Candidate Retention Explained: How to do it right?

Volodymyr Bilyk
31 March 2021

On the surface, candidate retention seems like a moot topic to discuss. It is relevant, but it is not like there is a lot to talk about, especially as a full-blown article within an effective hiring process or candidate experience narratives. 

However, there is a saying, “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear,” and that’s exactly the case. Just think about it – how many times did you have a situation where the candidate drifted away from a surefire offer? 

This article explains the ins and outs of it and demonstrates the actual value of candidate retention.

What is Candidate Retention?

What is candidate retention

In strictly scientific terms, candidate retention is a component of a broader candidate experience topic. 

  • Candidate retention’s goal is assuring the candidate’s continuous retention in the recruitment process throughout every stage. 
    • For the most part, it focuses on the interview stages and subsequent hiring decision-making periods. 
  • It is an assortment of techniques and approaches that create a recurrent interaction with the candidate. 
    • On the one hand, it is like an informal status update thing.
    • On the other hand, it is a fail-safe mechanism that prevents candidates from bouncing off. And if the bounce-off eventually happens, continuous communication helps to understand where it all went wrong.
  • As such, the candidate retention strategy provides a sort of “standard operating procedure” to keep the flow going according to plan. When done right, it is flexible enough to fit emerging needs as required.
  • Additionally, candidate retention techniques help maintain the connection outside of the recruitment process as part of general networking activities.

Furthermore, candidate retention relates to candidate research by the way of “getting to know better” approach. 

  • Developing a relationship between the recruiter and the candidate is critical for enabling effective retention. You need to have the candidate’s trust to pull it off. 
  • As a result, the recruiter can adapt the vacancy’s value proposition and relay the client’s point of view to adjust the accommodations.

In a way, you can draw a parallel between employee retention and candidate retention in that both of them reflect the fundamental aspects within both processes. 

But what makes Candidate Retention that important?

Why is Candidate Retention Important?

concept. Bright vibrant violet vector isolated illustration

The simple answer goes like this: 

  • Candidate retention matters because you keep the candidate in the process and avoid wasting your efforts and starting all over.

But it goes further:

  • The hiring process is laced with all sorts of recruitment costs and overlapping workflows. 
    • Regarding costs of the proceedings, there are monetary costs, time investments, productivity efforts, operational costs, and so on.

Regarding workflows – it is about the recruitment sequence: 

  • the stages of the hiring process;
    • the goals of each stage. For example, initial screening, technical interview, and so on;
    • specialist’s input is involved at each stage. For instance, you need a domain specialist for a proper technical interview;
  • Regarding costs and workflow overlap

The thing is – it all piles up into a hefty sum. So it makes sense to make the most of it, and candidate retention is one way of doing it.   

But there are so many ways it can go wrong. Let’s look at them.

Why can candidate retention go wrong?

Candidate retention is a reflection of candidate experience efficiency. It is a crash test for every aspect of the experience. 

  • However, you can’t analyze as you can inspect metrics or feedback. You can’t trace back the failure to the exact point.
  • Instead, candidate retention is a cumulative effect of combined efforts. It is a lot of little things that snowball.

As such, you need to look at fundamental aspects of the process and determine the factors that sway the candidate in the wrong direction. 

Let’s take a closer look at the most common.

The process is too slow

the process is too slow

The most common reason for candidates dropping off and bouncing elsewhere is because the recruitment process takes too long. 

  • For sure, there is a reason for the glacial pace of the proceedings. After all, hiring a person is a big deal that requires weighing pros and cons and understanding possibilities and opportunities. 
  • However, that reason usually ignores the fact that the recruitment process requires a mutually beneficial environment to succeed. In other words, the candidate can’t wait forever for you to decide. Consequently, a recruiter can explain the hesitation to a degree. The breaking point is sooner than you think.
  • The thing is – your company is not the only possible employer on the market. There is a competition. And if there is an opportunity – sooner or later, the competition would take advantage of it and send a counteroffer. 

How to do it right?

  • Explain the entire recruitment process structure right away and outline how much time it takes to proceed. Being transparent about that helps.
  • It is crucial to keep the candidate posted about the progress with regular follow-ups and status updates regarding the timeline. It is a little thing, but it helps to stay tuned.

Bad impression on both sides

how to avoid it?

Both employer value proposition and candidate value proposition are very tricky to pull off. 

  • In theory, you need to bring together various points that result in everything making perfect sense. 
  • In practice, you need to provide a narrative that matches and compliments the corresponding narrative. If it clicks – the candidate is locked, and the offer is on its way. But one unfortunate bump in the road, and it all falls apart.

As part of candidate retention, it is a two-way challenge.

The company makes a bad impression

The thing is – if the company made a bad impression on the candidate right away – it is going to be quite a challenge to keep the candidate in the mix. And it would take a rather radical reiteration of the value proposition to get going.

Why does it happen?

  • No clear understanding of the candidate profile, i.e., the company doesn’t know who they are looking for, and as a result, the company and the candidate are not on the same page. 
    • Because of that, you need to have detailed requirements and thorough expectations for the position so that the resulting candidate would fit it to a tee.
  • Value proposition dissonance – this one is tricky. Sometimes you get the situation when the recruiter presents the company one way, and then during the interview, the presentation is entirely different. Eventually, the candidate loses interest and drops off.
    • Because of that, you need to keep everyone on the same page with a unified presentation. If your value proposition needs a recruiter’s elaboration to sell it to the candidate – you need to rethink it. 
  • Haphazard handling of proceedings – when the interview is poorly structured, full of awkward pauses and disinterested interviewers – that’s bad trouble. 

The candidate makes a bad impression

On the other hand, the candidate can mess it up too and misrepresent himself during the interview. It is a common problem, and recruiters often need to deal with that. 

  • Usually, candidate misrepresentation is the result of the company mentioned above’s faults. Mostly because of continuous misinterpretation of the position’s vision, requirements, and expectations.

But even without that, there is a chance that the candidate simply doesn’t know how to sell himself.

  • Thus, assisting candidates in developing a proper self-presentation for the subsequent interview stages is a good way of retaining the candidate in the mix. This process requires trust and results in a more loyal attitude because of all the efforts put in.

Poor communication

Why can candidate retention go wrong?

It is a tale old as time – the opportunity drifts away because someone just can’t say straight or in time. 

Within the candidate retention context, there are two aspects of this problem.

Poor timing 

Sometimes the interaction between the company and the candidate goes on with radio silence for a protracted period. Naturally, if there is no immediate feedback or recurring follows and updates, the candidate assumes the company is not interested in him and moves on.

There are many reasons why it drives candidate retention off the rails:

  • The unstructured mess of workflow – where tasks fall through cracks and recruiters simply forget to write a follow-up or feedback on time.
  • Too late response – when the follow-up eventually occurs but way past its selling date. 
  • Too frequent communication – no one likes overbearing people. When the company is constantly doing follow-ups for candidates with messages of no apparent value – it puts shade on the company. Spam is bad for business.
    • For example, last year, I managed to find a project, finish it and start another one in-between the company deciding whether to offer me a job. It took them almost five months with no follow-ups to make up their mind. 
  • Missing communication stages due to undisclosed workload-related pause – the recruitment process involves handling multiple candidates at once, and it takes time to consider every option. Sometimes companies forget to disclose that fact and ask for patience – instead, they go radio silence until they make their mind with no explanation in-between. 

Poor phrasing

This aspect of poor communication is problematic. On the surface, it seems like it is hard to misinterpret messages like “we would like to arrange an interview with you” or “we would like to offer you a job.” 

But in reality, there is more than enough space to make a mess and miss the point. That’s what affects the candidate retention. 

What are the usual issues with phasing?

  • Too sparse – when it comes to the recruitment process, your communication goal is to get to the point. Usually, it is an instantly understandable statement with a specific outcome. You need “yes” or “no,” you need “some information,” you “agree” on some things, and so on. But if you take it to the extreme – it is easy to scare off the candidate with inhuman incomprehensible text. 
  • Too verbose – the other extreme is when there is too much text surrounding a simple message. 
    • You can’t just send an offer with a simple sentence “here’s an offer, you’ve got three days to decide.” It is implied, but you need to flesh it out so that the candidate would understand your point as you intend.
    • Similarly, you can’t drown your messages in the neverending passages of boilerplate phrasing. You will get the candidate confused and then annoyed, and as a result, even if you’re offering a job – the interest is not there because the candidate finds out that there is an offer hidden deep in the text. 

Attractive counteroffer from overlapping applications

attractive counteroffer from overlapping applications

Handling a job counter offers a topic in itself. In the context of candidate retention, it is a matter of negotiation. 

The thing is – you can’t control counteroffers. You can’t prevent them from getting to your candidates. But you can accentuate your value proposition so that your offer will remain the one the candidates choose.

How to do it right?

  • Stay in touch with the candidate and keep him posted about the progress.
  • Avoid standstills in communication. You can’t disappear for a while and then reemerge with no explanation. If the candidate is in the mix, you need to settle into recurring conversations with frequent updates and follow-ups.
  • Upon dealing with the counteroffer, you need to gather as much information as possible without breaching the confidentiality clauses.
  • Then you need to articulate the pros of your value proposition and reflect them onto the cons of the competitive value proposition. 

In conclusion

Candidate retention is a vital piece of the puzzle that is the recruitment process and candidate experience. For our company, it is a priority to provide a fulfilling candidate experience. Because of that, we put effort into retaining our candidates all the way through the recruitment process, no matter the obstacle. 

If you need help with adjusting candidate experience or need a recruitment partner to handle your hiring needs – our consultants can help you out.