The Old Recruiting Lessons Don’t Apply to Mobile Phones

The average smartphone user in the U.S. now spends a little over two hours a day on mobile apps. That’s a number that’s starting to rival the amount of time people spend watching TV — about three hours on average (who are these people?). To state the obvious, mobile is where we’re headed, as web access through desktops declines. Recruiting will change as a result, but a failure to recognize how mobile platforms are different can mean a long and arduous journey marked by hard lessons.

Whenever something new comes along, the temptation is to stick with the familiar. Job boards became just an online version of the classifieds. When social networks started to emerge, a lot of companies created pages that duplicated their corporate web site. So it goes with mobile, where many think that all that’s needed is to shrink the desktop experience down to a 2.5-inch screen.

The way people (and candidates are people) behave when using a mobile device is revealing of what they expect. People have a preference for apps over mobile browsers — spending twice as much time on the former, mainly because even mobile-optimized sites tend to be cluttered.

The average person in the U.S. spends the majority of their time online on a mobile device for games, entertainment, news, etc. Highly interactive activities like social networking make up about 30%, or about 14 minutes a day, and those are done in two or more sessions, so the typical session is only about seven minutes. The tiny keyboards mean that text input is low compared to a desktop; most people can only manage about 20 words per minute on a phone, compared to more than double that on a standard keyboard.

What’s it all mean? On a mobile device people want to see limited information, devote a small amount of time, and have minimal input. So recruiting has to work within those parameters. Sending links to job postings and career sites and expecting detailed responses is a great way to lose candidates, but sending a message that’s crafted to the person’s interests is a great way to build engagement. Surveys show that mobile users are about 11 times more likely to click on an item of interest than if the same appeared in their email. That’s no surprise since most people are usually only engaged in a single activity on a mobile device, given the size of the screen, compared to a desktop where having multiple apps open is common.

Mobile Is Social

The mobile web is all about social networking — the amount of time spent on social networks is the fastest growing segment of mobile use. But much of that is time spent playing social games or reading updates from close friends, not having conversations. Don’t expect to reach candidates easily just because you have access to some product that can serve up job postings or leads. The most recent data from Nielsen shows that over 60% of people only connect with others on mobile devices if they know them in real life or have mutual friends. Trying to crash this party is a bad idea, but getting someone to bring you is a good one. Nielsen’s data also shows that about a quarter of people are likely to respond to an ad/job posting posted by one of their social network acquaintances.

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A Mobile Strategy

Mobile devices are a gateway to building engagement with candidates. Given the limitations of size and how people use them, the best approach is to serve up content that’s relevant and narrowly tailored to a person’s interests. Just broadcasting jobs without any thought as to their relevance to the audience has little value. What ends up on a person’s screen should be just enough to tweak their interest. A mobile device is not a smaller version of the desktop.

In a few years mobile devices will be able to have expandable screens or project a large image, but I doubt that that’ll change people’s behavior. The key word here is “mobile.” Features that anchor a person to a place detract from that and are not likely to gain widespread adoption, no matter how well developed.

Mobile devices require recruiters to focus more on social networks in a social way. Much of what passes for social recruiting today is just serving up job ads on social media or searching for candidates in a manner no different than on a job board. Given the trend to spend more time on mobile apps, start actively thinking about a mobile strategy, but it’s a new world. The old lessons don’t apply.

Raghav Singh, director of analytics at Korn Ferry Futurestep, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.


8 Comments on “The Old Recruiting Lessons Don’t Apply to Mobile Phones

  1. Nice content Raghav, but a bit of a rear view mirror.

    The behavior our company has observed is that the smartphone is a compliment to the desktop- people are doing different parts of the same things. Not a replacement by any means.

    For one obvious example, during a mobile app process, a system may prompt a user to request a weblink to be emailed, to be used later for a resume upload from a desktop.

    As to mobile apps v. mobile web, the choice is very much related to the content. When engaged at low involvment / low complexity, an app download/install can be a bigger ask.

    I dont put junk on MY phone….

  2. Martin is spot on in regards to mobile app v mobile web. Most people have a few go to mobile apps and that is it.

    If you are a direct employer or a staffing firm, it doesn’t make sense to make a mobile app. This about it – even if you are a fortune 10 company and you have 5,000 open jobs at a time, how many of those jobs will the average job seeker ever apply to? Maybe 5? So you waste your time on building an app that has low adoption rates and low engagement. It makes much more sense to focus on mobile web optimization so that you are not limiting the potential adoption and engagement of your site in mobile.

    It only makes sense to then focus on a mobile app for job seekers if you have good content that can serve the job seeker better from the app – This means if you are job board, search engine, MAYBE and ATS or some sort of add on feature (Video interviewing platform for example).

  3. Thanks, Raghav. I doubt we’ll see it, but it seems the time is right to have a consortium of major employers develop a standardized cross-platform employment app which would work for any/all of their companies based on applicant ease-of-use.



  4. Can’t we just have a mobile friendly site that has a ‘click here to apply with our LI profile.’ Heck, LI can monitize it. Let THEM develop the functionality (I would if I were them since I actually use that ap).

    There has to be an easy way for a resume to get into the ATS by one touch. Not this ugly Q&A. I type this realizing that someone at MSFT or AMZN is saying (how am I supposed to go through 10,000 LI profiles without some type of screening?).

    I don’t know. All I do know is that we haven’t figured this out yet. It has to be easy. It has to work. I can’t see someone downloading 500 Fortune 500 recruiting aps (I wouldn’t).

    But I CAN see someone like Indeed, LI, Monster developing the capability to develop one click applications through their mobile job search. Maybe they can have the easy screening that’s mobile friendly–then charge us for it.

    That’s what I’d recommend. 500 aps I don’t see.


  5. @Robert – Both Indeed and LinkedIn have developed one click apply processes. Bother services are free and both can integrate with ATSes or homegrown job sites. It all depends on how willing your ATS or site developer is to make the integration happen. Put the pressure on your ATS for these features!

    Indeed Apply –

    Apply with LinkedIn –

    Article comparing their results –

  6. @Jon, that’s a nice start. As long as it didn’t require too much pre-work on a candidate’s end. It should be one or two buttons, or something from a (SkyDrive, iCloud, Dropbox) that just easily uploads it, scans and it’s ready. None of this go to the site and spend 30 minutes manually etc.

    Maybe that’s what Indeed’s portion is. But until this stuff works with SAP & Oracle (you’re right on), we’ll be typing about this for 10 more years.


  7. This is a great guide for how to optimize your mobile recruiting strategy to adapt to how people use their mobile devices. It’s true, people are spending more and more time glued to their smartphone or tablet than ever before. You should embrace the reality of recruiting from these devices and make sure not to treat them like you would a standard browser page. Now job seekers can find jobs, apply for positions, and even video interview all from their mobile device. So it’s time companies started taking note and tailoring their recruiting strategy for the smallest screens.

  8. With the amount of time job seekers spend on mobile devices, recruiters have an opportunity to attract top talent. The people you’re trying to hire probably are working 9-5 and you’re working 9-5. The application capabilities offered by the smartphone make it the ultimate connectivity tool.

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