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How to Optimize your Applicant Conversion Rate

Your hiring process is one big recruitment funnel. You start with a job posting that gets clicked on by job seekers. Some of those clicks will convert into applicants. Some of them will make it through to the interview stage. And then some of those get hired. Your recruiting results are impacted by how well (and how quickly) you can attract candidates and convert them throughout your funnel. 

In my last blog post, I wrote about the middle of the funnel and how companies can improve the number of applicants who convert to interviews by contacting applicants faster.

Now I am focusing on higher in the funnel to discuss a conversion rate you might not even be aware of: converting job seekers who click on your job posting into applicants.

Analyzing your Click-to-Apply Rate

Many companies think they’re not getting enough applicants because no one is seeing their jobs, but that’s not always true. Companies think they have a visibility problem, but they really have an applicant conversion problem.

Your applicant conversion, or click-to-apply rate, is calculated by taking the number of applicants you receive for a job divided by the number of clicks you receive on your job from job seekers.

Click-to-Apply Rate = Applicants / Clicks

This number tells you how many people are abandoning your job posting without applying. You may be wondering: What’s a good click-to-apply rate? We recommend taking a look at what this rate has been in the past for your company as a benchmark for your current postings.

Job Application Mistakes to Avoid

If you find that many applicants are abandoning your application, here are a few reasons why:

  1. Your job title is misleading – You should expect some job seekers to drop out after reading the job description. However, a low click-to-apply rate may indicate that job seekers expected to see something different when they clicked on the job. Take another look at your job title to see whether it matches the role. If you’re not sure, search a job board for other jobs with the same job title to see how closely they match your opening. 
  2. Your application requires a login – Certain applicant tracking systems require job seekers to create a login with their system before applying. This can be a dealbreaker for job seekers, particularly those who apply from a mobile device (more than 75% of all applicants in some cases). 
  3. Your application requires job seekers to enter sensitive personal information upfront – I have seen some applications that require someone to enter their Social Security number to start their application. There’s no reason to ask for this upfront. You can always collect this later as the candidate moves further along in the hiring process.
  4. Your application requires job seekers to enter their job history – Job seekers spent time putting together a professional resume; they don’t want to type out information on their last three jobs like they’re completing an old paper job application. Other applications ask for information that few job seekers will have handy (like a phone number of a manager from three jobs ago)
  5. Your application requires a long assessment upfront – Job seekers want to find the best jobs available and apply to them. These applications should take no more than five to ten minutes each. If you ask for much more than that, job seekers will abandon the application.

How Our Clients Have Succeeded in Attracting More Potential Candidates

CareerPlug’s clients don’t need to worry about most of the scenarios above. There’s no login to apply. We don’t ask for DOB or SSN to get started. There’s no job history form, and assessments are completed as a second step (which could be immediately after applying if that works for the candidate).

Making things simpler for job seekers can produce dramatic results. We have had some clients come from other applicant tracking systems that require logins and/or job history forms, and these clients’ applicant totals have doubled (or more). This is almost completely due to improving their click-to-apply rate (since most applicant tracking systems all send their jobs to the same job boards).

The area where our clients’ applications can become longer (and at higher risk of abandonment) is with our prescreen questions feature. Prescreen questions are valuable resources for our clients. They allow clients to ask a few questions upfront to prequalify candidates. In most cases, their responses can be scored and used to create a candidate prescreen score and also disqualify candidates who do not meet the job requirements. 

Our standard recommendation is for clients to use 3-5 prescreen questions. Our thought is that fewer questions equal a shorter application time. And a shorter application leads to a higher click-to-apply rate. Indeed has previously published data supporting this and showing that job seekers on their site have an 88.7% abandonment rate for jobs with 45+ screener questions.

I wanted to put this to the test by analyzing our own clients’ data. The results were surprising (and not as conclusive as I expected). While there were some indications of the click-to-apply rate dropping as the number of prescreen questions increased, we also found that several of the jobs with the highest click-to-apply rates had over 10 prescreen questions (some had over 20).

While trying to make sense of this, I did some research to see how this works in the sales/marketing world. Does the number of fields on a sales lead capture form impact the conversion rate on that form? I read this article which analyzed a few companies that provide the software that powers these landing pages, and I found a similar pattern. Landing page forms with more fields generally don’t convert at as high of a rate as those with fewer fields, but there were significant exceptions to this. While one source showed three as the ideal number of fields for conversion, another source showed that 10 fields converted at a higher rate than three.

It All Comes Down to Motivation

As I thought through this some more, I remembered that not all jobs are created equal. Some companies and some jobs have a higher appeal, and more job seekers will be willing to do whatever it takes to be considered.

Could you get an interested candidate to jump through several hoops for you and complete a lengthy application? Yes — but they will need to have the right motivation. I’m going to break motivation down into two parts: absolute and relative.

Absolute motivation is someone’s pure desire to work for you. Perhaps this is someone you already know or a referral from a trusted friend. Or it could be that your reputation and employment brand is so strong that people will line up to work for you. It could also be that supply and demand are simply in your favor. There may be only a few open positions like the one you have to offer in your job market, and these jobs are highly coveted. You will often see this dynamic with executive-level roles. 

If you have enough candidates from these categories to meet your hiring needs, then you probably don’t need to make any adjustments. Most companies’ jobs do not fall into this category, and therefore they need to take steps to make sure that people will complete their applications.

Relative motivation is how motivated the average person would be to complete any job application. Ten years ago, it was common applications to take 30 minutes to complete, on a computer or in person with a paper application. Once more candidates started to apply from their phones, the standards changed. Some applications can now be completed within a few clicks if the candidate’s resume is already on file with a job board. Job seekers’ motivation to complete a 30-minute application has plummeted. 

Dr. BJ Fogg developed the Fogg Behavior Model to explain the relationship between motivation and effort required to complete a task (or Trigger). As you will see on this graph, anything to the right of the Action Line will get done. Anything to the left won’t.

If someone has high motivation, they will be willing to do just about anything to apply to your job. If they have low motivation, they won’t be willing to do much at all.

The answer is not to make your application as short or easy as possible. I do think there is such a thing as too short, and that it’s good for certain job seekers to self-select out of the application process. You need to find the right sweet spot for your business and job. Just remember that the best candidates can afford to choose, and they may be the first ones to bail on your job posting if it’s too cumbersome — unless you give them a compelling reason to stick around and apply.

Take Action

  • Analyze your click-to-apply rate on your jobs. If you are not seeing enough applicants, check to see whether you have a visibility issue or a conversion issue. Your applicant tracking system should be able to provide these recruiting metrics.
  • Check to see if your job title is attracting the wrong job seekers. Analyze other jobs with the same job title to see how they compare to yours. They may be attracting job seekers who are too junior or senior (or just the wrong job seekers altogether).
  • Look for ways to simplify your application process. Eliminate unnecessary requirements like logins or job history forms.
  • Focus on quality over quantity of questions. Make sure that you get the essential information upfront, but not much else. And use open-ended questions sparingly. We typically only use one open-ended prescreen question (“What makes you unique?). I have seen a few clients who put several essay questions in their application. It does not surprise me when they call to ask how they could increase the number of applicants they receive.

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