Recruiting Job Applicants - Principles of Management

The human resource planning process described earlier estimates the number of people with specific qualifications required in the future to fulfill the organization’s strategic objectives.
Now it is up to recruitment, selection, and development to attract those people, choose the most suitable applicants, and, where necessary, train them in the required competencies.

Recruitment , the first of these activities, consists of a set of activities that improves the number and quality of people who apply for employment, as well as the probability that qualified and compatible applicants will accept employment offers. A number of myths about recruitment can cause short- or long-term problems. Here are three of the most common myths:

  • Myth #1: Companies should attract as many job applicants as possible .
    Large applicant pools can improve the quality of the people hired, but this strategy also creates a few problems. First, it costs more money to recruit more people, so at some point the cost exceeds the value. This problem is compounded as the recruitment activities attract applicants with a poor fit to the job and organization. Second, the company must reject more applicants as more people apply. A high rejection rate may increase the risk of discrimination lawsuits or (at least) the risk of having many rejected applicants with negative feelings toward the company.
  • Myth #2: Companies should focus their recruitment on people with the highest credentials .
    On the surface, this assumption makes sense because applicants with the best credentials will generally perform the best. But job performance is only one factor to consider when recruiting and selecting applicants. Particularly during times of low unemployment or high skill shortages, people’s desire for employment stability as well as their fit with the organizational culture can be important considerations.
  • Myth #3: Companies should appear as attractive as possible during recruitment .
    Glamorizing the job or hiding negative features of the organization is a common ploy to attract more job applicants, but this strategy often backfires. Dissatisfaction, mistrust of management, and turnover can occur as recruits discover that reality is less than what the company advertised.

Overall, recruitment is a process of communicating information to people who would be most suitable to the job and organization. However, achieving this goal begins not with recruitment brochures or campus visits. Instead it begins with the more strategic approach of nurturing the employer brand.


Compass Group employs 440,000 people in 96 countries (including 120,000 in the United States) for its food service operations in hotels, company and school cafeterias, and sports complexes. Despite its size and global reach, the British-based company is not well known to prospective applicants. That was a concern for Compass’s management because it is an ongoing challenge to find and hire qualified applicants in this industry.

To improve its recruiting, Compass held focus groups with more than 1,000 employees in 20 countries to understand employee perceptions of the company’s brand image as an employer and what could be done to strengthen that image. Compass developed a new slogan—Great People, Real Opportunities —that captures the importance of employees, and the firm revised its global recruiting to maintain a more consistent message about what Compass Group stands for as an employer.

“It’s tough to launch a brand until you know what you stand for, but this provided a framework and context,” explains Chris Ashcroft, executive vice president of human resources for Compass Group North America in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For Compass Group and almost every other company, an important component of recruitment is the comprehensive process of developing and maintaining an employer brand . This term refers to the package of functional, economic, and psychological benefits provided by employment and identified with the company as an employer.

It is an organization’s reputation as an employer, including people’s expectations about working at that company, what the company values (its corporate culture), and how it differentiates itself from other employers in that industry or labor market. Employer branding provides a significant advantage in recruiting and retaining people. It serves the same benefits provided by any product or service brand: a focused clarity that stands out from a confusing array of choices.

A brand bundles the complex combination of beliefs and expectations about something into a more simplified image. People immediately recognize GE as a performance-oriented global conglomerate, SAS Institute as an employee-friendly software company, and Apple Computer as an innovative computer company. Each of these brand images gives job applicants a compressed picture of what it might be like to work in those organizations.

To nurture their employer brands, companies must ensure that their reward systems, corporate cultures, and careerdevelopment opportunities are consistent with their brand images. Employers’ brand images are also heavily influenced by the brand images of their products and services.

One study based on personal interviews with more than 35,000 people across 16 countries reported that companies with well-known products or services are much more highly regarded as employers than companies with less well-known brands. Furthermore, firms with a low-price image are perceived less favorably as employers than those whose products or services have an expensive brand image.

For instance, Figure below lists BMW as one of the top employer brands in America (based on a survey of 37,000 students at 207 universities and colleges). The German automaker has a positive image as an employer because of the reputation of its automobiles. In fact, BMW does no college recruitment, partly because it receives so many applications already. “Great brands attract great people,” says one BMW executive.

U.S. Undergraduate and MBA Student Rankings of the Top Employer Brands

U.S. Undergraduate and MBA Student Rankings of the Top Employer Brands

Developing an employer brand requires a comprehensive strategy that begins with becoming aware of the existing image, aligning company culture and practices with the desired differentiating brand image, and communicating that image consistently and meaningfully to the public through various channels. Here are the main activities that support an employer brand:

  • Identify and develop positive differentiating features. Compass Group, described earlier, followed the first step in employer branding, which is to know the company’s competitive advantages as an employer within the industry or labor market and to further develop those differentiating features by ensuring that rewards, culture, training, and other systems are aligned. This process often begins with a survey of current employees about their perceptions of the company. Where cost-effective, firms should also survey
    targeted applicant groups to determine their perceptions of the employer brand.
  • Raise the company’s public profile. Firms with well-known (and respected) products or services have stronger employer brands. Other companies need to improve their employer brands by more heavily marketing their products and services—particularly directed toward prospective employees rather than just consumers. Experts also suggest that including the company’s name in the product or service improves employer brand awareness.
  • Use consistent messages in recruiting and marketing. The messages communicated to potential employees must be consistently focused around a common image of the company. If a company is at the forefront of innovation and wants to be known for this characteristic, then it must be stated or obvious in college recruitment interviews, brochures, and marketing literature for the company’s products and services.
  • Earn third-party recognition. One reason (of several) why corporate leaders bother to participate in time-consuming awards surveys—as the best employer, the best place for diversity, the best company for women, and so forth—is that favorable rankings from these independent sources improve a company’s brand image as an employer.


Developing and maintaining an employer brand is a significant advantage in the recruitment process, but finding enough people with the right qualifications also requires other strategic decisions and tasks. One of the first decisions is whether to hire outsiders or promote people within the organization.

Many firms prefer internal recruitment (communicating job openings only to current employees) because the applicants’ qualifications and potential are known from reliable sources within the organization, whereas information about external job candidates might be sketchy or biased. Internal recruiting is also less expensive because the company does not pay for job advertisements or headhunters.

These first two benefits lead to a third one: It takes less time to recruit internally than externally. A fourth advantage of internal recruitment is that job applicants are more familiar with the organization, including its practices and culture, whereas external applicants are more likely to experience problems adjusting to the job and organization.

Finally, internal recruitment rewards successful employees through promotions to more challenging and usually high-paying jobs. External recruitment is both necessary and desirable for most entry-level positions as well as in situations where there aren’t enough qualified current staff members to fill higher-level positions. Google faces this situation. It has doubled its size over the past two years, so it relies on external recruitment at all levels.

The need for external hires also occurs when a company changes its strategy or moves into new fields of knowledge. Again, this shift is occurring at Google, which is expanding into new online services such as online retail and payment systems. These new business strategies require skill sets that are not sufficiently available from current employees.

External recruiting also brings new perspectives, so managers will take this path when they want to change the organization’s culture or infuse more creativity. Procter & Gamble (P&G), which was a solid defender of internal recruiting for decades, recently increased its external hiring to shake up the workforce and proliferate new ideas from different perspectives.

While the consumer products giant was laying off executives and other staff, it dramatically expanded its design department by hiring an army of creative types from other organizations and pairing them with long-service P&G staff.


There are many channels through which job openings are communicated and gain the attention of prospective employees. Internal recruitment typically occurs through job postings. At one time large organizations would distribute to all employees throughout the company a weekly newspaper filled with internal job postings. Today employees usually review job postings through the company’s intranet. Internal recruitment also occurs through career planning and referrals from the employee’s immediate supervisor.

Employee referrals represent the most common informal method for externally recruiting job applicants. National City Corp. is a case in point. The Cleveland-based financial institution doesn’t yet have enough qualified people inside the company to fill the expanding number of broker positions, so it relies on current employees to recruit their friends and acquaintances for these jobs.

National City and many other employers prefer this recruitment method because it is inexpensive and because the referring employee tends to provide applicants with more realistic and detailed information than is available through formal recruitment methods. Most (but not all) studies agree that employee referrals offer these benefits.

Other external recruitment channels include advertisements, campus visits, government and private employment agencies, and executive search firms. Private employment agencies and executive search firms (often called “headhunters”) are more expensive. However, they are important sources for professional and senior management job applicants because they tend to screen applicants and actively lure them aware from their current employment.

Online Recruitment (e-Recruitment) The Internet as a medium for recruitment (often called “e-recruitment”) has exploded over the past decade. Every day approximately 4 million Americans use the Internet to look for information about jobs. Almost half of all human resource executives responsible for recruiting believe that online job boards are better than traditional recruitment channels at finding job candidates.

Most medium-sized and large companies have developed recruitment content on their own Web sites. Google, for example, has details of available jobs in every country, lists the top 10 reasons to work at the company, and provides downloadable videos in which Google staff describe what it’s like to work at the Googleplex. Google and other companies also include formal job application processes on these sites; but most firms rely on specialized Internet job boards developed by third parties, such as,, and

Online recruitment also saves time and money. Recruitment content is uploaded more quickly and at a much lower cost than is possible with newspaper ads or distributed brochures. Applicant details are submitted directly to the human resource system, saving money compared to filing and coding manual application forms. Confirmation of applications and subsequent correspondence typically occur via e-mail, which further saves time and money.

Sainsbury, the British supermarket chain, recently slashed its administrative costs by U.S. $8 million by conducting all its recruitment processes online. Nike also recently switched to online recruitment at its European offices, which decreased recruitment costs by more than 50 percent, cut the time to fill vacancies from 62 to 42 days, and reduced the embarrassment of losing job applications that candidates had submitted by mail.

Guerrilla Recruitment Online recruiting has become a standard practice in many organizations, but it is a passive approach that overlooks many people who might not be thinking about employment at another company. Google uses online recruitment to attract applicants; but to fulfill its rapidly expanding human resource needs, it also relies on guerrilla recruiting methods—activities that are proactive, on the ground, and creative.

Google has an army of private and in-house recruiters who actively seek out technology stars from around the world. These recruiters increase the number of highly qualified applicants by personally contacting employees working elsewhere who might not otherwise think about working at Google. Campus recruiters also rely on guerrilla tactics, such as inviting visitors with the highest potential to a special meeting the next day with Google’s engineers.

Another strategy is to host competitions or sponsor events that offer a parallel benefit of attracting prospective employees. Google recently funded a “Summer of Code” event in which 410 college-level students (out of thousands who submitted proposals) received mentoring support from several partner organizations while writing open-source software code.

Google paid a small stipend to mentors at the other organizations and $4,500 to students who completed their projects. The Summer of Code was a form of guerrilla recruiting because it gave Google (and the other mentoring firms) an inside track on high-quality applicants.

“It was a way to start a dialogue with people around the world who might not necessarily be looking for a job—but might become a future employee,” says Judy Gilbert, Google’s staffing program director.

Google also hosts an online competition called “Code Jam” in which contestants around the world are challenged to write code to solve specific problems, then find ways to “break” the code that others have written. Winners in the final round of 100 contestants (out of thousands in the first round) receive up to $10,000, trips to the Googleplex (Google headquarters), and job offers.

Some guerrilla recruiting strategies gain attention in unusual ways. For instance, Google developed a “Google Labs Aptitude Test” (GLAT), posted it on its Web site and in tech magazines, and invited engineers to submit their answers to the 21 questions along with their résumés. “Score high enough, and we’ll be in touch,” says Google.

Google also posted a cryptic message on a billboard in Silicon Valley and commuter banners at subway stops in Cambridge, Massachusetts, inviting viewers to a Web site named as a 10- digit prime number representing a natural logarithm.

Google wasn’t mentioned on either the posters or the Web site, but curious problem solvers found more mathematical problems to direct them to other Web sites. Eventually they arrived at a Google Web page asking for their résumés. “One thing we learned while building Google is that it’s easier to find what you’re looking for if it comes looking for you,” said the final Google Web page.

“What we’re looking for are the best engineers in the world. And here you are!”


Recruiting methods might disadvantage some groups more than others, which potentially undermines workforce diversity. Online recruiting is fine for most people, but it tends to underrepresent people who are older and who have less access to computer and Internet resources.

Employee referrals also suffer from potentially biased recruiting because employees tend to refer people who are similar to them, which can underrepresent minorities and women in the applicant pool. Companies that rely on the top-ranked schools may also discover that they are cutting out a disproportionate number of people in some demographic cate gories.

To maintain a truly diverse workforce, managers need to seek out people in diverse groups who might not otherwise consider employment with the organization. Verizon Communications maintains a diverse workforce through partnerships with the national Black MBA Association, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, and the National Association of Asian American Professionals.

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