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The ideal candidate experience – how to attract the right talent | Part 3

October 1, 2020

In part 2 of this blog series, we outlined the overarching needs for applicants to consider in the application process. In the next step, we describe how to transfer these to an individual candidate journey – adapted to the specific target group of the company and to the company itself. A candidate journey describes the entire application process, from initial contact to hiring from the candidate’s perspective. By carefully adopting this perspective, companies can target and reach the right talent.

Figure 1: Generalized process including the essential steps of a candidate journey

How to design an individual candidate journey in seven steps

In our experience, an approach based on design thinking[1] is the best way to enable companies to take the candidates’ needs into account when designing the candidate journey. As Pierre-Henri Clouin, chief strategy officer of Idean, put it: “[Design thinking allows a company] (…) to uncover and pursue unexplored opportunities.” This human-centered approach directly involves the target group in the design process at an early stage and thus ensures that the candidate journey is designed from the perspective of the applicants.

Figure 2: Design thinking process

Formulate the design challenge

The “design challenge” is the basic question that the specific design-thinking process intends to solve. It turns insights into questions that inspire teams to come up with creative solutions. A good design challenge is broad enough to leave space for new ideas but narrow enough to provide focus. A general design challenge for recruiting could be: “How might we attract the right talent through an attractive candidate journey, so they want to apply and work for us?” However, to increase focus, you have to define who exactly the “right talent” includes in terms of competencies and skills, as well as cultural fit.

Step 1: Identification of needed competency profile

In order to pursue a skill- and potential-focused recruiting approach, the required competency profile should be defined at the very beginning of the process – not only concerning the immediate requirements, but also future skill requirements. It is important to focus not only on hard skills, such as certain programming skills and associated formal qualifications, but also on essential soft skills, such as the ability to learn and adapt.

Step 2: Definition of relevant company values

The corporate values and company purpose need to be reflected in the candidate journey for two reasons: First, the creation of a corporate brand increases the attractiveness of the employer. In order to create a consistent and authentic image of the company, the brand should be reflected in the entire candidate journey. Purpose-driven organizations attract talent more successfully, so the purpose should be communicated as early as possible in the candidate journey. Secondly, it makes it more likely to attract the right candidates with a high cultural fit, who are more suited to the company, thus performing better and staying longer.

As a result, the overall design challenge could be: “How might we attract highly adaptable data experts through an attractive candidate journey that reflects trust and diversity, so they want to apply and work for us?”


Step 3: Putting oneself in the applicant’s position

In order to put yourself in the applicant’s position, it must be clear who exactly the potential candidates are. After the required competency profiles have been defined, you have to identify where/within which groups of applicants these competences can be found. Especially in this phase it is important not to narrow the view or stick to prefabricated pictures of the “ideal candidate.” Rather, various diversity aspects of potential candidates should be deliberately considered, so that initial assumptions don’t restrict the following collection of insights and ideation.

While general applicant needs, as described in the second article of the blog series, are well known, you have to understand what they mean specifically for the targeted group of applicants. This involves, on the one hand, identifying which requirements are particularly important for the target group and, on the other hand, how exactly these requirements manifest themselves for potential candidates (e.g. What does “intuitive and efficient usability” mean for the target group?). Empathizing with the applicant groups can be achieved by conducting interviews or focus groups.

Structure insights

Step 4: Development of personas

The insights gained in the third step can be structured by summarizing it within different personas, so that it can be easily used in the further process for generating ideas and designing a candidate journey from the applicant’s perspective. For this, the research results are first clustered in candidate group-specific “empathy maps” (e.g. based on questions such as “What does the candidate think and feel?”).

Following this, personas – i.e. fictitious archetypal applicant profiles for the concrete illustration of applicant characteristics (behavior, needs, abilities, motivation) – can then be derived.


Step 5: Idea collection and selection of idea categories

The next step is to develop ideas for the design of the candidate journey content, based on the company values and personas. Initially, creative ideas can be collected through free brainstorming, for example. The unstructured collection needs to be grouped and structured afterwards (e.g. using mind maps), to then select groups of ideas to be pursued and prioritized (e.g. based on a joint evaluation using defined criteria such as feasibility, profitability, or degree of innovation).


Step 6: Develop idea-prototypes along the candidate journey

For prototyping, the selected ideas are visualized along the candidate journey, e.g. in form of a sketch, in order to make them directly tangible for testing. This can also result in several potential candidate journeys, which address different groups of applicants or give the applicants different options within one candidate journey. You will find a concrete example of such a prototype in the next article of this blog series.


Step 7: Testing of the candidate journeys with representatives of the target groups

Finally, user groups and experts test the developed prototypes and the feedback is systematically documented (e.g. in a test grid). Additionally, general design principles can be considered in the decision, e.g. the possibility of a virtual implementation of the entire application process. Based on the feedback and principles, prototypes are selected for implementation and will be adapted over time, if necessary.

Flexibility as a success factor in the design of a candidate journey

The initial prototype is followed by the careful design of the complete candidate journey, as well as the practical implementation. The candidate journey should be designed in a flexible way, so that each persona can find itself in an individually adapted journey.

What could such a candidate journey look like? We will present a concrete example in our next blog article of this series. Stay tuned!

This article is co-authored by Johanna Braun.

[1] Design thinking is a human-centered approach for creative problem resolution. It begins by precisely defining the problem before working on the solution.