Application Funnel: Understanding and Optimizing the Candidate Experience

Application Funnel: Understanding and Optimizing the Candidate Experience [http://bit.ly/2rlRU6L]

How to increase the number of quality applicants

For over a century, the marketing industry has been using the purchase funnel concept to model the customer journey – a path customers take when interacting with products or services.

By drawing parallels between customers and job seekers, the HR field adapted this concept through the application funnel (also called recruitment funnel) – a framework that describes how job seekers move along several steps of the hiring process.

A correct understanding of the application funnel helps employers to improve recruitment efforts by optimizing every stage of the process.

Looking at how to improve the recruitment process, this post will explore:

  • The candidate experience and how to leverage it to attract the right talent
  • The application funnel and how to optimize it for conversions
  • The rise of mobile job applications and how to optimize for mobile
  • Best practices to improve conversions

User Flow: A Primer

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines user experience, through its ISO 9241-210 standard, as:

“Person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service”

Basically, user experience is how people feel when utilizing something.

However, from this simple definition, a whole field of study, known as UX, establishes concepts and best practices to guide the design of interactive systems. A key concept is that of the UX Honeycomb, developed by author and information architecture expert Peter Morville:

UX Honeycomb as a helpful framework [http://bit.ly/1dPQ3AV]
UX Honeycomb as a helpful framework [source: http://bit.ly/1dPQ3AV]
An improvement upon the previous “User-Centered Design” three circles diagram, the UX Honeycomb incorporates seven qualities to take into account when designing products and systems for an optimal user experience. Under this approach, information has to be:

  • Useful: content has to serve a purpose
  • Usable: users have to be able to achieve what they want to do
  • Desirable: users should desire to use the product
  • Findable: information must be easy to find
  • Accessible: users with disabilities must be able to use the product or system
  • Credible: content has to convey trust, it must be believable for users
  • Valuable: content has to deliver value to both users and content owners

For employers, user experience is a crucial element to attract the right talent. Online job boards and company application sites need to make it as easy and efficient as possible for job seekers to apply for open positions. Slow loading pages and lengthy application forms can drive potential applicants away. This is where the importance of UX in recruitment stands out.

The user/customer experience translates directly into the context of the job seeker. A typical job seeker is someone with little time available to spend. Also, job seekers might have very specific goals and/or questions regarding available positions:

  • Qualification and adequacy: what is the job and where is it located?
  • Personal and financial interests: how many working hours and how does it pay?
  • Ease of application (candidate experience): why and how to apply?

Answering these questions up front facilitates the flow of candidates and potential hires through the application funnel, thus optimizing the job seeker experience.


Application Funnel: A Lever That Recruiters Can Control

Our previous post on recruitment analytics presented the application funnel as an adaptation of both the purchase and digital marketing funnels for the HR industry—a model describing the candidate journey through five different stages of the recruitment process:

Example of a recruitment funnel [own figure]
Example of a recruitment funnel [own figure]
  1. Employment branding: company messaging and brand used to draw job seekers, what makes the company special enough for candidates to be willing to apply for jobs. This stage is where a number of visitors potentially turn into applicants.
  2. Sourcing: the different channels and ways for candidates to enter into the pipeline, by either active or passive recruiting means. Active recruiting might include job boards and social media platforms, whereas passive recruiting includes strategies such as referrals and past candidates (those candidates that were deemed as not fit for previously open positions, but that could still be adequate for newer opportunities). The sourcing step of the funnel sets the stage for the actual applications.
  3. Candidate experience: how candidates interact with the employer during the application process. This is where UX considerations come into play, as the application process needs to be efficient and user-friendly enough so that candidates don’t drop off due to lengthy forms, slow-loading pages, or non-responsive mobile application sites.This stage generates a percentage of applicants to interviewees.
  4. Candidate selection: the different methods and tools used to gain insights on interviewees in order to select the best possible candidates. During this step in the funnel, a percentage of interviews turn into offers and then into actual hires.
  5. Insights: reports and data on all the other stages of the funnel, to assess their candidate-to-hire conversion efficiency and to keep optimizing the funnel.

A 2016 study by mobile research firm dscout found out that, in average, smartphone users touch their devices 2,617 times a day (this includes all common interactions: tapping, typing, swiping, and clicking).

Mobile touchpoints during the day [source: http://bit.ly/2bzUuQL]
Mobile touchpoints during the day [source: http://bit.ly/2bzUuQL]
Given the current context of job seekers it helps to keep certain aspects in mind when planning an application funnel:

  • Reachability: smartphones are always around. With such a constant availability and high level of engagement from users, employers have a huge number of opportunities during the day of a job seeker to keep them flowing through the funnel.
  • Mobile optimization: job application sites should function equally well regardless of the screen size they’re being accessed from (e.g. via responsive design; etc.). When this aspect is overlooked, applicant drop-off rates increase. Other equally important factors of mobile optimization include single input fields, automatically pre-filled values, step-by-step forms with progress bars, minimal forms, and avoiding drop-down menus.
  • Logical information flow: applicants do not complete application forms for many reasons, dropping out of the funnel as a result. One way to minimize this risk is by establishing priorities in the information flow: the most important info should be requested first and, in the case of application forms, the priority is contact information. This way, if applicants drop off, they can be contacted later and brought back into the flow to continue with the application process.  
  • A/B testing: the application funnel creates valuable data and can be applied to optimize recruiting efforts. By applying A/B testing techniques to the various steps, employers can continually improve both their candidate experiences and conversion rates. A/B testing is especially suitable for analyzing user behavior on application pages and forms. By comparing different versions of these pages and their interactive elements, employers can identify opportunities for improving the candidate experience.

Big Shift: How Mobile Is Eating Recruitment

Conversion optimization on mobile needs to be managed. Form length, copy, call-to-action buttons, and the number of fields are all elements that benefit from mobile best practices.

How to make a site mobile-friendly? [source: http://bit.ly/1ur192o]
How to make a site mobile-friendly? [source: http://bit.ly/1ur192o]
However, employers need to consider that even optimized mobile application forms could experience drop-off. Careful data analysis can help employers determine possible causes, but there is always a possibility of candidates leaving the mobile sites to complete the application on their desktop computers later. Mobile application funnels should always take into account the reality of the multi-screen behavior and optimize accordingly by making mobile sites more enticing.


Best Practices: Identifying and Solving Issues With the Application Funnel

When conducting an application funnel audit it helps to look first at funnel stages with significant drop-off rates. These can be indicative of some type of friction that needs corrective action.

Examples of typical friction points include:

  • Poor branding
  • Sourcing problems
  • Usability issues
  • Ineffective hiring process
  • Unattractive offers

These points of friction have a negative impact on the overall efficiency of the recruitment process as well as on the company’s ROI. This is why the funnel requires active management in order to constantly improve recruiting performance.

Conversion rate optimization is a continuous process. To optimize mobile application funnels, employers need to:

  • Identify all possible friction points (see above)
  • Leverage available tools for A/B testing and analytics (Optimizely, Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, Perengo, etc.)
  • Create variations of mobile pages and application forms, testing their performance with the A/B testing tools of choice
  • Analyze the data from test results, apply all necessary changes to reduce friction, and continue testing for further improvements

A carefully devised conversion rate optimization strategy can improve both recruitment and business goals.


Bottomline: Recruiters Need to Make Mobile Work

As mobile usage continues to increase, more job seekers will start looking and applying via their mobile devices. However, there are still technical difficulties in place that keep a percentage of potential candidates (60% according to an Indeed.com study) from using mobile application forms.

These types of hurdles – non-responsive pages, lengthy application forms, and illogical information flow, among others – detract from the candidate experience, making applications a non-trivial task on mobile. This makes funnel optimization mandatory for employers.

Once optimized application funnels are in place, the data generated inform decisions that help employers achieve both recruitment and business goals.

When it comes to funnel optimization, “testing is king”. The particulars of every organization will dictate which stages in their funnels need specific approaches in A/B testing and conversion rate optimization.

One of the greatest benefits of true programmatic recruitment is the ability to leverage unified data insights across several stages of the application funnel, which in turn gives a huge competitive advantage for employers.


If you have insights and opinions on this topic please share your thoughts.

Thanks, Team Perengo


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Perengo is a programmatic recruitment platform.

High-growth businesses and Fortune 500 companies use Perengo to solve their recruitment challenges at scale. The platform provides tools for operational recruitment automation and strategic business intelligence.

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