Bad recruitment experiences cost brands millions in lost customers

Written by: Mindi Chahal
Published on: 13 Oct 2016

Giving job seekers a poor experience could turn them off a brand from a consumer perspective too.


Interviewees may feel like they are in the spotlight during the recruitment process but the brands conducting the interview are under just as much scrutiny, as new research suggests a poor recruitment experience could turn candidates off that brand for life.

The report by employer branding agency Ph.Attraction reveals that one in four British jobseekers have either entirely stopped purchasing (12%) or purchased less (11.5%) from a brand because of a negative candidate experience.

Poor candidate experience cost Virgin Media £4.4m in 2014, the study claims. More than 130,000 candidates applied to work at Virgin Media that year, 18% of which were existing Virgin Media customers. However, as a direct result of poor candidate experience more than 7,500 candidates cancelled their subscriptions and switched to a competitor, resulting in millions of pounds in lost revenue, according to the analysis.

The brand has since brought its recruitment function in-house, which allows it to “take a lot more control and engage with individuals on a one-to-one level”, says Neil Chivers, employer brand and marketing manager at Virgin Media.

He adds: “It wasn’t all just about the money but the saving to the business really helped us get the support from our CMO and head of finance to say that we could [change the way we do things].”

Focus on candidates’ needs

Virgin Media has also invested in technology with a candidate portal that maps the recruitment experience. It looks at how candidates are going about their application process and explores what they want rather than Virgin Media leading. The process also features inspirational voice messages from brand ambassador Usain Bolt.

The brand was able to identify quick wins that cost nothing to change and improve but made an immediate impact.

    “We have to make sure whatever we say to a candidate at that first touchpoint stays with them all throughout their life here.”
    Neil Chivers, employer brand and marketing manager, Virgin Media

Chivers adds that changing recruitment practices is just the first step: “In order for this to be a success we have to deliver on what we promised those candidates. Giving them a great experience through the application process is just one facet of the whole employee life cycle.

“We have to make sure whatever we say to a candidate at that first touchpoint stays with them all throughout their life here.”

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Positive impression

Bryan Adams, CEO and founder of Ph.Attraction, says: “The recruitment process needs to be people-first. Every brand experience is as valuable as the next – whether it’s recruitment or anything else it’s an opportunity to delight, retain or attract a customer.”

The study of 1,200 British-based workers also shows that nearly a third (29.3%) candidates would consider becoming a customer of a brand if they had a good experience.

Given that more than 75% of respondents aged 16 to 24 have applied for a job at a company where they are already a customer, it is vital that brands look at how they treat applicants or they could risk losing their business.

In order to attract talent, particularly candidates aged under 24, brands need to advertise what they stand for. A separate study by LinkedIn shows that an organisation’s purpose is a deal-breaker for 52% of UK professionals when considering a job offer but businesses generally fail to include their values on their website or LinkedIn company page. That number rises to 56% among those aged 16 to 24.

READ MORE: Failure to align marketing and HR causing brands to miss out on top talent

Brands should also be thinking about the future work force in employer branding. There are projects and companies already helping young people make the right recruitment choices. Rise To, for example, matches 16- to 24-year-olds with suitable purpose-driven entrepreneurial companies.

Employers build a LinkedIn style brand profile and pre-vetted ‘matched’ talent is served to them automatically. Those aged 16 to 24 sign up for free and are guided through building a digital CV. As they refine their profile, the algorithm matches them with the companies and opportunities that best suit them.

Duncan Cheatle, co-founder of Rise To, who also co-founded Start-Up Britain and the Supper Club, says: “Companies learned decades ago they needed to build an ongoing brand. With employer branding they don’t do that. They just put a job ad up for 30 days hoping the talent they want to attract will be remotely interested.”

Business in the Community (BITC), a responsible business charity supported by the Prince of Wales, conducted a survey of 4,000 young people, which again finds that after a negative recruitment process one in five young people are put off that company.

BITC works with a number of large employers and educators, including City & Guilds, Barclays and Whitbread, on recruitment and promoting the importance of constructing an employer brand that is open and accessible for young people as part of its Future Proof campaign.


Creating positive experiences for candidates is vital for Costa-owner Whitbread as it relies on a large number of employees to grow in the UK.

Sandra Kelly, head of education at Whitbread, which owns Premier Inn and Costa, believes creating positive experiences for candidates is vital for the company as it relies on a large amount of employees to grow in the UK. It aims to make the process “fair, accessible and transparent”.

Kelly believes this is “particularly important for young people who will form an increasing part of the future consumer market”. She says: “We have worked hard to open up different routes into our business, focusing on attitude, values and motivations in our expanding apprenticeships programme.”

“We have an ageing population so young people will become a scarcer resource than they are today,” adds Chris Jones, CEO of The City & Guilds Group. “If businesses don’t make changes now to break down the barriers young people face when entering employment, their futures – and indeed our economy – will be at risk.”

    “If businesses don’t make changes now to break down the barriers young people face when entering employment, their futures – and indeed our economy – will be at risk.”
    Chris Jones, CEO of The City & Guilds Group

Jones is backing the BITC campaign because he wants “businesses to take a look at their practices, be honest about how youth-friendly they really are, and commit to changing for the better”.

Treat talent like consumers

The Ph.Attraction report states that 22% of British workers believe a brand’s candidate experience is more revealing about brand culture than its customer experience. It therefore makes commercial sense to treat potential recruits the same as potential consumers.

“These days, recruiters are marketers, they just sit in a different department,” says Joe Wiggins, head of communications, Europe at reviews-based recruitment platform Glassdoor. “Employer brand is a product of employee engagement, which is in itself a product of employee experience.”

Brands are using the platform as a marketing tool by linking reviews to profiles on careers pages, and using social platforms to show employee-generated content.

Wiggins adds: “The lines between internal and external [communications] are blurring. Smart organisations are using social to give a look inside their organisations.”

Once those candidates are attracted to roles and companies it is up to the brand to deliver on what that employer marketing has offered. One way of improving candidate experience is adjusting the power balance in the process.

Cheatle at Rise To says many employers view recruitment as a one-way process. Employers want to attract talent but the moment they start recruiting it comes down to deciding whether to give someone a job “instead of recognising that they are going to be assessed the other way round”.

He adds: “The whole approach needs to be seen as one of embracing in a much more equal way.”

Being asked the right questions and receiving feedback from a prospective employer can improve how that company is viewed, according to Cheatle.

He says: “[Too often the recruiter] doesn’t get any training or steer so they will come in with questions that aren’t quite appropriate or are not exploratory.”

The sentiment is mirrored in the Ph.Attraction research, which reveals 18% of respondents felt more valued by a receptionist than the interviewer during their last job application. Furthermore, one in four believe interviewers do not care about their goals or aspirations and 37% believe it is more likely they will win the lottery than receive detailed job feedback.

It is clear that employer branding takes effort, but failing to consider the recruitment process could cost a brand both talent and customers.