The Boy Who Cried Wolf Is a Lesson for Those in HR Who Are Fixated on Mobile

Jun 3, 2015

watch and phoneWolves are wonderful, majestic animals that play a key role in the food chain. Yet they’re also dangerous creatures that, if ignored, will quite literally eat your lunch. For those of us in the recruiting community, is the horrible experience inflicted upon candidates using smart phones and tablets all that different?

My friend, Chris Forman of Appcast, recently wrote a compelling article for ERE in which he eloquently made the case for employers large and small to pay attention to and fix their shortcomings in the increasingly important area of mobile job searching. “For every 100 candidates who click through from a job advertisement to a recruitment portal on a desktop device, an average of eight will complete a job application. For mobile click-throughs, the completion figure is just 1.5 percent.”

In other words, employers need to drive to their career sites almost six times as many qualified candidates who are using mobile devices as those using desktop or laptop computers. If you think that your recruitment media costs were excessive last year, try multiplying those by six just to stay even. Ouch.

Yet for all of the sound advice in the article, Chris repeated a statistic that I’ve heard made many times and which I wish would disappear.

The statistic that keeps getting repeated is that half of job seekers use a mobile device to search and apply to jobs. Now I have no doubt that statistic is true, but I also have no doubt that it is unnecessarily alarmist and misleading. Many will infer that the statistic means that half of job searches and applications are made via mobile devices. Those many would be quite wrong. All the statistic really means is that about half of job seekers use a mobile device at least occasionally when searching or applying to jobs. So is there a wolf? Sure. But it is about to eat your lunch? No.

So what’s the reality for large and small employers both within the U.S. and elsewhere? I’ve had a number of conversations about this issue with David Bernstein, the vice president of big data for HR in the Data & Analytics division of eQuest, someone in the unusual position of being able to see the wolf and also being able to ascertain just how dangerous that wolf may be. Data gathered by eQuest over the last 18 months across thousands of employers, in thousands of cities worldwide, across thousands of jobs, and from millions of candidates shows that, at most, 20 to 30 percent of job searches are made using mobile devices. Furthermore, as one might expect, the actual percentage is far less for employers in countries like the U.S. which are less mobile friendly than in lesser-developed countries which see a far higher percentage of Internet traffic originate from mobile devices.

Interestingly, Appcast and eQuest both see huge disparities between the percentage of candidates who complete an application based upon the device they’re using. As indicated above, for every 100 clicks from those on desktop/laptop computers to an application page, Appcast sees about eight applies while eQuest sees about 16 applies. From those on mobile devices, Appcast sees about 1.5 applies while eQuest sees about four applies. Why do the absolute numbers vary even though the percentage drop-offs are similar? That isn’t clear to me, but I suspect that has more to do with difference in the make-up of the two client bases.

Whether one favors the message or data put forth by the good folks at Appcast or those at eQuest, a couple of things are clear to me.

First, the vast majority of employers are losing far too many highly qualified candidates because the mobile apply process for almost all employers simply stinks. Second, we need to stop looking at our application processes as necessary, and forcing all candidates to comply. We may be square holes, but that doesn’t mean that we should tell a great candidate to go away simply because she’s a round peg.

“In the early days of the Internet, the online connection between a recruiter and a candidate was limited to a desktop or laptop computer,” according to David. “Today, by studying the data, we see that candidates are engaging in job search activities through a myriad number of browser-enabled devices — with smart phones and tablets just beginning to gain popularity. We still see the majority of candidates searching and responding to jobs via the more traditional desktop/laptop devices. The data is also telling us that mobile is just the beginning of things to come as we are already seeing job searches happening from game consoles and Web TVs.”

As an industry we preach diversity yet some of us seem to strive to require conformity by forcing all candidates to all jobs in all industries into applying via forms which exclude the significant and growing minority of candidates who prefer or who only have access to mobile, game console, Web TV’s, and other non-traditional devices.

To be clear, regardless of the market and industry, mobile is important. But so are other methods of engagement favored or even required by an increasingly large number of candidates. Recruiters can attempt to fight against each of these by building fences that keep at bay some threats but fail to address others. I believe, and I suspect that Chris and David do as well, that recruiters who will thrive will be those who embrace the majestic opportunities these non-traditional connection methods present to those who are ready, willing, and able to engage not just with diverse candidates but also with candidates who want to engage using a diversity of devices.