Manager of Candidate Experience is a title we have never heard before on this show! Today’s guest, Rebecca Gonzalez from FullStory, is here to tell us how she came to hold such a unique, modern, and candidate-friendly crown. FullStory’s focus is digital-experience intelligence but before Rebecca came into her current role, work needed to be done to enhance FullStory’s candidate experience. Our guest tells us how adding her own personality helped to improve her company’s candidate communications, before explaining what “bionics” means in relation to her company’s values. We learn of the unexpected twists and turns during her professional journey, what she considers to be a successful candidate experience, why rejection communications should also be high-priority, and why, when prompted, she will always give rejected candidates succinct feedback.
[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.
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[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.
[0:00:59.2] RS: Here with me today on Talk Talent to Me is the Manager of Candidate Experience over at FullStory, Rebecca Gonzales. Rebecca, welcome to the show, how the heck are you today?
[0:01:08.9] RG: I am doing great, how are you?
[0:01:10.8] RS: I am doing wonderfully as well and I am buoyed by your audio-visual setup, because you have one, you’re in like a sound proof container, which that never happens. Usually people are recording in empty conference rooms and you can tell but not only that, you have in your hands the tiniest, most darling pink microphone, which I am so tickled by. It looks great, it sounds great, is there a story behind it?
[0:01:34.9] RG: Yeah. So during the pandemic, I purchased this off of Amazon and started bringing it with me to presentations, all-hands meetings, anything that I needed to be in front of the company for, and it’s kind of become like my shtick. People recognize me as the girl with the tiny microphone, might not remember my name or what I even do for the company but they know the microphone.
[0:01:55.7] RS: Yeah, it’s like a lesser known sequel to the girl with the dragon tattoo, I don’t remember her name either but it’s iconic though, the pink microphone. I’m so glad you brought it. It sounds great and I think I may – since it’s only $12, I may just send this to all of my future guests who don’t have their own external hardware. That can be an added perk of coming on the podcast, what do you think about that?
[0:02:15.3] RG: I love it. It’s delightful. Tiny mics for everyone.
[0:02:18.6] RS: I’m glad you’re not precious about it. You could be like, “No Rob, it’s my thing, like, this is my tiny microphone brand, you can’t delude it.” But you’re gracious that way, Rebecca, which is why I like you and there’s so much for us to talk about. Let’s start with your company, would you mind sharing a little bit about FullStory and then we can get the full story on you as well?
[0:02:35.8] RG: Yeah, so FullStory is a grownup startup based in Atlanta, Georgia, and we focus on digital experience intelligence. So we have this really amazing tool that tracks everything that users are doing on your website and it really helps you enhance their experience.
When I first joined, before we got into our more slick, professional branding, our tag line was, “Saving the world wide web.” And I truly believe that because all of our customers, you can really tell a difference. Chipotle is one of our customers and I can really tell the difference when I go and I order on their website that now, I actually get my freak walk, my coupon works, because they realized through using our tool and watching sessions that people weren’t able to do the things on their side that they should have been able to do.
[0:03:26.8] RS: I mean, that’s a worthy mission in and of itself. Like, finally delivering the freak walk to people at chipotle, that’s been a thorn in my side for more than 10 years now. So, good on you. I would love to know also about your background because you have a really interesting title I had never seen candidate experience make its way into someone’s title, and I really want to understand why you pursued that and what it entails, but first, let’s earn the insight a little bit. Would you mind sharing about your journey up to this point?
[0:03:53.1] RG: Yeah, so I’ve had a meandering career journey. After I graduated from college, graduated mid-recession, no one really wanted to hire an English major and so yeah, I decided I was going to pursue music. So I was in a band for a while and while I did that, I worked in restaurants and I really loved restaurant life.
I love working with customers and anticipating needs and the fast pace was really exciting to me, but then, after several years, I really felt like I wanted to do something that actually used my brain a little bit more, and so from there, I worked at a small candle manufacturing company where I did everything front of house.
So trade shows, working with sales managers, product development, it was a lot and it was really fun, but FullStory found me when I was working there and asked me to come be their office manager. So I was office manager up until COVID hit and then you know, maybe a little bit less of a need for an office manager, and I joined the recruiting team as a part-time recruiting coordinator.
I instantly was just like, “Oh my, what is happening?” right? Like, we have such a fun and quirky culture and none of that was coming through in how we communicated with candidates or the job postings that we had or the posting that we were making about the jobs that we have, and it really just like, it bothered me very deeply that we’re so fun and it’s just not coming through, and especially in an environment where everything’s remote.
But yeah, I stayed on as a recruiting coordinator for about a year and a half, became a recruiting operations specialist, and then as the team grew and there were more recruiting coordinators, they were like, “We need a manager for this team and you’ve always had really consistent feedback from candidates that you facilitated a great experience, hiring managers enjoy working with you.”
“You’ve really taken a lot of the other RCs under your wing” and they are like, “We want to design this role for you because we know that candidate experience is such a big focus and passion that you have.” And so yeah, I was invited to manage the team and really drive strategy for candidate experience.
[0:06:11.1] RS: When you said that you were noticing none of the quirkiness, the character of FullStory wasn’t on display in the messaging, was the messaging just staring right out or are you talking about job posts and outreach emails, or where was it apparent or I guess, unapparent?
[0:06:26.9] RG: I think the first place it was apparent to me was in our candidate communications when somebody enters the process. So that, “thank you for applying” email was like, super generic. All the little gated steps along the way of interview confirmations and invitations to on sites, it was just so to the point. Like, “Hey, we’re interested in interviewing you, here’s next steps, dial in here.” It was just so bland.
[0:06:53.8] RS: How did you go about injecting some personality into it?
[0:06:56.9] RG: So that was a bit of a process. FullStory’s internal voice is very bright and a little bit quippy, a little bit quirky. It’s still very informative and so it’s actually hard to figure out how to be professional but still have that brightness, and maybe a little bit of a cheeky turn to it.
And so it was a few different iterations and working very closely with our internal communications team to make sure that what we reflect internally was reflecting externally, but I think you have to really start with the basics. I sat down and I created this big map of a candidate journey and all of the inflection points in which we talk to a candidate.
Some of those are fun moments, “We’re inviting you to the next step,” that’s really exciting, “We’re confirming that,” that’s really exciting. Some of them aren’t so fun, like the rejections and telling somebody, “Sorry, you’re not moving forward,” but doing that in a way that really reflected our values.
So we have three core values of empathy and clarity and bionics, and I really wanted to make sure that all of that shone through at every single step, every single piece of the process. Then it was just zeroing in on each step and, “Okay, this is the flow of I’m inviting you to do an action, I’m confirming the action and I need to be able to give you all of the information that you need in a way that is informative, helpful, but still showcases that bright quippy-ness.”
I tend to be a little bit sassy just as a person and I really had to figure out how I harness that sass to bring in the fun, but also make it readable for somebody who maybe doesn’t pickup tone as well in writing. So it was a process and it takes a few turns and it took a lot of editing and a lot of reading from other team members, but once it was all done, the reaction from candidates was so delightful.
People would comment on like, “This is like the most fun email I’ve ever gotten” and so then from there, I started adding in more puzzle pieces, right? Just like a painting really, layering on the painting, making the picture better. But for instance, I have playlists embedded into our “thank you for applying” email.
Playlists embedded into different steps. So like, “You’ve got to pump yourself up for the on sites. Here’s a playlist to get you excited.” And I think those are the things that really resonate with people because it’s something that they remember.
[0:09:30.2] RS: Yeah and it just elevates it from being so expected and sterile. Emails are generally so formal and there’s a way to make it fun and authentic without losing the formality. Not saying you need to turn into EE coming and stop using your shift key or at the same time, don’t just dump 15 puppy gifs, which you see as well. And like fine, I guess that’s more exciting than regular email but it’s not making me do the thing you want me to do anymore, than regular email.
But anyway, before I forget, you mentioned one of your company values is bionics. I’ve never heard that before, what does that mean?
[0:10:05.9] RG: Yeah, that one’s always the one that people are like, “What?” So basically, it’s just the idea that we don’t like doing things that are manual. So when you encounter a process that is not bionic, we work harder to make that easier.
So, whether that be templating an email, that’s a really basic example of a bionic process. It’s something that you’re sending out time and time again, you don’t need to rewrite it every single time, you’re setting up a template so that it’s ready to go when you need it.
[0:10:37.7] RS: Got it, okay. When you decided to add some more personality to candidate messaging, this was just your existing role as a recruiting coordinator. You wanted to be better at your job, basically, and also just live the company values that you had signed up for. At what point did it become apparent that this could be its own dedicated role?
[0:10:58.5] RG: I think once we started going down the rabbit hole of putting out candidate surveys, you really start feeling the pain. We talk a lot about the pain cave here at FullStory, like you enter the pain cave and you feel all of those points where people are grumpy about something that you’ve done that didn’t come out smoothly or as nicely as you would like, and it can be something as simple as sending the rejection emails too quickly.
We just need to time with those or people are really big about feedback, right? And our rejection emails didn’t really invite them to ask for any feedback, and so reworking it so that it adds in a line about, “If you want feedback, clarity is one of our watch words, we’re happy to hop on a call and share what we can.” Sharing feedback was a hot button issue with the recruiters.
I think there’s a lot of legal implications that go into it but really, what we were hearing from candidates time and time again is that they really, really wanted that feedback so that participating in our interview process was something that was meaningful to them, even if they didn’t get the job, and so I think, looking at the feedback that we were getting from the candidate survey, from that lens of empathy and really trying to get to, “What do they actually want, what do they actually need from us?”
It’s led us down this path of, there’s a million different ways that we can infuse this into every step, from job descriptions, making sure that they’re using more inclusive language, working with our hiring managers, and that kickoff meeting where we’re talking about the role and making sure that they’re being inclusive, and how they’re thinking about the role, and the profiles that they want, and really drilling down to what are the must haves for the skillset that you need. It’s like a can of worms almost.
[0:12:53.8] RS: Were there areas that you didn’t expect this to be needed? Like, as you begin focusing on this and opening that can of worms, what were some of those unexpected worms?
[0:13:04.0] RG: I think one of the biggest ones was really the job descriptions. Years of experience is like, it’s kind of a little bit of a hot button issue here. We really like to focus on hiring people who we consider to be masters of their craft. They deepen their experience and as you start going into hyper growth and you’re trying to scale, you’re starting to build out teams where it’s like the first time they’ve ever done something, and then you start really thinking about, “What do I actually need?”
“Do I need somebody who has 10 plus years of experience? But when was actually the last time that they put their hands on doing something? Or have they just been managing a team and they were doing the work?” And so really challenging folks on that years of experience, and do you actually need somebody who has five plus years of experience or do you need somebody who can do the thing because it’s the first time it’s ever been done and who has maybe an opinion on how it should go, but isn’t so strong in that opinion that they’re not flexible and building something that’s actually going to be useful to you?
[0:14:06.9] RS: Yeah, I tend to agree with you. I think we should generally just throw out years of experience because it’s the only thing that you will accumulate on your resume, even if you do nothing. Look, time is linear, no matter how bad of a job you did, you will still be able to say, you have five years of experience if you just stick around long enough, right?
So it’s just like a lazy line to draw where it’s like, “Oh well, surely the person who’d be successful wouldn’t need to have been doing it for this long. So we’ll just put that in there so that anyone below that doesn’t apply.” But I’m sure you’ve seen these candidates, one or two years for a smart person isn’t enough to really intimately understand a problem if they’re very smart and driven.
So I agree with you on that one. When it comes to your goals around candidate experience, how are you measuring success?
[0:14:49.5] RG: So I really lean on those candidate experience surveys a lot. There are times where we try something new, we add in a new step or we try a new email template or we’re working with a new team, and so they have maybe a little bit of a different voice in their job description.
Every quarter I’m just deep in those candidate experience interviews and seeing how different searches resonated with different candidates, and sometimes, if I see a lot of grumpy commentary, I’m zeroing on that. What was making them grumpy? Is the hiring manager not actually being clear about what the role is? What are the different things that I pull out and take back to my team and serve up?
“Okay, this is where we need to focus our time and these are the things that we need to be working on.” I also really like using general recruiting data that we typically look at, like pass through rates, and I used that one. I see something troubling in a candidate experience survey. My first thought is, “What are the pass through rates looking like?” And if I see a lot of grumpy commentary around that initial interview, then I go and I look at the pass through rates and it’s really low, something is wrong here.
Then I use that to inform, “Does something need to change? Is it a training issue?” We diagnose from there.
[0:16:13.0] RS: So pipeline velocity funnel and velocity, it makes sense because a candidate who isn’t moving quickly through a process is a happy candidate even if they don’t advance. Don’t make me wait ten days and then email you to get rejected. Let me know later that day if you can or the next day so I can move on with my life.
[0:16:30.0] RG: Absolutely. And it is a huge pet peeve of mine when I hear about other folks applying to jobs and they’re like, “Yeah, I didn’t hear from them for a month and then I got rejected” it’s like, “Well, I already assumed I wasn’t moving forward.” Those kinds of things make me feel so anxious and stressed because I never want anybody to have that experience. Job hunting is so stressful and the kindest thing that you can do is be clear.
[0:16:56.7] RS: Totally. Yeah, I think everyone’s had that happen. If you’ve been up for any job you didn’t get that you just didn’t get a timely rejection, I guess I can understand why it happens like, “Oh, you’re not hiring this person, so now the communication becomes low priority.” What would you say to those people who let that happen, who say it’s low priority, if that were their argument?
[0:17:18.9] RG: It’s a mistake. These candidates that aren’t the right fit today could be the right match tomorrow, and we’re working in a talent market where candidates talk to each other. They are on Glassdoor. They are on Fishbowl. They are on Reddit. They are talking about you and if you’re not giving them a good experience, they’re going to let other people know and that hurts you trying to go out and find more talent, and it also hurts when that person might actually be ready and a perfect fit for something that you haven’t been.
It’s lot like dating, right? You’re on these dating apps and people ghost you and it’s rude, but you never know when you bump into somebody or who they might know or if they have a friend. So just keep the door open, always end things on a good note.
[0:18:08.5] RS: Yeah, yeah. You did mention a moment ago that you were pleased with even the up leveling of the rejection email, which is a touchy thing. As you mentioned, there is a need for it to be clinical because, or a perceived need for it to be clinical because it has legal implications. And like how much feedback can you give, should you give, all of that. Would you share just how you dress up the rejection email? It is a funny thing to be proud of but I understand it, I think. Would you share how that went?
[0:18:34.1] RG: Yeah, so I actually worked on it really directly with our chief people officer of all people, because she heard that I was working on it. She is very intrigued, wanted to know what I was up to, and she and I sat down a few different times and I started with the hardest one first, which is that final onsite. They have gone through the whole shebang and now we’re rejecting them.
I think the first thing that I did was, I wanted to really make people feel a certain type of way when they finished reading that email. So the first thing I did was, I’m like, “Okay, I have to acknowledge the elephant in the room,” which is they’re upset. They are disappointed. They put in time and effort and they’re not getting anything out of it, right?
[0:19:20.2] RS: This is not the email they wanted to get, yeah.
[0:19:22.1] RG: Absolutely not. So that’s like the first paragraph, right? Acknowledging that disappointment, thanking them for their time, acknowledging that we know that they put a lot of effort into it and then that next bit is like, what is the next thing somebody thinks is like, “What on earth did I do wrong? Why wouldn’t they pick me?” and so that’s the next paragraph is like, “You have a lot of really…”
[0:19:46.9] RS: Am I not pretty? Yeah.
[0:19:47.7] RG: Right, exactly. You have a lot of really great qualities and –
[0:19:51.0] RS: You’re going to make some other company really happy.
[0:19:53.7] RG: Yeah. But for whatever reason, they’re not a match for this particular role. I also got really weird about the word fit versus match. I’m like, people don’t need to shrink themselves to fit a role, you’re a good match, right? So really focusing on, “Look, this is what we’re looking for. Unfortunately, you’re not the right match at this time” right? Always leaving the door open that in the future you might be.
Then really putting that fine point on it of, we really value clarity here. We talk about that in every step of our process and if we really mean it, then we should invite them to get some clarity and so feel free to reach out and ask for that feedback. I was very specific about putting the onus of that on the candidate because I also know that some people don’t really handle feedback well, and so I don’t want our recruiters proactively offering someone feedback who doesn’t want to hear it because I don’t think that helps with the experience either.
Yeah, and then we just close it out very gently, very kindly of like you’re still a great candidate, you made it this far, we want to keep in touch and these are the ways that you can stay connected with FullStory and the opportunities that we have coming up.
[0:21:09.8] RS: Yeah, that sounds great and as you call out, it is the disappointing email to receive and there’s no good way to get dumped, but there are least bad ways, right? Or less bad ways, and I had a similar experience where I was tasked with writing the unsubscribed page for a blog. So it’s like, “Okay, the only reason someone would be on this page is because they didn’t like the previous words I wrote.”
However, I am going to take pride in this and I just tried to make it fun. I didn’t just be like you have successfully unsubscribed, right? I wrote something like, “Was it something I said?” “Well, we’ll always remember the good times” and then, “Here’s three of our best articles if you want to check it out but so long, good luck out there.” But the point is like look, one, take pride in your work and do a good job at every stage, right?
There is no excuse to phone it in and two, even if they weren’t going to be a subscriber of the blog, they could be a customer. They could be a future employee. They could have connections to the company down the line or in different ways than a blog subscriber or in your case, as an employee, right? So keep that in mind. Here is someone making me conduct on a huge account and they just don’t want to read our blog.
Fine, but I want you to leave that situation feeling like, “Oh, yeah this company, they’re so cheeky but not now” right? So anyway, I just think it’s important to take pride at every step even when there is just perception that they’re not going to be involved because they might be. I also, I wanted to double click on what you had said about the feedback because I think you’re right. A lot of people can’t receive it well or maybe just don’t even want to.
So there is no need to just offer it unsolicited. It’s freely given but not unless you ask for it. When they ask for it, how do you typically handle giving candidates the feedback on why they were not moving forward.
[0:22:52.7] RG: Yeah, so like I said, this was a hot button issue. A lot of recruiters get really itchy when they start thinking about having to give someone feedback. I mean, there are all of those legal implications and I do think you don’t need to share everything, and so I think for us, the way that we really structure that is it’s a conversation. We are not writing it down, so first of all we are protecting ourselves in that way but second of all, stick to the facts.
What did this person lack? Whether it be experience in a specific tool or maybe they just didn’t have enough at that doing the thing that you need them to do, just really stick to the facts. And then, don’t give them too much. One or two facts is probably more than enough, and if you go too far down the road, now you’re risking those legal implications but also not making this a positive experience for the candidate, which is ultimately what it should be, is better feedback.
I have been a hiring manager before, I have delivered some of these feedback directly to candidates and I think every single time, I hang op the phone and I feel really good about it because the candidate usually feels really good about it. One of the people that I interviewed and spoke with that wanted feedback, really the answer for them is like, “You weren’t going specific enough in your examples and you weren’t owning the work that you actually did, and I walked away from the interview not really knowing how you contributed to the process.”
So it was more for her, it was giving her this ownership over what she’d actually done and the permission to pat herself on the back more in interviews, and when you are talking about people who come from different backgrounds, that doesn’t always come naturally, and so I think that sometimes where feedback can be really great is you’re really helping somebody up level themselves, and you’re making the fact that they went through this whole interview process in the first place, a learning opportunity. It is not always just about getting a job, sometimes you learn something about yourself.
[0:25:02.4] RS: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s a phone call, right? It is not written down, that’s smart, and then it’s what? Like a 15, 30-minute call, and I like that notion and it can really help them on future interviews, like you want them to succeed presumably, laid there like, “Hey, let’s make sure this time wasn’t just wasted for me” right? If you learn something and you become a better interviewee, then maybe it was worth it.
Is there ever a situation where you would give that feedback to someone and they say, “Oh, an interview we didn’t get…” blank? Do people ever say, “Oh, well, I wish I had said this.” Is l there an opportunity to open the book back up or is it kind of final at that point?
[0:25:38.2] RG: I would say most of the time it is usually probably final. It also depends ultimately in, for instance, a software engineering role. If you bombed all of the coding interviews, there’s not really anyway that you can come back from that, right? Even if you say now, “Oh I wish I would have done this.” Well unfortunately, it’s already happened ,but I do think sometimes it’s like somebody maybe didn’t represent themselves as well as they could have.
Well, maybe that’s an opportunity, if there is another role open for us to reopen the conversation but usually, there does need to be at least a little bit of time.
[0:26:13.0] RS: Yeah, yeah. Have you ever had someone message you after an interview and say, “Hey, I really feel like I worked that and I don’t think it was a representation of my ability. Can we take two?”
[0:26:23.3] RG: No, that’s never happened.
[0:26:25.5] RS: In that scenario, what would you say to them?
[0:26:28.0] RG: I think it would depend on the candidate pool that was currently happening, but I don’t know. I am a big believer in second chances and I love people who have self-awareness. So I think that might actually pique a little bit of curiosity in me and to see like, “If I actually give you a second chance, are you up for it? Are you ready? Is it going to be worthwhile for all of us?”
[0:26:48.7] RS: Yeah, that makes sense. Rebecca before I let you go, I wanted to ask you about some pie in the sky ideas you might have. You’ve looked at the candidate messaging and job descriptions, the whole other can of worms as you referred to it. Are there any areas it’s almost becoming marketing campaigns, right? It’s becoming recruitment marketing, do you have any like big swings or ideas that you’re like, “Oh, I wish we could do X, Y, Z?” or “In the coming year, my goal is to…” blank?
If you had the opportunity to launch on a big candidate experience campaign, what would you do?
[0:27:20.2] RG: My biggest dream, wish, hope, is that we come up with a candidate portal that is externally facing and it has any type of answer about FullStory, the culture, who we are that you could possibly imagine, and it’s dynamic. It’s not just written content. There’s videos from hiring managers talking about their teams, we have little interviews from different people across the company talking about why they enjoy the work that they’re doing.
We’re really giving an inside peak into what it takes to be successful at FullStory, so that candidates can make the decision for themselves whether or not this is the right place for them. Something that we really value is curiosity, and so I see that candidate portal being the perfect place for that curious candidate who wants to learn everything they possibly can before they come to the interviews.
It’s my big dream. I am painting a vision, I am not sure everyone sees it yet but one day, we will get there.
[0:28:30.8] RS: I love it. I see it totally, it is like a Wiki but it is candidate facing and to go down the bionic route, right? FullStory company value, you can put a lot of power in the hands of the candidate, right? Assuming that they’ve been advanced, now schedule your own phone screen, schedule your own onsite. Like, “Here is the hiring manager’s Calendly who you’re going to be meeting with, you pick a time.”
Like let’s not do this back and forth, “Hey, when are you available? Give us three times, we’ll try and squeeze you in” all of that. So that feels like the future, the self-serve approach to it where people can kind of help themselves a little bit and get more information. So I see it Rebecca. I hope you get to do it and at this point though, we are creeping up on optimal podcast length and I just have to say thank you for being here. I really loved learning from you today Rebecca.
[0:29:14.6] RG: Thanks for having me, this was really fun.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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