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5 Tips to Secure Top Talent in a Highly Competitive Market

Raymond Van Der Wal

Raymond Van der Wal
Chief Product Officer

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that most employers — large and small — are encountering is the ability to attract and retain top talent. No doubt you’ve heard this before. It’s a challenge that cannot be understated. Top applicants are on the market for just a few days before finding their perfect opportunity. Do your background check and onboarding processes support fast onboarding?

Talent Acquisition Managers and Recruiters are quickly learning and adjusting their strategies to align with market shifts prompted by the pandemic and the current state of unprecedented competition for qualified applicants.

The sum of all  interactions an applicant has with an employer’s brand while onboarding is not unlike what a customer’s interactions would be during the course of, well, becoming a customer.  Most of us are familiar with the term “customer experience” as more companies claim their “customer-centricity.” After all, customer advocacy can be closely linked to future business potential. Word of mouth speaks volumes. Why not use this same principle when it comes to creating meaningful applicant experiences?

First Advantage sought to better understand the challenges within the talent recruitment and hiring experiences. We listened to what our customers and leading employers had to say, commissioned research, and reached throughout our professional communities to understand these onboarding challenges. A definitive outcome is the importance of creating a delightful applicant journey that resulted in positive word of mouth, deeper relationships, and yes – even employee loyalty and retention.

Another outcome is the observation that applicants have journeys just like customers have journeys. We call it the “Applicant Experience” – or AX, and it’s not just another buzz phrase or passing trend. It emphasizes the critical importance of  employers building relationships with applicants and reducing onboarding friction to help  reduce applicant drop-off and attract top talent. There is an applicant lifecycle, from the moment a job description is crafted to the moment an employee starts, consideration should be given to how applicants respond to everything you say and do. As part of their journeys, applicants form an impression of your brand as soon as they see the job posting, perhaps earlier. Building a successful AX starts at the job description – well before these individuals apply. Attracting people is the most fundamental aspect of a successful talent acquisition strategy, and those employers who do it well look for opportunities to reduce friction in their onboarding processes. Designing an optimal AX requires understanding what potential employees want. And our research tells us top talent, among other attributes, look for these characteristics from prospective employers:


  1. Employers Who Do What They Say. Applicants look for those that display congruency in what they say, how they say it, and how well they put it into practice. They want to see some alignment in their corporate objectives relative to things like a DE&I strategy and the importance placed on their people and communities.
  2. Employers Who Offer Learning and Growth. Our research tells us applicants expect their employers to offer growth opportunities, but what may be more surprising is the high importance placed on this characteristic among the younger workforce population. The data indicates more and more applicants seek out businesses offering opportunities for professional development. Employers should focus on coaching managers to enhance their relationships with their teams since a significant driver of employee engagement – and retention – can be attributed to manager behavior.

Studies have shown that applicants choose to work for companies that most closely match their own identities, values, and beliefs. A company that provides a consistent AX can differentiate itself from the competition, fostering the understanding that the applicant’s values are shared, even appreciated. With attention to these traits, it’s entirely possible to win over the best job seekers before competitors even know what happened.

Five Hiring Best Practices

1. Perfect Your Timing

Timing is everything when it comes to screening and onboarding, and all job seekers prefer an efficient process. Even if it means sending a rejection letter quickly, applicants are left with an impression of a company that has a clear vision and respect for an applicant’s time, potentially making the experience with the employer’s brand more memorable.

The key here is to provide flexibility. You want to keep applicants moving through the process at a steady pace – one that doesn’t make your preferred applicant feel rushed yet isn’t so slow that the applicant loses interest or is quickly acquired by another employer. A poorly timed background screening cycle negatively affects business productivity, not to mention the quality of hire.

2. Advance Your Tech Stack

The use of recruiting and background check technology is nothing new. However, paying attention to your tech stack has become essential to improving the AX. Technology is increasingly important in framing a positive experience that reflects the qualities you want to signal — qualities that distinguish your company as a highly desirable place to work with a clear path toward the future.

Contrary to what some may believe, talent onboarding processes can complement and even improve your ability to be personable with applicants. By leveraging AI chatbots, to carry out repetitive tasks for example, you can concentrate on the human element of applicant interactions. While a chatbot answers basic questions, a live recruiter can be more present during interviews. Technology can do what it’s designed to do. It can help keep everything flowing seamlessly without overburdening recruiters.

Leverage technology that supplements – or enhances your recruiting and background screening strategies while eliminating redundancies. Ultimately, your tech stack should enable you to create more personable and interactive people experiences.

3. Eliminate Friction

The complicated truth is businesses have never done as much hiring as they’re doing today. They’ve never spent as much money doing it. Yet, according to Harvard Business Review, they’ve never done a worse job of it.

In many cases today, applicant assessment processes put the job seeker through an unreasonably long and complex experience. While applicants feel the burden of finding the right fit, then applying, waiting, maybe interviewing and ultimately waiting again – these steps create multiple points of friction that give way for top job seekers to lose interest. It’s not unusual for applicants to become frustrated when they don’t know your process, and where they stand as an applicant.

Applicants will not wait long either. Applicant ‘ghosting’ (i.e., applicants not showing up for their interview) is 52% according to our recent study. If applicants feel as though they’re being strung along, or if there are multiple employment prospects for the applicant to consider – and let’s face it, today’s job seekers have the luxury of choice – you are likely to experience applicant ghosting.

To reduce your potential for ghosting, eliminating the friction points and other complexities can be as simple as removing just one or two steps from the overall process. Doing so, you may find it wasn’t a necessary step after all. You may also find a slightly more enhanced AX, yet you haven’t lost anything in return.

4. Infuse Your DE&I Focus

There is widespread agreement that diverse and inclusive companies have the advantage of standing out when it comes to finding and nurturing the best talent, increasing talent engagement, and improving customer satisfaction.In our research report, Talent Acquisition Professionals Reveal Hiring Challenges & Strategies, having a DE&I program is of utmost importance among all populations, and in particular Gen Z. However, it’s more than simply having a DE&I strategy, and still more than just publishing that strategy on your Careers page. There is more to it, and some employers have yet a long way to go. According to the research, some employers could be missing an opportunity to better connect with more diverse applicants, as less than a third (29%) have made their Careers sites available in non-English languages.

Posting messages and publishing social media events about your diversity, equity, and inclusion programs can create a desirable work environment and elevate the AX. In simple terms, infusing your DE&I principles throughout the organization, including the recruiting, screening, and onboarding processes is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the future of hiring and one of the best ways to elevate your brand whether or not you’re actively hiring.


5. Overcommunicate With Applicants

In a recent report from Robert Half, an astounding 62% of professionals lose interest when they don’t hear back from an employer within two weeks of the initial interview. A sure way to create meaningful experiences is to develop relationships with your applicants. It’s important to have a consistent communication strategy when acquiring and onboarding talent. The communication strategy should include technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and similar automation tools that help keep applicants aware of their screening status. Chatbots can also work to keep applicants moving through their “applicant journeys”, helping you mitigate the potential for drop-offs at points in your current screening processes where there may be known friction. Chatbots are welcomed by many applicants and help highlight the importance you place on the overall AX.

Most applicants still welcome a phone call too. When calling, willingly share the information you have and take the time to actively listen and answer questions. Focus on learning something new about the job seeker. Err on the side of overcommunicating, and the applicant will appreciate your time and the details you share. Doing so also builds trust and puts the applicant at ease enough that they may also share information you might not otherwise know, such as the applicant having another offer on the table. All information is good information, and communication is the key to collecting that information.

Fortunately, many employers recognize that to make significant strides in enhancing applicant experiences, they must understand the journey that job seekers endure to land their desired roles. And the ideal AX cannot be achieved without relationship-building with open, frequent communication and a trusted technology partner to help streamline  applicant background checks.

Ready to enhance your Applicant Experiences (AX)?
Hire smarter and onboard faster today….

This content is offered for informational purposes only. First Advantage is not a law firm, and this content does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.  Information in this content may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. 
Readers of this content should contact their attorney or lawyer to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.  No reader, or user of this content should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information in this content without first seeking legal advice from counsel or lawyers in the relevant jurisdiction.  Only your individual attorney or legal advisor can provide assurances that the information contained herein – and your interpretation of it – is applicable or appropriate to your particular situation.  Use of, and access to, this content does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader, or user of this content and First Advantage. 

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