Every day thousands of professionals take the time to apply to a job opportunity online. The vast majority never receive a personal response, only an automated email confirming the application.
My impression is that, whether you apply to a company directly, a contingency agency, or an executive search firm, the experience is fairly similar. Having said that, my expertise is predominantly limited to search firms, so hopefully this entry will shed some light on what I have learned and why things are the way they are in executive search.
Professionally speaking, the turn of the century was a wondrous time for me. As a recruiter in a mid-size search firm, I had just earned (i.e. been the only one interested in) the opportunity to take over all of our e-recruitment activities, as long as it didn’t take away from my ACTUAL job of making calls.
Bear in mind, the concept of using the Internet to apply for a job was still in its infancy. Databases were used sporadically and industry titans were still saying things like “this will always be a paper industry”. Locked desk drawers were teeming with hidden resumes.
The whole world was just starting to change, and I was getting paid to break new ground without being burdened by the shackles of knowledge or historical precedent. Soon, we were assured, the technological advances of the online application would wipe out our whole industry. In the meantime, I got to be on the Internet while I was at work. That made me pretty cool.
I could spend much longer rambling on about the various decisions we made at that time and the lessons we learned, but at the end of the day there was one aspect in particular of that job that truly interested me: Statistics. In a changing world, new and deeply relevant data is your best friend.
Over the decade, even as my focus moved on, our firm meticulously tracked things like:
What percentage of applicants actually gets called for the jobs that they applied for?
What is the specific breakdown of every hire we made? Where did the person come from? What day did we call them on?
What job sites produced the most applications? The most finalists? The most hires?
Much time has passed and it still amazes me to think about just how much the recruitment world has changed in 15 years, and how much change it is still undergoing. A lot of the data we used then is no longer very relevant, but I do think there are a few points that remain of interest to everyone:
1) The percentage of hired candidates found through direct applications has been trending down for several years
In the time of new and exciting job boards our firm could expect up to one third of our hires from this strategy, but we always knew that this wouldn’t last. The majority of clients don’t need us to place ads for them, and in the world of aggregate job boards the process is simplified. New technologies are game changers, allowing everyone to more efficiently find the person they are looking for, not limiting themselves to an applicant pool. Job boards remain relevant, but they are not a standalone solution.
2) When applying to search firms, only a small percentage of applicants are called for the job that they apply for. In my experience, the number is consistently under 5%
Why? When a company decides to invest in external help (bear in mind we really aren’t all that cheap) it is paying for the prerogative to narrow the specs and increase the expectations. More importantly, every job is an island unto itself. No matter how much candidates see their own skill sets in a vague job description, there is always a lot more going on behind the scenes. Search firms like ours routinely call a hundred or more people with the same basic skill sets to try and find the perfect match for both parties. We are still thrilled to receive each application, but we have a lot of other work to do.
3) Previous applicants are much more likely to be contacted later for roles that they did not actually apply for, but are better qualified for
Just when you thought the whole thing was a waste of time, it turns out there is still a reasonable expectation of return on the applicant’s investment. At the firm I worked for we took a consistent approach in capturing data that applicants filled in on their online forms: we limited ourselves to simple and searchable information that mirrored our own internal processes. Very quickly we became amazed at how amassing talented resumes, driven by candidate applications, led to very happy coincidences. People with extremely specific skill sets would suddenly get a call out of the blue from us on behalf a company looking for someone just like them. In my experience, even coupled with aggressive fresh research on every search, this can generate 40% of hires for a generalist firm. I expect it would be higher for specialist firms.
As a co-owner of a business, I am painfully aware that every day many qualified professionals, future hires and potential future clients alike, take the time to apply to my firm. It is a leap of faith on their part, leaving themselves open to frustration and feelings of rejection. Firms can receive tens of thousands of resumes each year, and I regret that we don’t have a better formula for showing that it is appreciated, and that it is worthwhile.
For what it is worth, here are my tips to jobseekers:
1) It is better to take the time and fill out an application form than to email your application. An online form usually goes to a shared database where you can be found later by a specific search. An email is more likely to disappear into a resume graveyard.
2) While recruiters will prioritize their own database and their applications, most are also making use of new technologies like LinkedIn, associations, professional groups, etc. These days, having a full online profile will do a lot of the work for you
3) I am a strong believer that it is better to target organizations and proactively contact them (using your network wherever possible) rather than waiting for the perfect job posting. Job postings are an open competition with a scoring system you can’t even see. Whenever possible, make your strengths the focus even if there is no immediate opening.
4) As has always been the case, networking is the most successful strategy. If you are applying to an online posting, see if your network has any helpful connections to separate you from the pack.