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From the Inside Out: How Designing Brand Experiences Can Start With the Candidate Who Got Away

It was Jimmy's first day at the agency. New suit, fresh haircut, big smile. He couldn't sleep the night before, feeling like it was the first day of school. As we walked through the agency 'bullpen' (think rows on rows on rows of cubicles), everyone greeted him. Our operations director gave him a quick high-five, and one of the sales managers yelled from his office, "Looking sharp, Jimmy!"


By Meg Kypena, Principle, OnYourMark Co, LLC | Certified Brand Strategist and StoryBrand Guide


We arrived at Jimmy's desk and his face lit up. Balloons lined the fabric walls of his cubicle. There was a handwritten note signed by the leadership team, a mascot plush doll sitting on his new monitor. Branded pens, branded t-shirt. In the middle of it all was his onboarding agenda, meticulously scheduled to-the-minute with training sessions, compliance videos, joint sales calls, and lunch with the managing director. Our marketing and recruiting teams worked hard to make everyone's onboarding memorable, because we thought that’s how you build a brand experience.

Later that day, a call was routed to my office that dramatically changed our entire approach to branding. A woman explained that she had been to our office for multiple interviews. I asked how she was doing. “I don’t know. You tell me. I haven’t heard from anyone from your office. Still don’t have the information I asked for. I’m assuming I didn’t get the job, but what I do know is that I will never be a client.”

In an instant, her sharp words popped every balloon we had blown up to celebrate Jimmy's first day.

That was 2003 - twenty years ago - and I will forever be grateful that she spoke up and ripped off my blinders.

Despite the vast technological advances and automation tools that now exist, candidates are still asking the same questions:

“What's next? What's it like to work here? Is anyone going to respond?"

Front and center for companies is attracting and engaging talent, then hiring and keeping the best onboard.

But what about everyone who didn’t get an offer?

Let’s talk about this overlooked audience and the implications to the brand. And to be clear, this isn’t a recruiting problem. This is an all-hands-on-deck brand opportunity.

It's no surprise that a positive candidate experience is critical for companies competing for top talent, with 82% of job seekers actively researching and considering an organization's brand and reputation before applying for a job.

Simple to understand, but far from easy.

Even talented, well-funded teams with access to enterprise-level, customized, personalized, integrated, double-scoop-with-sprinkles-type resources can struggle.

At OnYourMark, we’re passionate about helping organizations outmaneuver the competition through designing brand experiences from the inside out.

When it comes to all-things-brand, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. That said, over the years, we've honed our approach to working with clients and developed some common approaches that have proven successful.

Find the Papercut Problems.

It's time to start paying attention to the papercut problems - the issues that no one really notices that can add up to a major brand crisis over time.

Take a recent client of ours, for example. They had an applicant-to-hire ratio of 114:1 and an average retention rate of 106 days. They challenged themselves to reimagine the onboarding process to drive retention to 200 days. The math checked out; scaled and annualized, they projected reduced turnover and increased productivity.

But here's the thing about math - it can be sneaky. By focusing only on retention, they were missing a festering threat to the brand: the 114 applicants who didn’t get the job. When scaled across the organization and all open job positions, it added up to over 20,000 applicants annually.

By shifting their mindset and thinking about every missed opportunity for a touchpoint as a papercut to their brand, they fueled a cross-departmental collaboration to build a brand communication strategy that included all applicants - not just those who made it through the hiring process.

Papercut problems are about finding what the competition isn’t even looking for that can slowly accumulate to a brand-triage situation.

Communicate early and often.

Who knew that not ghosting candidates could actually help differentiate your brand? Well, it turns out that 30% of job seekers ranked responsiveness after applying as the most important factor in their candidate experience. And timing is also crucial - while candidates expect to be offered a job within 1 to 2 weeks of the first interview, it actually takes 5.5 weeks on average. No wonder 60% of job seekers will abandon the application process if it takes too long or is too complicated.

To improve the candidate experience, communicate early and often. Candidates want clear instructions on how to follow up on their application, information about your company culture and benefits, and a clear timeline of the hiring process. In fact, 83% of candidates say that a clear timeline would greatly improve their overall experience.

So, explain how the hiring process will work upfront, including the number of stages and how long it will take. And don't forget to provide updates on next steps - 41% of candidates expect to learn about this during the initial interview. Without communication, we're just hoping for engagement and endurance - and that's not a winning strategy.

Create unexpected moments.

Brainstorm experiences that are memorable and low cost, while staying true to your brand. Here are three simple ideas to bump up your engagement and remind your candidates that there are real, live humans behind your brand:

Send a short, personalized video message to applicants through text or LinkedIn Messenger. Need a script? Got you covered: “Hi [their name]! This is [your name] with [your company]. We received your application. Thank you for applying. We understand waiting can be tough, but please know that we’re committed to providing a fair and thorough review process. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out [email or URL]. You’re in good hands with our team. In the meantime, you can [call to action] to learn more about our culture. Thanks for considering us. Have a great day.

Want to make a lasting impression? Send a handwritten note in a hand-addressed envelope. Thank applicants for their interest and highlight something unique about their application that caught your attention. When something is rare, its perceived value increases exponentially. And let’s face it, according to VastAction, with a 99% open rate, you’re basically sending a unicorn.

Surprise interruption: Have a team member pop into the interview just to say hello. It's a little act of unexpected kindness that can make candidates feel truly valued - like getting an unexpected hug from a friend. But a word to the wise: the surprise should be for the candidate, not the interviewer. We've had to explain this to some well-meaning clients who got a little too excited about the idea. So, keep the focus on the candidate and let them bask in the warmth of your team's welcoming spirit without getting weird.

The lesson here is clear: creating a positive candidate experience isn't just about recruitment, it's about the brand as a whole. By identifying and addressing the papercut problems that can accumulate, we can ensure that every touchpoint, even with those who don't get the job, leaves a positive impression. So communicate early and often, create unexpected moments, and stay mindful of the potential impact on our brand. And balloons.

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