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How to Leverage Design Thinking to Enhance Your Candidate Experience

Recently, we conducted research that proved that leveraging design thinking in talent acquisition truly works. It inspired us to dedicate an entire series to exploring this topic.

In our previous posts, we put on our design thinking hats to reenvision the hiring manager as the customer. The idea was that in striving to make their hiring experience as fluid and efficient as possible, you automatically enhance your overall recruiting success.

This time around, we’ll reimagine another essential hiring stakeholder as the customer - the candidate. By deeply considering how you can enhance their candidate experience, you can become a more empathetic, effective recruiter. Today, we’re pointing out five common needs that candidates share, and walking through the design thinking steps that can help you meet them.

Below is a quick reminder of those very five steps:

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1) Need: Candidates want to fill out simple, intuitive applications

How Design Thinking can help: Empathize with your candidate, then ideate ways to streamline their application experience.

17 percent of organizations with design thinking use ‘time to complete application’ to measure success, compared to 1 percent of organizations without it. Overall, an embarrassingly small number of teams are zeroing in on this metric. But why do companies with design thinking pay greater attention to this metric? Because they’ve prioritized the needs of the candidate.

Candidates - particularly those who are most qualified - are busy, and will quickly become deterred if your application is complicated and time-consuming. Your job is to give them a simple, intuitive form to fill out that piques, rather than depletes their interest in your team.

Once you’ve fully engaged with their problem, it’s time begin ideating ways to wrestle with it. How can you both communicate and uncover important information from your candidates in a simple way? Here at Lever, we’ve actually built a seamless application interface to help teams tackle this very objective. Rather than confusing applicants with wordy questions and several pages of details, we want to create a clean experience and ultimately reduce the time they spend. Here's a brief peek: 

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Finally, it’s essential to set your candidates up for success before they even fill out your application. To doso, we suggest describing your open roles more clearly and vividly in the first place. Through building impact descriptions, you provide detailed context around what they can actually contribute to your team within their first year. They can then use that information to convey why they’re excited about your role.

2) Need: Candidates look for timely feedback about their status in your process

How Design Thinking can help: Define what timely feedback entails, then prototype to deliver more constructive feedback.

Think back to the last time you were a candidate. How anxiously were you checking your inbox to see if your recruiter had gotten back to you? Did you lose sleep because your recruiter mentioned she’d have an important update the next morning? Regardless, hope you haven't forgotten the agonizing feeling of waiting to hear updates from your dream company.

One way to immediately alleviate your candidate’s uneasiness is timely, consistent feedback. Through applying the design thinking step 'define', you can begin standardizing the frequency with which you provide them with status updates. In your next team meeting, collaborate to determine what a timely update means for your team. It could mean ‘within 24 hours’, ‘within 12 hours’, or even ‘within three days’. The objective here is to establish a consistent deadline that you can provide to your candidates at the very beginning of their process.

We know how stressful it is to tell candidates that you won’t be moving forward with their application. Often, that discomfort can result in delaying feedback altogether. To improve upon your feedback delivery: prototype, prototype, prototype. In other words, practice giving feedback to your teammates to ensure that it’s constructive, comforting, and meaningful. Take it upon yourself to orchestrate a feedback session during an upcoming meeting, wherein everyone breaks up into pairs and prototypes ways to break the news to candidates both in-person and over email. Once you’ve identified a few approaches that seem to get the right message across, begin employing them with your candidates.

3) Need: Candidates want to feel comfortable when they come in for an on-site interview

How Design Thinking can help: Ideate ways to make them feel welcome and get to know your team. 

There’s really no limit to the number of gestures you can make to amplify your candidate’s onsite interview experience. To that end, we suggest planning an ideation session to generate a massive number of ideas around how to do it. Remember: share the most outrageous, ‘out there’ thoughts you have, and play the ‘worst idea game’ to drive team-wide creativity.

One idea you can explore to make candidates feel welcome even before they enter the office? Create interview kits, or documents to prepare each candidate for their upcoming onsite. In our interview kits at Lever, we include information such as directions to our office, the candidate’s interview schedule, who they’ll meet with throughout the day, and interesting facts about each interviewer. With all of these details on-hand, they never feel like they’re walking into the office blindly. Another way to make candidates feel at ease when they come on-site? Encourage your team to circulate one roundtable question during lunch. When Lever was smaller, every team member wanted to get to know new candidates, but it was difficult to find a topic that everyone could discuss together. Posing one roundtable question like ‘What would you like to win a lifetime supply of?’ or ‘What’s your spirit animal, and why?’ to each person at the table allowed Leveroos and candidates to learn about each other in an informal setting. Some other ideas we suggest implementing include: arranging a lunch buddy for your candidate who can introduce them to the rest of the team, as well as integrating intermittent water and snack breaks into their onsite interview.

4) Need: Candidates want to be set up for success throughout onboarding and into their first year on the team

How Design Thinking can help: Ideate to map out their new hire orientation, then test out new onboarding sessions.

In our survey of 307 talent professionals, we found that only 34 percent of teams believe they build a candidate experience that extends into onboarding and throughout the candidate’s first year. That leaves 66 percent of teams who believe the caliber of their candidate experience drops off once the offer letter is signed.

That doesn’t have to be your reality! Through partnering with your HR team to create welcoming programs for your new hires, you can help ensure that their great experience continues. As a first step, map out the schedule of their first week at your company. Here are some ideas we’d love to share, based on our own first week of orientation at Lever:

  • Create a one-pager that outlines instructions for your new hire to set up their computer, desk, and any other technologies that will be instrumental to their role.
  • Match your new hire with a buddy, who will then set up a 1:1 coffee date, answer any burning questions your new hire has, and reach out consistently to make sure they’re beginning to settle in.
  • Fill their first days with sessions that introduce them to key pillars of your company, such as your history, mission, values, product, and customers. Don’t fill their days up too completely, however. We also suggest giving them time to unwind, get to know their team, and conduct research of their own.
  • Create opportunities for them to meet members of your company outside of their direct team - perhaps through a company-wide happy hour or alternative bonding activity. 
Ultimately, you can seriously level up your onboarding process through employing the design thinking step called ‘test’. As your company undergoes structural changes, the structure of your new hire orientation will have to change as well. Perhaps there will be new teams or company values you need to shed light on. Perhaps you’ll develop new product features that are essential to introduce. To incorporate everything you need to, you’ll have to constantly test out new sessions.

5) Need: Candidates want opportunities to provide feedback

How Design Thinking can help: Gather candidate suggestions, then test out new recruiting strategies.

In our research, we found that design thinking organizations are more likely to give candidates the opportunity to provide feedback on their recruiting process. We weren’t surprised. One pillar of design thinking is ‘user research’, or using observation techniques and feedback methodologies to better understand the needs and motivations of your user. In other words, teams that use design thinking prioritize the feedback of the customers they are trying to empower.


As you endeavor to elevate your candidate experience, seeking out feedback from candidates is fundamental. It will not only teach you which elements of your recruiting process you should eliminate, improve, or maintain - it will make your candidates feel valued. Even if they don’t ultimately join your team, they likely want their voice to be heard. Empower them with a forum to use it.

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Your candidate is your customer. If you don’t provide them with a comfortable, meaningful, personalized candidate experience, they won’t feel compelled to invest in your team. We know it can be difficult to gauge whether you’re crafting a positive experience for them, but we promise that employing design thinking tactics such as empathy and user research can help.

In our blog series, we’ve only been digging into certain parts of our 40 page research report on the power of design thinking in talent acquisition. To see all the statistics that prove design thinking truly works, read our report here.