Traditional Advertising Metrics: Why They Don’t Work for Recruiting

It seems like all we hear about these days are metrics. Advances in ad hoc reporting have given us applicant tracking systems that can now tell us how many candidates in our database are Hispanic, left-handed, or even chew spearmint gum. But there’s something really, really important that we’re missing: reliable, relevant return on investment data on our advertising. The unique challenges presented by recruiting are beyond what traditional advertising metrics can ever hope to measure. Traditional Advertising Metrics in Consumer Advertising In consumer advertising, metrics play a very important part of the media buying process. Due to the nature of consumer advertising, these metrics seek to measure much different things than recruiting metrics would. For instance, a traditional consumer or B-to-B marketer usually seeks to measure:

  • Impressions: The number of individuals who were exposed to your advertisement.
  • Frequency: The number of times you reached each individual who saw your ad.
  • Clickthroughs: The number of individuals who clicked on the banner or sponsorship.
  • Post-impression visitors: The number of individuals who saw your banner and visited your website at a later time, often as much as 90 days later.
  • Website traffic in unique visitors: Increases in word-of-mouth usually occur after a campaign launches, which drives up traffic.
  • Sales: Such as number of purchases, amounts of these purchases, and the amount of money generated tied to each media.

The Qualitative Nature of Recruitment Advertising The qualitative nature of recruitment advertising ó i.e., the fact that you only want your advertising messages to reach certain very targeted individuals ó throws a lot of the meaning of traditional advertising statistics out the window. Using traditional advertising tracking tools usually leads you to measure the number of applications in comparison with the cost for each media. This gives you a “cost per application.” The application is similar to an online purchase in a lot of ways. Information is transmitted from your “customer” ó the applicant ó to you using an online form. Both are easily traceable and tied to media. But the job of recruiting does not end at the point of application; in fact, it has only just begun. It is no one’s objective in recruitment advertising to generate a lot of applications. You want to generate applications that are qualified and that ultimately lead to good hires. If you advertise for your CFO opening on, I’m certain you’ll get a lot of applicants, but I’m equally certain they won’t be the kind you want. Tracking Source Effectiveness Today How do we track source effectiveness today? Not very well. Many of us rely on our applicant tracking systems to tell us this, taking the system-generated cost-per-hire by media report as gospel. One only has to look at the way information is collected to judge how accurate this data is. On many online applications, applicants are asked to choose from a drop-down list of up to 100 possible sources, often with confusing references to where they came from. Applicants are required to know exactly where they first saw your advertisement, and can only select one option even if they saw your ad in multiple places. The old adage “garbage in, garbage out” definitely applies here. As return on investment measurement tools, applicant tracking systems have a long way to go. Tracking Source Effectiveness Tomorrow In a brand-driven campaign, a consumer or B-to-B marketer might measure things like:

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  • Awareness and perceptions of those who saw the ad compared to those that didn’t: Usually with questions such as “name companies with X product” and “do you think Company X is cutting edge?” posed to both exposed and non-exposed groups.
  • Brand salience: Is the company or its products top of mind?
  • Brand lift: What was the net gain from the advertising campaign in terms of raising awareness and improving perceptions?
  • Intent to purchase: Does the target audience plan to buy Company X’s products?

Forward-thinking and brand-driven recruitment marketing teams should have a keen interest in many of these statistics as they relate to their employment brands. Measurements such as these will surely increase in the future. But in this instant-gratification, justify-your-existence-now age, we have to be able to track advertising directly to hires. For those companies, applicant tracking systems, and media that are willing to take the lead, it is now possible to tie the following statistics directly to online media and even job postings:

  • Resumes passed on to hiring managers
  • Candidates interviewed
  • Offers and hires made
  • Demographics and diversity of the hires made
  • Position level of those hired

A qualitative discipline like recruiting deserves qualitative measurements. Tying these more meaningful statistics to media can give us a much better picture of whether your advertising is working and result in less guesswork in putting together effective online and offline media campaigns. Taking a look even further down the road, tying performance (i.e. the quality of the hire) to different sources will not only be possible, but be the standard.

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (, a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.