As a startup founder obsessed with making hiring more data-driven, I love to ask, “How can we use our data to make talent acquisition more effective?” There’s one particular data set that I find is often under-used: previous candidate applications.
As a startup founder obsessed with making hiring more data-driven, I love to ask, “How can we use our data to make talent acquisition more effective?”
There’s one particular data set that I find is often under-used: previous candidate applications.
Companies with strong programs to re-engage previous applicants see serious results from it. I’ve spoken to several talent leaders who are making 10% or more of their hires by re-engaging candidates from a previous search, often weeks faster than a typical search. As new candidate sources go, 10% is significant. By comparison, according to Jobvite’s 2019 data, less than 4% of hires are sourced by recruiting agencies.
You may not have invested in candidate re-engagement yet because the current tools and incentives don’t always make it easy. Doing this well requires you to create a tagging system to identify candidates who should get a future look, train recruiters on this new system, and hold folks accountable to make sure they adhere to the new process. This work takes valuable time now and doesn't start to pay off for 6 to 12 months. Even without a system for tagging candidates, if you have an applicant tracking system (ATS), you can search through old candidate pipelines. But frankly, this ends up being a highly manual process, as most ATS’s don’t have great capabilities to surface the most relevant candidates for a given role. Building a candidate re-engagement process can be challenging, but the payoff can be huge.
Like sales and marketing, recruiting is a funnel, and the best talent acquisition organizations are scientific about how they fill, optimize, and analyze the funnel. The best sales organizations revisit almost-closed leads, the best eCommerce marketers email cart abandoners, and the most effective recruiters look for near misses in the past.
There’s value in the fact that previous candidates have:
According to Gem’s 2021 Recruiting Benchmarks report, for every engineering hire, a company has 14 candidates get to the pre-onsite stage, and 4 get to the onsite stage. If you’re a tech company hiring 20+ engineers per year, that's 280 qualified and 80 highly qualified leads per year to revisit right there. Not to mention other candidates who pulled themselves out of the process earlier, applied for a different role, or who were missed by the company the first time around.
There really shouldn’t be any stigma if things didn’t work out with a candidate in the past. There are tons of legitimate reasons why someone wasn’t the perfect fit before but could be today.
Here are a few examples:
If the candidate rejected us:
If we rejected the candidate:
The first step is to lay out a process so your recruiters and hiring managers can identify candidates in real time who could be a good fit for a future role.
Set clear rules for how to tag candidates. Keep it simple and make it extremely clear to avoid different recruiters tagging folks differently. For now, you can make it as simple as tagging with department and location. Ideally your ATS will also make it easy to also see what role they previously applied for. One challenge - the task of tagging candidates can be easy to ignore because it’s short term time for a long term benefit. As humans, we aren’t great at prioritizing for the medium or long term. Consider creating KPIs for the talent team around how many folks each recruiter tags, and celebrate when a candidate is identified and then re-engaged.
The other thing you can start doing today: search your Applicant Tracking System for previous candidates. Depending on your ATS, this may be time consuming. It’s tempting to just jump in and start using keyword search for previous applicants, but I find that this is often less efficient than using tactics that narrow your search. Experiment with exporting data or using filters to identify high potential candidates across multiple roles. Here are some example filters you may want to include in your searches:
Start looking for candidates who reached the latest stage of the application process first, and then work your way backwards. You don’t need to limit your search to applicants who applied for the exact same role in the past; more junior or senior roles, or even roles that require similar skill sets, may have applicants who are a fit for your current role. The more you do this, the more you’ll start to develop your playbook of which filters yield the most relevant candidates. Share with your team, and make this a rising tide that lifts all boats!
Most recruiters will tell you that building relationships is an absolutely critical part of the job. By building processes to re-engage previous candidates, you enable a candidate’s application to be a true gateway to a long term relationship with the company, even if they aren’t hired the first time around. Lots of companies tell candidates they will “keep their resume on file.” Be one of the companies who uses this information, and follows up.