How to Attract the Best Candidates on a Budget

This story first appeared on The Muse, a Web destination with exciting job opportunities and expert career advice. 

Most of us can remember the first time that we felt completely strapped for cash. For me, it was one semester into my freshman year at IU. I had run out of money, and my dining card did not cover the cost of late night pizza and breadsticks. (Side note: For any Hoosiers reading this, my allegiance is with Aver’s.) In no way did I plan to sacrifice my social life due to my lack of funds, so I had to get creative. I got a job that required me to take two buses to call alumni for money (yes, I was that person), but in a few short weeks, I was back in the black.

Since then, I’ve worked for several small companies where budget was sometimes tight. I had jobs to fill and candidates to woo, but I didn’t have a huge marketing spend to fuel the quest. Luckily, most candidates don’t need a ton of pomp and circumstance in order to feel like a company cares about them, so there are many ways to improve recruitment efforts without spending a lot.

Here are five ways to make your candidate feel like a million bucks, even when your budget is closer to three figures.

1. Beef Up Your Brand

Before candidates agree to an interview, you can bet that they are Googling the heck out of your company. Not only is this good prep for them to learn more about what your company does, it also sheds light into what it may be like to work there.

So, make sure that your employment brand is telling the right story–both on your own site and on social profiles and other places where applicants will find you. Get creative and let your company culture shine by focusing on people, not products. Treat your job descriptions, career page, and social media pages like a virtual career fair table and pack them with exciting tidbits, photos, and employee success stories. Your goal is for candidates to think “this seems like a really great place to work.”

2. Be Responsive

Looking for a job is stressful. Don’t add fuel to the frazzled fire by leaving your candidates in the dark about your process and where they stand. From the moment that they apply, they should see a response from your team, thanking them for their interest in the role and letting them know that you will reach out if there is a good fit. This is also a great place to include links to your social media pages. I like to use the line: “In order to get a better sense of what it’s like inside our company, check out our Twitter, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor pages while we review your application.” Hyperlink the sources so they’re easily accessible and, of course, only include links to things that highlight your best attributes.

Automated emails from your ATS are fine, but try to put a personal spin on your message. A cold, sterile, generic response from noreply@company.com? Not very welcoming. If you don’t want to include your exact email address, include an alias (recruitment@company.com) and make sure to check for responses or questions on a regular basis. Then make sure to customize your message and use language that accurately reflects your company culture.

Finally, as candidates cycle through the process, communicate with them frequently and be upfront about your progress. It’s completely okay to let candidates know that you have other interviews next week and that you will get back in touch the week following. This puts their mind at ease and hopefully lets them avoid some sleepless nights.

3. Act Like a Host

When candidates arrive for an interview, do your best to make them feel as welcome as possible. If you have a reception desk, put whoever sits behind it on the interview schedule so that he or she is there when interviewees arrive. Offer them water, tea, coffee–whatever your employees drink during the day. Smart candidates arrive five or 10 minutes before their interview time, but you don’t have to rush to grab them right away. Give them a few minutes to soak in your office environment, observe the dress code, and relax a bit before you kick things off.

Once you are ready to start, don’t rush into the nearest conference room. Provide a tour of your office so that people can get a feel for their potential workspace and co-workers. (If they’re used to sitting in an office and you have an open floor plan–they’ll want to come away knowing this!)

Most importantly, set them up for their day by reviewing the docket of folks they’re set to meet. Provide a bit of background on each person-;how long they’ve been with the company, how they interact with the open role-;and cover any initial questions that the candidate may have. Most candidates will have researched their interviewers in advance, but schedules and availability change so this is a quick step to prepare them for what’s ahead.

4. Train Your Interviewers

You can do everything right from a recruiting standpoint, and the candidate can still walk away with a bad taste if you don’t properly prepare your interviewers. It doesn’t matter if the slate of participants includes the CEO, make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to who is covering what. You don’t want candidates hashing out the details of their resume over and over; it’s exhausting for them, and it won’t give you the benefit of seeing them from different angles.

Instead, give each interviewer a set list before they shake the candidate’s hand. One person should cover tactical stuff while another asks strategic questions; employees from different teams should dig in to different facets of experience. And remember: Consistency is key in order to fully vet candidates against another.

5. Provide Real Feedback

If candidates invest the time and effort to come in for an interview, you owe them an honest response if you decide to pass. Do your best to avoid the canned “we’re pursuing applicants who more closely align with our needs,” and give them something tangible. If their experience is light in a particular area that you find essential to the job, let them know. They won’t be offended, and it may even open up further dialogue. Would you consider them for a role in the future? Tell them to keep in touch!

When it’s an absolute no, let people down gently but in a way that does not lead them on. If you are sure that they won’t be a fit in the future, don’t string them along. Referrals come from surprising places, so treat every candidate interaction with care.

The good news is, it doesn’t take deep pockets to make candidates feel appreciated. In today’s world of viral content and public-forum reviews, take the right steps to provide a fantastic candidate experience.

This article was written by Kristy Nittskoff, Founder of Talent-Savvy. She consults with growing companies to help them achieve their recruitment and retention goals through implementing innovative talent attraction and employment branding strategies.

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