Ask most TA professionals about their approach to candidate engagement, and they’ll start telling you about their ATS or CRM. Technology is a wonderful thing, no question about it. Automated messaging does support engagement. When candidates get messages promptly (even immediately) when they apply for positions, or move to a new stage in the pipeline, they stay engaged. When they spend too long in the pipeline with no feedback, they disengage. The messages, of course, have to be crafted well, delivering relevant content to the right person at the right time. Updates on their status are always helpful, of course, supplemented by things like (where appropriate) company culture, mission and vision, perhaps even using different ‘voices’ like hiring managers interspersed with recruitment staff.

So, yes. Technology has its place. But are you letting the technology ‘tail’ wag the engagement ‘dog’?

Imagine candidate engagement as a spectrum. At the low end are email blasts (“Hey, <FirstName>, here’s an update for you”). They're the absolute least engaging form of communication with candidates. It’s not that they don’t have their place in your engagement plan, it’s just that they have one place in that plan. At the high end of the engagement spectrum? One-to-one in-person meetings, of course. But there’s a whole range in between: a multitude of ways to keep a connection alive and warm. There are plenty of platforms that allow for automated text messaging, which – despite being automated – are still generally regarded by candidates as more engaging than email. With the application of higher-end technology, we get into AI-enabled conversational text messaging and chatbots, increasing the level of engagement significantly. (Of course, there’s a time and place to ditch automation altogether, having – gasp! – actual conversations by text message, phone, or video.)

With all those options to choose from, it becomes tempting (and easy) to let automation drive strategy. Again, tail wagging dog.

What would happen if we left tech out of the equation for a moment, and put strategy first?

What do you want to accomplish with your candidate engagement plan; what’s your endgame? Who do you want to reach, when, and why? To achieve those goals, how best to connect with them? How can you turn your hiring process into a hiring experience?

Candidate engagement isn’t defined by a number of touchpoints (automated or otherwise). It is the measure of the personal relationship a candidate perceives they have with a company. The more human and personal the interactions are perceived to be, the greater the level of engagement. The key is the one thing AI will never have: emotions.

At the first point of engagement with a candidate, emotions are positive. Maybe you reach out with a position that’s really exciting to them, maybe they decide to apply for a role they’re really interested in. They’re happy, and excited. All good. They update their resume, targeting the position, or they submit a form that plugs them into our ATS. Still excited (which is great), but also perhaps a bit anxious. Maybe questioning their suitability for the position. Not so great … especially if they’re left to stew for a while. They wait – perhaps for days, maybe even for weeks, to hear from someone. Crickets. Now, they’re feeling sad, and disappointed. Nothing good there. Maybe they’re doubting their qualifications, feeling insecure. They’re almost certainly feeling confused, even angry, that they haven’t heard back.

Is that an emotional rollercoaster you’d want to ride?

Consider the alternative. The initial outreach gets a prospective candidate excited about an opportunity. A prompt confirmation – relatively personalized because of good customization – lets them know what they can expect to happen next. As they wait in the pipeline, they receive little pieces of news here and there: updates about their candidacy, perhaps a bit of inside info about the company they’re interested in. They’re selected for an interview, and they get the news delivered personally. What a great time to engage in a bit of prep with them, and let them know what the process will look like, including the timelines they should anticipate. The pre-selection process feels personal and engaging to the candidate, even when some of the notifications and messages are automated behind the scenes. Communication happens promptly at every step, not letting the candidate stew in states of insecurity, confusion, and frustration. Even when it’s necessary to deliver bad news, that news is delivered promptly and professionally, in a compassionate way that leaves a good impression behind.

Think back to your strategy. If the outcome of your strategy is true candidate engagement, wouldn’t that experience come closer to meeting that goal? Once you’ve defined the kind of experience you want candidates to have, then – and only then – is the time to start thinking about how technology can help create that experience.

One final point on strategy: the question of who to reach at any given time is an important one. There’s a key to doing this well: segmentation and targeting. This will look very different from one company to another, but every company – every TA pro – has a multitude of audiences, and effective strategy execution means engaging each audience individually and differently. You might define candidates in terms of how close to your core market they are; how in-demand their skills are to you. You might segment by industry sector, specialization, or even geography. For your strategy, it might be better to target by their relative position in your pipeline; how quickly you anticipate them moving through your process. There are innumerable ways to do this, but having a defined strategy in place is the fundamental first step: that strategy will help you define who the audiences are, and what you want to achieve with each one.

To up your candidate engagement game, first clearly define your goals – the outcome you want to achieve. Define your strategy to reach those goals. Use the technology you have available to you to support you in executing that strategy, paying particular attention to your defined target audiences.

Let the dog wag its tail. That’s how to create the emotional experience that will keep your candidates connected and engaged.

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