Forget Big Data. Recruitment Has a Huge Data Problem.

Whenever I see an article on Big Data and how it's going to revolutionize HR from hiring to management, I cringe a little. Not because I don't think it can, or even will. But because HR, and especially recruitment, have huge data problems that have been staring them right in the face for years - and they haven't changed a thing.

The inability to collect, organize, and analyze data consistently and at scale stifles innovation. Because most recruitment teams don't get the insights they need from their recruitment analytics they keep re-investing in different ways of doing thesame thing. You won't change if you don't see a problem.

The real reason we haven't seen large-scale innovation in recruiting is data. The recruitment analytics that most Recruiters rely on to make decisions is bad. Bad data leads to bad decisions, and those bad decisions lead to stale recruitment strategies that are less and less relevant with each passing day.

Survey Says: You're Recruitment Analytics Are All Wrong.

So what does bad data look like?

Well, for starters, there's the most recent "study" from the International Association of Employment Web Sites (IAEWS). Not only do they still spell website with two words, they're still sure that Job Boards (aka Employment Web Sites) are the best.

24.5% of people surveyed by the IAEWS indicated that they found their last job through a "commercial job board". That's down from 31.7% in 2006, but still good enough for first place in their survey.

Then there's LinkedIn's 2015 edition Global Recruiting Trends report. Job Boards came out on top here too. LinkedIn surveyed 4,125 "talent recruiting decision makers" distributed across 31 countries and discovered that Job Boards provide the best ROI by offering the best combination of quality (most key hires made) and quantity (most hires overall).


Job Boards provide top ROI in LinkedIn's Report Chart from LinkedIn's 2015 Global Trends 


Surveys are great for discovering opinions shared across large groups of people.  If surveys were the only way to get recruitment data, then we would have to live with it. But it's not 1999. So we don't have to and we should stop putting up with it. We have far superior and much more objective methods available to get the data you need for your recruitment strategy.

64% of the "talent recruiting decision makers" surveyed by LinkedIn confess that they believe they’re not doing a great job tracking return on investment on sources of hire.

Only 24% of recruiting decision makers believe "they are using data very well in their roles." The truth is, most talent recruiting decision makers no idea what their best source of hire is.

Dropdown Menus and Other Sources Of Meaningless Recruitment Data

[clickToTweet tweet="If you are using a dropdown menu to track applicant source: you're giving up on data-driven recruiting." quote="If you are using a dropdown menu to track applicant/hire source: you're giving up on data-driven recruiting."]

According to the latest report from CareerXroads most recruiting companies (about 77%) are still using dropdown menus to track source of hire. This is sad - and frightening. Dropdown menus are like little engines of misinformation. Why? Because people don't come to your career website to give you good data. They come to your website to apply as quickly as possible.

Way back in 2006, the job board AllRetailJobs ran a study that found that 5 out of 6 candidates entered the source incorrectly on a dropdown form when completing their online application. I've seen similar results myself when tracking source automatically and giving applicants the option of indicating their source via dropdown. To make it more interesting, I added fake websites to the top of the list - they started showing up in the top ten of applicant sources (the data belongs to my former employer, so I can't share it here).

If you are using a dropdown menu to track applicant/hire source: you're giving up on data-driven recruiting.

The good news would seem to be that there are a growing number of companies track applicant source via objective methods on modern Applicant Tracking Systems like iCims, Taleo Enterprise, Brassring, etc. One of these, Silkroad, releases a Sources of Hire study every year.

According to Silkroad's 2015 Top Sources of Hire Study, Job Boards are the best "External" source of hire. And Indeed is King of the Job Boards.


silkroad---2015---soh Silkroad also breaks the data down by "Online Sources."


Silkroad gives us examples of "External" sources including:

  • Agencies
  • Job Boards [e.g. Monster]
  • Campus Recruiting
  • Job Fairs
  • Job Search Engines [e.g. Indeed]

Reasonable enough. But what about "Internal" sources?

  • Career websites
  • Current employees
  • Employee referrals
  • Former employees
  • Recruiter sourced (employer sourcing)



What the data from Silkroad's report highlights is the fundamental misunderstanding of what a Source is in digital marketing. And guess what, if you are listing your job openings on a website and advertising them online - you're a digital marketer. You might not be a good one, you're a marketer.

Despite the growing movement towards Recruitment Marketing, we're still facing a crisis of fundamentals. To that end, I want to highlight five hugely important data categories that the majority of recruitment departments are currently missing - or misinterpreting.

5 Recruitment Analytics Problems You Need To Fix Right Away

1. Your Career Website Is A Destination, Not A Source.

The great Gerry Crispin has been trying to explain this to you almost as long as he's been trying to get you to try to track applicant source automatically: Career website is not a Source. It's a Destination.

Way back in the days when companies were first posting their jobs online, your website accounted for a small share of overall applications. This was also a time when web analytics were relatively new and nowhere near as user friendly as they are today. So it's easy to imagine how "Career Website" started showing up on Source of Hire reports. But it wasn't a Source then. And it's not a Source now.

But, might you ask, if "Career website" is not a Source, why is it a source in my ATS?

The problem with Silkroad's data (and it's very similar whether you're using Taleo, iCims, etc.; I see it everywhere) is not how it's collected (though there are problems there too), it's how it's interpreted. Silkroad tracks the source of your applicants by appending a source code to the link you send out. If someone clicks on a link that doesn't have a source code, guess how it gets tracked in your ATS: "Career website." That might look better than "Unknown Source" but it isn't any more useful.

A Career Website is in no way a “source” of hire. When I get other source metrics -- hires that are coming from particular job boards, social networks, employee referrals, or paid ads -- it gives me actionable information about the effectiveness and ROI of my sourcing efforts. “Career Website” doesn’t. It just tells me that someone, somehow ended up on my site -- nothing about how they got there.

Effective recruitment strategy requires recruitment analytics that include clear, accurate data about how people find your jobs, what makes them more likely to apply, and how you can continuously drive better traffic to your career website.

If "Career website" is showing up in your Source of Hire reports - you've got a recruitment analytics problem.

2. You're Not Tracking How People Get To Your Career Website

Top Internal Sources of Hire - Recruitment Analytics Source: Silkroad, Top Sources of Hire 2015


Let's go back to that Silkroad report. One of the "Internal" Sources listed in the data for 2014 is "Recruiter sourced".

Let's think about the basic mechanics of recruiting. Who posts to Job Boards? Who does Campus recruiting? Who goes to Job Fairs? Who emails candidates found on LinkedIn? The answer, of course, to each question, is Recruiters.

Recruiters are never a Source of Hire. To discover the Source of Hire you need to know where and how a Recruiter found and recruited the applicant. How a Recruiter recruits a candidate is described largely by the Medium of the Source.

Medium is the term that digital analysts use to describe how someone gets to a website.

If you're tracking candidate traffic from LinkedIn to your Career Website, your Source will always be LinkedIn. But there are multiple ways that people can get from LinkedIn to your website: Inmail, Job Slots, shared updates. It's even important, if you pay for Job Slots and get all your jobs posted to LinkedIn for free (much more common than you would think) to track the difference between Applicants/Hires who come from LinkedIn via Job Slots vs. these free Job Postings. How else will you determine if it's worthwhile to keep paying for Job Slots?

If you're not tracking Medium along with Source you're missing out on an essential aspect of recruitment analytics. And if you're missing out on this, you're not getting a good ROI on your Recruitment budget.

3. You're Not Tracking How Many People Didn't Apply

[clickToTweet tweet="Get web analytics right and you'll be recruiting better people, for less money, in less time." quote="Get web analytics right and you'll be recruiting better people, for less money, in less time."]

You want to make a digital marketer's jaw drop? Explain to them how you don't track the traffic to your landing pages.

I review recruitment websites daily. I also talk with Recruiters regularly about this topic. More likely than not, even companies who have Google Analytics setup on their Career Website limit this traffic to the Employer Branding section of their site. Every once in a while the marketing team sends a report. It gets read. No decisions are made based off of this data.

Meanwhile you're not tracking the most important visits to your website. Instead you're relying on (usually inaccurate, and always incomplete) source data from your ATS to build your recruitment strategy.

Tracking career website performance is the surest way to achieve long term gains in your recruitment ROI. No other area of recruitment analytics can make a bigger impact on your recruitment strategy than web data. Get web analytics right and you'll be recruiting better people, for less money, in less time.

You need data that shows you where you're failing. Unless you're studying the data that tells you who you're failing to attract, where applicants drop out of your application funnel, and more you can't begin to build a strategy that will drive stronger performance. If you base your recruitment strategy on Source of Hire data, you're committing to doing, basically, the same thing you did last year. Source of Hire data is important and essential to a good recruitment strategy. But the source, medium, and device of the people who didn't apply to your jobs might even be more important. And most recruitment departments just simply don't track it.

4. You're Not Tracking the Devices People Use To Visit Your Career Website

If you're mobile recruiting strategy does not start with tracking what devices people use to navigate your career website, you're doing it wrong. It's that simple.

People who visit your career website on a Firefox browser while on a Desktop will have a completely different experience than people trying to apply for jobs using a Safari browser on their Iphone. Back when I was managing a Sourcing Team, I had us install a live chat option on the website. I had hoped we could use it to persuade the undecided - and we did manage some of that - but the bulk of my team's time chatting on our career websites was spent responding to technical issues. Eventually we learned the problems that were specific to different device and browser configurations and could solve them quickly.

Being available to your candidates during the application strategy can kickstart your mobile recruiting strategy. But to solve your mobile recruiting challenges that you're currently experiencing you need to get the data on what devices and browsers people are using to try (and often fail) to apply to your jobs.

Get your recruitment analytics right and you have a chance to build a solid mobile recruiting strategy.

5. You're Not Tracking the Performance Of Your Application Funnel

Beginning with the first click on your ad, each click on your candidate's path becomes less and less likely. If you can get 1% of the people who see your Indeed headline to click to your website, you're doing great. People who find your job on Indeed are looking for something. If they click to your site and you offer it to them in a clear, compelling way AND make it easy to complete your application form, you have a chance to convince as much as 50% of these people to apply.

The truth is, though, that most Career Websites don't come anywhere close to that. It seems to me, much of the time, that the more you pay for your ATS the worse your application form gets. Guess what: if you have an 8 page application form, you're losing huge amounts of qualified, interested candidates who, frankly, had better things to do with their lives.

You need clear, detailed data on how people move through your application funnel in order to increase - not simply the quantity - but the quality of your applicants.

The need for this detailed level of insight grows substantially as you begin to advertise on Facebook or on Display networks when you reach people who aren't looking. You need great data to discover how to build the right application process for them.

How To Fix Your Recruitment Analytics Problems

Digital Analytics won't fix all your problems. Digital Analytics give you the ability to see how you might fix your problems. Because you've likely already built a great team of talent recruiting professionals committed to recruiting the best talent available for your company, digital analytics will work with your current success. You'll see challenges you didn't know existed. You'll see solutions you weren't sure existed.

So how did you get started? I'll offer three paths. All three options start with a significant bias: I believe that digital analytics needs to live in your talent recruiting team. It can't be outsourced to Marketing. You need people who understand digital analytics and recruiting. If you can't find that, find someone who understands recruiting and have them learn digital analytics. Understanding what you're analyzing is more important than understanding how you can analyze it.

Path 1: DIY Digital Analytics

This was my path. An upgrade in our ATS gave me the ability to install Google Analytics on our career websites. Google Analytics changed my life. Getting into the data on how our advertising campaigns and web pages performed radically altered my understanding of recruiting. And, so, here I am.

How To: Pick someone on your current talent recruiting team, give them access to the data, and give them a lot of time to learn. You'll also want to make sure you augment this self-guided learning with some professional guidance. Google will teach you everything you need to know to get started with digital analytics here (there's a world of things to learn after this, but learn these fundamentals and you'll be ready for the journey).

Pros: Your digital analytics strategy will grow organically out of your current processes. Outside consultants simply won't have the same deep insight into your goals as someone who lives them.

Cons: The cons are time, and, as we all know: time is money. More than likely everyone on your team already has plenty to do. So, setting aside months for someone to start learning is going to be hard. You're also going to go months without getting solid digital analysis, maybe as much as a year.

Path 2: The Job Distribution Model

How To: Companies like Smashfly or Jibe offer a nice set of tools for distributing your jobs ad, upgrading your career website, and getting the data you need for your digital analysis.

Pros: They will handle setup. You'll gain efficiency and start getting a substantial amount of the data you need.

Cons: I won't say much here, since I'm not a user. From the outside and in talking to current users, problems vary, but the biggest potential obstacles I see are time - it can take a long time to implement, and money - this is not a cheap option.

Path 3: Appsyt

How to: This is a blog post, so I'll try to avoid being sales-y. I'll just say this: it's free. You can get started here.

Pros: It's free right now. Additionally, it's flexible, scalable, and designed to give recruiters the same level of insight they would get if they hired a digital analyst who understood recruiting.

Cons: We're new. So, sometimes that's scary.

Moving Forward

I'm looking forward to the day when I see as many discussions about bounce rate, attribution modeling, and programmatic advertising on Recruitng Blogs as I do about the latest chrome extensions, or yet one more article on Boolean Logic.

I started BrightLeaf to make sure that day comes sooner rather than later. You really can't afford to wait.

Views: 1578

Comment by Daniel Fogel on August 17, 2015 at 10:39am

Joel, Thanks for posting!  I agree with your point re: source of hire.  Also, I think the source of hire is a bit like a tipping point.  That candidate has probably had multiple exposures to your employer brand by the time they apply.  Is it that one final pithy tweet that sold the candidate on applying or was it the one more bad day under a manager they hate at their current job?

Comment by Joel McLean on August 17, 2015 at 11:44am

Thanks, Daniel!

Definitely agree about multiple exposure. The most challenging element in tracking multiple visits is tracking across device. This is especially important in recruiting, though, since most job searches happen on mobile devices, and most career sites are not just not mobile-friendly, but downright hostile to mobile traffic.

So, even just in the realm of job board traffic, you're going to need to track across devices to see that the unknown source (unhelpfully labeled "Career website") that led to an application, was by a returning visitor, who viewed the job on a mobile device first, and came back to apply later on a desktop.

Comment by Susan on August 18, 2015 at 11:25am

FOR SURE! It's driven me crazy how much money recruiters spend on advertising when they don't know the *true* value of the advertising channels. We're huge on auto tracking the source as a means of prioritizing data integrity. -Susan, iCIMS

Comment by Eric Putkonen on August 19, 2015 at 8:42am

Great article, Joel!  So very true and a must read.

Comment by Joel McLean on August 19, 2015 at 9:33am

Thanks, Eric!


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