I’ll Tell You What They Want

I’ll Tell You What They Want

What they really, really want.

Since its inception, LinkedIn has been the place to go if you want an opinion on the world of job seeking, recruiting, and recruiters. These days it’s really hard to casually scroll through your feed without someone voicing their frustrations about the industry or the process.

I don’t know if it’s me, but there definitely seems to be have been an increase in the volume of vitriol in recent months though. Now it’s an emotional thing, getting a job, most of us rely on earned income to pay the bills, so no wonder we attach so much to it. It’s really easy to lose sight of this as a recruiter and easy to see people as just names on a resume, almost commodities.

Could it be this combination of emotion and perceived commoditisation that fuels this ill will to not just recruiters but also the process of getting a job? Whilst thinking about this and the broader issues of job applicant behaviour, I wanted to understand a bit more about the things that influence our decisions when it comes to applying for jobs and what the expectations of the market are of the process.

Maybe if we could better understand what people want, we could make some changes? Firstly, a big thank you to the 190 people who took the time to complete the simple survey that I ran and particularly to Alan Walker @Chat Talent for promoting it to his network in the UK. So while it’s not a huge sample set, I get the feeling that a larger sample would return very similar results.

I asked what I thought were nine relatively macro-level questions about applying for a job and the subsequent process. I tried to put some logical flow into them, and whilst I’m clearly not a professional researcher, here’s what I came up with. These are the questions I asked, the numbers that came back, and what I make of it.

“Delivered with empathy and insight, feedback is an absolute gift”

Does the depth of info in an ad more likely to make you apply?

75% said yes it did which might seem obvious, however people do apply to multiple roles. So I wondered, do they form their own opinion of a job despite the content of an ad and apply anyway? Or do they have relatively little faith in the process and just apply for a few and hope for the best?For an advertiser, it would seem worthwhile then to make your job sound more compelling; so why do so few people do it?

Position descriptions and job ads are two different things entirely. When you think about it, it seems like common sense. Agency experience tells me that time on a phone or hitting a KPI is seen as more productive than giving thought to a well-written advert in most offices. However, I’d suggest a lack of truly appreciating the medium or the art of selling lies at the heart of the issue. Same goes for a lot of internal functions, who are, or should be armed with all the knowledge.

Does a video accompanying an ad make you more likely to apply?

In all honesty I expected a higher positive response than the 64% who said yes. I purposefully included the phrase “….talking about the job itself as well as the culture, and that resonated with you” to see if that influenced the response.

Again, respondents suggested that it does impact their decisions to apply, so why wouldn’t more people do it? Lack of confidence, lack of time or resources? Or the fact that we’re just lazy and prefer to stick to what we always do?When I look at these two questions and responses, it seems that there’s some relatively simple things that recruiters in both agency and internal functions can give some thought to.

Maybe the first is to find some time or resources to improve the quality of their advertising. Something like Mitch Sullivans courses would be a great start. So, onto the applicant themselves, what do they do and what do they expect through the process?

Turns out that if you’re advertising, everyone’s checking you out.

What other research do you do on a company, before applying?

I provided some options here and had an idea of what the responses to this one might look like. I didn’t however expect that 99% of applicants are also looking at your website/careers page and making some decisions on whether they apply or not. This was way higher that I expected.

If you’re not tracking visitors to your careers page, then you don’t know how many potentially outstanding applicants you’re missing out on. If there’s little congruence between the detail in your ads and the content or feel of your site, then again you’re probably letting opportunities slip by.

If for example, your ads are stating that you’re a market-leading, contemporary business with cutting edge people and technology and your site was last updated 5 years ago, then there’s a clear mismatch in what you say and do. 72% of potential applicants are looking at your Glassdoor reviews – if like past clients I’ve spoken to, you don’t know what this is, then please stop reading this and go check it out.

For those employers/HR managers who snub their noses; you need to understand that your opinion doesn’t count, the opinion of your potential applicants does. A whopping 70% are looking at the social profiles of your people.

I could have got deeper but it’s a rabbit hole I didn’t care to go down at the time, maybe I should have? But, I don’t know-how as an employer you manage this to minimise any potential negative impact. A “meet the team” component within your careers page is worth considering, but remember that it needs to be up to date. 47% indicated that if you make them available, they are looking at your financials.

If you’re publicly listed then you have reporting obligations, and the more mature one’s I’ve recruited for in the past have ensured that their recruiting/HR teams are well equipped to respond to questions around financial performance, particularly during challenging times

When you apply, do you tailor a resume to the job ad and send a cover letter specific to that role?

47% said that they always tailor a resume to a specific role. If you’re between jobs and applying to multiple roles then you could see that number dropping off. However, you’d expect someone to tailor a resume if they were applying to a lower volume of roles I guess.42% said they never tailor a resume, which if they’d had a poor response to their applications, you could maybe understand, “I never get a call back, so why bother?”, you could also argue that trying something different is worth considering.

Cover letters always seem to divide opinion with both recruiters and job seekers. Personally, I like it when someone goes to the trouble of touching on some of the specifics of an ad in a cover letter, but if it’s become a shortened version of their resume, I just roll my eyes and wonder why they bothered. 52% of respondents said they always tailor a cover letter, with 29% saying they never do. Again I wonder how many people at the other end read them, or if they disappear into an ATS black-hole, never to be seen or read again? Onto interviews and feedback….

How soon after applying for a role is a reasonable amount of time to expect a response, other than an auto-generated email?

It turns out we’re actually pretty reasonable in our expectations around feedback, with 54% of us thinking that feedback within a week maximum is acceptable, and 40% thinking that “a few days” is realistic. We’re talking about feedback other than the “Thank you for your application……” email here, and I’d have to agree. Anywhere between a couple of days and a week is probably about right. The 3% who expected feedback the next day “without fail” might be stretching the boundaries of what’s possible, and they may be constantly disappointed.

Some people prefer dealing directly with the employer, some would rather go through an agency – what’s your preference?

When it comes to the part when applicants get to talk to someone about the role itself, it turns out that 52% don’t really care who it is, as long as that person has some influence on the outcome. 2% said they’d rather deal with an agency recruiter, and 12% saying they’d rather deal with the internal recruiter. What does this really mean?

That they see recruiters as potential blockers to the process? I guess we are in a way, or filters for the decision-maker? No hiring manager or client I’ve ever worked with has wanted to personally speak to every single applicant. Clearly, they’ll speak with a shortlist, but to make it on to that shortlist, I’d refer you back to the tailored resume and cover letter question. The dreaded interview….

Thinking about interviews

Thinking about interviews you’ve been to in the past, has/have your interviewer/s been generally well prepared and, do those discussions seem more like a box-ticking exercise or a chance to really understand you and your capabilities?

Interviews also seem to garner a whole heap of LinkedIn’s attention. I’ve lost count of how many “5 tips to ace that interview” or “10 interview secrets you need to know today” articles I’ve seen in my various social feeds.Some of us are comfortable with interviewing, some of us visibly start to crumble as soon as the word gets uttered out loud. Interestingly, the majority of my clients aren’t overly enamoured with it either.It seems to be a necessary evil that no-one really likes.

That being said, 33% of respondents said that the offers they’d accepted resulted from interviews that were engaged dialogue as opposed to the box-ticking exercise that 25% felt like they were. 23% felt that on the whole, most interviews seemed to be well prepared, with 18% feeling that they were little more than cold, fact-finding missions. I guess there’d be major differences from sector to sector, but on the whole, we could probably get better at them. Like the ad writing issue, they need time, thought and preparation for both parties to get something from them.

How soon after an interview is a reasonable time frame for feedback?

Post-interview, the majority of us probably go through a range of emotions, from picturing what the first week will look like, because we did in fact ace it; to hoping we don’t come across like a bumbling fool at the next one as we did at the one we just attended.

However, 66% of us think that a couple of days is sufficient agony to go through before we hear back from someone. 21% think a week maximum is sufficient suffering, whilst a measly 2.25% don’t want to hear from you unless it’s good news.

Don’t you dare call back with your humiliation all ready to go! And finally, 10% of us can only sweat it out for 24 hrs, so please put those ones out of their misery. We value the context above all else.

How should that feedback be delivered?

Be it via phone, in-person, or by email, we really don’t care as long as that feedback has some detail and meaning that we can process. So if this is really the case, why do recruiters get so much bad press? The reality is that they don’t like delivering bad news.

This is ironic because it’s about 90% of the dialogue that a recruiter has on the candidate side. Mastering the delivery of this is a key skill all recruiters need to learn, but not one agency I know of teaches. Being able to deliver this with empathy, absolutely sets one recruiter apart from the next.

So what does this all mean?

Well, for a start it highlights that as applicants and job seekers, we’re actually quite realistic in our expectations. It means that employers and agencies need to realise that job seekers are leveraging all the publicly available information they can to help inform their decision making.

This means we all need to get better at the way we present our businesses to the job market, and that given the number of options open to candidates, this needs to be a dedicated job for someone.

It means that if they’re doing their research, applicants are well armed with information. A well-written resume and cover letter should be helping their application. It means that people are comfortable with waiting for feedback, and it also means that the people who are dealing directly with the market need to deliver context with this feedback.

This in turn means they need to build a mechanism to deliver this feedback. Delivered with empathy and insight, feedback is an absolute gift.

Ultimately it means that there’s hope for us all yet, we have reasonable expectations and actually don’t expect anything overly onerous. I’m confident that delivering better experiences for everyone is achievable if we all take just a bit of time and focus to get better at a few things.

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