Saturday, April 30, 2005

Online Candidate Behaviour

Joel Cheesman discussed the importance of corporate web sites in online recruitment starting from online consumer behaviours. Whilst I think he is absolutely right comparing the consumer to the job-hunter I believe that he jumped to his conclusions too early.

What I won't disagree with is his view that candidates usually start with the search engine. This will generally throw up the main job boards and a few companies or agencies that use pay per click etc. These pages will then be bookmarked and the job hunter will next time bypass the search engine and go to the job boards (Of course this could be a vertical search such as Indeed or Simply Hired). I also suspect the top 3 listings account for the majority of click-thrus.

However, I do disagree with his assertions on when job seekers use the information that is on the careers site months before taking the decision to apply. This disagreement is based on doing quite a few behaviour studies over the last 4 to 5 years, seeing other surveys (which generally confirmed my studies) combined with a model I've developed based on a view of consumer behaviour. Let me try and describe this model.

I have stated on several occasions before that job-hunters display similar behaviours as consumers of large expenditure items such as housing and cars. This is in terms of such things as switching propensities. However the fundamental difference between most consumption and job hunting is that in consumption the consumer holds total responsibility for making the purchasing decision - car companies rarely refuse a consumer (except, for example makers of very high-end limited-edition cars) whereas in job selection the candidate and company both try and make a decision on fit. Both conduct research on the other. Submitting your application doesn't mean you've completed the 'purchase'

The second difference is all around opportunity costs. For a candidate, except maybe for the graduate*, the time cost of research is greater than the time cost of applying. In consumption it's almost always the other way around - the time cost of research is a lot less than the cost of the purchase (especially for the expensive items that the consumer/candidate behaviour seems to match). To maximise their utility the candidate is better off searching for opportunities than researching about a company who may or may not have an opening.

Do we see this? Yes. A typical path through a careers site is straight to the available jobs. They want to know if there is any point investing any more time at your site. (we're talking about the small percentage who go directly to your site, maybe because you're a prominent firm in the function they want to work in - PwC in audit for example, or you're a big local employer).

When they find a relevant job they make a decision to apply pretty quickly. Here you can encourage relevant applications by giving a great job spec, written in a language applicable to an outsider. You could even provide links to supporting information on your site. How about putting a list of useful links on the job description - sort of 'find news / more information about OurCompany's work in audit' for example with links to the relevant information on your site (it doesn't have to be the career site). This extra information will help them position themselves effectively.

With a marginal cost getting pretty close to zero, and a time cost limited to any CV revision, sending in your CV directly to a firm is similar to requesting a brochure - you're not committing at this stage, your just starting the research process.

What happens when they use a job board or vertical search? Here the evidence that I see is that they find a sufficiently interesting role and then use your on-site search to refine the search. It's rather like deciding that you are interested in a model of car and then using your site to determine which engine size you want. It might be the one they originally found on the job board, it might be a different one. The key factor is that they used the search engine or job board to find you & they focussed on using the search on your site to select the role they feel is most appropriate.

When do job-hunters look at your 'career-blurb'. My understanding is when they get an interview as part of their preparation. At this stage they will be using it in conjunction with other parts of your site & increasingly third party resources. Talking to friends or friends of friends is also used extensively here. In the vast majority of cases your career site isn't persuading them to apply, it's helping them prepare to meet you. Remember this is a valid part of the research process that both you and they are doing, but a career site focussed on this is very different to one aiming to get applications in (which I think is pretty pointless - don't think that because that's the way you want them to act it's going to be the way they will).

Some conclusions:

Are passive job seekers surfing your site? No, almost never unless they are also consumers, in which case they still go to the job search first.
Is the career site info redundant? No, but don't think it will encourage many to apply. It's for a different part of the process & the sooner you recognise that the sooner candidates will think you've a great careers site.
Is search engine optimisation relevant for the HR dept? Yes, absolutely. Vertical search, local search etc will make this even more important.
Are candidate behaviours online similar to consumers?
Sort of, but you need to consider opportunity costs. Some things become relevant, some redundant.

* Why different on graduate sites? Many companies still ask graduates, through a separate application process to complete an online form. The average time taken seems to be around 2 - 3 hours. Given this hire cost graduates will conduct more research on your firm. This does not count research on career direction. See one of my earliest articles for my view on how graduate recruitment should evolve.