, they’re excited about companies that laid the foundation early on, meeting them at recruiting events, hosting meetups, and touching base through every stage of the candidate journey.
If your immediate reaction is, “Our recruiters don’t have bandwidth to follow up with every single person within our talent community!” we challenge you to reframe this way of thinking. As Elizabeth and Paul remind us, today’s early-career recruits — even those who don’t accept an offer — could benefit your company in the following ways:
1. They Could Become a Future Employee
“It’s about the long game,” says Paul. A candidate might not choose to work with you right now, but they could become a full-time employee five, ten, or even thirty years into the future. When working within the university recruiting space, hiring managers need to remember you’re working with candidates who have 30-40 years left in their career.
Therefore, ensure they have a positive experience now, in hopes of staying top-of-mind later on. Paul suggests offering tangible, functional career advice to your talent community to make a lasting impression. For example, host a virtual resume workshop or offer one-to-one advice at career fairs. (His favorite tip to college students? Talk to five companies with whom you have little interest first to work out the career-fair jitters, saving your top job prospects for the end of the day.)
2. They Could Become Potential Customers
As a recruiter for a Fortune 500 consumer-facing brand, Elizabeth wants to remind recruiters that a candidate experience isn’t a siloed event. A negative candidate experience translates to a negative experience with your brand, which could, in turn, have a negative impact on sales and customer acquisition.
And if you operate within the B2B space? Consider this: Unlike B2C companies, you haven’t had the good fortune of becoming integrated into a candidate’s daily life or rhetoric. Therefore, it’s even more important to invest in the early stages of university recruiting, introducing your company to college sophomores and freshmen. That way, when top talent receives their diploma, your company stays at the top of their list of places to apply.
How to Build a Successful Recruiting Program By Redefining the Candidate Experience
Changing your definition of the early-career candidate experience transforms the scope of whom you recruit — and how you target them. By thinking of your early-career program as one that “targets” everyone from a college freshman to a full-time employee finishing their first year at your company, you’re better equipped to reduce reneges and turnover.
To develop a successful early-career recruiting program, implement the following strategies:
1. Get Executive Buy-In Early On
“The feel-good element [of a positive candidate experience] is just a side effect,” says Paul. In reality, a good early-career recruiting program will increase company retention, reduce offer reneges, and improve the diversity of the company.
And frankly, those are the metrics your leadership team cares about.
To gain executive buy-in, it’s imperative you back up your stance with cold, hard data (psst! Scholars automatically tracks these metrics for you). As an example, Elizabeth shares that former interns have the highest retention rate at General Mills. In fact, in 2020, General Mills extended offers to 95% of their internship cohort, and 100% stated they would recommend the company as an employer (even those who didn’t receive an offer).
2. Implement Feedback Loops to Improve Each Stage of the Candidate Journey
As Paul reminds us, a negative candidate experience is nothing more than a learning opportunity. And continuously requesting feedback from your talent community can have nothing but positive implications later on.
Elizabeth states that leveraging feedback from candidates has led to lasting changes at General Mills. Their talent community inspired the company to use inclusive language within job descriptions, install gender-neutral bathrooms at headquarters, and ensure each interview panel is representative of those being interviewed.
3. Keep Engaging Candidates Post-Offer
“When the offer goes out, the power shifts to the student,” says Elizabeth. In decades past, recruiters believed the candidate experience ended the moment the company extended an offer.
In today’s labor climate, this outdated notion will come at a detriment to your renege rate. As instances of candidate ghosting, offer reneges, and early-career turnover skyrocket, it’s important to make candidates feel welcome and excited about the opportunity — even well after the interview process. Elizabeth suggests having team members draft congratulations notes, inviting senior leaders to hop on a call (or leave a voicemail) or offer to make an intro between the candidate and an FTE sharing their same background or affinity group.
Does post-offer engagement take a lot of coordination? Yes. But will it make an impact? Absolutely. Fortunately, using an automation platform, like Scholars, will help streamline post-offer communications to keep candidates engaged.
Redefine and Transform Your Early-Career Candidate Experience
Your candidate experience doesn’t start when a candidate submits an application, nor does it end at onboarding. Instead, today’s recruiting experts define the early-career candidate experience as the time period between an applicant’s first interaction with your employer brand, to their first 1-3 years at the company.
The purpose of redefining the candidate experience isn’t simply to use correct or updated language. Instead, the purpose is to shift your mindset to build a better early-career program — one that increases your intern-to-FTE rate reduces reneges, and improves employee retention.
Designing a successful early-career candidate experience requires a lot of coordination across department lines. Fortunately, Scholars can help build personalized candidate journeys at scale, thereby developing a positive candidate experience. As a recruiting platform designed by Gen Z candidates for Gen Z candidates, Scholars strives to bring a level of humanity back to human resources. To see how Scholars can transform your early-career recruiting efforts, schedule a demo.