The Old Recruiting Lessons Don’t Apply to Mobile Phones

Dec 18, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

The average smartphone user in the U.S. now spends a little over two hours a day on mobile apps. That’s a number that’s starting to rival the amount of time people spend watching TV — about three hours on average (who are these people?). To state the obvious, mobile is where we’re headed, as web access through desktops declines. Recruiting will change as a result, but a failure to recognize how mobile platforms are different can mean a long and arduous journey marked by hard lessons.

Whenever something new comes along, the temptation is to stick with the familiar. Job boards became just an online version of the classifieds. When social networks started to emerge, a lot of companies created pages that duplicated their corporate web site. So it goes with mobile, where many think that all that’s needed is to shrink the desktop experience down to a 2.5-inch screen.

The way people (and candidates are people) behave when using a mobile device is revealing of what they expect. People have a preference for apps over mobile browsers — spending twice as much time on the former, mainly because even mobile-optimized sites tend to be cluttered.

The average person in the U.S. spends the majority of their time online on a mobile device for games, entertainment, news, etc. Highly interactive activities like social networking make up about 30%, or about 14 minutes a day, and those are done in two or more sessions, so the typical session is only about seven minutes. The tiny keyboards mean that text input is low compared to a desktop; most people can only manage about 20 words per minute on a phone, compared to more than double that on a standard keyboard.

What’s it all mean? On a mobile device people want to see limited information, devote a small amount of time, and have minimal input. So recruiting has to work within those parameters. Sending links to job postings and career sites and expecting detailed responses is a great way to lose candidates, but sending a message that’s crafted to the person’s interests is a great way to build engagement. Surveys show that mobile users are about 11 times more likely to click on an item of interest than if the same appeared in their email. That’s no surprise since most people are usually only engaged in a single activity on a mobile device, given the size of the screen, compared to a desktop where having multiple apps open is common.

Mobile Is Social

The mobile web is all about social networking — the amount of time spent on social networks is the fastest growing segment of mobile use. But much of that is time spent playing social games or reading updates from close friends, not having conversations. Don’t expect to reach candidates easily just because you have access to some product that can serve up job postings or leads. The most recent data from Nielsen shows that over 60% of people only connect with others on mobile devices if they know them in real life or have mutual friends. Trying to crash this party is a bad idea, but getting someone to bring you is a good one. Nielsen’s data also shows that about a quarter of people are likely to respond to an ad/job posting posted by one of their social network acquaintances.

A Mobile Strategy

Mobile devices are a gateway to building engagement with candidates. Given the limitations of size and how people use them, the best approach is to serve up content that’s relevant and narrowly tailored to a person’s interests. Just broadcasting jobs without any thought as to their relevance to the audience has little value. What ends up on a person’s screen should be just enough to tweak their interest. A mobile device is not a smaller version of the desktop.

In a few years mobile devices will be able to have expandable screens or project a large image, but I doubt that that’ll change people’s behavior. The key word here is “mobile.” Features that anchor a person to a place detract from that and are not likely to gain widespread adoption, no matter how well developed.

Mobile devices require recruiters to focus more on social networks in a social way. Much of what passes for social recruiting today is just serving up job ads on social media or searching for candidates in a manner no different than on a job board. Given the trend to spend more time on mobile apps, start actively thinking about a mobile strategy, but it’s a new world. The old lessons don’t apply.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.