The Future of Career Sites

The corporate career site has now been with us for 20 years. In that time technology has advanced at a blistering pace, mobile devices and social media have revolutionized the way we experience the Internet, and many employers have significantly changed the way they think about recruitment and employer branding. Despite this, career sites have changed very little in the same time period, design trends have moved on, and thankfully flash websites are a thing of the past. But the functionality and user experience of the vast majority of career sites has remained unchanged for two decades.

The lack of focus and urgency that many employers have toward their career sites would seem to indicate that they are somehow no longer relevant, especially during a time where other aspects of recruitment marketing are transforming in line with technological advancement and audience communication preferences. However, the corporate career site is still a vital component of talent acquisition strategy and is likely to play an even more significant part of the future. Below, I’ll describe the challenges talent-acquisition departments face and where I think career sites should be headed.

The Need to Evolve

Long-term skill shortages, low unemployment, uncertainty around immigration, and the challenges created by digital transformation mean that an ever-growing number of employers are finding it difficult to attract the talent they need to their business. In such a candidate-driven market companies must offer a compelling and persuasive case to convince the best people to join them. But changing candidate expectations mean that traditional recruitment marketing methods are not always delivering.

In order to meet the expectations of their target audience and convince talent to join their organizations, there are a number of challenges that employers now need to overcome. Firstly, they need to get attention. We live in an age of digital noise and distraction, and with fewer people actively looking for jobs, employers have to find innovative ways of targeting the right audiences in the right way to get their message heard.

If they do manage to get the attention of the right talent, the next challenge is to convert that attention into interest and action. Not only does the employer have to be persuasive, but as an additional challenge, they also need to offer a compelling experience which encourages the user to learn more and nudges them take action via an application or other expression of interest. The rise of the mobile Internet has driven an enormous increase in expectations. Users expect a seamless experience whether they are using a desktop, a tablet, or a smart phone.

With employers crying out for the right talent, it is perhaps inevitable that we are currently seeing a boom in the development of recruitment-technology solutions. Disruptive technology trends such as machine learning and programmatic advertising are being brought into the recruitment industry to drive better targeting and matching. At the same time, digital marketing demand generation and nurturing methodologies are being adopted to power talent acquisition funnels and deliver pipelines of talent.

In this climate of innovation, it seems crazy that career sites and the technology that sits behind them are being largely ignored. Websites driven by e-commerce technology platforms are at the core of digital marketing strategies in other industries and the convince-and-convert parallels to recruitment should make adopting this approach for career sites an absolute no-brainer.

No attempt to make recruitment marketing more sophisticated will ever work if career sites don’t evolve. They continue to play a critical role in talent attraction. Unless employers give them more focus their recruitment marketing efforts will never develop to the level of effectiveness needed in today’s hyper-competitive talent markets.

Challenges

Let’s look at specific problems with career sites, the root causes of these issues, and why more employers haven’t solved them.

Outdated thinking

Digital recruitment marketing evolved by replicating the norms of newspaper classified advertising, and 20 years later this legacy is causing problems. Newspaper classifieds only target people who are actively looking for what is being advertised, and the binary nature of this classified advertising mindset does not serve the fragmented nature of current talent markets well.

Unfortunately, many employers are still exhibiting classified advertising thinking and are marketing to ever-smaller active audiences of job seekers, rather than nurturing the more passive talent they actually need. This means that many career sites have been designed to provide additional information to a captive audience rather than focusing on persuasion and conversion. There is also a perception that career sites are just another one of many marketing channels (they are often included in “source of hire” lists alongside channels like social media and job boards) rather than the hub of the entire recruitment marketing process. These are some of the key reasons career sites don’t get the time, budget, or attention that they need to be effective.

Special projects

Career sites have also historically been developed by advertising agencies as one-off creative projects rather than the continually optimized conversion systems they need to be. This means career sites are seen by many employers as a special project that only needs to happen every three to five years. Very often these projects involve multiple stakeholders from within the business and consequently suffer negatively from the inevitable compromises that happen to satisfy differing needs and objectives.

The result is that career sites tend to be overly corporate and unengaging, fail to sell or persuade, and do not communicate the employer brand in the way they need to. There also isn’t the agility to keep up with the rapid pace of change most employers are experiencing. Because of this, career sites tend to be universally disliked not just by candidates but very often the recruitment teams within the companies they represent!

ATS scope creep

This focus on creativity and the legacy of the classified advertising mindset also mean that the technology needed to power career sites has received very little focus. The scope of ATS software has grown to fill the gap. This is extremely problematic as applicant tracking systems are software that has been designed to focus on processing applications that have already happened, as opposed to nurturing, persuading, and converting talent to apply in the first place. Rather than just powering the recruitment process, these systems are also forced to provide a candidate-facing interface for career sites. These interfaces are not considered core functionality by the ATS providers and are nearly always badly designed and poorly integrated.

Mobile last

Finally, while many do have a mobile-friendly front end, career sites are nearly always designed desktop first, and their application processes can be incredibly frustrating for the predominantly mobile-first audience that uses them. The consequence of the poor candidate experience is an abysmal conversion rate. This means millions of pounds is being spent on various forms of recruitment advertising to drive traffic into a broken conversion funnel. Ironically, most career sites offer an inadequate level of data and analytics, making it difficult for employers to understand the damage that is being done to their talent acquisition funnels..

Not Too Happy

The problematic nature of career sites and employer’s dissatisfaction which them is certainly something that was reflected in the results of recent research which sampled the views of 150 employers on career site effectiveness.

Only 10 percent of respondents were completely happy that their career site was supporting them in achieving their talent acquisition goals. Forty-one percent were still needing some improvement, and 49 percent have a long way to go to get the results they need.

Interestingly, it does seem that many companies are finally moving away from the three-to-five year career site life cycle.

With 43 percent of respondents having updated their career site in the last year and 53 percent planning to update next year, we are finally starting the see a level of focus and urgency. However, there is still a long way to go, with 52 percent of respondents having not updated their sites for two years or more and 29 percent of respondents not planning to do anything to develop their career sites in the next 12 months.

The survey also illustrates the problem with ATS / career site integration.

Fifty-four percent of respondents are still not satisfied that their ATS integration is offering a seamless candidate journey. There is some progress, with 46 percent being satisfied to varying degrees, but this improvement is horribly slow in coming, with ATS providers having now had the best part of 20 years to get things right. It is also worth noting that the candidates often have a much higher bar as to what makes a seamless candidate journey than employers do!

The Rise of Career Site Platforms

It is inevitable that to solve their talent problems, employers will be forced to adopt an ever more sophisticated digital marketing mindset. Recruitment marketing strategies will be built around the actual behavior of digital audiences, rather than assumed behaviours derived from legacy thinking. In order for these strategies to succeed, career sites will have to become the epicentre of talent attraction, operating as e-commerce style platforms to persuade and convert in order to deliver relevant quality applications into the ATS.

In order to facilitate this, a radical rethink of career sites needs to take place. It is great to see that this revolution is already being driven by those employers and suppliers who operate at the cutting edge of recruiting innovation.

Employer branding, persuasive content, and effective engagement are still crucial, but career sites need be underpinned by a robust technology platform to offer the level of effectiveness and flexibility employers need. This technology platform needs to fit the purpose, as it is clear that the 20-year experiment of stretching ATS technology to power career sites hasn’t worked.

This is what the current model looks like:

We can clearly see how this differs from current e-commerce models

In the e-commerce model, the software powering persuasion and conversion is separated from the system that fulfils the actual order itself. In the recruitment model, the ATS is expected to run the recruitment process as well as providing a jobs search engine and candidate application interface for the career website. At the same time, as previously discussed, the front end of the site is often seen as just another marketing channel rather than the hub of the marketing strategy.

A growing number of employers are using a different model to maximize talent acquisition effectiveness.

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This emerging model mirrors the e-commerce model, with a separate specialist career site platform powering the front end of the website, the job search engine, and providing a candidate-friendly application process which passes the completed data over to the ATS via API integration.

There are already a number of clear benefits to adopting a career site platform and, as these systems develop further, I would expect to see them offering even more value to employers in the future. Here are the key advantages employers should expect to gain from their investment in a career site platform:

Flexibility and agility

Providers in this career site platform space are constantly innovating their products to keep up with current trends and technologies. Adopting a software as service approach to career sites finally moves employers away from the two-to-three year site lifecycle and allows them to move quickly and effectively as recruiting objectives change.

Optimization and conversion

Ultimately the success of a career site is predicated on its ability to convert traffic into quality applications. Content and conversion optimization are incredibly important in driving this success and speed is the key issue. Traditional career sites typically don’t have the reporting and testing tools to deliver in this area, and this is a gap that career site platforms will fill.

Personalization

The days when employers could get away with using a single unified message for all of their recruitment communications are over. Personalization should sit at the centre of every talent acquisition strategy both in terms of messaging and in terms of user experience. Using technology to personalize content and user experience is already a key feature of the best career site platforms, and I would expect to see this grow in sophistication over there coming months and years.

Omni-channel recruiting

Not only do employers need to deliver a high degree of personalization, they need to do this on every platform and channel that their target audience wishes to use. Providing effective multichannel experiences should be in the DNA of every career site platform, and genuine omni-channel recruiting should be a clear future objective.

Data and analytics

Data and analytics are becoming an ever more critical part of effective talent acquisition. Sophisticated recruitment marketing needs data to drive its understanding of the behavior of specific segments of users, and this is something the traditional career site set up has never be able to provide. Effective analytics also provide the ROI transparency that makes continued investment in a career site easier to justify. Career site platforms are data driven by design, and should be ready willing and able to deal with the increasing demand for ever-more-sophisticated analytics we can expect to see from employers in this area in the future.

A Preview of the Future

Employers are facing increasing challenges finding the right talent in today’s complex market, and correspondingly interest and investment in recruitment technology is on the increase. Career sites should be sitting at the centre of this emerging talent technology stack, but they are evolving to slowly. A shift in both mindset and technology strategy is needed to solve the problem, but these are never easy things to achieve. However there are some forward-thinking companies that have already made these changes and are reaping the benefits. (Like Atkins, which has seen a dramatic improvement to its Google ranking and a 50 percent increase in applications. It basically made its jobs more visible to Google by using a careers website platform to create individual pages for each job rather than redirecting users to the ATS. Vodafone used the same technology to get control of its application process and make it frictionless and extremely user-friendly).

These kinds of results represent a genuine step change in career site effectiveness and illustrate the huge pay-back that is achievable from a strategic rethink in this area. The benefits are clear, and the employers who are prepared to embrace change and invest the right resources into their career sites will have a considerable competitive advantage in the future.

Matt Alder

Matt Alder is a strategic consultant focusing on all aspects of HR technology, recruitment marketing, and employer branding. He is a globally recogniszd talent acquisition thought leader with 20 years’ experience working with FTSE and Fortune 100 companies. He hosts the Recruiting Future podcast (www.rfpodcast.com) and is co-author of the book "Exceptional Talent" published by Kogan Page in 2017.