Attracting Top Talent: Three Science-Driven Strategies to Reduce Time-to-Hire While Improving Quality

Applicant applying for a job

Reducing time-to-hire while also improving quality of hire are urgent priorities for leaders looking to grow their businesses and secure top talent.  Time to hire has steadily increased since 2011 as applicants benefit from more job opportunities in the improved economy.  Your recruitment materials, ranging from your webpage and job postings to social media content, are frequently an applicant’s first encounter with your culture and brand.  While we know how we communicate in this initial phase is important, how can you be sure you are doing everything you can to attract and retain top applicants?  Fortunately, research on the science of recruitment is constantly expanding and we can act on their findings to build useful strategies that reduce time and improve quality.

1. Analyze your word choice and messaging

Is the language you’re using effectively attracting the right people – or reducing your applicant pool?  New research and experience suggests that some types of language, while well-intentioned, can alienate job applicants.  One example:  overly aggressive or competitive language may deter potential female applicants from applying. While well-intentioned, when recruitment materials say they are looking for the next “ninja” or “rock star,” applicant pools are smaller and less diverse.  These words, while fun, may cause applicants to be concerned about the sense of belonging they would experience in the work environment.  In fact, job ads that use this language can take as many as two weeks longer to fill positions – and may also struggle with achieving a diverse applicant pool.

Strategy.  Take a science-based approach to building job postings that attract a large pool of ideal applicants.  Use a strategy called A/B testing to understand how descriptions and content communicate your culture and brand.  Example: if you have a talent pool of potential applicants, you could send an email to half the pool with your standard messaging, and use a different message for the other half.  Measure the number of applications, diversity, and quality of applicants across the two groups.  You can use the same strategy to test content on your careers webpage and what you post on social media.

2. Evaluate your communication to applicants. How you communicate may be more important than your message.

We know communication is imperative to retaining top talent.  While communicating frequently and providing applicants with all the information they need about timelines and expectations is key, how you communicate may more strongly influence applicant intentions to accept an offer.   Experiments compared personalized messages (which included the applicant’s name, the position applied for, specifics about the culture, and expressed appropriate excitement, or regret, about the decision) to those without these specifics.  Surprisingly, the degree of personalization had a bigger impact on applicant attraction and perceptions of fairness than the outcome.

Strategy.  Closely review the email messages and other communications you send to applicants.  Have other members of your team review as well.  Will the message leave, even rejected applicants, feeling that their unique background and strengths were seriously considered?  If you are using an Applicant Tracking System, explore how your messaging could be tailored more to include details specific to applicants, like the position they are applying for, sentences personalized with their name, and other details.  You could also use A/B testing to understand how any changes to your messaging affect the applicant retention and quality.

3. Give applicants an authentic and realistic preview of the job and your organization.

Seeking employment is an uncertain process – and most people don’t like uncertainty, especially about where we spend the majority of our waking hours: at work.  Enter the popularity of job review sites like Glassdoor and Indeed.  Thirty-plus years of research and practice supports giving applicants realistic information and first-person accounts of what the job is like and how your values and culture translate to day-to-day expectations.  New research suggests that we need to provide this information in multiple forms for it to result in to attract top talent.  Everyone is different and an applicant’s personality and values influence whether they will find written information, or a first-person testimonial, credible and informative.  This means a simple webpage describing your values and expectations may not be enough.  Providing authentic information about the challenges and opportunities of the job can not only improve time-to-hire by attracting the right applicants, but also positively influences job satisfaction and retention.

Strategy.  Do your recruitment materials communicate realistic information?  Do you communicate common pitfalls or expectations that surprise or challenge new hires?  Is specific information for each job group or department provided?  Ask leaders and top performers from your departments for their input.  Also consider communicating this information at different steps of the hiring process using different mediums.  General written overviews are excellent but you can also use employee testimonials, customer or patient reviews, or even employee survey results to build trust and a complete and vivid picture of what it’s like to work at your organization in the minds of applicants.

Next Steps

Your recruitment materials are often the applicant’s first impression of your organization.  By taking a science-driven approach to your recruitment materials you can know that every touch with potential and current applicants is directly influencing time-to-hire and quality.  The information you provide to applicants influences their reactions to your entire hiring process.  We created a guide that walks through each step of creating a hiring process that engages applicants while identifying quality hires quickly.  Learn more about the science and art of hiring with our eBook.

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Evidence that Gendered Wording Job Advertisements Exist and Sustain Gender Inequality.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  2011.

Watch What You Say: Job Applicants’ Justice Perceptions from Initial Organizational Correspondence.  Human Resource Management.  2014.

Maximizing the Credibility of Realistic Job Preview Messages: The Effect of Jobseekers’ Decision-Making Style on Recruitment Information Credibility.  The International Journal of Human Resource Management.  2016.

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