Candidate journey mapping improving the hiring process

What is the candidate journey and how to successfully recruit with journey maps

November 11, 2020

Recruiters know: The candidate has moved into a powerful position and has changed our game. It’s not only on the candidate to apply and perform, but also on us recruiters to convince the candidate to become part of our organization. It’s on us to leave a good impression and to provide a great candidate experience in order to stand out and compete with other organizations. 

In this article, we'll discuss:

  1. Journey mapping in the context of recruiting
  2. Questions to solve in recruiting
  3. How to create a recruiting journey map
  4. Example journey map: application experience
  5. Challenges of journey mapping in recruiting
  6. Summary

What are candidate journey maps for?

Just as we look closely at how candidates present themselves and make decisions against them at certain moments; they do the same thing to us: they judge us as an employer. Both parties try to present their best sides and at the same time evaluate one another, not only during the interview, but throughout the recruitment process. For a candidate many questions can arise; is the answer to my last email long missing? Is my time being treated respectfully and my effort appreciated? How rigid are the assessment methods in place that I have to go through?

During the recruitment process the way a candidate presents themselves can leave a negative impression of them as an employee, and likewise when we present ourselves poorly, we risk giving candidates a bad impression of us as an employer. Thus, to improve outcomes for both parties, it is important to shift our focus, understand our prospective employees' situation and take their experience during our recruitment process more seriously.

We need to become aware of the critical and frustrating moments that our candidates go through, so that we are able to actively identify and improve them.

We need to look out for opportunities to motivate, excite and convince candidates that we are an interesting employer to work for so that they opt for us instead of a different organization.

Customer journey maps – applied to candidate journey mapping– help us slip into the candidate’s shoes, understand their experience from their perspectives, get to know their pain points and find solutions for improvement.

How can candidate journey mapping improve recruitment?

Every stage in the recruitment process, from raising awareness about the job opportunity through to the final job offer harbours different challenges for the recruiter, and different frustrations and expectations for the candidates. Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself when designing recruitment process in your organization.

Who are the candidates?

We often differentiate candidates between their profession, background, experience level, skill-set, cultural requirements etc. However, our work life and our outside-of-work life are increasingly becoming merged and no longer have clear boundaries. The job is not only about how we make a living, but connects with many other factors in our lives, e.g. who we are as a person, the people we hang out with and what lifestyle we want to have etc.

Link to basics of personas article: You will learn what personas are, why you need them, how to research, define and create them and some templates and a cheat sheet.

Thus, going beyond resumes, thinking more holistically and understanding the relationship we have with our candidates as human beings, will help us understand their needs, interests and frustrations better. Creating a journey map and developing a persona help us understand:

  • What does the candidates’ current work/life situation look like?
  • What are the candidates’ expectations towards the new job?  
  • What do they enjoy, what frustrates them at work?
  • In what work environment do they feel comfortable?
  • What stakeholders and factors are involved in their decision making?

How do applicants become aware of the job offer?

When we are looking for highly skilled and experienced candidates, we often don’t find them in our application pool. These folks are usually not active job seekers but already employed, involved in other projects, or not involved in thinning out the endless amount of positions on job platforms. So how can we make them aware of our job offer?

The range of places where we can reach suitable candidates is vast, from private networks and informal recommendations, to an endless number of different social networking sites. Depending on the persona, it is crucial to choose which communication channels will be most suitable and how we can best use them to make potential candidates aware of the  job we have on offer.

Journey maps have many benefits and provide us with answer to the following questions:

  • What channels and platforms do the candidates use and for what purpose are they using them?
  • What do I need to be aware of when using a specific channel?
  • What communication styles do candidates expect on different channels?
  • How do they want to be approached?
visualization of a customer journey showing how Maria finds her way to a career page
Persona Maria accidentally stumbles across some products of a company, finds it interesting and therefore takes a look at the career page.

What information are candidates looking for along the application journey?

In order to take a job opportunity into consideration, candidates need to know how they can benefit from it. The details about the job they receive, directly or indirectly will affect their decision making e.g. in the job description, on the career page, in our private messages etc.

Strict requirements or inflexible job conditions can exclude certain groups of people, for example, people who are parents, groups of people with disabilities, or those who are only able to work specific hours.

If we want candidates to take our job opportunity into consideration, we need to understand what they are looking for and what we can offer in order to meet those needs and wishes.

Candidate journey mapping helps us answer these questions:

  • What’s the next step the applicants want to take and how can we support them?
  • Do applicants receive all the information they need so they get a clear picture of the job and context?
  • Do they get appropriate and timely feedback along the application journey?
  • If we want to attract more diversity, e.g. parents, does this job allow for what they are looking for, e.g.part-time and/or flextime?
visualization of a user journey map showing how Maria researches employee experiences with the company
Persona Maria is not only interested in what the company says about itself, but also in experiences and evaluations of former employees

What makes candidates drop out along the application process?

A cumbersome, energy-consuming application process is harmful in many different ways.

It can be disrespectful to a candidate's time; hurt an applicant's first impression of our company; or be stressful and frustrating to complete. As a consequence it can prevent a candidate from submitting an application, or worse it could be the reason for someone withdrawing their application, as they receive an equally interesting offer from a different employer.

We need to see the hiring process as a reciprocal process between the employer and the candidate: where a good balance is found between collecting all the information we need to understand candidate's, while also providing them with enough insight about who we are and opportunities to present themselves authentically and in their preferred way.

Frustrations and questions that mapping candidate journey can solve:

  • What are the moments that are frustrating for the candidates?
  • How effortful or time-consuming is the process for them?
  • Can they rely on the application process being clear, transparent and fair in every moment?
  • Do they get to know the team and the company culture and how do they perceive it?
Maria's candidate experience during the application process is important for her future decision

How do candidates decide about the job offer?

In the end, it is not so much the final job offer that affects the candidate’s decision making, but all previous stages that set the foundation beforehand.

Giving our candidates the chance to get the right information about the job opportunity during the whole process helps set the right expectations, minimizing the risk of rejection at the end of the process and ensuring the recruiter’s time and effort was not wasted.

Being transparent about what the company has to offer also helps identify a long-term fit and reduce the turnover rate in the long run.

When it comes to final decision making about candidates it is important to be aware that they might have stakeholders influencing their decision. For example, parents are strongly influenced by their family’s interests. Therefore, analyzing stakeholder relations can provide  us with relevant insights that will help us support their decision making.

Future candidate journey mapping in recruitment process can answer the following questions:

  • What information does the candidate need in order to weigh their options and make a decision?
  • What other people influence and are involved in the candidate’s decision making?
  • How can we help them build up trust towards us as their new employer?
  • How can we support them in their onboarding and foster loyalty during the recruitment process?
visualization of a user journey map showing how Maria responds to the job offer
Maria's response to the job offer is evaluating her options

How to create a candidate journey map to use in recruiting?

To fill the applicant journey map with a variety of meaningful insights, we can use different types of journey mapping tools for candidate experience mapping. Let's see what information, besides the classic satisfaction score, is useful for a candidate journey map.

Dramatic arc

A dramatic arc visualizes the engagement level of a candidate at each step of their journey. It reveals when the candidates are very involved or more detached from the process. We can also use terms like involvement, motivation or excitement to describe the engagement level. During the application stage, candidates might be more engaged when being interviewed than when submitting their application. During interviews face-to-face interactions might be more engaging than digital ones.

Combined with the emotional journey, a dramatic arc helps us reveal the critical pain points of a candidate’s journey. A step that has a high engagement level but triggers negative emotions needs to get attention urgently: these are moments when candidates are likely to drop out of the process.

Channels of communication

Adding an overview of the channels that are used and touched along the journey helps us understand on what occasion candidates use which channel and how this influences the candidate experience. The ultimate goal of analyzing channels is to make the process as convenient as possible for the candidate, and taking the chance to communicate with them in methods that are both effective and enjoyable.

The way we use communication channels can negatively affect our relationship with a potential candidate, for example, when candidates are confronted with digital tools for long periods of time instead of having real conversations, their engagement level might sink and make them withdraw their application.

Or, if we find out that our candidates find emails painful because usually they only use slack and there they are highly responsive, we might consider providing communication on additional channels.


Depending on our recruitment process we can split the journey in different stages. Each stage summarizes certain steps of the candidate’s journey, as e.g. the awareness stage, consideration stage, etc. Bigger companies might have more or certainly different stages than smaller companies, as e.g. assessment centers.

These stages help us keep an overview of the candidate’s journey and also break it down into sub journeys. Within a sub journey we can then focus on the steps in more detail and elaborate on specific events within a stage, as e.g. the application stage.

Candidate journey map example: application experience

visualization of the whole recruiting process with different steps and stages
Understanding the whole journey of potential candidates can help to improve their experience.

Candidate journey map template

For a free candidate journey template for recruiting efforts, sign up for free on Smaply and use the EX template that you find in-app.

Call to action to create a journey map in Smaply.

Challenges when introducing candidate journey mapping

Although there is already an increased focus on the job seeker's experience in recruiting, there are still challenges that need to be overcome when introducing journey mapping.

Clustering candidates into personas

The premise of good recruiting is to continuously question our unconscious biases and make as many unprejudiced and fair decisions as possible. Enforcing stereotypes, clustering people and making decisions based on demographics is definitely not the way to go and recruiters righly have a strong voice against this. But aren’t personas just about that?

No, they are not.

Personas are boundary objects. They can help us understand what candidates we are talking to, what they feel, need, experience.

However, there are certain factors that are less relevant for us to consider and which can restrict our ability to make good insights and cause our decision making ability to be rigid.

For example, is it really relevant if a candidate is 35 or 40 years old? If they live in the same city, or abroad? If they are native english speakers or just proficient? When we want to empathize with people, we need to find the sweet spot between the similarities and differences of our candidates, between the details and the high-level view.

Following a clear approach when developing personas will help us prevent building superficial personas and when basing them on real research data it will actually help us break prejudices.

Multiple candidate personas

Depending on the vacancies we are trying to fill, and the relevant requirements of those roles, the candidates we’re working with will be pretty different. For example there will be great diversity when we look at their area of work (like marketing, development, sales, R&D), seniority level (like junior, mid-level, senior, lead), experience (like different industries, different types of products) and job environment (like travelling. remote, onsite).

The larger the recruiting team grows and the more specialized they are in different areas, the more sense it will make for them to break personas down into more detailed ones.

Thus, a larger recruitment team might develop multiple sets of personas under the category development candidates, and another set of personas for sales candidates.

For smaller teams, segmenting personas in ways that are too detailed can be challenging and in the end prevent them from working with the personas. Therefore, they rather might prefer to simplify and work with one persona for development candidates, and another persona for sales candidates.

Aligning applicant's experience and employee experience

It is not only the recruiter and the candidates that are involved in the recruiting process but also team leads, co-workers and other stakeholders. This team effort occurs during the initial CV review processes, interviews, meet-and-greets and more. Providing a great candidate experience means actively involving these stakeholders and priming them for a more candidate focused mind-set.

Link to stakeholder map article: You will learn what a stakeholder (map) is, why you need them, how to create them and a helpful cheat sheet to work with them.

Getting the hiring managers aboard a journey mapping approach is essential, but can be challenging sometimes. They don’t deal with recruiting and candidates on a daily basis and recruiting new people for them means an additional task that they need to juggle amongst an already busy schedule.  

So how do we get buy-in and make the process beneficial for all parties?

A great way to tackle this is by including both the candidate and the hiring manager in mapping candidate's journey. What are their shared pain points and how can we tackle them?

Fixing the hiring manager’s pain points proves the benefits of journey mapping and improves their motivation and engagement in the recruiting process.

This is one way of many to get buy-in – in our article about embedding and scaling journey mapping in organizations we have collected more of these tips to help us get going.


Candidates use the recruitment process to evaluate the employer and to make a thoughtful decision on their next career step. There are many factors that can positively, or negatively influence a potential candidates decision making process as they navigate this process.

Thus, as recruiters, we need to take our understanding of our candidate’s experience and place it at the center of our recruitment process. By doing this we are better able to understand and optimize the candidate’s experience along the entire application process, providing a more seamless experience that will help us hire the best folks, instead of losing them towards other companies.

And now, what's next?

Now you have all the knowledge you need to improve your recruitment process.

Use Smaply to visualize the recruitment process, find pain points of your applicant or team, and innovate the hiring journey.

Creating recruiting maps with Smaply is available for free.

Sign up for Smaply!