Early Recruiting Steps Determine If Candidates Want to Work at Your Firm

Revelation! Did you know that two thirds (67 percent) of candidates decide on whether they would accept a job at a firm prior to their first interview? Recruiting leaders who have long treated all recruiting steps equally now need to rethink that approach.

Rethinking is required because we now know that the first two steps (the initial communication and the first meeting with the candidate) have a disproportionate impact on a candidate’s decision on whether they would or wouldn’t accept a position. Once a top candidate decides they wouldn’t accept an offer, they are likely to drop out of the hiring process. And unfortunately, because most firms don’t track the number of top candidates who drop out of their hiring process, most recruiting leaders will never know the many negative recruiting impacts and the tremendous costs resulting from poorly designed initial recruiting steps.

Candidates Make Surprisingly Early Decisions on a Firm

Many in recruiting mistakenly assume that candidates wait until the end of the hiring process until they decide whether they want to work at a particular firm. So you might be surprised to learn that powerful candidate research by Robert Half reveals that only 9 percent of candidates wait until their interviews are completed to make a job acceptance decision. And only 7 percent of candidates withhold their decision until the contract negotiation phase. That means that 74 percent of candidates make “I do / I don’t want this position” decision by the time that five minutes have elapsed during their first interview. Below are some amazing data points covering early candidate decision-making.

  • 20 percent of prospects know if they are interested in the first communication with the recruiter.
  • 47 percent of candidates decide whether they would accept a position straight after their initial meeting with a representative of the firm.
  • 7 percent of the still undecided candidates decide within the first five minutes of the initial interview.
  • 9 percent of the remaining candidates decide after they have completed subsequent interviews.
  • 7 percent decide during the contract negotiation phase.

Focus on Early Candidate Impressions if You Want Them to Remain in Your Hiring Process

Historically, most firms have emphasized the “selling stage” at the end of the recruiting process. However, based on the above compelling data, equal emphasis on selling should be placed at the beginning. Recruiting leaders must now realize that if they don’t excite candidates early on, they will simply drop out of a firm’s hiring process. So, if you know or suspect that your firm is experiencing a high dropout rate of top candidates, here are some action steps that you should consider.

  • Educate hiring managers and recruiters on the impacts of the initial recruiting steps — Recruiters and hiring managers traditionally focus their selling efforts toward the end of the hiring process. Before you can get them to change, you need to convince them of the high importance of these early steps. However, because economic costs are so important to hiring managers, recruiting leaders should also work with the CFO’s office to calculate the tremendous cost of losing these valuable individuals for preventable reasons. Once hiring managers learn the economic costs of early dropouts, their behavior changes quickly.
  • Use data to craft your initial communications — because 20 percent of applicants determine their future interest based on the initial contact with the firm. So rather than allowing recruiters to use their intuition, they must be provided with templates and data that explains what must be in the initial communications to excite potential applicants. Firms must also educate recruiters on the factors in initial communications that potentially turn off applicants (like spamming prospects, generic messaging, and not focusing on prospect interests and needs).
  • Apply data to the design of the initial meeting — Almost half decide whether they will accept a job based on their initial meeting with representatives of the firm. So rather than the current ad-hoc approach, data must also be applied to the design of this first meeting. Recruiting leaders must ensure that this initial meeting covers the key factors that have been proven to excite candidates during this phase. That includes determining whether the most successful initial meetings should be on the phone or in person when it should be held, who should attend, and the content of that meeting.
  • Focus on the first five minutes of the interview — because 7 percent of the remaining candidates make a job acceptance decision during the first five minutes of the interview. In the first five minutes, include compelling “selling factors” that excite and no deal-breaking turnoffs. Postponing the selling aspect until the end of the interview is a huge mistake.
  • Gather data revealing your firm’s early impression factors — rather than relying exclusively on the Robert Half data, implement a candidate research process for formally surveying your own applicants and candidates. Find out when and why candidates decide on whether they would or wouldn’t accept a position.
  • Find out why all top candidates drop out — in addition to identifying impression factors that impact average candidates during the early stages, identify the number of the coveted top candidates who are dropping out. I call this important recruiting metric, “the quality of those not hired.” For each top candidate who drops out, recruiting must determine which step they were lost and whether they were lost because of messaging content, hiring speed, or a process that is not candidate centric.
  • Implement metrics covering every step of recruiting — after implementing your action steps for the initial stages, develop performance metrics that allow you to continually improve your results at every stage of your hiring process.

Final Thoughts

I estimate the quality of hire at a firm goes down by up to 10 percent whenever a firm loses a top candidate prior to the hiring process being completed. Unfortunately, those high costs usually go unnoticed because few firms track top candidate dropouts. And even fewer collect data to determine at which step or steps that most top candidates drop out because they have decided they wouldn’t accept a position even if offered.

To make matters worse, almost all firms routinely fail to identify the factors that cause a candidate to decide that they would accept a position. To me, this omission is illogical because literally, every business function identifies the failure points in its processes. In my view, every recruiting function needs to begin to determine at which stage of the recruiting funnel candidates are dropping out, or alternatively, whether the firm inaccurately screening out top candidates. Once a firm determines these pain points in the funnel, recruiting leaders need to come up with solutions that end these preventable losses proactively.

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Dr. John Sullivan

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.