2017 Recruiting Data Shows Fewer Job Applicants, More Hires

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer August 20, 2018
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​More employment offers were made and more candidates hired in 2017 than in the previous year, while fewer people applied for open positions, according to year-over-year data from Jobvite.

The recruitment software company analyzed its database of 85 million job seekers and 17 million applications from 2017 and aggregated common conversion metrics used to assess employers' hiring process, such as the numbers of applicants versus interviews and interviews to hires.

Kris Dunn, chief human resources officer at Kinetix, a recruitment process outsourcing firm in Atlanta, found the result surprising because "it's never been easier for candidates to apply for jobs," he said. Dunn surmised that the drop in applicants may be reflective of being at the peak of the economic cycle, which leaves candidates generally applying to fewer jobs. "I think candidates know they are in demand and probably have to apply to fewer jobs in order to get a job," he said.

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

Browsers to Applicants

The conversion rate of careers site visitors to applicants was 12 percent in 2017, up from 8.6 percent in 2016. On average, this means that in 2017, eight visitors to your careers site were needed to get one applicant, said Ji-A Min, head data scientist at Ideal, a recruitment automation software company in Toronto.

Check your own attraction conversion rate—if it's greater than 12 percent, your employment brand and recruitment marketing efforts are strong.

"If you want to capture attention, you have to de-emphasize the career portal and job board aspects of the site and wrap it with stories and visuals of people working at the company," Dunn said. "If you provide a better feel for what it's like to work at your company than other employers' sites they've visited, then you will feel like an employer of choice."

That means featuring content visitors can click on, he said. Clicks are also a great way to measure engagement with site visitors.

Efforts to improve the company's attraction to application rate should also include creating a better candidate experience. Jobvite Director of Marketing Ronen Shetelboim recommended that HR professionals review how long it takes someone to apply for a position, whether or not applications can be shorter, and if application sites are mobile-optimized. "To help you continuously engage with candidates, you can also incorporate chat and chat bots to improve engagement, make sure candidates don't drop off, and ultimately, improve conversion to applicants," he said.

Fewer Applications, Interviews

The average number of applications per open requisition dropped to 36 in 2017 from 59 in 2015, indicating a tightening market at full employment. The average number of applications had increased from 32 since 2010, correlating positively with the health of the economy.

"The decline in applicants per open requisition is likely due to macroeconomic reasons, including an uncertain economy and low unemployment rate," Shetelboim said. "This also may be an indicator of improved retention, as companies are becoming more savvy in identifying potential churn and creating a positive employee experience."

Jobvite found that the conversion rate from applications to interviews also fell to 12 percent (or about 1 in 8 applicants) in 2017, down from 15 percent (or 1 in 6 applicants) the previous year.

"Less people are applying, but companies are becoming smarter and more efficient," Shetelboim said. "They have technology and processes in place to focus on candidates who are a better fit, allowing them to conduct fewer interviews to get to the right hire. If you need to process more applicants than the benchmark to get to one interview, it's likely that you're having to manually sift through a large pool of candidates to find someone worthy of interviewing".

Min said both candidate self-selection and AI recruiting tools are shrinking the number of unqualified candidates and the number of interviews necessary to get to a successful hire. "Some companies are automatically scheduling candidates the AI identifies as the most qualified for an interview, she said.

Creating and publishing an employer value proposition (EVP) is another way to narrow down the talent pool. "Having an EVP answers two questions [for candidates]," Dunn said. "What's in it for me to work here? And what does it take to be a top performer at the company? Understanding that can be valuable in attracting the right candidates and repelling the wrong candidates."

Offers, Hires Increase Significantly

Twenty-eight percent of interviews led to offers in 2017, up from 19 percent in 2016. That translates to interviewing approximately four people to make one offer, Min said.

"While the number of interviews decreased, offers still increased, meaning that recruiters are conducting fewer interviews to get to an offer," Shetelboim said.

Dunn added that a good standard to aim for is six candidate submittals to the hiring manager, which typically converts to three interviews and one hire. "Results vary based on job type and other factors, but if companies feel they are getting too many candidates at the interview stage, it comes down to the company being underinvested in recruiting resources that do the first-level screening."

In these situations, hiring managers are reviewing many more resumes than they should. "In a mature recruiting function, recruiters will screen the candidates and only show who they consider to be the best," Dunn said.

Finally, you've settled on the ideal person for the role, but does he or she want to work for you? 

The conversion rate for offers accepted jumped to 90 percent in 2017, from 83 percent the previous year. "This is a sign that the market is competitive, and companies aren't messing around," Shetelboim said. "They're giving out the best offer possible, and quickly—often before the candidate even leaves the office."

He noted that the sources that deliver the highest percentage of applicants—job boards and careers sites—don't necessarily translate to the highest percentage of hires. The percentage of hires from these sources is much lower than their share of applicants.

"It's not about the quantity of candidates, but the quality of hires," he said. "Don't invest in job boards if they're not driving hires. To secure higher quality candidates, companies need to invest in customized campaigns that emphasize personalization. For example, referrals and custom campaigns are a better choice when you're seeking quality over quantity for more specialized jobs."

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