Regardless of how strong your employer brand, how cleverly you wordsmith your job advertisments or how well you promote your job....sometimes you just don't get the number of applications you need to successfully close those hard to fill roles.
Maybe you're comfortable recruiting from a small pool of applicants. But maybe you would feel more comfortable if you had one or two more candidates from which to choose.
Common explanations provided for low applicant numbers generally centre around medium to long term structural shortages for certain skills (think about the STEM disciplines) or on more short term factors around the timing of the search or other factors such as the location of the job.
These are certainly valid explanations but perhaps there is an alternate...something much closer to home... that could be reducing the number of applications entering your recruitment funnel.
Your Job Application Process
In most cases the job application process is the first real contact and hence impression a candidate has of your organisation as a potential future employer. Generally speaking if the application process is simple and relevant to the role the candidate is applying for then chances are the candidate will have a positive experience and will most likely complete their application. If, on the other hand, the application process is complicated and not relevant to the role they are applying for then there is a greater risk that they will abandon their application and leave with a less than positive impression of your organisation as an employer.
In essence a trade off exists between having a detailed application process that screens applicants...perhaps a little too well vs a simple application process that allows more candidates into the funnel but who for the most part are unscreened.
In support of this argument job search engine “Indeed.com” recently compiled hard statistics on the link between complexity and abandoment rates of applicants. The numbers are telling
Now we acknowledge that some organisations are building talent communities for strategic sourcing purposes however the truth is that a vast majority of organisations are still reliant on promoting their roles on external job boards/search engines and own careers pages. These sourcing avenues are not going away anytime soon and so it's vital that the job application process which originates at these avenues is optimised as much as possible to minimise the risk of applicant abandonment.
Whilst there are no hard and fast rules around the optimum number of job applicants that will lead to a successful onboard we believe that if you are in single “digit” territory after a few days of promotion and this seems to trend across a number of your roles then perhaps it’s time for you to review the application process and the candidates experience through that process. The easiest way to do this is to put yourself in your candidate's shoes and apply for one of your own jobs. You will soon get a feel for the ease or pain you are putting each applicant through. Oh... and while you are at it try applying from a mobile device and see what happens...are you directed to a mobile friendly application page?
What can you do if you need to change your application process?
Well, unfortunately you may not be able to change the application process that easily as it may be managed by the recruitment software that is being used by your organisation to track candidates through the recruitment process. If that is the case then you should at least see if there is some flexibility provided by the software to add or remove “screening” questions on a job by job basis.
Whilst recruitment systems are becoming more flexible nowadays some still lock all applicants into the same process for each and every job. This may be fine for some organisations however if your organisation needs to have flexibility on a job by job basis then a system that allows you to add/remove questions on the fly to a basic standard form perhaps offers the best alternative. One great thing about having this sort of flexibility is that it allows you to test the application process with different sorts of questions and gather feedback on the impact of those questions and the applicant numbers.
Also worth consideration is the ability to filter candidates based on the responses they have provided. It's all very well having the ability to add questions specific to the role but if the recruitment team can't filter the candidate’s responses then the point of asking the question in the first place is somewhat lost. Finally if you are asking questions specific to a role then you need to think deeply about those questions in terms of appropriateness, relevance and quantity. We have seen on a number of occasions that the questions being asked are not necessary in the first round of screening and would be better positioned during a potential interview stage. We have also seen on occasions where a whole list of open ended questions were being asked when perhaps some of them would have been better constructed as closed questions with a pre-defined list of answers. All of these considerations can have a bearing on your applicant numbers.
Remember test, assess and modify
So, in summary, if you are concerned about the low number of applicants for your roles don't automatically assume there are no candidates out there. Double check your application process and the candidate experience. Put yourself into your applicants shoes and actually apply for one of your jobs and see how wonderful or painful it is. Is your job application process too long? Is it too short? And more importantly can you change it to suit the type of roles you are recruiting for?
All the best and happy recruiting.