Candidate Engagement — Is That What You Really Want?

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Mar 31, 2016
This article is part of a series called Wake-up Call.

Albert Einstein said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” Recruiting operates under a similar rule: nothing happens until someone does something — looks at a job description or applies for a job.

While candidate engagement sounds good, unless it leads to some desired action, it is not valuable. The real goal is to get the behavior you want — a person to apply, a qualified person to ask for more information, or for someone to answer qualifying questions.

The science of behavior is a growing field of study, and when applied to recruiting has the potential to create change. Retail shops and websites routinely use its lessons to drive behavior.

Amazon is a pioneer in using behavior science to increase sales. Its Prime program, which costs $99 per year, started as a way for consumers to get free shipping. It has now morphed into a platform that has consistently increased sales and grown the user base of Amazon. Some of its features are examples of how to get the behaviors you want. Customers are presented with offers customized to past purchasing behavior, and once enrolled in Prime, members are automatically re-enrolled each year unless they opt out. They are presented with offers that require a decision: whether or not to pre-purchase a book, for example, that will be published in a few months or whether or not to sign up for automatic delivery of things such as toilet paper. Amazon shows customers free videos and also a selection of videos to rent or buy, all the while reminding customers of the free two-day shipping.

Recruiting can also take advantage of the power of behavior science in many ways, including reinforcing instinctive behaviors, incentivizing desired behavior, and by removing barriers to desired behavior. Here are a few techniques you can try.

Active Choice

We all experience active choice every day without realizing it. ATMs ask you decide to take a receipt or not, and word processing software asks if you want to save a document. The supermarket checkout asks whether you want to donate a dollar to a charity. And if not specifically asked, many of us would forego the receipts, not save a document, and not think to donate a dollar to a charity.

As every retail salesperson knows, encouraging people to act by offering something for a discount for a limited time can increase sales. Likewise, it may be smart to entice an interested person to apply quickly by making the opportunity available for a short time. Creating limits can get people to take action when otherwise they would not.

In recruiting, rather than cajole and urge people to come to a career site or hope a video is engaging, a popup might appear whenever someone looks at the company’s “About” page, or when they look for specific products or services. This popup will require them to choose whether to learn more about an opportunity or pass on it; in other words, involve them by having them make a decision. The goal is to find ways to get people to opt in to look at your career site or check out a job listing or choose not to. Forcing people to make a choice one way or another unlocks potential interest.


Another way to increase the flow of candidates is to let people sign up for a newsletter or periodic video or podcast about your firm’s product, services, or some related topic of interest. By getting people to sign up to receive something on a regular basis, you increase the number of times you can promote an opportunity without spamming them. This then becomes a vehicle for distributing information. You can encourage people to share the information and refer others to sign up. You can also incorporate an active choice element in these newsletters to drive interested people to a particular job ad or to more information about possible career choices.

Go Where Your Candidates Already Are

While mobile banner ads and cute videos spread across Facebook or YouTube may cause some potential candidates to take action, most will just tune them out. It is much better to find out where potential candidates are already spending time and place information there. For example, if someone comes to your corporate website for information on a product or service, a popup might appear that promotes a particular open position. If those you typically wish to hire are participating in a gaming channel, have an ad pop up there offering them a choice — perhaps a free game if they click on your job ad. The goal is to get people to take some action: make a choice, provide information, or click a button that leads to relevant information. Never just run a video or place an ad that has no call to action and no way to take action. The idea is to promote a behavior, not try to force engagement.

Reframe the Choices

The words you use are critical in initiating a behavior. How you frame a problem, what options you give, or how you prioritize the choices have an effect on what gets decided. Research shows making a small change in how you word a job ad can have a large impact on who applies. Women respond to different words than men; minority groups may be more inclined to choose ads presented in a different way than are non-minority groups.

Framing a choice in a way that generates the desired behavior is critical to getting the most people to do what you want. But doing this well requires research and testing different options. You need to analyze data and gain an understanding of what concepts and words your desired candidate responds to.

Reinforce Already Dominant Behaviors

If you are recruiting younger people for engineering, coding, or other technical positions, having a popup link to a short game might be an excellent way to get them to learn about an opening you have. Providing a potential coder with the opportunity to write a line of code to unlock information might be a way to get them to take action. Asking them to do something they already do, increases success. Asking an accountant to find the error in a spreadsheet, or asking a potential manager what they might do in a given situation will both increase responses and help screen out the uninterested.

These have been just a few examples of the potential for using behavior science to unlock hidden interests and trigger desired behavior. Using big data and analytics and focusing on learning more about your candidates and what makes them act will lead to many more qualified candidates than will a focus simply on candidate engagement.

This article is part of a series called Wake-up Call.
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