Candidate Experience Best Practices: A Conversation with Kelly’s Jocelyn Lincoln

12/08/20206 min read
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Collette Parker
Correspondent for
Collette has promoted the remote talent economy for 20 years as an enterprise business reporter for TIME magazine and the author of five business books.
Candidate Experience Best Practices: A Conversation with Kelly’s Jocelyn Lincoln

Today’s job-seekers demand speed, transparency, and simplicity in every facet of digital life, including the job search process. An easy-to-navigate experience is so crucial, in fact, that a CareerBuilder survey found that 68% of employees believe the candidate experience is a direct reflection of how the company treats its workers.

Streaming services and quick-delivery e-commerce sites have raised the stakes for all companies who now must create a candidate experience that stands out against not only other hiring processes, but also the engaging user experiences of tech giants like Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify.

Jocelyn Lincoln knows what it takes to get that experience right. As the chief talent officer and head of global business planning at Kelly, a multibillion dollar staffing firm, Lincoln employs her decades of marketing and recruitment expertise to help Kelly design a positive candidate experience to attract, engage, and ultimately retain the best talent for her clients. In this conversation with, she discusses the infrastructure and processes necessary for a winning candidate experience, as well as how to measure its effectiveness.

When did having a positive candidate experience become a priority for companies?

Jocelyn Lincoln: When review sites like Yelp and Glassdoor started blowing up. All of a sudden, companies realized they had people creating content about what that hiring or working experience is like – and that content might influence how people think about their brand. That connection between candidate experience and consumer purchases started becoming clear for organizations.

How can organizations get ahead of future talent trends to improve their candidate experience?

JL: Organizations need to pay close attention to consumer behavior trends. People used to talk about personalization of experience, then it became the Amazon experience, and then the Netflix experience. That means when I come onto your corporate career site, I have an expectation that it’s not going to be a new experience of you meeting me every time. The expectation is that you recognize me and start to serve up jobs or content that are relevant to me.

What’s happening in the consumer space is starting to bleed into how talent engages with organizations. Candidates aren’t just saying, “I was looking for a job, and I went to these websites, and this is what that experience was like.” They’re comparing it to every digital experience they have.

Employers also need to pay close attention to changes people are making as a result of COVID-19. Safety is a big deal in people’s lives right now. They want to feel safe. How does that translate into the workplace beyond physical safety, but also psychological safety? How can we address that in terms of different work styles and work preferences?

How do you make sure everyone – from the recruiter to HR to the hiring manager to peer interviewers – is speaking the same language when interacting with candidates?

JL: To me, this is where candidate experience will either rise or fall. There is an operationalization that needs to happen with experience design that is often missed. What that really means is that you’re employing a talent-centric approach, and everyone understands what that looks like. It’s what you train to. It’s what you hire to. It’s what you incent to. It’s included in performance plans. Your CEO and your senior leaders are asking what your engagement metrics look like and what the evaluation of your talent experience or candidate experience looks like.

What should that evaluation look like?

JL: First, you need to decide what you’re going to measure. Some people measure customer satisfaction, some take on a net promoter score, some use data to influence decision making. It may be an event-triggered survey that asks candidates to assess a certain part of the process. There are various iterations of how you can measure whether the candidate had an enjoyable experience. The company has to define that for themselves.

Second, the organization has to correlate the experience to the financial performance of the organization. It’s not enough to say, “Our net promoter score is 80%, and we're super excited about that because it’s above industry average. People love us. We have great reviews on Glassdoor and Facebook.” If you cannot correlate it to financial performance, then it becomes more of a feel-good initiative. It doesn’t become a business imperative.

Where do organizations most often make mistakes around candidate experience?

JL: One common mistake is not understanding what makes an experience good or bad. Companies see the outcome – happy or unhappy candidates – but don’t understand what’s driving the outcome. Companies need to understand their audience, and that requires some quantitative as well as qualitative research. You have to understand the expectations of candidates. You have to understand your choke points. You have to understand how well your process is performing or not performing, and at what points it’s succeeding or failing.

Millennials and Gen Z are the biggest cohorts currently seeking jobs, yet a lot of strategic direction and hiring decisions are being made by people from older generations who may have a very different perspective. How do you think that will play out?

JL: I think it’s going to be a source of creativity and adjustment, quite honestly. Millennials and Gen Z are driving shifts in expectations. Most companies are focused on how these demographic shifts are changing their buying population and trends, but we have to apply those same concepts to the way people want to work.

People aren’t coming in with the idea that it’s going to be a 30-year deal and they’re going to get a gold watch. Those norms are receding. We’re hearing people say, “When I’m at work, I’m going to give it 100%. But then I want to have a life outside of work.”

The current pandemic has really demystified the separation between work and our personal lives. We now sit in environments where we have visibility into people’s homes. Back in the day, if you were working from home and your dog barked during a call, you were mortified. It would be such a point of tension. But as we’ve gone into our homes to work, there’s been more grace. We all have real-life things going on. If your doorbell rings, life isn’t over. If your child happens to come into the frame because they want to say, “Hi,” it’s OK. Those boundaries have been completely destroyed because so many people are working from home.

What impact will this period of remote work have on candidate experience and expectations in the future?

JL: Companies that said, pre-COVID, “We would never have people working from home,” now have people working from home. And their business has survived and thrived. Organizations will have to reevaluate what their business model looks like.

Remote work will also broaden a company’s recruitment pool because, all of a sudden, talent doesn’t have to live in the city to work at any particular organization. They can do that from any location. It’s a huge change in dynamic.

Collette Parker
Correspondent for
Collette has promoted the remote talent economy for 20 years as an enterprise business reporter for TIME magazine and the author of five business books.