Applicant Abandonment and The Paradox of Value.

paradox of valueHave you ever heard of the paradox of value? If not, let me catch you up on that lesson from Philosophy 101. The paradox of value describes the discrepancy of meaning when it comes to value. For example, why is water less expensive than diamonds? We need water to survive but diamonds? Not so much. At least if you ask any girl who didn’t grow up as the Princess of some country or in Belair.

Many great philosophers have touched on this theory including Plato, Nicolaus CopernicusJohn Locke and John Law. What they’ve all come to acknowledge in their writing is that in this comparison, the definition of value itself changes in this context.  The value of use versus the value of exchange. Water, for example, we can’t live without. But let’s say we were trying to make a trade. In this context, water is valued at nothing, unless you happen to be making a trade with someone who’s dehydrated.

The beauty of philosophy, is that as we change the situations, you can argue the value – with this theory or any other. You can negotiate and create contexts where value changes and rules adapt. It’s an underlying principle for every decision we make and there’s always a scenario that can shift perspectives and make someone look at the situation a little differently. Maybe even change their minds.

Being a philosopher, of sorts, about recruiting – this got me thinking about applicants. The way we, as managers and recruiters, value them.

Candidates Are Water

water for saleIf we go back to the philosophy lesson, candidates fit both sides of the value paradox. They’re water, in that we must have them to function in our roles. But we also treat them like water in a trade, as if we don’t need them at all and their value is $0 by providing the worst experience possible to apply to a job. I know hundreds of top professionals who all have said, “I wanted to apply to company XYZ, but after trying to apply for 10 minutes and seeing no end in sight, I just closed the window.”Right now our candidate experience is more like the ice bucket challenge then an elite experience and it’s causing problems that bleed into our metrics.

You may not realize the candidate application process at your company is broken. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in an unfortunate majority. 70% of potential candidates abandon the application because the application process takes too much time. If you were a standalone business, relying on that applicant flow – you’d be out of business. It’s simple math, really. If you have over 1,000 people read the job description, let’s say 1,000 feel they are qualified and start to apply. Taking the above 60%-70% abandonment rate, you might get 300 applicants.

These metrics will make any results-oriented executive nervous, and they should. As a CEO/CFO/CHRO, perhaps these are data points you don’t see. You’re distracted by monthly hiring reports with “X” number of people hired, “Y” number of “days open” per requisition, and maybe a few other data points.

Burying your head in the standard numbers is leaving you blind to other metrics that could imply huge losses of candidates in the beginning stages, potentially costing you untold time and money in opportunity costs.

The Argument For Abandonment Metrics

philosophy argumentThe result is that these recruiters then have to market their roles and many go into it with a “diamond” style marketing technique to convince applicants to apply. I see so many recruiters practically begging people to apply to their open roles, only to hear horror stories of how they’ve treated the applicants like garbage. Our pipeline can’t survive on the diamonds that make it through. We look desperate when we post those roles with APPLY NOW or “this job is on fire.” It’s the equivalent of sleazy car salesmen in hiring. The after effects aren’t too different either, leaving people broke and broken down.

These marketing metrics become overly-hyped and distracting to improving the process. Hate to break it to you but impressions aren’t tangible and don’t get applies. They just don’t. If you’re an executive buying into that when it comes to recruiting metrics, it’s time to look at another number. One that’s rarely mentioned but hyper-critical.

It’s the abandonment ratio. This is quite simply the number of people that start applying to the job, then stop and abandon the process. Learning about this number could improve quality simply because more will complete the application, finish the process, and potentially become a candidate. The other cool part? It’s a metrics that translates into action items you can control, unlike time to fill.

To assess this metric, start by applying to a job at your company. Set a timer. If it takes less than 5 minutes, great. If it takes longer, note how long and note any frustrations you have while doing it. Did you get any errors? Did you encounter anything else making your applying frustrating? If so, good. These are quick and easy-to-fix opportunities to improve your processes.

Now, calculate your abandonment ratio. For a rough estimate, take the total number of applicants to any requisition. Divide it by 0.30. This will give you the estimated amount of people that probably read the job description based on the CareerxRoads study that started applying, and then abandon the application.

If you want a more specific number, calculate your own abandonment percent by “scoring” your apply process. For every error or stopping point you encounter, add .02. For every 2 minutes over 5, add .10. So for 4 errors and a 10 minute apply, I’d estimate about 40% abandon versus the standard 30%.

Moral Motivation

life chance and changeTo start treating your candidates like the water you need to survive, it’s time to make changes to your technical apply process. Start looking at your ATS and set up something I call first and second level applications.

Some ATS systems allow you to configure a first level application: uploading a resume, validating name, address, phone, and email. This is enough for any good recruiter to do a first pass evaluation. When candidates get to a phone interview or in-person, you can email them a link to complete a more in-depth, second level application. This may reduce your applicant abandonment immediately by getting the process down to 5 minutes or less.

About The Author

alan fluhrerAlan Fluhrer is a 20+ year talent acquisition manager & recruiter. Industry experience includes banking, engineering, and high-tech, (of all kinds), government intelligence agencies, (I could tell you but I’d have to kill you…joke), and more. His expertise includes talent management, recruiting at all parts of the process and improving processes and methods with a blend of art, science/data, and smattering of common sense. Including onboarding, candidate experience, social media recruiting, branding, and a whole lot of strategy creation and execution.

Alan Fluhrer



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