Systems design is how your process integrates through complex pieces of technology, procedure, resources, and people. It’s how these pieces interact with one another to lead to a specific end result. But more specifically, it’s an intentionalprocess with an overarching theme, or driving objective, to coordinate and centralize the system.

Systems are complicated. Systems work perfectly in vacuums – isolated to their code, their functional design. Our systems work perfectly when in testing environments, when their processes are predictable, repeatable, and scalable. Add in unpredictability and, to some extent, variation, and your systems begin to frantically cope with new inputs to varying degrees of success. And then you add in the last element of any system, the biggest risk factor, the most unpredictable element: people.

What we haven’t talked about is how a system could be managed by different resources. One system could be managed cross functionally, with different expectations. The people using it could have different expectations, different priorities. Pieces could have been implemented with different objectives. In fact, the entire system could have systems within systems with competing (or supplementing) design that lead to a convoluted end result.

Enter: candidate experience.

Candidate Experience is a system, though how designed this system is can be complicated. I think of candidate experience as a system to centralize and “intentionalize” the result. Yes, I know intentionalize is not a word – but I find it’s what’s most lacking in our candidate experience systems as they stand today: intent.


Candidate experience is complicated naturally – depending on how you define the candidate experience, the stages the candidates go through are often owned and managed by a variety of tools, resources, and cross functional teams. To make matters more difficult, the system flows both ways – it’s not a one-sided equation fueled by one sided data. No, this system has feedback stemming from internal resources like recruiters, hiring managers, and operations.  And on the other side, we have the system being fed data by our candidates. And I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that our systems contributor’s priorities do not align.The candidate wants to get hired for the position, and the recruiter wants to hirethe right candidate. If your roles receive an average of 100 applicants, that means your system users priorities and expectations align 1% of the time. To me, this sounds like a broken system.  Can you imagine checking out on Amazon and receiving your product to y our door in a way that meets your expectations 1% of the time?  Or on the flip side, if you sold a product on Amazon and payment was received accurately 1% of the time? 

So, where do you start? We have an insanely complicated system that may or may not be designed, cross-functional teams, tools, and resources, – and competing priorities and expectations that rarely align. It sounds like an equation for disaster – but really, it’s an opportunity to design a system that impacts 99% of your applicants.

Start with Scope

Candidate experience is defined a bit differently by everyone involved. For some, candidate experience begins with the invitation to interview.  For others, it begins when the candidate applies through your career website. For me, it begins at discovery. I think that your system should be designed around how a candidate would come to know you – what messaging they might receive through that process, and how, ultimately, they receive an offer of employment – or rejection. It’s my belief that we start with awareness to intentionally design how someone gets from A-Z, guiding them through the information gathering process. If you’re designing your process as what happens when your candidate comes to your career website – you’ve missed a majority of the experience. Decisions have been made – and they may not be the right ones.

Your first step to building a system is understanding the scope of what needs to evolve, of what needs to be designed – ergot: current state. This should feel overwhelming. Candidate experience is a huge system. Make it easier and define it in the following sections  - documenting every touchpoint in the process as a candidate would experience it.


Awareness is the portion of the process that helps to define how a candidate comes to know about your organization. Think of this part of the system as discovery. The candidate is learning about your organization – and they are often doing it in the Wild West of the digital space. I’ll be up front – awareness is the most complicatedaspect of the candidate experience for a few reasons. 

  • It’s impossible to control entirely – you’ll be operating in platforms like social media where you can control and contribute to portions of the conversation.
  • It’s hard to keep up - there are new platforms emerging on a daily basis. It’s difficult to predict where they will be, gain the proper approvals to be on them, and understand and capitalize on the opportunity to be present
  • Sometimes, you don’t want to be there – there will be some platforms (Glassdoor, Blind, Reddit) where you understand people are talking about your organization, but you may or may not want to be present in those conversations.

The biggest challenge you’ll have with awareness is designing a system to the extent that you can, and doing so intentionally. If you’re missing an opportunity, you’re doing so because it was a strategic decision on y our part, not because you haven’t had the time to consider it.


The second portion of the process are the opportunities for your candidates to engage with your organization. This is a transactional, two-way system where your candidates can opt in for something, chat or communicate, interact with your organization and its recruiters.

Touchpoints in this process could be events, chat bots, CRMs, recruiter outreach and sourcer behavior. It’s wide and varied, and the opportunities within it usually rely on user behavior over system process or technology behavior. It means that when you are design in your system for this portion of the process human behavior and the likeliness to adopt (or not) need to come into the equation. But not all engagement will need to be unique, or manual - some of your engagement opportunities can be automatic responses and interactions that give your candidates the option to ask, and interact, with your system.


Next step, the application. Your candidate has discovered your organization, researched, engaged, and are moving forward with the application.  Much of this portion of the system will by guided by the technology you have in place - and as we all know and love Applicant Tracking Systems are a beautiful, well-operated, smooth, efficient system…

When tackling this portion of the process, it’s important to think outside of current state. When documenting the process as it pertains to the candidate – it is important to think about what might be missing - what could work better, and what stages in the process were designed as a result of the technology in place vs the ideal you hope it to become. Too often our systems aren’t designed with our original intent – instead, they are designed on the reality of the technology, and the limitations it provides. And while I realize this is vastly important to remain rooted in reality – that shouldn’t enter your ideation contract. Think about what you want your intentional design to be, and work towards that, instead of starting with the limitations you have. That may ultimately lend to you deciding that an ideal state for y our ATS is out of scope for design improvements until an ATS can be refigured or replaced, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore the opportunity to begin with.


Great, your candidate has applied and is now waiting for your feedback. Have they gotten an interview? Hve they been rejected?  Have they heard…anything? For this part of the process, it’s about providing closure to your candidates in the form of communications. When are they being communicated to? Is it too quick? Is it too long? Is it nothing at all?

This part of the system is focused purely on those candidates selected to proceed through your candidate process, as well as those who were not selected. It’s important that you design he process for both types of candidates.

You’ll focus on what behaviors in the ATS would trigger communications, status updates, tests and assessments. You’ll monitor and measure timing of these communications – how long a candidate might be waiting to hear back, and, ultimately, what kind of impact that might have on their willingness to proceed with y our organization (or, frankly, their availability to do so).


Ah, the interview experience. You’ve got overwhelmed, busy hiring managers. Meetings running long. Interviewees showing up late. VP’s asking to reschedule. Candidates showing up drunk (true story). And yet, this is one of the most crucial parts of the candidate journey – because it’s when the candidate is most heavily documenting and noting your culture. Candidate’s believe hiring managers - they are interviewing them as much as vice versa.

This is a difficult stage of the candidate experience – given the varying degree of actual control you have over this part of the process. An important consideration as we get further in designing our ideal state for this system is an understanding of the importance of affecting human behavior through influence. How do you get users to consistently adopt a behavior? How do you make it more likely that they will adopt? Understanding human behavior is important in all stages of system design – but I find it even more pressing when there’s a lack of technology to enable the process. Portions of this section might be enabled by technology (scheduling, text alerts, and the like), but the bulk of this portion of the process is humans interviewing humans. 

Offer / Rejection

Slightly different from our counterpart Selection/Rejection, this is the part of the process where someone who has interviewed is either offered the job or rejected.  There’s a different level of emotion committed to this stage. There’s a lot more stress, anxiety, and excitement. The touch points will be communications to the candidate within a period of time. The questions you have to ask yourself are “How quickly”, “How soon”, “how much do we communicate”, and “do we provide feedback?”.

And,  of course, this  all predicates on whether or not you were able to hunt down the feedback from the interview panel to begin with.


The last stage of the process is Hiring – after the candidate has accepted their offer, now what? Now there are weeks, or months, of waiting. What happens in this gray zone of excitement where the candidate is moving from one job to the other? What if they have doubts? What if it’s an extended period of time and you want to stay in touch?  How can you ease their onboarding?

Touchpoints in this will be managed through your hiring teams, the onboarding team, training and development,  and  a variety of systems  from your HR partners – and  it’s often one of the more overlooked  parts of the process.  Which, is a surprise, because it’s easily one of the happier portions.

Throughout the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing how to implement a system designed around the candidate experience. That includes a framework, touch points, opportunities, and identifying our priorities – all with a guided focused of intent to drive an overall better candidate experience. Next stop: defining your touch points, what categories to include,  and identifying your priorities.

After many years organizing communication efforts for local, federal, and international campaigns, Lindsey gave up her constituents for candidates upon entering the recruitment marketing world. For seven years, she worked at Symphony Talent, assisting Fortune 100 companies with their recruitment marketing content marketing strategy, attracting talent to organizations by encouraging the right fit for both the company and the candidate. She now manages a Global Employer Brand Program for Palo Alto Networks, innovating new ways to reach out to candidates, leveraging regional stories, an improved candidate experience, and pushing the boundaries of how we think about the recruitment and candidate process. 

In her allusive “free time” she can be found picking up new hobbies like Girl Scouts leadership, reading all the books, speaking for her cat, and asking her kids for the 100th time to pick up their toys. Follow her on Twitter @LindseySanford