Need to Recruit More Applicants? Offer Them a Product Discount

Many search for jobs because they seek more buying power, so why not offer qualified applicants a product discount to meet that interest? Yes, when you’re struggling to acquire talent in these low-unemployment times, application incentives can be a key motivator and differentiator. And for recruiting leaders who are trying to be more strategic, this approach has the added advantage of increasing the business impact of the recruiting function by bringing in more customers. If you are worried about increased costs, well-designed product/service discount application incentive will likely, over time, bring in enough sales revenue to more than offset any initial costs from the discount.

Example — Illustrating the Impacts of a Product Discount Application Incentive

The firm that best illustrates the power of applicant incentives is a large Midwestern bank and its program implemented more than a decade ago set the standard that is still valid today. Job applicants who were rejected at the bank were given a $25 gift certificate that could only be applied to the newly opened checking/savings account. The firm called it “The Regrets Program” because it softened the blow for all rejected candidates so that they wouldn’t hold a grudge. However, in this case, all local candidates are either current or potential customers. Offering them this simple incentive made this program the most successful customer attraction programs at the bank. Applicants who went through interviews who were not hired were offered the added incentive of free movie tickets in order to thank them for their additional time investment.

Why a Product or Service Discount for Applicants Is Effective

If you’re not a bank, the most feasible application incentive for firms with retail customers is the product discount. There are many reasons why it is so cheap and effective. They include:

  • Providing any upfront value is a differentiator — few firms provide any form of incentive for applicants. So, a product or service discount offered to qualified candidates will make your firm stand out.
  • More buying power is a key applicant attraction factor — typically, most jobseekers cite the need for more money as a primary reason for seeking a new job. The product discount falls into that category. But as opposed to cash, it provides them with more purchasing power. My research also reveals that gaining a permanent employee discount is a primary attraction factor for many who work in retail. Emphasize the permanent-employee discount in your recruitment marketing.
  • Showing you appreciate their time builds your brand image — offering such a unique feature is certain to gather the attention of most potential applicants. The fact that your firm is offering even a small reward for an applicant’s investment of their time shows that a firm is both appreciative and sensitive to the needs of others. That might lead to higher offer acceptance rates because applicants assume that if they become an employee, they will continue to be treated with respect. Demonstrating that they respect people’s time may also help build product sales.
  • The business impacts may begin immediately — if you offer the product discount immediately in electronic form (after determining an applicant is qualified), the applicant may begin using their discount immediately. If they are a first-time customer, the applicant’s experience buying from your firm may further reinforce their interest in working at your firm.
  • The business impacts may last a long time — even if you only offer a one-time product discount, the business impacts of increased sales may continue for a long time if the applicant’s initial customer experience is positive and they remain a customer for years.
  • Costs can be minimized — if your firm’s margins are low, start off with a low discount percentage and raise it until it becomes optimal. But in my experience, aiming for the same percentage discount that you give to your employees (e., 20 to 25 percent) is the ideal target. The discount can also be in the form of a single-use discount, or for a time period as long as one month. To save company costs, you can also offer the discount exclusively to candidates who qualify for an interview or only to the handful granted final interviews.
  • There are no tax implications — as a general rule, offering product discounts have no tax implications for either the firm or the applicant.
  • Treating customers poorly during recruiting costs millions — in the retail environment, as many as 18 percent of your applicants may also be your current customers. Research by Graeme Johnson found that up to 15 percent of these rejected “applicants/ customers” dropped the firm’s product almost immediately (within one month). This cost one firm over $5 million and another nearly $12 million in lost revenue in a single year. Giving applicants who are also customers a product discount and treating them special may together help to maintain their customer loyalty.

Some Related Options

In addition to product discounts, you can also offer sample products, free movie tickets, Starbucks coffee cards, and small gift certificates to cover transportation costs. A complete list of application, interview, and offer-related incentives can be found in my previous wider-scoped article entitled “Incentives To Attract Interviewees.”

Final Thoughts

I’ve always said that recruiting is simply a form of marketing with a crummy budget. And in this case, recruiting can learn a lot from marketing, where it is quite common to give incentives to potential customers to change the way that they act. The same principle works in recruiting where incenting applicants to apply by offering something that cost little to you may provide high value to them. The ROI of a product discount for applicants is extremely high, and the risks are extremely low. Any questions?

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Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, follow or connect with me on LinkedIn, subscribe to the ERE Daily, and hear me and others speak at ERE’s April event in San Diego on “recruiting in a candidate-driven market.”

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," 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 and on He lives in Pacifica, California.