Changing things up in recruitment: Effects of a “strange” recruitment medium on applicant pool quality and quantity
Belgian research, April 2013
Attracting the best talent during recruitment is a highly competitive endeavour, with organisations investing a lot of time and effort to differentiate themselves from their competitors as an employer of choice in the labour market.
This research conducted by Assistant Professor Saartje Cromheecke, Assistant Professor Greet Van Hoye and Professor Filip Lievens from Ghent University in Belgium explored the impact of recruitment media on recruitment effectiveness. In particular, the authors investigated how novel forms of recruitment media affect the quality and quantity of applicants.
In a field experiment, Saartje et al. (2013) found that using a novel recruitment medium generated both more applicants, and applicants of a higher quality, demonstrated by educational attainment and recruiter ratings. The authors suggest that ‘strange’ recruitment methods may act to disrupt an individual's unconscious expectations around what recruitment should look like. This may provide an effective way for organisations to differentiate themselves from their competitors and potentially attract a more diverse applicant pool.
This research compared the use of a novel recruitment medium (a post-card) to a more common one (email) by evaluating the quality and quantity of the applicant pool for an engineering position at a Belgian technology firm.
To test the hypothesis that a novel recruitment medium would be associated with a higher applicant pool quantity and quality, the researchers sampled 1997 potential applicants from a Belgian job site.
Potential applicants were randomly assigned to either a ‘normal’ condition (n = 1032) or a ‘novel’ condition (n = 965). In the ‘normal condition,’ potential applicants were sent an email inviting them to apply for the available role, while those in the ‘novel’ condition were sent a picture postcard to their home address as listed on the job site.
Applicant pool quantity was measured in terms of the number of people who submitted a resume for the role. Applicant quality meanwhile was measured in terms of applicants’ level of education and work experience, as well as a blind quality assessment of applicant resumes by a professional recruiter.
Saartje et al.’s (2013) research found that (1) there were significantly more applicants for the advertised role under the postcard condition than the email condition, and (2) applicants in the postcard condition had higher education levels and higher recruiter quality ratings than those in the email condition (though this latter index did not reach statistical significance).
(1) The researchers found that out of 1997 potential applicants, 62 actually applied for the position on offer. Of these, 51 applicants (82%) were from the postcard condition, which represented 5% of the initial sample of potential applicants. This compared to only 11 applicants in the email condition, or 1% of the initial sample.
(2) The researchers found that 84% of applicants applying after receiving a postcard were ‘higher educated’ (measured in terms of tertiary educational attainment) compared to 55% in the email condition. Similarly, 35% of the postcard applicants were invited to participate in a job interview based on a recruiter’s quality assessment, compared to only 18% in the email condition.
Although limited by a focus on just one organisation and a single job vacancy, this research suggests that organisations may increase the effectiveness of their recruitment strategies by disrupting the mediums they use to reach potential applicants. By leveraging a postcard in place of an email, for example, the researchers generated about 5 times as many applicants, and applicants of a higher education level.
By employing new and different recruitment media, meanwhile, organisations may also be able to differentiate themselves from their competitors in the labour market. This represents an important opportunity in the fight for quality talent, and has already seen success in some high profile examples. Google, for example, employed a rather novel applicant ‘pre-screening’ process by posing a complex mathematical ‘riddle’ on a billboard on a major road in silicon valley which lead successful problem-solvers onto a specialised recruitment site (see website).
Finally, and although not tested empirically in Saartje et al.’s (2013) research, it is possible that using a novel recruitment medium may also help attract a more diverse applicant pool. Saartje et al. suggest, for example, that 'strange' recruitment methods may act to disrupt an individual's unconscious expectations or ‘scripts’ around what recruitment should look like. In this way, novel methods may help engage a broader pool of potential applicants by disrupting their expectations of a role and increasing the attention they pay to recruitment media.
To read the full article, see Cromheecke, S., Van Hoye, G. and Lievens, F. (2013) “Changing things up in recruitment: Effects of a ‘strange’ recruitment medium on applicant pool quantity and quality” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, (online version of record published before inclusion in an issue).