Why you need to be a data-savvy recruiter

Fast growth often hides bad recruitment practices, says Shannon Pritchett. She argues a more data-led approach is needed:

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Aug 2, 2023

When discussing the current macroeconomic environment and its impact on the world of talent acquisition, Steven Jiang, CEO at hireEZ, has a very simple way to describe what many employers are learning: In his words, “Growth hides the ugly.”

What he means by this, is that during a period of rapid growth, hiring strategies and processes tend to sacrifice care and attention to detail in exchange for maximum speed. It’s natural, and in my experience, universal.

The problem is, when growth inevitably slows and companies finally take a breather, while they may know how far they’ve traveled (or in this case, how many jobs were filled), they’ll often struggle to understand acutely which decisions they’ve made along the way are really worth repeating. [And for that matter, which decisions are best avoided altogether].

This isn’t great news, because when HRDs/recruiters are unsure of the steps they’ve taken to reduce friction for every hire, a downturn market will quickly reveal the ugly inefficiencies of their practices.

The only way to buff out the rough spots is to start looking at data better.

Useful data can be gleaned from anything

But what does being a more data-savvy recruiter actually mean?

Hiring leaders who leave data out of the recruiting equation leave money on the table, often reflected in an increasing cost per hire or decreasing rate of retention.

The fact is, without measurement, it is impossible to optimize for efficiency.

Marketers understand this well. In a webinar on measuring talent data, Smashfly CMO Lori Sylvia says, “If you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen.” This is what recruiting leaders mean when they call for recruiters to “think like marketers.”

This isn’t to suggest that you must have complex tech stacks or build sophisticated attribution models to begin pulling out valuable, data-driven insights. Instead, it’s to encourage recruiters to be thinking about how they can better understand who their target should be, and how best to appeal to them.

As with great marketing, answering those two questions is quintessential to great recruiting.

Figuring out what data points to look for and how to capture them can seem very intimidating. The truth is, you can measure just about anything.

Here’s where I think measurement can make an immediate impact.

Identifying who your best talent is

Defining who your target is requires recruiters to understand jobseeker characteristics – such as their background, experience, strengths and weaknesses.

Obviously, a lot of this information is readily available in any candidate’s online profile.

But what isn’t typically available is information on the qualities candidates need to make them the ideal prospect specifically for your business, or a particular role.

As Brendan Browne, VP of global talent acquisition at LinkedIn put it: “I don’t want to talk to more candidates, I want to talk to more of the best, most highly-qualified candidates that I can.”

To get a clearer picture of who that person is, Brendan’s team grouped job candidates for an engineering role based on a framework that scores prospective candidates on quality and affinity.

In this example, quality was ranked based on desired qualifications for the perfect hire.

Meanwhile, affinity — or how highly a candidate may perceive the company or opportunity — was scored based on the following three criteria:

  • Do they follow the company
  • Do they share relevant content on their social profile
  • Do they have a meaningful 1st-degree connection

His team found that 35% of the candidates from the available pool ranked highly for quality and affinity (all meeting the requirement of having a 1st-degree connection at the company).

More interestingly however, was the fact that within this group, his recruiting team saw a 57% jump in response-rate for initial outreach compared to their benchmark.

Additionally, candidates from this group made it through the interview process faster and with more success than any other type of candidate before.

One can see how collecting these data points could be done easily, and why it’s likely an important part of their recruiting strategy for all roles.

Refining your message

Speaking of tracking and optimizing outreach based on response rate, it shocks me how many recruiters I interact with that still aren’t tracking metrics to improve how they message to candidates.

It’s the most obvious, yet somehow most overlooked measurement I witness.

Again, I like to model marketing best-practices. Here’s a few general guidelines:

  • Do: A/B test approaches: Test new cadences, subject lines, and copy on a regular basis so that you can continue improving candidate engagement. Ask yourself, how does open rate compare when you use long subject lines versus one that is shorter or less descriptive? What about your call-to-action; does “Can I share more about the role?” get a higher response than “Got a few minutes to talk?”
  • Don’t: Change everything at once: For good measurement, the impact must be clear. Try only to test one thing at a time so that you know which changes are truly making a difference. For example, measure how two groups of candidates react when given the same message, but with a different subject line. Next, take the same subject and body, and try testing your call to action (CTA). After that, play with editing the length of your body, or adding in visual elements like images or gifs. Track response rates in a simple sheet and you’ll begin to see trends that illuminate a path to greater success.
  • Do: Think about longer-tail metrics: How can the data you’re capturing to optimize your outreach be validated based on its impact further downstream? This is where the rubber can really meet. For example, are your finely tuned, optimized messages resulting in a greater conversion rate? If not, you may need to look for weak spots in the candidate journey, where engagement is dropping off, to spot trends that can be addressed in your process.

Monitoring your competition

External data can inform current and future hiring strategies. Since your competition is likely talking to many of the same candidates you are, it’s worth keeping tabs on their hiring activity too.

Consider role playing as a potential candidate to capture what the experience is like, and how it differs from the hiring experience at your company.

You can start by checking out a competitors’ careers page and job descriptions.

How are they messaging to talent? What benefits are they offering? Are they explicit about salary ranges? Does the language they use feel inclusive and safe? Are they transparent about each step of the hiring process?

Then check out their application process to determine how easy or intuitive, simple or streamlined it may be for a real candidate.

Is the application process accessible on mobile? Do applicants have a clear way to follow up on their application? What aspects of the experience would you hope to improve on?

This sort of “vibe check” doesn’t need to be laborious or overly frequent. But periodically tracking qualitative data on your competition can help you question or validate the experience you’re providing candidates, and drive you to make improvements over time. After all, you want talent running from the competition and toward you.

Side note: For higher-level hiring objectives — such as improving your company’s DEI metrics or to anticipate competitor moves based on hiring trends — there are recruiting platforms that can tap into competitor data such as talent diversity metrics or the average time for job postings to close.

Rethink data for recruiting

While recruiting may be a numbers game, but it shouldn’t be a slog in hiding.

In recruitment, information is everything. The more data you have on talent, their perception of you, and your competition, the better you will understand who your best candidates are, and how to best appeal to them.

You don’t need to be a data analyst to capture valuable insight for use in your practice.

You just need to make collecting data a habit.

Once you start, it will be a hard one to break.

And hopefully the next time you turn the corner from a period of growth you’ll find a lot less ugly in hiding.