Do you consider the default settings on your application form? Or the search engine on your corporate careers website? You should, as most of your visitors and applicants never change them.

Dutch insurance giant Achmea for example gives their applicants the opportunity to decide on the method of communication. The candidate gets to decide if the recruiter should call, WhatsApp, or e-mail.

Turns out 80% never changed the default status of phone.

Of course, this wasn’t tested in an A/B test, so maybe people like to be called. But we see this everywhere and there are actually a lot of good psychological constructs for this behavior.

  1. The default sets the norm and most people don’t like deviating from the norm.
  2. A conscious choice costs mental energy. If a choice is already made for us, that’s easy.

GDPR compliance

So do we see this on other aspects of the careers website as well? Yes. For example, GDPR compliance checks in Europe. Most companies have a “check the box” but some offer the candidate the choice of when to have their data removed—between 28 days or 1 year—after the application process is finished.

No matter whether it’s 28 days or 1 year, the default option gets selected about 70% across the board according to Dutch ATS Hirevserve.

Not just online 

In case you’re now wondering: maybe people just don’t care enough about these things. Let’s take a choice that could decide between life and death: organ donation. That’s an important one, and one you would think people care deeply about right?

Well, Germany and Austria have pretty similar cultural norms, yet the number of organ donors in Austria is twice as high as in Germany. Why?

The default option at registration in Austria is yes and in Germany is no. In Austria, you have to make a conscious decision to unregister. In Germany, you have to make it to register.

What defaults do you have? 

So what defaults do you have on your careers website? Do you have a range in your search bar? If so, what made you decide that is the right default?

Do you send job alerts at different time intervals? If so what’s the default interval?

And in case you think you don’t have a default because they always need to select something, you forget that the first option you offer is the one selected most often.

The effect isn’t as strong as a pre-filled default, but it’s still there.

Defaults matter

There is no wrong or right with defaults. But never forget you have the power to nudge people. Or actually, by definition, you will nudge people.

So whatever choice you make, make a conscious one, as your choice unconsciously affects those of many.

Bas van de Haterd

Bas van de Haterd is a self-employed professional that helps companies recruit smarter by using the right technology. He is mainly known for his in-depth knowledge of pre-screening assessment technology. He also runs a research, award, and event called Digitaal-Werven that focuses on the candidate experience. Follow Bas on Twitter @bvdhaterd or connect with him on LinkedIn.