In today's tight labor market, if you don't take care of qualified job applicants, your competitors will.

With unemployment at historic lows--it stood at 4.0 percent in January--losing qualified candidates to other companies can be a particularly costly setback. One way to set your company apart from the competition is to rethink how you treat job candidates, several hiring managers and human resource experts told Inc

"The candidate experience is absolutely vital for the company to get the best engagement with the top candidates," says Joanna Riley, the CEO of Censia, a talent acquisition firm that has worked with companies such as Carvana, Taylor Morrison, and the World Bank.

Here are some ways you can revamp the candidate experience.

Make your job description a true sales pitch.

One way to increase interest in open positions is to write job descriptions that resemble sales pitches, Riley says. Focus on including factors like whether or not a new hire will be able to grow within the company or travel for work. 

"Putting the benefits of that specific role upfront is more valuable than listing the criteria," Riley added.

Whatever you do, avoid simply copying boilerplate job descriptions from the web, she says. Your company is unique and so is the job you're filling, so write the posting to reflect that and the specific type of candidate who will thrive in the role. Make sure to outline the company's culture and its policies on inclusion and diversity, Riley adds. And don't rely on an out-of-date qualification list. Include the ones that matter, like visa status or employee location, but eliminate details that would unnecessarily shrink your talent pool.  

Keep in touch with candidates.

Don't let long periods of time pass without any communication between you and the applicant, says Ashley Pelliccione, the senior director of talent acquisition at the HR software company Namely. Institute a policy for communicating with candidates. Namely, for instance, sends updates every 48 hours to candidates who make it to the phone-screen or onsite interview stages.

"The rule of thumb is not to have a black hole," Pelliccione says. "We keep them in the loop and in constant communication."

Another way to stay in touch is through automated email responses to candidates who submit applications or inquire about their status in the process, says Juliana Barela, vice president and general manager of recruitment process outsourcing at consulting firm Korn Ferry. Automated responses acknowledge the candidate, verify that application materials were received, and look as if they were sent by a human, Barela adds. 

Lastly, always take the step of formally rejecting candidates you don't plan on hiring and telling them why they weren't the right fit, says Paul Wolfe, the head of human resources at the employment search engine Indeed. Companies that articulate this message and avoid so-called ghosting increase their chances of getting referrals or hearing from the candidate for other positions in the future, Wolfe adds. 

"We as humans avoid it because it's not a positive message, but we should think of it as positive because as a company, you want to build your network," Barela said. "You get some great referrals through that."

Put candidates at ease.

To ease the tension that many job candidates feel during interviews, be upfront about what the process entails, what type of questions the interviewers will ask, who the applicant will meet with and how those people fit into the company's structure, Wolfe says. By outlining those details, companies are putting candidates in a better position to ask thoughtful and informed questions, he adds.

Additionally, be cognizant of where candidates are coming from and meet them there, Barela says. Employers should schedule interviews around the candidate's schedule and ask which communication method they prefer, whether that's arranging logistics via text, email, or phone calls, she says.

"It used to ebb and flow, depending on the labor market, who felt they had the edge," Barela says, adding that employers have become more accommodating of candidates since the unemployment rate dropped. "Now I feel like it has evolved and organizations realize that, regardless of what the economy is doing, you need to take care of candidates."

Ask for feedback.

The best way to learn how your company can improve its candidate experience is to ask. Set up a survey and send it to candidates who reach various points in the application and interview process, not just the ones who get the job, Barela says. That way, the business is collecting data on every aspect of the candidates' experiences.

Indeed sends surveys to every person who interviews for a position and analyzes the data to gauge how they viewed the experience. "Gathering the data is the first step to understanding the areas you can improve on," Wolfe says, noting that calling candidates for feedback is an option if survey software is too expensive. Employers should also get feedback from candidates they plan to hire, Wolfe adds. 

Following these suggestions can boost a company's online reputation, which is easily accessible to candidates on sites like Glassdoor. Since candidates can research what the hiring process is like at most companies, they can easily learn which places actively communicated with candidates and which ones ignored people, Barela says.

The bottom line is that preventing great hires from getting away requires extra effort. "You always need to take care with top talent," Barela says.

Published on: Feb 1, 2019