In a recent article, I referred to the candidate engagement gap, which I explain as “the gap between the candidates you want to hire and the candidates you actually connect with.” Given the ongoing chaos in the job market, I think this topic warrants deeper discussion in hopes that we build processes that close the gap and shift the whole hiring experience in a more positive direction. But first, we need to take a closer look at candidate engagement and what it means, both in theory and practice, to determine where the gap lies.
There is no official definition of candidate engagement: no Wikipedia page to scour or analyst missive to ponder. Most of the search results you will find point to a series of vendors throwing around ideas that all ultimately tie back to their products. Read enough of what’s out there, and you’ll realize that everyone is saying the same thing: candidate engagement is about building and maintaining relationships. Candidate engagement rates seek to quantify those relationships by measuring how responsive candidates are, how quickly they follow up, and, ultimately, how they feel they were treated throughout the process. Candidate engagement varies from person to person and organization to organization. It is subjective and corresponds directly with another critical concept, candidate experience.
So, where does the gap come into play? Earlier than you might expect.
Candidate engagement can take many different forms depending on the job type, organization, recruiting strategy, and so on. Just like digital marketers have worked to identify categories of customer engagement, sourcers have taken a similar approach to reach prospective candidates because they know that hiring hinges on engagement. Industry analyst Madeline Laurano shared a slide recently that detailed four sourcing tactics – speed, research, batch and tailored – and the associated causes and success of each. With regard to engagement, this helps to illustrate that from the get-go, there are any number of ways candidate interactions can go off the rails – and fast. Even with tools that provide contact data and automate follow-ups, it doesn’t matter which tactic we use; if the candidates you want to hire don’t engage at the outset, the process stalls.
And stalled engagement isn’t limited to any one source. In fact, it isn’t even limited to just passive candidates. Even active, seemingly interested candidates might ignore an InMail or avoid their personal email, and I’m sure they have their reasons. But without interaction, without the opportunity to forge a relationship, the recruiting process will move on to someone else, someone who may be less suited for the role or organization, leaving those in-demand candidates behind.
Knowing that the gap can start with sourcing (and spread from there), we have the opportunity to rethink how we engage candidates. You’ve likely heard people say that you have to meet candidates where they are, which, while solid advice, is easier said than done. With thousands of potential sources spread across the physical world and the online one, how do you determine which platforms your candidates are most interested in? How do you know when they will be available? How do you craft a message that will capture their attention? These are big questions that most of the conversations about candidate engagement seem to overlook in favor of talking around the problem – and any potential solutions.
One such answer is social media, but even that isn’t limited to only one source or strategy. If you are keen to find Gen Z talent, you might want to consider TikTok. For Millennials, maybe Instagram, and for Gen X, try LinkedIn. You get the picture. Narrowing the focus is a step in the right direction, though it still doesn’t guarantee that candidates will engage. Instead, we need to drill down further and identify which platform, when to reach out, and what to say, which is no easy feat without the help of technology.
Going back to digital marketers for a moment, these folks are pros at maximizing engagement. They work to understand customer emotions, behaviors, ethics, and actions to deliver content that will hit at just the right moment. Digital marketers know that each of these categories requires different tactics to trigger engagement. They are consistent, compelling and contextual at every turn. In this example, an engagement could be as simple as interacting with an ad or conversion to a sale. Likewise, for recruiting, by taking a digital marketing-driven approach, we can look to improve targeting to encourage connection, closing the candidate engagement gap by improving the process. And it all begins with who, how, and when we source.
As the right hand to many founders, Shafiur has made operations the secret weapon for many startups. He has built the operational infrastructure and held prominent leadership roles for several companies, including Airbus Aerial, Specright, Connectifier (Acquired by LinkedIn Feb' 16), and Airware. Decades of broad exposure have taught Shafiur which levers make each functional area work and how they must be coordinated for a startup to succeed.