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7 Lessons From Good and Bad Candidate Experiences

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Founders start companies so they can realize an idea or work towards a mission, but they end up spending most of their time engaged in vital, but often less inspiring, processes like hiring. Luckily, one of the most important ways to boost your hiring efforts requires little-to-no extra time and can make a huge difference when candidates are weighing their options: creating a positive candidate experience.

To create a positive candidate experience, you don’t need to go to great lengths. As the anecdotes of real candidate experiences with startup hiring illustrate below, having a good candidate experience is much more about a company being thoughtful and less so about putting on a grand show.

Good candidate experiences with startup hiring

Charles Yang, Fundraising Analyst

Charles Yang“I like when there’s clear and transparent communication during an interview process. As a candidate, it’s frustrating when interviewers are cryptic about their expectations. It’s a better overall candidate experience when you’re able to speak candidly about everything from salary ranges to upward mobility.”


Christine Jun, Designer

Christine Jun“Having a whiteboard or any other means of being able to communicate with mixed media is helpful for me. This may be specific to my role but I think a lot of people, not just designers, are visually-minded and can explain certain things better by drawing them or putting them down on paper and it’s nice to have the option.”


Matthew Melville, Partner and Legal Advisor

Matthew Melville“One simple way to create a good candidate experience for me is by giving real feedback afterward. It costs nothing, takes only a minute, and can provide a ton of value to someone in their ongoing job search.”



Bad candidate experiences with startup hiring

Kathya Pineda, Account Manager

Kathya Pineda“I had a phone interview once where the interviewer was very impersonal—almost robotic. Instead of having a normal conversation it felt more like a transaction. For instance, they asked me about salary expectations five minutes into the interview. This gave me a pretty negative first impression of the company. I think interviewers should be more conversational with candidates so you can get a sense of the company’s culture.”

Renee A., Records Clerk

Renee A.“I appreciate when a company asks for your gender pronouns at some point during the interview or application process. Unfortunately, though, a lot of companies don’t use that info in communications about you after you’ve been hired, especially if your pronouns are not the usual he/him or she/her. It’s important to be considerate, but it’s even more important to follow through with these practices.”

Hunter Lux, Sales Development Representative

Hunter Lux“One of the worst experiences I’ve had as a job candidate was for a sales position. The interviewer was so rude to me on the phone that I have to think they were testing me to see how I would handle a tough sales call with a prospect or a client. I’m not sure this is really an effective hiring strategy though because that phone interview took away all the excitement I had about that opportunity and made me not want to continue to the onsite interview.”

Cassie Pallesen, Head of Corporate Marketing

Cassie Pallesen“A company once gave me a handful of free swag when I arrived for my onsite interview. The problem is that I was interviewing for a marketing position and I wondered if that was really the best use of the marketing budget. Using your swag budget once an offer is accepted, or even extended, is great—but giving it to any and all onsite candidates is just throwing money away.

I think companies can make people feel welcome at their office without cutting into their budgets by just thinking of the little things, like writing “Welcome Cassie!” on a whiteboard in the reception area—gestures that are simple and thoughtful.”

7 takeaways to create a positive candidate experience

The accounts of good and bad candidate experiences above highlight the importance of simply being empathetic of the people you’re interviewing. Altogether, these takeaways provide some guidelines that can be applied to creating a positive candidate experience at your company.

  1. Maintain clear and transparent communication throughout the interview process.
  2. Provide tools for candidates to convey their thoughts through various mediums, such as a whiteboard or pen and paper.
  3. Deliver real feedback.
  4. Aim for a conversational tone to keep an interview from feeling transactional. This is a time to share your personality, and the company’s .
  5. Don’t flaunt your company’s dedication to diversity and inclusion during the candidate experience unless your company follows through with it in the day-to-day work experience.
  6. Avoid interviewing techniques that could give candidates a bad impression of your company’s culture. If you want to know how candidates would react in certain scenarios, consider asking a series of relevant behavioral questions.
  7. Opt for thoughtful (and free) gestures instead of flashy and costly gifts.

When creating a positive candidate experience at your startup to hire talent, focus on the simple details to make a good impression on your candidates.

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Jenny has 15 years of experience recruiting in the tech industry at agencies, in-house, and as an independent consultant. She’s managed full desks, tripled engineering and product teams at companies like HotelTonight, and helped high-growth companies build and scale their recruiting organizations.

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