Do you remember your first flight? I do. I was 16, and we flew from Virginia to Florida for a trip to Disney. I was probably 5 years too old to enjoy the destination, but the idea of flying itself was beyond exciting. I still remember boarding the plane, then climbing into the window seat I won after hours fighting my brother.
As I settled in, I watched everyone’s faces and wondered what they were thinking. If this was their first flight, too. If they were just as excited as I was.
I’m sure they watched mine just hoping I wouldn’t talk the whole flight.
Luckily for them, I was too enamored with the whole idea of flying above the clouds to say a word. As we took off from Reagan International and slowly floated above the historical monuments I knew so well, I felt invincible; a kind of confidence you only experience as a child doing something for the first time.
I realize now there’s nothing particularly exciting about getting into a tin can around 200 strangers to share air and 2 toilets for a few hours. I also know I’m biased. I’ve been on over 30 flights this year. Back then, I was climbing into the clouds. Watching the world from above. Today, airports are simply an end to a means and a test of both my patience and belief that humans are inherently good.
There’s a lesson here for the candidate experience.
What’s interesting to me is that nothing particularly special happens when you fly for the first time, but it’s unforgettable. The flight attendants don’t sing you a song or give awards, minus those little plastic wings. You don’t even have to do anything remarkable to get there besides show up, yet most of us can’t forget our first flight.
In hiring, we rarely encounter people who are completing their very first job application ever. People who still have faith that an automated letter about receiving your email came from a human.
Unfortunately, traditional candidate experiences chip away at that optimism, much like the women I overhear taking phone calls on the toilet in the airport restroom. One more automated letter. One more ghosting. One more traditional experience that’s unquestionably forgettable.
For those of you rolling your eyes or thinking, “I don’t have time,” that’s where the airplane lesson comes in. What makes a candidate experience unforgettable isn’t about extraordinary moments. Your team doesn’t need all the fancy tech, big budgets, or “best-in-class” ideas. It doesn’t have to take a ton of time.
It’s about telling the story so they can start picturing a new life. Showing people the impact they can make with your company. Reminding them what it feels like to be above the clouds. It’s not about remarkable moments, it’s about authentic ones where people can feel like they belong.
That’s what leadership is, too: a million moments of translating uncertainty into clarity. To do that effectively, we have to be vulnerable. That’s what I wrote about in this week’s blog post. Bonus: I shared some of my worst leadership experiences on Fistful of Talent. Finally, advice from Etsy on how they changed their candidate experience to hire more engineers. Spoiler alert: it worked.
From 30,000 feet over Boston, have a great week -
CEO, Three Ears Media