Borrow “Know Your Customer Surveys” From Sales… Because Recruiting Is Just Sales With A Crummy Budget

“What is it going to take to get you into this job?” is recruiting’s most revealing but seldom asked question. 

Yes, there is a recruiting variation of this common car salesperson’s “what’s it going take” pitch. It reveals the importance of the recruiting function knowing which factors or job elements must be present to attract top candidates. Yet, in my experience and research, I have found that up to 80% of corporate recruiting functions fail to make it a formal practice to survey new applicants in any way systematically. This failure to survey applicants means that corporate recruiting functions miss out on a chance to develop detailed profiles of their applicants. And these applicant profiles would make it much easier for recruiters and hiring managers to recruit them successfully.

Utilizing An Applicant Survey To Fully Profile Your Recruiting Targets

On the business’s product side, “understanding your customer surveys” is routine and essential for successfully understanding and selling customers. Unfortunately, on the enterprise’s recruiting side, it’s extremely rare for corporations to periodically use similar “understand your applicants” surveys to more precisely understand what it takes to attract and sell your applicants. Yes, many of the best individual recruiters build their own candidate profiles during informal discussions with their candidates. But a formal corporate-wide effort is necessary if your function is to consolidate and widely share candidate profile data, which is necessary for everyone in recruiting to stay on top of the rapidly changing job marketplace. The best “know your applicants surveys” gather information in four distinct areas.

  • Add the most powerful attraction factors to your candidate profile.  First, you want to know, from your applicants, what particular job-related factors would dramatically increase a top potential applicant’s initial interest in a new company and/or a new job. Attraction factors are the job or company features that attract the attention of the best potential applicants. Typical attraction factors often include compensation, benefits, working at home options, new technologies, and great training. Knowing which factors that candidates assign the highest priority would allow organizations to change the content of their job postings and Employer Branding information. So that the provided information better covers the key attraction factors on most top candidate’s list. 
  • Identify the channels where applicants learn about new jobs.  Next, ensure that your targeted potential applicants will read, hear, or know more about your specific company’s and job’s “attraction factors.” You need to know the specific sources or channels that potential applicants use to hear about new jobs and great companies. Know the most effective individual publications within all major communications channels, including print, podcasts, social media, videos, and the Internet. Knowing more about where applicants learn about new jobs will allow recruiting to better place job ads and Employer Branding information, so your target candidates more widely see it.
  • Understand the job acceptance criteria that top candidates will use.  After you decided on your top candidate, the assigned recruiter and hiring manager would need to know the precise prioritized decision factors that your top candidate will use to assess and determine if they would accept your new job offer. The survey can include features that allow the candidates to differentiate between “must-have” and “it would be nice” job factors. Obviously, once they have an accurate job acceptance profile of the candidate, the recruiter and the hiring manager can then use the list of the finalist’s prioritized job acceptance criteria to s sculpt a job offer with the high probability of being accepted.
  • Knockout factors that would break the deal.  Finally, you need to know that, even if your offer precisely met each candidate’s positive job acceptance criteria. If there happened to be any severe negative factors about the job, the company, or the location, it would cause the applicant to permanently and permanently reject the offer. Typical dealbreaker factors often include a company bankruptcy, a corporate ethics scandal, a lack of diversity, or a sudden merger with an undesirable firm. Knowing about each of these knockout factors should provide recruiters with enough time to develop convincing counter data and information that can be quickly presented to the candidate if an issue related to any knockout factor arises. 
  • Other information to gather… You can also use your applicant/candidate survey form to identify perceived problems within your recruiting process and measure their overall satisfaction with the candidate experience. 

The Survey Process Should Be Simple

Know your applicants’ surveys don’t need to be complicated or expensive. First, if you encounter some privacy resistance, the survey results under each job opening can be made anonymous. Next, if you have limited resources, you can restrict your survey to only applicants that meet the minimum qualifications. Alternatively, you can use sampling techniques to reduce the overall number of completed surveys significantly. Also, realize that because this survey is part of the hiring process, you will likely get a high response rate from applicants trying to impress you. 

You only need to survey your applicants for each open job once. However, conduct a survey early enough in the hiring process so that the information is available prior to final interviews. Several options covering how you can deliver the survey to your applicants include: delivering the survey in a written one-page format to fill out just before beginning an in-person interview. The surveys can also be sent to applicants via email or text messaging and/or a Survey Monkey site or a separate corporate survey site. After the hiring process is complete, it also makes sense to give a “what worked” questionnaire to each new-hire during onboarding to improve your hiring process continually.

Final Thoughts

Once you realize that recruiting is essentially another form of sales, it makes sense to partner with the corporate sales function that is almost always better funded and data-driven. Also, because sales and marketing have a wealth of research tools that can easily adapt to recruiting, however, start by using a “know your applicant survey” to begin building a profile of your most in-demand candidates. Then, adjust your hiring and candidate selling approaches to more closely fit what you have learned about each candidate’s expectations and needs.

Author’s Note: This article was designed to make you think. If it succeeded, please help others by sharing it widely among your team and network. Next, please join the thousands that have connected with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn. After connecting, you can leave and read comments on this article. And when time permits, review his 1,300 other talent articles at

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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