Content strategy for recruiting top talent: you’re doing it wrong

It’s the same old problem in recruitment: attracting and retaining top talent is the beginning and end of success. But every brand struggles to stand out from the crowd.

Research has solidly identified that high-quality candidates want a great role, in a great company, with great leadership and great benefits. So far, so obvious.

But most big players offer about the same deal here. To be competitive, they try to improve their offer (good), or say more about it in their recruitment pages, by adding hundreds of staff profiles and news stories (less good).

There’s another way to get more top talent through the door that’s often overlooked by all but the most world-leading brands.

Is recruitment different?

If you want to make a Content Strategist barf, show them recruitment pages from the average corporate website — especially online application forms.

Not only are these usually a bible of poor practice, but the analytics will show staggering numbers drop out before applying, or somewhere along the way.

I’ve seen online job application forms with drop-out rates above 90%. In e-commerce, this would be called Abandonment Rate. Online retailers monitor this rate relentlessly and work hard to reduce it. Around 20% is usually thought okay, but they’d still work to reduce it further.

Why do recruitment managers see a 90% abandonment rate as acceptable? I’ve asked, and been told these folk who abandon their job application are the unsuitable candidates. They go on to say, their business wants to attract the people most willing to go through their process, no matter how arduous.

No, recruitment isn’t different

Is it right that the best person for the job will work tirelessly to get through your organisation’s recruitment process, no matter how arduous? It seems to me the other way around — those who will accept an arduous online application process are less likely to be high-value talent.

Top talent are not hoop-jumpers. Top talent is time-poor and intolerant of waste.

I think employers could snare many more high-value candidates at all levels if they thought more like e-commerce:

  • Think of all your visitors as potential top talent
  • Think of your online application process as an online check-out.

What would this look like?

1. Focus on the shortest applicant journey

We know the nature of the work, workplace culture, rewards and leadership are important to high-value candidates. The classic approach to highlighting these is to add more content on these subjects.

You would never see this approach in e-commerce, where it’s understood less is more.

Rather than hoping top talent will take a longer journey to applying by reading more or watching loads of videos, employer brands should give most of their attention to the shortest path to apply:

  1. How talent find outs about the employer brand, including specific roles
  2. How roles are described
  3. How candidates apply.

2. Streamline relentlessly

Enter Work for us pages from any other part of a corporate site, and wordiness, navigation options and the sheer length of everything explodes. Application forms are long and include mandatory questions not needed for shortlisting.

Employer brands should set challenging targets to reduce content, especially:

  • Overall number of pages
  • Length of job listings and role profiles (also known as job descriptions)
  • Questions in application forms: ask only what’s legally required or needed to shortlist.

Contrary to popular opinion, high-value candidates prefer Plain Language. It even enhances their opinion of your business.

3. Be clear about salary and benefits

There’s one thing employer brands don’t say enough about (or at least, not prominently): salary, and benefits like flexible working.

These are often not mentioned in job listings, but hidden in myriad supporting pages and employee profiles no one reads.

Roles that state salary, regardless of the salary, attract around 30% more applicants.

Openness about salary and benefits also increases applications from under-represented groups, like women, disabled people, people from ethnic minority groups and LGBTQ+ folk. If you’ve ever faced discrimination, you naturally place more value on transparent recruitment.

4. Do your user research with the right people

The rise and rise of user research has been a game-changer in the past 20 years.

One of the biggest mistakes recruiters make when testing their online recruitment experience, is to use their own employees as research subjects.

Using the fish you caught as a proxy for the one that got away is a recipe for confirmation bias.

Instead, find “cold”, but relevant, audiences, and avoid participants who may feel they must say what you want to hear, like interns, students, people considering applying for a job with you or people from organisations funded by yours. Advertising in a professional body email newsletter, and offering a small incentive, usually works well.

If you’re hearing “I don’t understand this”, “that’s annoying” or “I don’t like that” during user research, you’re doing it right.

How will we know it works?

Good change happens through testing, not guessing.

Like in e-commerce, employer brands should continually review conversion and abandonment rates in online applications. They should look to user research and analytics to identify pain points in the user journey and test ideas to overcome these.

You can confirm what I’m saying by looking at the recruitment pages for world-leading brands like Apple, Google, Facebook or Tesla. You’ll find they apply most, if not all, of these principles.

Chicken or egg? Chicken, I think. We know people make businesses succeed. The recruitment processes of the most successful companies show they value people.

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