Sourcing and evaluation: Employers’ flawed assumptions, and how mobile recruiting changes everything

Posted June 28, 2017 by


This blog is an excerpt of Steven Rothberg’s white paper, “How Employers Evaluate Career Services, Job Boards, and Other Sources, and How Mobile Recruiting Changes Everything.”

Read the entire white paper here (no need to register to download).

Few employers properly track candidate sources

The technology that allows an advertiser to track a consumer from their click on an ad to the advertiser’s website, and ultimately to a purchase, has existed since the mid-1990’s. For example, when College Recruiter began using this technology in 1998, within months, one of the world’s largest hospitality companies was paying us $0.05 per click in return for driving thousands of students and recent graduates a month to apply on their career website.

This employer recognized the value of receiving resume data electronically and being able to automatically and accurately track their sourcing efforts. You can’t manage what you can’t measure”, is a mantra that marketing experts embrace. And yet, few employers today seem to have the inclination to properly track the sources of candidates who visit the employer’s career site, let alone those who apply, are interviewed, get hired, and prove to be top performers.

Today, a large majority of employers with more than 1,000 employees, and even many of those which are far smaller, use ATS from vendors such as Taleo and iCIMS. The almost universal adoption of sophisticated and very expensive software has enabled employers to more efficiently manage the flow of candidates through their recruiting functions. Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to find an ATS which does not allow employers to track the source of click, application, and even hire back to a job board, school, career fair, third-party recruiter, or other source. One might think that’s a good thing as we’re now able to measure and therefore manage how we’re sourcing our hires. Yet these software systems all share two inherent flaws, one of which is related to technology and the second of which appears to be a deliberate disregard for how sourcing and recruiting really works.

Related: College Recruiter’s archived white papers, covering topics related to talent acquisition, ranging from identifying rookie game changers to interview bias.

Technology flaws inherent in tracking systems

technology flaw related to evaluating sourcesAlmost all of these systems rely upon the employer providing a bit of code to the source. The code is added to either the beginning (prepend), the end (append), or to the destination web page. College Recruiter, for example, requests these codes from our employer customers. Based upon my conversations with executives at other job boards, I suspect that almost all of the other well known, high traffic sites also request these codes. Conversely, based on conversations I’ve had with smaller job boards and career service offices, many of those are unaware they even exist.

Even though we request the tracking codes, only about half of our employer customers both know how to generate a source tracking code AND use them when posting jobs to our site. Undoubtedly that knowledge exists within their organizations but if the recruiter who posts the job doesn’t know how to generate the code, or isn’t inclined to do so, then the technology might as well not exist.

But let’s assume that the recruiter is well versed on the intricacies of their employer’s software and is diligent in using the source tracking codes. Do they even work? The answer, sadly, is only sometimes. Why? Because the code typically only works if the candidate who clicks through to the employer’s site immediately starts the application, and completes it in one sitting. Think about how the vast majority of employer websites require candidates to enter data into dozens and sometimes hundreds of fields such as first name, last name, address, phone number, job titles, dates of employment, schools, majors, years of graduation, and then, and here’s the kicker, upload a resume. Do you have your resume saved on your phone? Even if you did, would you know how to upload that file to an ATS? So when candidates who use their phones or tablets to find one of your jobs, they will likely hit the proverbial brick wall when they try to apply. No matter how thoughtful you and your vendors have been and how many resources you’ve allocated to making a painless mobile experience, it is still painful. Many candidates abandon their efforts before they finish applying, and often before they even start.

Flawed assumption that candidates see an ad, click and apply

Candidates who use a mobile device and find your open position on a job board, career service office website, or elsewhere may look at your ad but when they’re ready to apply — and that may be hours, days, or even weeks later — they will likely hop over to their laptop or desktop computer. Many and perhaps most of the largest, most sophisticated employers refuse to acknowledge that their entire system of tracking their sourcing efforts is based upon the flawed assumption that the vast majority of candidates see an ad, click, and apply. That’s never been true and is less true today than ever before. By 2014, Facebook announced that almost half of adults accessed the Internet each day using two devices and a third used three or more.

Mobile recruiting changes how employers track sourcesPut yourself in the shoes of the students who may be interested in your opportunity.  They’re likely to use their mobile device to find a job opportunity. But they’re unlikely to apply using that device, and furthermore, they are also unlikely to repeat the same search from their laptop or desktop. They’re more likely to make a mental note after seeing your job ad from their mobile, and later use their laptop or desktop to go directly to your career site to apply. And when they do that, they’re not clicking through that trackable URL and so you won’t get accurate data on the source of the click, application, or hire.

Some of our employer customers have attempted to get around this problem by adding an additional layer of tracking. Vendors such as Doubleclick, which is owned by Google, can provide you with a hidden code that you or your media partner adds to your job posting. The way that this additional layer of tracking works is by dropping a small file — a cookie — onto the candidate’s computer. The cookie contains information about where the ad was seen and therefore allows these vendors to report to you that a candidate saw your ad one day, then later went directly to your career site to apply, even if it’s days or weeks later, and even if they didn’t click the trackable URL. Some of these vendors, including Doubleclick, have such massive data on virtually all Internet users that the vendors can recognize a user who saw your ad on one device and later went to your site directly from another. You’ll then be able to track that candidate back to the user on his or her mobile device. Pretty slick, huh? Except there are flaws. The first problem is that while you can add this hidden extra code to your ads on most large job boards, you cannot on many smaller job boards or career services. There are other problems too.

First, let’s assume that the user’s mobile device accepts cookies. (Many don’t.) Let’s also assume that the user is not reading your ad on a browser that can reject cookies. (Apps and some of the most popular browsers such as Safari reject cookies.) If we get past those hurdles and you’re able to drop a cookie onto the user’s mobile device then you’d think that Doubleclick and other similar services will now correlate the user’s mobile device with their laptop or desktop. In theory, yes. In practice, often not. Studies show that Doubleclick is often unable to properly attribute an application that a candidate started on a mobile and completed on a computer, even when their devices and browsers accept cookies.

The true source — the one that referred the candidate to your career site — often gets lost and that destroys your ability to properly attribute your sources of hire, let alone your sources of applications and clicks.

The automated tracking systems which are cookie-based are well designed for tracking traffic from the 1990’s and 2000’s. Although every major web browser including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer, allow the user to block cookies, very few users know how to block them or would even care to. However, most Internet traffic today is mobile and there’s a big, big difference between web and mobile traffic. A sizable and rapidly increasing share of mobile traffic is from devices and through applications and mobile browsers which, by default, reject all cookies. There’s a good likelihood that you will not be able to accurately track the source of the candidate who sees your job posting ad on a job board, career service office site, or other site but does not apply until they hop over to their laptop or desktop.

Attribution to one source is illogical

And now to the second and perhaps even more significant problem: attributing a click, application, or hire to just one source is illogical. Think about any significant decision that you’ve ever made. Did you ever rely upon one piece of information to make that decision when other, credible sources of information were easily accessible? When you applied to your current job, did you only consider the information that you received on the job board where you first learned of the opportunity, or only the information from your friend who worked for the employer, or only the “we’re hiring” billboard outside of what is now your place of employment? Hopefully not. Significant decisions in life tend to and should be influenced by multiple data points. Yes, you first learned of the job through an ad on a job board. But before you even clicked to apply, you hopped over to Google and ran a few searches to find out more about the employer. Those searches led you to Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and some other sites. You then talked to a few friends and family members. And then maybe you went back to the job board but probably you went straight to the employer’s career site to apply. Is the job board your source of hire? Google? Glassdoor? LinkedIn? A referral?

And don’t even get me started about how career sites cannot be sources of hire as no one ever started their job search at a career site so, at best, they’re a destination and not a source of hire.

The reality is that every candidate for every position has multiple sources of hire. So even if your technology claims to be able to attribute the application and hire to a source, is it THE source? Many talent acquisition leaders acknowledge that there is no such thing as a single source of hire, yet they claim that using flawed data is better than using no data. I’m not so sure.

Over time, I’ve come to realize that we need to stop pretending that there is only one source per hire. I get that we do so because some of the most popular tracking software only allows for that option. But those products force us into improperly measuring and managing the allocation of our marketing resources and so their very design makes it unwise to rely upon such products.

The solution: we need to adjust our thinking

Download the full white paper (no registration needed). 


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