December 15, 2022
January 30, 2023

How can we improve candidate experience in a remote-first set-up?

Jonathon Cooper

How can we improve candidate experience in a remote-first set-up?

Let's start with the basics

Candidate experience reflects a person’s feelings when moving  through a company’s job application process.

Sometimes we confuse poor candidate experience with lack of cultural alignment. We may even attribute a candidate’s negative experience in the hiring process as a sign that they are not a good fit, when in reality it is the process that needs fine-tuning.

It’s important that all candidates are treated equal, even the ones rejected. Candidate experience is a fundamental element that all recruitment teams should consider — after all, how can we improve an interview process if the only people assessing it are those who created the process?

How does it work in a remote remote-first set-up?

Candidate experience is often a neglected component of recruiting. Take for example the contingent industry, that is solely driven by making hires, the by-product of this is that some talent professionals focus their energies on only that: a candidate crossing the line. On the other hand, the in-house teams are driven by finding the cream-of-the-crop talent (or ‘unicorns’), and again the focus occasionally drifts away from an informative process, and more towards intense case studies or relentless take-home tests. Both routes leave some candidates feeling sapped, unappreciated and undervalued.

Candidate experience starts taking shape from the first interactions they have with your company. You don’t get a second chance at a first impression.

Following Covid and the mass adoption of remote working, suddenly the recruiting industry was faced with the challenge of remote hiring. With the introduction of more advanced ATSs and instant messaging channels (Slack, Telegram, LI Messenger, WhatsApp), candidate experience should be at its highest. But the main barrier in any remote engagement is the need to build rapport. Being in a room with a person afforded us a luxury that has always been taken for granted: instant connection. There is something about meeting in person that helps us build rapport in a way that screens just can’t quite recreate.

One reason for this could be lost elements such as non-verbal cues and body language that leave us unable to build as firm a connection with our candidate/interviewer. There are also barriers that most of us will now be all too familiar with: technical difficulties, losses in connection, poor visual or audio, things getting lost in translation and, the staple of all video conferencing, talking over each other.

Whilst we are all more than capable of functioning and succeeding in spite of these, it’s impossible to escape the fact that, for many, these additions have a negative effect on their experience of any engagement.

Practical note:
I work as a Talent Partner at GoPuls (formerly First A), a company that was founded when remote-friendly working was becoming the norm, so much of our hiring was done remotely. When possible we try to offer candidates the opportunity to join us for an in-person chat, but when it’s not, we make sure to adapt our approach to the hiring process. We’ve learnt that when hiring fully-remote you have to work a little harder to achieve a positive connection.

Great talk, but how can we actually improve candidate experience?

To fix a problem, you have to identify it. The two most common routes are:

  1. Implement a candidate survey either via your ATS or a 3rd party (asynchronous) or;
  2. Offer feedback calls to any candidate who makes it beyond a certain stage in your process (synchronous).
Practical note:
At FIRST A we employ both — this allows us to get async feedback with a high-volume pipeline, but also to adopt synchronous feedback if we have capacity to arrange a call, particularly for those candidates who have reached our practical interview; these individuals have experienced more of the process.

There are three core pillars that broadly influence candidate experience: communication, respect and empathy.
Whilst there’s a lot of overlap between the three, they all represent distinct areas that can be improved.

Whilst there’s a lot of overlap between the three, they all represent distinct areas that can be improved, take a look:


A lack of correspondence, ghostings, delayed updates, missed deadlines that are apologised for AFTER the fact…not only do they convey a lack of appreciation for the candidate’s time but they also speak to a poor set of company values (they’re also so easy to avoid).

If you forget to respond to a candidate, do not double down and ignore the mistake — call it out, apologise and give them feedback from your process. Ghosting is worse than replying late and apologising; just make sure you plug the gap in your process; add a timed notification to nudge when a candidate has been inactive in your ATS for a few days or use a Gmail Snooze feature to release an email at a time you can deal with it.

Effective communication builds strong relationships. Invest time and energy into it.

Having respect for the outlay of time and the commitment shown from a candidate speaks volumes. Which leads us on to the next pillar…


A lack of respect can come across as dismissive, distracted, disengaged and even plain rude. We’re recruiters. We’re not selling a piece of hardware or a magazine subscription, we are talking to someone about making a significant shift in their life and trusting us to help them through that. It’s a big thing! It’s natural that candidates are sceptical and need reassurance about whether it’s going to be right for them.

A good recruiter recognizes this and is able to put candidates at ease and talk to them on a level field…not from the other side of a table while just trying to speed everything up to get hires in quickly.

The simplest gestures of respect range from correctly spelling or pronouncing a candidate’s name right through to giving fair and honest feedback if rejecting them.


There’s lots of overlap between this and respect, but having empathy is about understanding the commitment you are asking from a candidate. We all have hectic jobs; your candidate’s time is no less valuable than yours. Instances of moving interviews at the last minute, overrunning without checking with the candidate, cancelling technical calls shortly before they are due to start are all born from a lack of empathy.

It’s also important to appreciate what ‘work from home’ has meant for a lot of people and how we can empathise with them; a crying child, someone at the door, a poor connection or a dog barking can all be worked around.

A simple acknowledgment of the candidate’s situation and the reassurance that they can take a minute to deal with the problem is the difference between a stressful and anxious call and a relaxed, positive experience.

Finally, the advice:

Finding talent and pairing that talent with an opportunity is not a manufacturing line. The process should not become cold, brisk and blunt all in the name of efficiency and expedience. Take the time to build a process that leaves candidates feeling positive about your company and culture. They may be rejected this time, but in 5 years, that individual may be exactly what you’re looking for.

People talk about their negative experiences in other recruiting processes — don’t be one of those companies. Word gets around.

ATSs nowadays have many functions for keeping candidates updated. A personal email is worth 50 automated ones, but when dealing with high-volume roles, use your ATS to manage candidate notifications and internal nudges when things are falling behind.

Practical note:
We have had some really helpful feedback from our candidates in the GoPuls (formerly First A) hiring processes; this has allowed us to implement certain changes. For example, our candidates preferred processes with a maximum of 3 interview stages. To keep all of our hiring managers involved in the process, we combined our culture stage with the founder call where possible.
Candidates also had more engagement in shorter interview blocks and with processes completed within 3 weeks. We were able to cap all interviews at 30 minutes (60 for the practical stage) and by ensuring early planning of interviews we kept the process moving and rarely exceeded our 3 week limit.

Four things to remember:

  1. Learn about your process from those moving through it.
  2. Use your ATS to its fullest extent (candidate notifications, surveys and nudges).
  3. Mentor talent teams to bolster candidates in interviews…not interrogate.
  4. Last but not least - You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!

Thank you!

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How can we improve candidate experience in a remote-first set-up?