Where did that hire come from, anyway? And who cares?

A long time ago – say, in the early 1990s – employers had a very good idea where their job candidates originated. Most came from ‘word of mouth’ and the rest via newspaper ads.

Not so today. In a world where candidates can discover jobs via Twitter, job boards, social networks, unemployment offices, and yes, even word of mouth, employers have found it increasingly difficult to say exactly where their hires originate. In fact, a recent study by CareerXroads repeatedly emphasized that many companies lack sophisticated tracking for the source of hire.

Why is the source of hire important? Well, knowing where good candidates were found helps the employer to continue building a skilled workforce, and helps the HR department forecast their recruitment spending. It should be a simple question to answer, but it isn’t. The devil is in the details.

First, there is simple confusion over terms – for example, if an ad is run in the newspaper, it’s also likely that the paper will post it online. So is a response to the ad attributed to the newspaper, or to the online job board it posted to? Second, although many companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) that are designed to follow the job seeker from inquiry to hire, the tracking codes are often simplistic – instead of listing several different job boards, the ATS might simply offer one source: ‘job boards’.  Finally, job seekers may not remember (or even care) where they originally found out about the job, so they just check off the first option that shows up.

Despite these hurdles, companies in the CareerXroads study attributed 27% of hires to referrals, 22% to company career sites, and 13% to job boards, with the remaining sources mixed. What is noteworthy about these numbers?

  • First, note that job board operators firmly reject the idea that ‘company career site’ is a legitimate source. Considering the miserable state of source tracking, it would be more appropriate to label that particular bucket ‘source unknown’.
  • Second, notwithstanding the buzz, social media tools seem more promise than reality for the employers surveyed, accounting for less than 1% of hires.
  • Third, here’s the big surprise — the leading source of hire was ‘internal movement’ – in other words, promotion from within the company. The ‘internal movement’ category accounts for 51% of all hires. So once you’re hired, you stand a good chance of being re-hired by your company, especially during a deep recession – good news for the happily employed.

And for the unemployed? Talk to your friends, network, visit prospective employers’ careers site – and check the job boards that specialize in your industry and profession.


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