Blog Candidate Quality Understanding the Behavioural Science of Recruitment for Success
Understanding The Science Behind Successful Recruiting

The wide adoption of online recruitment services has led to record levels of online job-related activity taking place. To operate effectively in this environment, we need to understand the behavioural science behind successful recruiting.


The background

Major search engines like Google register over 17m unique job-related searches each month within the UK alone. However, both qualitative and quantitative research show that there are not 17m job seekers committed to finding new jobs. Instead, statistically over 90% of job applications are made by people already in work, with varying degrees of commitment to moving jobs.


Research previously conducted across more than 250,000 applicants suggests that over 80% of job applications are made by people who are NOT committed to changing jobs at the point of application.


As we have seen with online retail and online property sites, recruitment has become a social activity. People that fall into this category – social prospectors – are potential candidates and present a real opportunity to anyone recruiting.


Just as retail has perfected the art of impulsive purchasing, smart recruiters understand that enticing these “passive or social prospectors” and turning them into “active applicants” is a strategy with a huge potential upside.


Using behavioural science in recruitment 

During the recruitment process, active and passive candidates demonstrate different sets of behaviours. Some behaviours are measurable from data and can provide interesting and useful insights, while emotional actions require more research to understand.


In particular, we have been interested in what influences both the passive and active job seekers from both a practical and emotional perspective during different stages of the applicant journey. Candidates experience both rational and irrational, conscious and subconscious levels of anxiety coupled with a range of positive emotions that require more in-depth analysis.


Understanding how these emotions influence applicant behaviour is a critical component of designing an improved applicant experience; the better the experience, the greater the probability of employers achieving better outcomes.


So far, there has been little research published that could support such a potentially rich recruiting strategy. We have concluded that it would be potentially better to divide this research into two distinct areas:

  • Data analysis to identify correlations and trends
  • Behavioural analysis to understand the decision-making processes at each stage of the recruitment lifecycle.


Why using behavioural science is beneficial

Enhancing a recruiter’s understanding of the complexities driving potential applicant behaviour would provide a significant advantage when trying to apply influence, either emotional or rational. Further, this understanding could help drive substantial improvements in both tools and processes.


What would be interesting is to understand from a predictability perspective, is how irrationality becomes more predictable. Understanding the hidden forces that shape how candidates make decisions is a Pandora’s box for those trying to shape the industry in the era of AI and machine learning.


We have started looking at the subject of applicant anxiety levels within the job-hunting process with our academic partners at Bedford University. Our hope is that this new research will provide rich new data sets and subsequent insights from a candidate perspective.

Mark Stephens

January 12, 2021

Mark has worked in and researched the HR & Recruitment landscape for over 20 years. His key focuses are how recruitment technology, evidence-based processes, and human behavioural science can be used to optimise recruitment performance. He is a serial entrepreneur, previous winner of the prestigious Chambers of Commerce 'Innovation in Business' award, and founder of Smart Recruit Online Ltd, and Corporate Wellness & Mental Health UK Ltd (Corpwell).

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