Suffering a Shortage of Applicants? A Checklist Covering the Top 10 Reasons Why

When a corporate recruiting function conducts an audit, I find that the resulting data usually reveals that the recruiting problems that dramatically restrict applications routinely occur during the same steps of the “recruiting funnel.” So, if you work at a firm that is struggling to attract applicants, it’s a huge mistake to blame the tight job market. Instead, focus on the following “10 hotspot areas” that are most likely to be the foundation of your applicant shortage. The highest-impact problem areas are listed first.

  • An insufficient focus on referrals — Despite all the hype about AI, humans are still the most effective tool for finding top talent. Data reveals that by far the most powerful tool for attracting a high volume of quality applicants is through a focus on employee referrals. So, if you’re not getting more than 40 percent of your hires from referrals, that’s a foundational problem. Start by making it the responsibility of your top-performing employees to come up with at least three top-quality referrals each month. Encourage your employees to attend professional events and to bring back referral names. And, don’t forget to give your highly visible employees electronic and paper referral cards to distribute to top prospects. Also, ask each new hire and their job references for additional referrals. If you work in retail, even ask your customers.
  • Unless your job postings are data-driven, their content will fail to attract — Unless you have a powerhouse employer brand, your job postings are likely to be the first opportunity for prospects to learn about your firm and your job. Most job postings are written in an ad hoc manner. Unless you use data to determine their content, your job postings won’t be differentiated. Therefore, they won’t have high drawing and excitement value, because they don’t cover the right “job attraction factors.” Research by CareerBuilder found that “75 percent of candidates say that the appearance of a job posting affects their choice to apply.” Your research must also reveal the key search terms that top applicants use when they attempt to identify all relevant job openings on a job board.
  • Your job openings are placed ineffectively — Most firms use costs or past practices to determine where to place their job opening announcements. A superior approach is to gather data from a sample of prospects to determine specifically where and when they are most likely to actually see a job posting. And, after you make a hire, survey new employees during onboarding to determine which job board or job posting site had the highest yield of quality applicants.
  • During your research, outsiders can’t feel the excitement at your firm — After potential applicants read your job postings, they are likely to follow up by immediately seeking more information on the Internet. Unfortunately, even though you know that working at your firm is exciting, it’s often amazingly hard for outsiders to actually “feel that excitement” when they do research on your firm. Therefore, closely examine your corporate and social media websites to ensure that they come across as authentic and that they exude information covering your exciting work and great team members. Boast about each of your “job excitement and attraction” factors. And,  clearly show that your work and your products make a difference.
  • Your application process is frustrating — Once you have excited potential applicants, it’s still extremely easy to turn them off with a painful application process. Research by SmashFly found that “74 percent of candidates drop off before they complete the application process.” So, you are likely to be losing a significant percentage of your prospects if your application can’t be completed within five minutes or if they can’t fully complete their application from their mobile phone. As an alternative, make applying extremely easy by accepting LinkedIn profiles as a first application step.
  • Weak student recruiting reduces entry-level applications — If a significant portion of your hiring comes at the entry-level, excel at attracting students. For college and high school recruiting, start with a separate dedicated website. Next, the most effective approach is to turn your current student employees and interns into “brand ambassadors” while they are on campus.
  • Your recruiters are simply “order takers” — You should expect at least one third of your applicants to come from the “direct sourcing” efforts of your recruiters. And that can’t happen if your recruiters primarily “post and pray.” So, your recruiters must have enough available time to proactively find, reach out to, and quickly answer responses from prospects who have not yet seen your job postings. The best recruiters and sorcerers are also constantly searching LinkedIn, as well as niche job boards and the Internet for resumes of candidates that have not yet “found you.”
  • You haven’t developed an effective talent pipeline — The best candidates may be fully employed, so they might not be currently looking for an opportunity. So, the best firms pre-identify at least 20 percent of their future hires and over time, build relationships using an online talent community. Talent communities give you time to build trust with prospects who may currently only be mildly interested. These communities also provide more time to sell these future prospects. Your pipeline should also include top former employees and “silver medalists” who came in second for previous jobs.
  • You haven’t proactively managed your Internet employer brand image — Before formally applying, most prospects will proactively search employer comment sites like Glassdoor to see what employees and past applicants have to say about your firm. Research by CareerArc revealed that “55 percent of job seekers who have read a negative review have decided against applying for a position at that company.” As a result, the best firms encourage their employees to actively post positive things and to counter any posted negative comments (Amazon even rewards its employees for taking the time to post positive comments).
  • The absence of a data-driven recruiting approach will hurt you everywhere — Without a strategic data-driven approach, you won’t be able to effectively identify weak recruiting areas and then make the prescribed changes that are necessary to continually improve both the volume and the quality of your applications. For example, data can help hiring managers realize that they require an excessive amount of experience, which is a major factor that unnecessarily limits applicants that could actually do the job. Obviously, collecting and using data is also a key factor for continually improving sourcing and messaging.

You May Also Be Inadvertently Losing Your Highest-quality Applicants

Even if you receive enough quality applicants, you may be inadvertently losing a large percentage of them because you don’t quickly respond to their application. If you don’t rapidly and enthusiastically respond to top-quality applicants for high demand jobs and schedule an interview quickly, you may find that in this highly competitive job market, that they will be gone within 10 days.

Final Thoughts

In my experience, few corporations take the time to pause and conduct a quick audit in order to identify the fundamental reasons why they’re not getting enough quality applicants. Although every firm is a little different, I have found that when most firms examine their sourcing and application funnels, they find the same identical roadblocks. So, if you don’t have a lot of time to identify your own firm’s roadblocks, I suggest using this checklist as a quick assessment tool. This simple step might increase your applications by up to 20 percent.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, follow or connect me on LinkedIn, subscribe to the ERE Daily, and hear me and others speak at ERE’s April event in San Diego on “recruiting in a candidate-driven market.”

As seen on ERE Media on 11/19/2018.

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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