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Why Certification Programs Should Create a Candidate Journey Map

by | Certification

In our experience working with certification programs, we have found that organizations primarily focus on creating a valid, reliable, and defensible assessment. The candidate journey, AKA the customer experience, can often be an afterthought.

And yet, how an organization gets potential applicants into and through their application process — and keeps them engaged after the test — is critical for the long-term viability of their programs.

Do you know how successful your program is at optimizing the candidate experience of the certification journey? Whether you feel confident or confused about your answer, creating and analyzing a candidate journey map can be incredibly helpful for evaluating your resource spend and efficacy.

What is a Candidate Journey Map?

A candidate journey map is a framework for certification programs to explore the candidate experience, from the candidate’s perspective, at each stage in the certification lifecycle. When analyzing the candidate experience, the goal is to reduce friction at each step in the journey.

The goal? Candidates should feel good about interacting with an organization at every stage in their certification journey.

Below is a framework that you can easily apply to your program:

Candidate Journey Map Exercise Open this image in a new tab to see a larger version.

The Candidate Journey Framework

  • The How: How does the candidate enter the phase?
  • The Where: What environment is the candidate interacting with to engage the program?
  • The Who: What role within the organization owns this specific phase?
  • What can go wrong: What are the areas of risk to manage?

With this model in place, it’s more easy to identify organizational ownership. It’s also easier to see points of constraint and explore areas of opportunity.

What are the Phases of the Candidate Journey?

The candidate journey map exercise works best as a cross-functional team collaboration. Through organizational conversations, you can harness your resources to drive positive outcomes for each of the phases described below:

Discovery: How does the candidate learn about your credentials?

It may sound like a simple question, but it is central to a program’s growth and long-term success.

The discovery phase typically lives within the organization’s marketing function. Marketing can take many forms: word of mouth, traditional advertising, and even channel partnerships (like with related associations, employers, or schools). Marketing work can happen on social media and email platforms, in blogs and digital ads, and through sponsorships and conference appearances.

Here are some great questions for identifying potential friction points at this stage:

  • When a candidate begins to engage with your program, where do they start? Your website, or a third party like a school, employer, or CE provider?
  • How do you gauge the level of engagement at this stage from each channel? Do you have the ability to track and measure your conversation rates?

Engagement: How does the candidate engage with your organization and application process?

In most organizations, candidate engagement begins when they apply for certification. Typically, this process lives within a CMS or certification management system and your certification operations staff tend to perform the work associated with this phase.

When candidates are ready to open an application, they should feel confident in their next step. Here are a few questions that might help you optimize the candidate journey at the engagement stage:

  • When a potential candidate takes an interest in certification, how do they engage with the organization?
  • Is it easy for them to understand the program requirements?
  • Is it easy to apply for certification?
  • Can they start an application before meeting all eligibility requirements?

Eligibility: How do you determine if the candidate meets the requirements?

Once candidates start applications, they enter a new phase. Now, they must prove they meet the eligibility requirements for certification. For certifications that require more than just passing an exam, eligibility can be difficult to navigate. This is especially true if there is more than one path to achieving eligibility.

Clear communication about eligibility requirements is crucial for providing a positive candidate experience. Again, it may sound basic, but that is because it is foundational to the success of your program.

This phase also often falls into the realm of the program operations team. They will likely perform the work for it within your CMS and may also rely on third parties to submit and verify information (like references).

To quantify success at this stage, start by getting a baseline for metrics like abandoned applications and customer support requests. You might consider:

  • Can candidates submit information to demonstrate that they have met a requirement?
  • How do you communicate to candidates if a requirement is not met?
  • Is there more than one way, or “eligibility path,” for a candidate to meet your requirements?
  • Can candidates switch eligibility paths once they have started an application?
  • Do candidates need to meet eligibility requirements within a certain timeframe? How is the candidate informed about this time constraint?

Examination: What is the candidate’s experience with the test?

Most organizations work with a third-party test administrator. That third-party platform is usually where a candidate is redirected after the organization determines them eligible to test.

While there are many aspects of an exam (job task analysis, test development, scoring, etc.) the focus of the candidate journey map is on the candidate’s test registration experience, their experience sitting for the exam at a test center or with live remote proctoring, and how they receive their scores.

We assume that the test will be hard. When you examine the exam phase, ask yourselves: Shouldn’t every other aspect of the experience be easy? How easy is it?

  • What if the candidate needs to change their test date?
  • Is their situation ideal for live remote proctoring? How would they know?
  • What is the experience like at the test center?
  • How are accommodations managed? Do applicants request accommodations through the application process? Or through the scheduling process with the exam provider?
  • Once candidates take the test, how are their scores communicated — pass or fail? And what about retakes? How are those handled?

Conferral: How do you confer certification status?

Once a candidate has met all the eligibility requirements and passes the exam, they become a certificant. They will likely need to prove conferral of certification to seek or maintain employment in their field.

Conferral of the certification often falls to your operations team as a function of your candidate management system. Some programs may also need a way to print and send certificates to their certificants or offer digital badges.

In exploring the efficacy of this phase, you may want to ask:

  • How does your organization confer certification status to new certificants?
  • After a candidate meets all requirements, how long does conferring certification take?
  • How is conferral communicated to the certificant?
  • Can certificants, employers, and the public verify that certification status? Is there a special certificate printed and framed? Do they need a wallet card? A downloadable PDF? A digital badge?

Maintenance: How does the candidate maintain their certification?

Now that you’ve certified your candidates, their recertification cycle begins. Your operations staff will likely own this phase. It may live within a learning management system, or be tracked by your certification management system.

Some organizations choose to engage their certificants about recertification requirements immediately after conferral. The advantage of this approach is it allows the certificant to plan, especially for long-term continuing education requirements. Organizations send periodic electronic reminders so certificants won’t wait until the last minute to start on their requirements.

With that in mind,

  • How and when do you communicate the requirements for maintaining certification?
  • How do your certificants show that they’ve met those requirements?
  • Are they able to upload activities as they are completed?
  • Will third parties upload those activities for them?
  • How easy is it to find activities and learning that meet the standards of those requirements?

Recap: How to Create a Candidate Journey Map for Your Organization

As with any cross-functional initiative, executive support is key.

  • Gather your cross-functional team and identify owners for each stage.
  • Identify “where the work gets done” at each stage.
  • Identify “how the work gets done.” Focus on risk areas or friction points for the candidate at each stage.
  • Identify your organizational resource allocation at each stage. This includes total spending, staff salaries, external partners, and system costs.
  • Determine if you have the appropriate tool or system for getting the work done at each stage. What’s working? Do you have manual processes that could be automated?

As you create and analyze your candidate journey map, what insights about the candidate experience emerge? What can you learn about where you focus your resources?

Additional Insights from the Candidate Journey Map

Digging deeper still, what more can you gain from creating a candidate journey map? We have found two main areas that often merit further conversation:

Data flow: What is the data flow between systems? How can it be optimized to facilitate candidate communications and reduce staff workload?

To analyze your data flow, start with your candidate management system and test vendor. You can also consider any other system, like an AMS, CRM, or LMS, that integrates with your CMS. Don’t forget about financial systems and marketing and communications platforms.

Internal handoffs between organizational owners: How does work flow between staff and teams?

It’s also worth analyzing the areas where program staff spend their time. Are they dealing with a lot of exceptions? Are they engaged in manual work that one of your systems could automate?

This analysis may cause you to revisit key areas where “the work gets done.” It may also help you find the challenges associated with those areas. You can identify any “hot spots,” or opportunities for immediate improvement.

LearningBuilder Streamlines the Certification Candidate Journey

Does your candidate management system help you create the best applicant and staff experience possible? Our industry-trusted certification management software can streamline the candidate journey for all stakeholders. Want to learn more about how our process-based architecture can streamline your certification program? Schedule a discovery call with us.

Heuristic Solutions is a leader in software and technology for certification, licensure, and accreditation. Partner with us today, and we’ll modernize your system to better serve your organization.


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