The biggest challenge facing digital-age marketers and salespeople is breaking through the noise.

Potential customers are bombarded with hundreds of advertising campaigns every day. With data available from Google and other providers, advertisers are able to target ads to a historically unprecedented extent - making the challenge of “breaking through” more difficult than ever before. You’re not only competing for eyes, you’re competing for dwindling mental real estate.

What if I told you there existed a huge pool of potential customers that are already giving you mindshare - and you’re probably treating them poorly? This pool of enamored prospects are your job applicants.

For the time they are applying, job applicants are wholly focused on your brand. The better ones will probable even tailor their cover letters based on the content of your website or blog. For the 15-30 minutes it takes to complete a standard application, your organization occupies that ever-elusive “top-of-mind” status.

As a potential place of employment, every applicant considers how they would talk about the job, and the sort of reputation they would gain (or lose) by working there. This sort of brand interest is different from that which drives sales - but by applying, the job candidate has already done most of the heavy marketing lifting for you.

The challenge, then, is to transfer that interest in employment to an interest in buying. As Virgin Media will illustrate, that “transfer” happens when you stand out with a great candidate experience.

$5.4 Million in Revenue from Job Applicants?

In 2014, Graeme Johnson adopted an unusual perspective. As Virgin Media’s new Head of Resourcing, he was curious about the effect the experience of job hunters had on the Virgin Media brand.

What he found was the opposite of what should be expected from a Richard Branson company. In a survey of rejected candidates’ Net Promoter Scores (ranging from -100 to +100), Johnson found that two-thirds became detractors of the company, and 18% were current customers.

Crunching some more numbers, Virgin’s analytics team found that 6% of all rejected candidates cancelled their monthly Virgin Media subscription. For a company with a huge volume of applications (totalling 123,000 rejections), this worked out to 7,500 cancellations each year. With each subscription priced at $60/month, Virgin was losing $5.4 million each year from customers upset at the way they were treated as job candidates.  

This story has a happy ending.

Virgin Media took that data and turned the experience of its job candidates into a universal priority. With a combination of branded videos (one of which involves Usain Bolt wishing candidates luck), comprehensive interview training for hiring managers, and a more digital-friendly hiring process, Virgin now stands to gain from the experience of its applicants.

Rather than losing customers angry with the brand, Virgin Media is gaining customers impressed by it - at a 90% discount to traditional marketing channels. Where it costs $500 to acquire a customer through retail and telephone outreach, it only costs $50 to acquire them with a great candidate experience.

Virgin Media's Situation is Not Unique

In Talent Board’s most recent survey of 183,000 candidates, applicants were asked to rate their application experience on a scale of one to five stars. Of those who gave their experience one star, 41% indicated they would take their business elsewhere. On the other hand, 64% who gave the experience five stars said they planned on increasing their relationship with the employer.

So really, the effect of the applicant’s experience is multifaceted. While a terrible experience is an easy way to lose existing customers, a great experience prevents this revenue leak and has the potential to grow your customer base more cost-effectively than traditional channels.

Evaluating the Candidate Experience

Evaluating your candidate experience is easy: simply ask candidates for feedback at the completion of the hiring process. Metrics like NPS are just as applicable here as they are in the customer analytics sector - the standard question, “How likely are you to recommend this experience to a friend or colleague?” is a great starting point.

From there you can dive into specific points of dissatisfaction and start looking for solutions.

Improving the Candidate Experience

The Talent Board is “the first non-profit organization focused on the elevation and promotion of a quality candidate experience.” Every year they survey over 100,000 candidates to get a feel for the state of the candidate experience - and recognize those who get it right.

These are the overarching trends of those who are nailing the candidate experience:

1. They provide a realistic look at what it’s like to work there.

The job description is the first point of contact between your brand and the candidate (who is also a potential customer).

Where most job descriptions and applications paint a rather grayscale picture of a position’s opportunities, companies like Capital One and Delta Airlines provide more colorful insight into the workplace. On Capital One’s career site, candidates can look at realistic, dynamic job simulations to get a feel for the position’s actual expectations.

Delta takes a slightly different direction, leveraging its Glassdoor page as a resume: showing off company details, specific job opportunities, and interviewing insights. Delta Airlines boasts a Net Promoter Score of 85.

The job search remains a monotonous undertaking - lively, candidate-friendly job descriptions and applications are an easy way to stand out.

2. They make the experience a company-wide priority.

As we saw with Virgin Media, turning the candidate experience into a company-wide priority is critical. While not all organizations can fly a camera crew out to Jamaica to film Usain Bolt, they can collaborate on best practice.

For example, General Electric creates internal infographics to be shared by all its hiring managers and recruitment teams. The infographic displays candidate and market feedback, and provides focus for future action. By encouraging recruitment teams to evaluate their own candidate feedback metrics, they can congratulate themselves on what they've done well and refine what needs improvement.

3. They provide feedback to candidates - even those that are rejected.

Rejected candidates want visibility into where things went wrong. But with 47% of candidates waiting to hear back from employers more than two months after they applied, most don’t even know if the position was filled.

Questrade and West Monroe Partners provide great examples of what this looks like. At Questrade, talent acquisition specialists attend candidate’s interviews with hiring managers, providing feedback and recommendations at the interview’s completion.

West Monroe Partners works with candidates even after another candidate has been selected to move forward. Each rejected candidate is given the opportunity to schedule a time to receive feedback; at these meetings, candidates are provided resume assistance and given direction to relevant openings at other organizations.  

Job Candidates: Your Cheapest Customers

When considering customer acquisition, it is easy to forget about the ready-made customers applying to work at your company. The experience potential customers have can either make or break a lifelong relationship, even if they are eventually rejected as a candidate. Think about it this way: those that apply are so invested in your brand they want to work for you - and placing an emphasis on their experience as candidates will have a direct effect on your bottom line.

Build your business case for the candidate experience with further insight from Talent Board's Candidate Experience Research Report:

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This post originially featured on CustomerThink.

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