White noise: attribution (or absence of) in recruiting

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A long time ago I was the marketing director for a  publishing company. Apart from making sure that the ad sales team was happy, my job involved spending lots of money on direct mail to attract magazine subscribers. It was while doing this that I was first introduced to the term ‘white noise’. The magazines are long gone, but the term lives on.

What is white noise? It is the response you receive that you cannot attribute to a specific source. For example: you are a recruiter, and you are advertising your jobs on Job Board A, Job Board B, Job Search Engine C, and you’re also sending some staff to a few in-person recruiting events. You receive 100 job applications; of those, 72 can be directly attributed to one of the previously mentioned sources. What about the remaining 28? The applicants say they saw you on Job Board X (which you have never used), or on a billboard (ditto), or on an online picture-based social media site (double ditto). You know that you’ve never used these sources, yet your applicants claim that’s where they found you. So how do you attribute these applicants? White noise. Somehow, somewhere, the applicants heard about you – but they don’t remember where. So, being eager to help, they offered you their best guess as to where they found you.

White noise is the response you can’t track back to a specific source. In the old, pre-digital days, white noise might make up as much as 50-60% of your response. Nowadays, the percentage is often much lower – except that, as we know all too well, tracking is often poorly executed in the recruiting world. Think about it – there are so many places for attribution to fail. For example, the job ad is ‘scraped’ from the employer’s site by a certain very large job search engine – then redistributed across the internet. If the employer didn’t even know the job was scraped, how would they be able to attribute response from it (wherever it ended up)? Or: perhaps the employer uses an ATS that relies on an applicant’s memory of where they found the job, rather than a digital tracking code. Perhaps the employer fails to update its internal tracking – thus leaving the latest new source off the list? The possibilities are endless. A few services like SimpleAPI have tackled the problem, but the fact remains that attribution is, in general, a bit of a mess.

It is, in my opinion, a certainty that you will have a certain amount of white noise, whether you are a recruiter seeking candidates, or a job board gathering traffic. What’s important to understand, however, is that white noise is coming from somewhere, even if you don’t know where that somewhere is. Just ask any employer who foolishly cuts their spend on a job board because ‘the applicant count is low’, despite contrary data from the job board. A few weeks later, they discover that they have no incoming applicants!

Yes, it’s important to focus on attribution – if you don’t understand what is or isn’t working, you can’t make intelligent marketing decisions. But it’s also important to realize that candidate awareness and response is complex – and sometimes you can’t attribute every single action back to the source. Accept some ambiguity, work continually toward better attribution, and understand that your marketing efforts are still driving action, even if you can’t track it.

One thing I know: lack of marketing will result in a lack of candidates, no matter if you are a job board, recruiter, hiring manager, or employer site. OK, one exception: if your name is Google or Microsoft, you can ignore the above. You’re not? Well, then….

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Anonomous

    Here are a couple of thoughts…

    1. Candidate’s rarely remember where they first saw the ad, but asking them anyway can expose interesting new marketing channels… Treat the responses as if you had asked ‘where might you have seen and responded to a recruitment advert?’

    2. Most candidates visit an employers website a number of times before/during/after their application. Most web analytics platforms (I.e. GA) attribute the candidate to the last (non-direct) source… whereas most employers would be more interested in how they *first* attracted the candidate.

    A little knowledge can be dangerous…

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