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Your Early Career Candidate Experience Contains These 4 Stages

When does your early career candidate experience actually begin?

Many employers and hiring managers believe a candidate journey starts when someone 1) applies for a role or 2) accepts an offer at your company. At Scholars, we like to challenge that notion, encouraging companies to extend their view of the candidate experience — ideally, from the time an applicant is first introduced to your employer brand.

Translation: A candidate journey starts when students enroll in their freshman or sophomore year of college. In fact, studies show that 72% of today's early career candidates are considering their career trajectory as early as their freshman year of high school (a figure that rises to 83% by their senior year). In addition, according to the 2021 National Survey of College Internships Report, 7.5% of freshmen and 10.5% of sophomores had already completed their first internship (a figure that could have been far higher, as an alarming number of study participants had internships canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

Early career candidates are considering internship and full-time career opportunities earlier than you might realize. From a strategic standpoint, you need to mold your recruiting strategy to reflect this shift. Below, we break down the candidate journey into four key areas, showing you how to engage candidates from their freshman year of college, through the application and interview process, and ending with an internship at your company.

The 4 Key Stages of the Early Career Candidate Timeline 

At Scholars, we communicate with a community of 20,000+ early-career candidates on a weekly basis. One of their biggest pain points is when employers fail to tailor their content and outreach strategy to where they fall within the talent pipeline. 

In other words, how you engage with students passively browsing internships freshman year should look significantly different than candidates actively going through the interview process. To help you make this distinction, we’re breaking down the candidate lifecycle into four key stages — pre-application, interview, post-interview, and internship program — and outlining how you should engage with applicants within each segment.

1. Pre-Application 

Ultimately, the idea that the candidate journey doesn’t begin until after the application process can damage your retention rates. 

Instead, the so-called “War for Talent” begins when a student enters their freshman year of college (i.e. when they’re first introduced to your employer brand). If you provide valuable content early in their college trajectory, students are more likely to consider your company when applying for internships.

To help target students for internship and early-career roles, segment your talent community based on their year in school. Information shared to these segments should differ significantly, as your content strategy for a freshman (someone who might not apply for 2+ years) should be different than content tailored to a senior (someone actively searching for internships or full-time roles).

Targeting students in the pre-application stage helps gather valuable data to help strengthen your overall recruiting strategy. Can you draw a correlation between candidates who engaged with your company as freshmen, then completed your internship program? Will you attract a larger pool of qualified candidates by lengthening your overall candidate journey?

2. Interview Process 

Here’s one fact many recruiters fail to realize: Every candidate compares your interview process with other interviews they’ve experienced.

Regardless of whether you extend an offer (or whether they accept), you need to ensure the interview process is a positive one. Each candidate will ask themselves, “How did that go [for me]? Did I get the tools I need to succeed? How was that interview journey compared to interviews at other companies?” Rest assured, these candidates will share their experiences — positive or negative — with their peers, which could impact your ability to attract top talent in the future.

To evaluate your own interview process, ask yourself these questions: 

  • How easy is the interview process on the candidate?
  • How transparent were we throughout the interview?
  • Was this interview appropriate for the type of role we’re hiring for? 
  • Was the difficulty of the interview appropriate for the role? How well are we preparing interviewees to show up?

Take a hard look at these questions at the end of each recruitment cycle, and make the necessary changes. 

3. Post-Interview Process 

If there is one, fatal flaw seen within the post-interview stage, it’s this: failing to distinguish between candidates who receive an offer and those who do not. These two segments should have completely different journeys within your candidate lifecycle.

Accepted candidates should immediately be placed into your keep-warm strategy. Hiring managers should communicate with this segment bi-weekly to once monthly, depending upon the length of time between their signed offer letter and first day on the job. Within this stage, your goal is to ensure each candidate feels fully prepared to begin the onboarding process.

Candidates who don’t receive an offer — your “Declined” segment — should not be forgotten or ignored. Instead, send them a personalized, timely piece of content informing them they won’t move forward in the interview process. From there, point-blank ask each candidate their communication preference moving forward. While some individuals might prefer to end all communication, others might be interested in any feedback, career advice, or other valuable content your company can offer.

Declined candidates tend to be the “lost segment” within early-career recruiting. Remember: While individuals within this segment won’t be thrilled at the lost opportunity, they still have the potential to influence your employer brand reputation and recruiting strategy in the future.

4. Internship Program Management 

At Abode, we witness many companies thriving in the area of internship program management. With that being said, there is one key area for improvement: feedback and iteration. 

In other words, consistently solicit feedback from current interns, and make a conscious effort to make timely changes (otherwise, they’ll stop offering their opinions). For example, if you offer an internship networking event during the first week of the program, then receive word that the event could have been better, apply that feedback to your next event. 

Remember, each candidate hopes to grow personally and professionally from your internship program. Therefore, you need to ask them if the events, content, tools, mentors, and resources provided are helping them reach those goals. If you find that certain aspects of your program are falling flat, try to make real-time changes so your internship program makes the biggest impact. 

Keep These 4 Stages in Mind to Redefine the Early Career Candidate Experience 

All too often, employers view the candidate journey as the time between applying for a role and onboarding. To improve your employer brand reputation and candidate retention rates, we encourage you to rethink your definition of the candidate experience.

At Abode, we define the early-career candidate experience between a candidate’s first interaction with your company to their last day at your company. In other words, you should begin engaging candidates from their freshman or sophomore year at college to their last day at your internship program. With each stage, be sure to tailor your outreach strategy according to their specific stage within the candidate pipeline.

Broadening your definition of the candidate lifecycle can help you attract and retain top, qualified candidates. For more tips on how to attract and retain early-career top talent, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn and join our Slack channel.

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