Learn The Basics of Candidate Journey Mapping

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Serious about your candidate experience? Candidate journey mapping can help you visualize what it’s like to go through your hiring process.

Candidate journey map, mapping the on-site interview for an engineering candidate
Example journey map (Credit: Christian De Pape)

How can you help candidates succeed? You only accomplish your recruiting goals if candidates accomplish theirs. If you are serious about your candidate experience, it is critical to shift perspectives and see your recruitment process through the candidate’s eyes. Though not (yet) common in talent acquisition, there exists a tool that can help visualize exactly what it’s like for a person to experience going through a complex process: candidate journey mapping.

What is it?

Journey mapping is the act of creating a journey map. The practice is well established in customer experience management, user experience design, service design, and other user-centric fields. Here’s how we can define what a journey map is, for talent acquisition purposes:

candidate journey map (recruitment)

A visual document that charts the interactions, thoughts, and feelings a job candidate experiences as they progress through the stages of an organization’s hiring process.

The elements of a journey map

Experiences are complex. To visualize them as accurately and fully as possible, journey maps intermix different pieces of information. Typically, these include:

Persona or segment. A candidate persona or candidate segment description articulates whose lens you are looking through.

Goals. What is the candidate trying to accomplish at a specific moment in time? What do they need, or want, right now? It’s important to remember that goals, as represented on a candidate journey map, are the candidate’s, not the company’s. Goals are stated for each stage of the process.

Touchpoints. A touchpoint is a point of interaction between the candidate and the organization. They occur at a specific moment in time, in a specific context, and to meet a specific need. Touchpoints range from direct person-to-person interactions like emails and interviews to indirect interactions such as visiting a company website or filling out an application form. Touchpoints also include interactions intermediated by third parties, such as reviews on Glassdoor, personal-but-public social media posts shared by employees, or rumors spread by a friend who “knows someone who knows someone that works there.” Every interaction, big or small, direct or indirect, is a touchpoint.

Moments of truth. Moments of truth are critical touchpoints – the interactions between the candidate and the organization that carry the most weight in deciding the outcome of the experience.

Effort. How much effort must the candidate put in to complete a step in the process? Effort is often represented numerically be a candidate effort score. Generally, the less effort the better.

Emotional impact. What emotion does the candidate feel at a particular moment in the process? Emotion is often represented as a simple spectrum ranging from positive emotion to negative emotion.

Example of simple, sketched candidate journey map depicting the interview experience
Simple sketched journey map (Credit: Christian De Pape)

Map vs. funnel

Journey maps are similar to recruiting funnels, which represent the stages of a hiring process and what candidates are doing and needing at each stage. Unlike a funnel, however, a map is not linear. It must, therefore, be grounded in research, because it can’t be templated. Recruiting funnels are a handy way to communicate a recruitment process internally. While journey maps require a more significant investment of resources to develop, the benefits extend beyond process visualization.

Why use journey mapping?

Simply put, a journey map is about seeing the process through the candidate’s eyes. It uncovers the moments when they succeed, learn something valuable, face frustration, question their commitment to continuing, establish loyalty, decide to quit, or realize they want to join the team and should accept an offer.

The exercise of journey mapping can help you on a number of fronts:

  1. Rallying team members around the importance of candidate experience and creating a shared frame of reference.
  2. Building organizational knowledge of candidate needs, wants, and behaviors.
  3. Diagnosing problem areas that negatively impact recruitment.
  4. Identifying specific areas of opportunity to improve performance and innovate.
  5. Reframing and redesigning your recruitment process around the candidate experience.

Performing a candidate journey mapping exercise with sticky notes on a whiteboard
Journey mapping exercise with sticky notes and a whiteboard (Photo: Christian De Pape)

Steps for creating a candidate journey map

Mapping is best done collaboratively. Once research is assembled – an involved process unto itself – you can arrange a workshop that includes stakeholders representing different functions within your company, from the talent team, to hiring managers, marketing and communications, and senior leaders. There are many mapping workshop toolkits available, or you can bring in an experienced facilitator.

However you tackle it, here’s an outline of steps you would follow:

1. Identify your specific candidate. Whose experience are you mapping? Be specific. For example, engineers might experience the process differently than sales people. Legal and its hiring managers might handle the process differently than Marketing.

2. Collect your research. Start with data you have already collected. Analytics from your applicant tracking system, for example. Results from your candidate feedback survey – you run one, right? – are tremendously valuable. If you don’t currently run a feedback survey, you can also review the Talent Board’s Candidate Experience Research Reports. Qualitative research is also very important. Consider conducting informational interviews with candidates you’ve declined or who dropped out to learn about their experience. You can also interview or run a workshop with fresh new hires – people for whom the candidate experience is still fresh. Use a directed storytelling technique that emphasizes open-ended questions. Your goal is to get the individual to share their story. What were they doing, thinking, and feeling at every step?

3. Create your candidate persona. Collate your research into a detailed portrait of your candidate, so you can understand the person whose experience you are visualizing.

4. Identify the journey’s stages. These are the behavioral stages candidates go through when getting to know your company. By outlining the stages, we can begin to understand what candidates need as they go through the journey.

5. Know your candidate’s goals. Each stage is driven by a goal the candidate needs to accomplish: specific questions that need answering or a decision that must be made. These stages might correspond to your recruitment funnel, but remember: these are the candidate’s goals, not yours.

6. Identify touchpoints. Brainstorm the moments of interaction you have available to connect and engage with the candidate. This is how you help candidates accomplish their needs at a specific point in time. Don’t skip counting touch points you don’t like! If a touchpoint is especially critical to the process, mark it as a “moment of truth”.

7. Incorporate what the candidate is doing, thinking and feeling. What actions is the candidate taking? How much effort is being expended? What is the emotional impact of an interaction? Use text (descriptions, testimonials) and visuals (charts, icons) to communicate what is going on.

8. Draw out insights. Zoom out and try to see the big-picture story. What is the candidate’s overall experience of your hiring process? What are the best parts? What are the worst parts? Are there areas of high importance but low satisfaction that you should focus on improving first?

9. Produce the visual. This is like designing an informational poster. Hierarchy is important. And like any design work, what you leave out is as important as what you include. This will be the artifact (some experience design parlance, for you) your team uses to begin shaping, improving and innovating your recruitment process. Don’t treat it as too precious a thing, though. Remember: a candidate journey map is a living document. Like your candidate experience, like your goals, like your company, and like your team, it will change and evolve over time.

Read a candidate journey mapping case study: “Mapping HomeDepot.com’s Candidate Experience: Q&A with Philip Newman.”

Christian De Pape, Head of Brand and Operations at Recruiting Social; employer branding and recruitment marketing expert; design thinking and service designer.
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand and operations at Recruiting Social. He is an expert in user-centered branding, communications, and content for recruitment. Connect with Christian on LinkedIn.

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