How Delta Is Working to Improve Its Candidate Experience by Designing for the Disappointed


In a 2016 interview with NPR’s Marketplace, Delta CEO Ed Bastian was asked to describe his job in five words. Without hesitation, he replied: “Taking care of our people.”

For Jennifer Carpenter, vice president of talent acquisition at Delta, this answer also holds the secret to an exceptional candidate experience: caring. By showing you care, you leave candidates with a positive impression of your brand, even if they don’t ultimately land the job. “Every candidate is either a colleague or a customer,” Jennifer says, and caring for both matters.

Considering that Delta has to disappoint 99% of the million-plus candidates who apply every year for just over 10,000 jobs, candidates’ impressions can have a major impact on the airline’s brand — and its bottom line.

That’s why Jennifer and her team are “designing for the disappointed” when it comes to reimagining Delta’s candidate experience. They aim to delight every candidate no matter how far they get in the process, making them feel taken care of and exemplifying the Delta difference.

“We care because we believe our candidates are our customers,” Jennifer says. “We always strive to put ourselves on the other side of the counter to treat our passengers as we would want to be treated. We also know that people talk, both the delighted and the disappointed. For good or for bad, a tweet or text or review site post travels around the world in moments, creating either a halo or a hellish effect for your brand.”

At Talent Connect 2018, Jennifer shared the five key tenets of her “design for the disappointed” approach — and how it will continue to impact Delta’s employer brand.

1. Let candidates tell their story: Delta uses video interviewing tools and AI to get to know candidates and remove bias

One of the biggest changes Delta has made is at the very top of the funnel. The airline uses HireVue’s video interviewing tools to move beyond the resume and learn more about its applicants.

“Just as we believe that every passenger on our airline has a story about where they’re coming from and where they’re going, we believe every resume is a person with a story to tell,” Jennifer says. “We are all far more than what can fit on a nine-by-eleven inch piece of paper. So we’re using technology to allow candidates to add their voice to the recruiting experience and to share their stories.”

This approach doesn’t just ensure that candidates feel heard. It also enables the recruiting team to make better, fairer decisions about who to move on to the next stage.

For its flight attendant positions, Delta uses HireVue to learn more about applicants’ intrinsic motivations and traits. It does this by asking them to record answers to questions like, “Tell us a story about how you helped somebody.” Using the platform’s built-in artificial intelligence capabilities, Delta can then gain deeper insights into how that person will perform on the job.

“We can consistently and fairly evaluate the thousands of people that are sharing their stories with us,” Jennifer says. “We can be more responsive and, above all else, fair.”

In a four-month period, Delta receives over 300,000 applications for an average of 1,000 flight attendant openings, so this technology has made it possible to embrace storytelling at scale.

But the company doesn’t just use this approach for high-volume hiring. Last fall, they invited some local students who were about to embark on MBA programs around the country to come to its World Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. There, after getting to know the students better, the recruiting team invited them to record their stories, such as the accomplishment they’re most proud of.

“We were able to take those stories to our leaders so that they can begin building relationships with these (hopefully) future Delta employees,” Jennifer says, “so that two years from now, when they graduate and they’re being courted, they’ll remember Delta — and when they come home to Atlanta, we’ll be an employer of choice for them.”

Since the students had likely been toiling over MBA applications for months, Jennifer says that the team took pains to make this process as simple as possible for them. This commitment to walking in a candidates’ shoes has also allowed Delta to make one crucial improvement to its HireVue screening process.

“We turned on the ability to re-record an answer,” Jennifer says. “Simple right? Previously, you had one shot. You had to master an unfamiliar technology, share your story, get your answer and your hair right, the lighting, the angle — all in one try.”

Today, 60% of Delta applicants use the re-record option. In the first few months after making that change, the company’s net promoter score jumped seven points — taking it to a staggering 95% for this part of the process.

“Regardless of the outcome, if we are asking people to spend time with us, we want to give them the time to be their best,” Jennifer says. “And the candidates are telling us, thank you.”

2. Create conversation starters, not dealbreakers: after realizing its application process was too long and tedious, Delta focused on removing barriers

Getting candidates talking and sharing their stories has been a major step for Delta. But when Jennifer’s team took the time to sit down and go through its own application process, it discovered the process itself was likely stifling many voices.

“We knew it was bad,” Jennifer says. “We didn’t know how bad. What we discovered was that our online application took about 60 minutes. Could you imagine booking a plane ticket with Delta and it taking an hour?”

Delta’s application process wasn’t just long and tedious. It also couldn’t be completed on mobile devices. Jennifer’s team started from scratch, introducing a simple quick-apply function that can be completed in five minutes on any device.

“For the 99% who will walk away disappointed, at least now we’ve given them back an hour in the process,” Jennifer says.

This leaner application gets candidates in the door, rather than turning them away. From there, they have a real chance to show what they’re made of, without it feeling like they’re dropping their resume into a black hole.

“We believe in conversation starters and not dealbreakers,” Jennifer says. “So often, we design experiences that actually discourage candidates instead of catering to the curious. With unemployment hovering around 4%, if you’re putting up any roadblocks to the curious, you’re doing so at your own peril.”

3. An informed candidate is the best candidate: Delta recruiters use videos and guides to help candidates self-select and be successful

Beyond removing friction in its application process, Delta also focuses on helping candidates to self-select out. They do this by providing plenty of information about what the job entails, since public perceptions of airline jobs don’t always tell the whole story.

“An informed candidate is the best candidate,” Jennifer says. “In thinking about how to keep them informed, we want to make sure that we’re creating realistic job previews. And it starts even before applying to Delta is more than a passing thought. We need to make sure that we’re marketing jobs realistically and effectively so candidates know what they’re signing up for.”

In the case of its flight attendant roles, Delta makes sure candidates know it’s not all jet-setting glamor before they apply. It’s 12-part “Earning Our Wings” video series shines a light on the rigorous training program that trainees undergo.

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