As already pointed out in our introductory article, companies today must actively seek applicants in order to attract the right talent. This begins with effective employer branding and continues through the application and selection processes. But what are the candidate expectations that companies must actively address in their recruiting strategy for a competitive candidate experience?
Seven applicant needs as the foundation for the ideal candidate experience
In order to understand what the key applicant needs of today are, we have conducted qualitative interviews with over 100 potential applicants . Our findings are confirmed by numerous studies and investigations: Today’s recruiting must be fast, uncomplicated, transparent, and individual – regardless of the age or academic/professional background of the applicants. For example, 70% of over 6,000 respondents consider a maximum of two weeks as an adequate period between their written application and the invitation to an interview. Overall, applicant needs can be divided into seven categories:
Applicant need 1: Intuitive and optimized user experience
The entire application process – from job search to submitting and sending the application documents – should be as simple and straightforward as possible. In a study by Gartner, 13% of over 7,000 respondents stated that the overly complicated application process was the reason for the application being abandoned.
Applicants do not want to have to register with different portals in order to be able to view relevant jobs. A digital job search is no longer enough – mobile-optimized job portals and career sites of companies are a basic requirement to avoid losing potential applicants right from the start.
Even the application itself should not take up much time – many applicants find it too cumbersome to fill out extensive application forms.
Ideally, the applicant can send the application conveniently by e-mail or even share his or her own Xing or LinkedIn CV directly by “One Click.” Almost 62% of all job seekers under 30 would use this “One Click” offer.
Applicant need 2: Transparency during the recruiting process
Applicants like to know what they can expect from the process before it even starts. In addition, they are looking for as much information as possible about the conditions of the desired position. Indeed, the desire for a job increases by 23% if the candidate is given comprehensive information about the desired position during the interview process, such as typical tasks. A transparent job advertisement regarding general conditions, such as working hours and location, is also very important.
Applicant need 3: Fast feedback and overall duration of the process
Applicants have clear expectations regarding the length of the application process, whereby immediate confirmation of receipt after sending the application is already taken for granted. A survey of over 800 applicants has shown that the expectations for the entire duration of the application process are less than six weeks.
Moreover, our qualitative surveys show that applicants are not willing to undergo a selection process lasting several months – at least not if this was not explicitly communicated in advance or was to be expected based on the advertised position (e.g. trainee program). Today’s reality is mostly that applicants are in several selection procedures at the same time, so that a short period of time between receipt of the application documents and submission of the contract offer is a clear competitive advantage.
Applicant need 4: Personal and continuous communication
It is important for the applicant to have a personal contact person throughout the entire recruiting process who informs regularly about the status of the process and can quickly and easily answer any questions that may arise. Additionally, in order to feel valued as an individual, applicants prefer a personal approach to generic emails.
Applicant need 5: Focus on individuality
An individualized application, which can be designed freely, is perceived by candidates as more promising than a standardized procedure. Our interviews also show that it is important for applicants that during the selection process (e.g. in a recruitment interview) not only grades or achievements listed in the CV are considered as relevant, but themselves as an individual with their own skills, qualifications and personality.
Applicant need 6: Getting to know superiors and colleagues
Eighty-five percent of all applicants find their cultural fit with the employer important or rather important. Therefore, applicants have a strong interest in getting to know their future working environment and supervisors/colleagues early on. In addition to recruiting events with actual colleagues and potential superiors, informal events are also a good way to give a first insight into the corporate culture, for example.
Applicant need 7: Feedback after the recruiting process
Feedback is an absolute must for the applicant – not only to get feedback on their performance, but also because of the need for appreciation. In fact, 91.7% of applicants want feedback after a rejection. Our qualitative surveys also revealed that young applicants, in particular, want constructive feedback in order to be better prepared for future application procedures.
Applicant needs depend on the target group
Obviously, the needs mentioned are not equally relevant for all groups of applicants. For example, due to their previous application experience, GenX applicants certainly do not find it unusual to have to register with a career portal in order to submit their application documents. For GenZ applicants, who spend almost 24/7 with their smartphones, mobile-optimized options for job search and application are a basic requirement.
A good understanding of the applicant target group is therefore a prerequisite for creating the ideal candidate journey: Which applicants have the right skills to meet current and future requirements in the best possible way? What are the corresponding target group-specific candidate needs?
Our next blog article in the series “The ideal candidate experience – how to attract the right talent” will show how this can be achieved. Stay tuned!
This article is co-authored by Ann-Katrin Jünemann.
 Demographic data of interviewees is available upon request.
 An overview of relevant studies is available upon request.
 N = 104; demographic data are available upon request.