Building relationships is central to the recruitment process, especially for senior leaders and new board members. Building these relationships is one of the best parts of our job – finding a candidate and helping them secure the next step in their career is immensely rewarding.

It takes time to build a relationship – to do this, we need to place the candidate journey at the heart of what we do and in every stage of a recruitment process.

Considering the candidate journey lets us get to the heart of a candidate’s ambitions and motivations. Before we encourage a candidate to apply, we need to make sure that they find the right cultural fit for their values, passions, and career.

Prioritising the candidate journey is mutually advantageous. Putting the candidate experience at the heart of your recruitment has four key benefits:

  1. Building a positive reputation
  2. Attracting the right talent
  3. Retaining talent
  4. Enhancing your brand

Candidate experience is one of the most crucial aspects of any organisation – even more so when your organisation is mission-led. If your processes don’t align with your values, you run the risk of devaluing the very thing your organisation strives to do.

What is the candidate journey?

The candidate journey refers to all the touchpoints that a potential candidate has with your open role, from awareness to application, selection and even onboarding. Their experience of this process has a huge impact on how they view your organisation.

Your recruitment process not only needs to be effective but also an enjoyable experience for the candidates.

You need to think about how you want people to feel about your organisation. After all, even candidates who don’t make it through the process can become strong advocates for your cause.

What are the benefits of putting the candidate’s journey at the heart of your process?

Build a positive reputation.

The recruitment experience can help build a positive reputation for your charity and increase support from the community. Candidates with a positive experience are more likely to recommend it to others, helping to attract more talent in the future.

If you also happen to be recruiting for lived experience of your cause, you may attract those who use your service. A negative experience may make them feel unsafe in using your service in the future, while a positive experience will reinforce the trust they have in your organisation.

Attract the right talent.

A well-designed recruitment process can help to attract the right candidates for the charity — you are more likely to find individuals who are a good fit for the organisation, and who share its values and mission. The right talent can help to drive your ambitions forward and make a positive impact on the community.

Retain the talent.

A positive recruitment experience can also help to retain your existing talent. Employees who have had a positive recruitment process are more likely to stay with the charity for a longer time and be more driven to create impact. This is especially true for internal candidates.

Enhance the brand.

A positive recruitment experience can be an opportunity to reflect your values, culture, and mission. This can help to build trust and respect for your charity, which can help to increase support from the community.

A well-designed recruitment process can help to attract the right candidates for the charity — you are more likely to find individuals who are a good fit for the organisation, and who share its values and mission. The right talent can help to drive your ambitions forward and make a positive impact on the community.

It can be useful to consider the journey in stages. Ensuring transparency and providing a positive and timely experience from initial awareness to final consideration for a role at each stage will ensure a positive candidate experience.

How to add value at every stage of the candidate experience.

Attract people who share your organisation’s values and priorities.

Your communications should be clear, optimistic, and realistic.

Be clear about the purpose of your organisation, who your end-users are and what your organisation aspires to do. This will attract people who share your organisation’s values and priorities.

Be realistic about the current context of your charity. If a senior executive or potential board member can understand what your organisation requires, they can see if they are a good fit, and if so, envision themselves in the role.

A trustee needs to know what issues are likely to be discussed at their board, and executive leaders will want to know about the overall position of the organisation as well as the teams and work they will lead.

Be as upfront as possible – candidates want to know about location, hybrid working, salary, and other benefits. If you communicate this early they can make an informed decision about applying and not waste their time.

Design your process.

The process should be simple and well communicated.

Respect the time and mental capacity candidates need to take to write a strong application and prepare and attend interviews.

Help the candidates to show their best. Dates should be signposted in advance, so candidates have time to prepare and provide relevant information such as strategies, finances, and organisational structures if possible.

Candidates need to know what is being tested at each stage, they should not have to guess what is required of them.

You should be clear what accessibility provisions can be put in candidates to highlight your organisation’s inclusive practises.

Think about your process of screening and shortlisting.

Before starting this process, you should have a crystal-clear idea of who you are looking for, including skills, experience, and knowledge. It’s important that your screening process is inclusive and unbiased.

In any conversation ensure all panellists focus on the agreed criteria. It is easy to get lost on a tangent!

Plan your interviews carefully.

Your interview must be accessible to all shortlisted candidates, standardised so the same questions are asked of each candidate, and have questions which reflect the context of the organisation that were shared with candidates.

Consider the make-up of an interview panel. Having a diverse panel can help candidates see themselves working for your organisation and feel welcome and at ease.

Think about providing questions ahead of time, especially if a panel wants to test individuals’ ability to create long-term plans and strategy.

Write potential probe questions alongside each topic – these can give candidates a second chance to expand on an interesting part of an answer or cover part of the question they had missed.

Make the atmosphere as welcoming as possible. Let candidates know it is their interview so if they need to ask for more information, to hear a question for a second time, or time to think they can. A supportive atmosphere will also help candidates bounce back from issues like technical difficulties or general nerves.

Make a transparent and flexible offer.

This should be the culmination of the candidates’ journey. Good recruiters will have discussed important issues (e.g., pay expectation and notice periods) beforehand and had a transparent dialogue with the candidate so they know what to expect.

Try to be as flexible as possible – strong candidates can be worth waiting for.

Plan ahead for onboarding.

A timely and smooth onboarding process is an essential part of the overall candidate experience.

The time between the interview and the offer is crucial, and it is important to keep the timeline tight and on point.

It goes without saying that in the early days, it is important to make your new recruit feel welcome and part of the team — this should include ensuring you are prepared for their arrival, the rest of the team are aware of the pending arrival and all working arrangements (including any accessibility aids) are in place.

By putting the candidate journey at the heart of your recruitment process, you will ensure a positive experience for your potential employees, and for those unsuccessful candidates to go on to be strong advocates for your charity.

By creating a positive, effective, and enjoyable recruitment process, you are better placed to attract the right talent, retain employees, and enhance your brand, leading to increased community support – and ultimately delivering on your mission.


Jonah Graham is a Consultant in our Students’ Union practice. During his time at university, Jonah worked as a campaigner, a Sabbatical Officer and a Trustee. These experiences gave him a deep understanding of the critical role staff and trustees play in investing in student leaders to ensure SUs can continue to do great work, represent students and change society. Committed to empowering diverse talent to join the student movement and the wider third sector, why not connect with Jonah on Linkedin or send him an email.