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Clarity key to Southwest Airlines smooth candidate experience

To create a great candidate experience, Southwest Airlines focuses on clarity in its recruiting processes. Here's what that looks like and how chatbots are helping.

Southwest Airlines landed on Glassdoor's "Best Places to Work" list for the 10th year in a row in 2019, and its leaders know a thing or two about employee experience. But that focus on experience starts well before the first day on the job.  

To understand more about Southwest Airlines' candidate experience and recruiting approach, TechTarget sat down with Greg Muccio, the company's director of talent acquisition, at the IamPhenom conference in Philadelphia, which took place in early March before coronavirus fears and repercussions dominated all HR conversations.

Here, Muccio discusses Southwest's focus on providing a great candidate experience, why getting candidates' information earlier in the recruiting process is critical and how chatbots are helping in this effort.

How has the focus on the candidate experience changed in recent years?

Greg MuccioGreg Muccio

Greg Muccio: Candidate experience is the number one collateral for talent acquisition these days. We've been talking about candidate experience for a long time, but we're still really on the tip of the iceberg. The company could be a great place to work, but if that candidate experience and how someone's treated through that process is better somewhere else, they'll go there.

How can recruiters improve the candidate experience?

Muccio: You still have a focus on things like your speed-to-hire or time-to-fill ratios and other traditional metrics. But it's important to look for where different tools improves the candidate experience. If you can start providing tools that allow a candidate to gather information and make decisions early on without necessarily having to talk, that's a huge thing.

Which stages of recruiting affect the Southwest Airlines candidate experience?

Muccio: The candidate experience starts the moment that an individual has interest in working at Southwest Airlines and continues with any of the touchpoints. We're looking closely at that candidate journey.

Are you actually mapping and for different roles?

Muccio: Yes. So for example, a pilot or a flight attendant, they're hired into classes [that train and start in waves], so they could wait a little while from the time they're hired to the time they start. And no one likes to wait, so how do we make sure that that experience is still good to them. We create a ton of communication, so that's just been really key.

Communication in general is huge to the candidate experience, right?

Muccio: Candidates would rather be rejected or told that they're not moving forward for a role within a 24-hour to 48-hour period than they would be getting good news but having to wait 30 days for that. And that's a game-changer. [Even telling someone they don't have a job] can still be a positive interaction with us or at least has an opportunity to be. But if I've made you wait -- and especially to be rejected -- it's very hard for me to get you back as a candidate -- or customer. From a consumer side, if I've told you, "We're moving on, thank you so much for your interest and here are some other similar opportunities," there's just a higher likelihood that you're going to continue to pursue us as a candidate and a customer. The likelihood of you accepting a job offer is much higher if I've treated you well during the first Southwest Airlines candidate experience.

What are some of the most important touchpoints of the candidate journey?

Muccio: The first interaction with Southwest, whether it's on our career site or in person with somebody, is critical. It's giving you the feeling that you matter. So for the career site, is it easy for you to navigate? Can you get basic questions answered about what it's like to work here, or what that role is like? And most importantly to me, is there a personal connection? People need to see people that look like them and who are motivated the same kind of way. As a company, we have some core values, and you need to be able to see, does that match? We've got to be able to do everything that we can to help you make that first decision on your own without waiting in line to talk to somebody or to get a response from an email.

We want candidates to be able to get information as quickly as they can. We have the ability to know what people are looking at [on the career site], how long they're there, which then just allows us to reposition information. It's the ability to go find the right kind of things, and to be able to have customized search, for example, by job or location.

We work really hard on being really transparent and give an early understanding of what that role is and what will be asked of them. So can we put videos or testimonials or those kind of things from people doing that job.

The second thing that we've been able to do is the use of chatbots [in the Phenom talent experience platform]. We only launched our chatbot in October, and we have almost a million interactions with it. The answers to questions help to prevent people from having to stand in line.

What is some of the most important information to share with candidates early in the recruiting process?

Pay, especially for the hourly jobs. Some other things: If you're working in one of our operations jobs, you have to be able to work seven days a week, all kinds of shifts. For flight attendants, there are three and a half weeks of training in Dallas. You need to know that because if you are in a home situation where you couldn't do that, that's important to know early. And we get a ton of benefits questions.

After using the chatbots to answer questions, do you see more efficient interviewing conversations? 

Muccio: Yes, and that is the absolute end goal. Phone interviews can become really robotic because there is so much of that tactical day-to-day questions. Now, a 20-minute phone conversation can really be about getting to know you as a candidate, personalizing and making sure that you know that the role is right for you, and the company is right for you and vice versa. These improvements will continue at a very rapid pace where the quality of those conversations become better and better.

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