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Impression Management may be one of the biggest challenges organisations and their HR departments must navigate with candidates, but could a well designed recruitment strategy actually produce a positive, long term impression for both candidates and organisations? In this weeks’ blog, we take a look at how companies can enhance their brand presence and value through a well planned and interactive candidate recruitment experience.

Impression Management: Is it all bad?

I’ve read a number of articles which talk about Impression Management (or IM) covering it from a selection of different angles. In the majority of cases I leave with the feeling that IM is something to be deplored and sanitised from the candidate selection process. However, I am actually going to argue for the application of IM in a very specific organisational context. First of all, I think it is important to differentiate IM into its two functional categories; honest and deceptive.

Now, in practical terms, it is possible that a candidate may genuinely appreciate the ethics, success and culture of the organisation they have applied to work for, and, will naturally pay compliments and praise during the interview process. This gesture of honest IM shows the candidate cares about their career progression and, maybe most importantly, has made an authentic emotional connection with the organisation. But, in deceptive IM, candidates may use ingratiating language or inflate their achievements to circumstantially paint themselves as “the leading candidate”.

Using faking tactics is where IM becomes a potential threat to the recruitment process if its strategies and techniques are not challenged throughout the interview and selection assessment process (Bourdage, Roulin & Levashina, 2017). This is where it can be helpful to have a thoughtfully designed recruitment procedure which reduces the capacity for “gut feeling” decision making and increases robust measurement of skills against the role specification.

It’s a two-way street…

Just as candidates are open to IM, so are organisations. Signalling theory suggests that a sender (the organisation) can choose when and how to convey a specific piece of information to the receiver (the candidate) who then chooses how they wish to interpret it. In the case of the organisation, these signals could be conveyed by the interviewer’s authoritative presentation, the reception the candidate receives and the preparation given to the recruitment process (Connelly, Certo, Ireland& Reutzel, 2011). That is not to undermine the interview experience, or strategies applied to it, as it represents a valid and widely expected phase in candidate screening.

What sets the interview experience apart is the structured design of questions against the job description and person specification (Levashina, Hartwell, Morgeson & Campion, 2014). And what sets the candidate experience apart is honest IM; the supportive execution of the recruitment schedule, assessment and communication process by the whole organisation.

Creating a positive Candidate Experience…

Creating message congruence through design gives clarity to candidates and, when backed up by clear and cooperative signals, indicates that an organisation really delivers on its brand message. Chip Kidd gives a fascinating insight into the signalling process and how it can create an emotional connection. He applies it to book pulishing, but the principles are universal and I highly recommend his TED talk here. However, in organisations, signalling culture, climate and brand values in such a short space of time as the candidate recruitment process requires accurate, authentic and clear communication throughout the selection cycle. So here are four tips which can help to create a “Wow” Candidate Experience:

Have a clear process for communicating with candidates from initial enquiry to outcome notification. Candidates appreciate regular communication and 86% of job applicants reported that not receiving even basic application acknowledgements, created a negative candidate experience . An astonishing 73% of candidates reported never receiving any communication at all during their application process (CANDE, 2015).

Meet with your team and agree your process etiquette. It may sound like a little thing but briefing everyone ahead of time and taking a supportive approach to greeting and orienting candidates on arrival can help to reinforce a positive brand message, with 62% of candidates indicating that a positive experience will increase their relationship with a brand and their network (CANDE, 2015).

Draft and discuss your interview questions, planning how you will record and rate candidate answers with your team. According to the CIPD (2017) competency based interviews have taken the lead in popularity as a candidate assessment tool, so planning ahead which behaviours or skills questions should target and agreeing how your interview team will rate responses helps to get the most out of this approach for both you and the candidate.

Agree and circulate your recruitment timeline with key personnel. In 2017 approximately 41% of employers reported that they believed the length of their recruitment process led to the loss of potential recruits in that year. Keeping candidates posted on their application status and notified of their individual outcomes within a reasonable period of time could contribute to improving talent retention figures (CIPD, 2017).

Hopefully these insights have added some value to your day and perhaps persuaded you that honest IM can signal powerful brand values. If you enjoyed this article, why not subscribe here to our fortnightly Business Psychology Bites newsletter, with a thoughtfully curated selection of Leadership & Management quick reads and content.

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