QR Codes: The Next Big Thing In Recruiting Technology?

If you are a recruiting leader or recruiter who is constantly on the lookout for new recruiting trends, practices, and tools, you have surely already heard of QR codes.

QR codes are a second-generation barcode that allows potential candidates to quickly and directly access supporting materials and websites using only a camera equipped smartphone. QR codes have many uses, but are most often used to direct target audiences to online content that cannot be easily conveyed in print.

You can of course provide a printed URL, but if you have ever tried to enter a long URL into a mobile browser, chances are you wouldn’t do it again.

What Is a QR Code?

The QR in QR code stands for quick response, and although you might not know them by name, you have undoubtedly already seen these one-inch square shaped symbols that look a little like a maze in advertisements, on billboards, and in posters. Don’t let their size fool you: QR codes can be powerful communication mechanisms because they can take candidates directly to customized supplemental recruiting information that might include a website, pictures, videos, narrative information, or point directly to Twitter or Facebook. Organizations that have taken lead in using QR codes for recruiting include Google, the U.S. Army, E&Y, AT&T, Siemens, and Pepsi.

The Many Benefits of Using QR Codes in Recruiting

QR codes were designed to support mobile users, something the recruiting-tools community hasn’t invested a great deal of time in despite the widespread adoption of smartphones. Because many smartphone users are never more than a few feet from their almost-always-on device, mobile will become the platform of choice for recruiting activity. The application to decode a QR Code comes pre-installed on most devices and there are many free Apps for users with a device not pre-installed with one. Potential candidates could be on the subway, reading the paper, or walking down the street and with the push of a button be immediately taken to follow-up information or a job application.

If your recruiting effort is attempting to show off your firm’s innovation or its use of technology, the use of these codes might help to reinforce that message. QR codes can dramatically increase the value and usefulness of print ads, billboards, posters, business cards, and brochures. Because college students are particularly mobile phone dependent, QR codes should be embedded into all aspects of college recruiting.

These codes are also powerful because they easily allow for effective tracking analytics that can identify sources and usage rates. In addition, QR codes can be produced for free and because they are so small, will save space and advertising costs. These codes can also be used for non-recruiting purposes including check-ins and to provide employee, vendor, and customer information.

“Like a picture, a QR Code can replace a thousand words.”

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Potential Uses of QR Codes in Recruiting

There are literally dozens of ways in which these codes have been or can be used to provide recruiting information to prospects and candidates. Some of them include:

  • Newspaper/magazine ads — to provide follow-up information that can’t fit in the ad.
  • In job postings, social media and blogs — they can provide detailed reference or follow-up information without taking up space.
  • Referral cards — they can instantly take a referral to an application site.
  • Wall posters/stickers — that can be placed on bulletin boards and even on poles.
  • Billboards/signage/on vehicles — QR can work even when the picture is taken from a distance.
  • Career fairs and college events — they allow an interested prospect to instantly access additional information without having to wait in line or ask a question.
  • In text messages — they can be attached to text messages as a picture or they can be used to send text messages.
  • Job alerts/calendar events — individuals can sign up for specific job alert notifications and calendar items can be easily saved on a phone’s calendar.
  • Direct mail — they can move an individual directly from a paper letter to the Internet.
  • In slides — they can direct you to more detailed information from presentation slides.
  • Invitations — they can be used to invite people to join talent communities, and to participate in contests or events.
  • In retail outlets/at trade shows/on product packaging — they can convert customers into applicants.
  • Bus cards/name tags — they can provide instant detailed information about you.
  • On T-shirts — they help send a message that your firm is “cool” (Google used them)
  • On resumes — applicants can place them in resumes to show work samples.

Possible Issues

There are of course a few downsides related to the use of QR codes. The first is that many recruiters will resist them for no other reason than most recruiters resist any kind of change that involves a new technology. Second, you will most likely get a spotty response from potential candidates because while QR codes have existed for a while, not everyone is familiar with them and others don’t yet have a smart phone with QR reading capability.

Final Thoughts

Although QR codes won’t solve every recruiting problem, they certainly are a quick, cheap, and flexible way to re-energize and make your non-Internet recruiting information approaches more effective. These codes are particularly effective because they support mobile audiences and that allows individuals to act when they are most excited. Soon QR Codes will be as common as embedded hyperlinks that are only effective within electronic messages.

You can test the effectiveness of QR codes for providing contact information by using your smartphone camera to take a picture of the example at the top of this article, or you can create your own QR codes for free by going to a site like http://goqr.me/.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



27 Comments on “QR Codes: The Next Big Thing In Recruiting Technology?

  1. Unfortunately I have to disagree with your article based on the fact recruiters are reluctant to change and how QR codes are used. I believe recruiters are constantly looking for new ideas and are the most innovative talent within any job functions, even more than marketing, sales or HR who we know are very process driven.
    Can I see QR codes actually working within recruitment?? Not really as this is more suited to marketing than a recruiting function. It will help with branding but it will build my ATS with random candidates that are not specific to the industry, therefore targeting is key. Let’s not ignore the fact, this is new technology and it will be a test to see which company uses this to the full advantage of linking this to the mobile apps, website etc and not just be another business V –card. It’s a great idea for marketing and branding , but I can’t see this being the next tool and bring value to a recruiting function especially when there are very few higher and unique skilled professionals on the market which falls into the passive sector. That said the traditional recruiting skills of searching via LinkedIn, Google, Monster and referrals will never die out…..!!

  2. We looked into including QR codes on our recruiter business cards, events, and branded handouts. The decision was ultimately made to abandon this technology due to three main reasons:


  3. Grrr… stupid keyboard. You know it’s a Monday when…

    As I was saying…

    1. Not all mobile users are aware of QR codes and/or what they are for. Additionally, most mobile phones don’t include a QR reader (although more and more are being shipped with the reader software). This causes the user without a reader to then download the software, figure out how to read the code, and then do whatever the supposed first step of the process may be. Too complicated.

    2. Our purposes for QR codes was to download business card information as a phone contact, download recruiting events as phone calendar events, and provide easy access to our ATS. Calendar events and weblinks were fairly easy, but the real challenge is with business cards. There are multiple ways to include contact data – 1. With all your business card information within the QR Code. 2. With a link to download the business card information as a Vcard (or other contact-type) file.

    The issues with #1 is the sheer amount of data needing to be included in the QR Code creates an unscannable code. If you include just your name, title, company, phone, and email, it’s too complicated for most readers to pickup the information. The issue with #2 is that one of the most purchased and used smartphones, the Apple iPhone, doesn’t have a browser that can download Vcard files… Android, Blackberry, and Win7 Mobile can do it, but what’s the point of making the process difficult for your iPhone-using candidate-potentials? If half your market is using a technology that doesn’t fully support what you’re trying to do, it’s not worth doing.

    3. Competitive formats are around… it’s not the only type of code for quick responses. Microsoft has a coding system, much like the QR Code, called Microsoft Tag. This code system creates yet another reader mobile users may need to download, and another set of problems associated with a separate format. I understand the implications of winning this “code race” – your codes could be on everything (think the the company or person who created the UPC). I get it. Until the market settles on one particular coding system, though, it’s too complicated for most users to take advantage of the technology.

    Sure, there are “work-arounds” for all these issues, but the whole purpose of QR Codes is what the acronym suggests – Quick Response. It needs to be easy. But, it’s not. Before you launch into the world of QR Codes, be sure you know what you’re up against. If the tech works in a manner that improves your brand, streamlines your process, and impacts your results, then go for it. Be sure to do these two things, though, before going crazy.

    1. Know how the technology works – the benefits & issues. Know how to leverage it and how it will best work for you, your process, and your organization. Partner with your marketing department to see how they’ve used QR Codes in the past. What kind of success have they had, if they’ve used them in the past?

    2. Know the market you’re targeting. Will they be willing and able to scan your codes, or are you wasting marketing space by including the codes?

    3. Have measurements of impact ready to go before launch. Know how you’ll capture whether or not including QR Codes is having an impact on traffic. Create experience surveys, ask how they arrived to the website, look into advanced analytics that track where your visitors are coming from. Be ready to measure impact of the action. If it works, and your market enjoys the added benefit, keep using it. If not, get rid of it for now. Maybe the tech will grow up over time, and we’ll all be able to use a single QR format in the future… Who knows?

    For now, I’m all set with waiting.



  4. Great article. I would emphasize one thing that Dr. Sullivan did not highlight in his article: Companies should remember that a QR Code must deliver a user to a mobile-optimized website with mobile-optimized response forms.

  5. QR codes do have a number of benefits for Recruiters as illustrated above however they didn’t add that there needs to be a strong incentive to scan, QR codes might not be as effective if they are just placed on materials with no accompanying message

  6. It’s probably a bit premature to see just how effective these QR codes will be in recruitment. They do have a place in marketing and can definitely help deliver your employment brand. Over time, more will know what they are and more will have the reader apps on their mobile devices. It would be more effective now with the younger generation or anyone doing recruitment in the technology field where knowledge of QR codes should be further along. It would represent your organization as a progressive company. Either way, it’s at least one more venue to get the word out about the opportunities you are sourcing for – which is never a bad thing. However, direct sourcing and networking will always be our bread & butter in recruitment!

  7. @Dr. Sullivan: Thank you for the article. I was unfamiliar with QRCs. As you pointed out, this technology tends toward the marketing as opposed to the recruiting side of business.

    ISTM that before a company invests in new technology to improve recruiting, it should enhance and improve “tried and true” methods as Tony and Cheryl wisely said.

    Here is a suggested checklist for a recruiting group do/improve before investigating new methods:

    1) Are you getting 50-60% of your hires through your Employee Referral Program?

    2) Can candidates find the jobs they’re looking for/you’re looking to fill on your site within 90 seconds and when they do can they apply without problems to the position within 90 seconds?

    3) Do you lose any candidates because your hiring process is slow, bloated, dysfunctional, or downright candidate-hostile?

    4) Have you analyzed your recruiting structure and processes and no-sourced (eliminated), through-sourced (automated), or out-sourced (sent away) recruiting tasks that aren’t high-touch, high-value add activities that you’re paying your people at least $50/hr to do?



  8. Keith,
    I second your thoughts. While I am always interested in new technologies that can improve recruiting and branding, you need to make sure that you are using your current technologies and processes to their fullest before you start looking at branching out into a new technology. If you are in a company that has not fine-tuned their current recruiting function well, what makes you think that they are going to bring in an entirely new technology into the recruiting function effectively and cost efficiently? In other words, make sure you can use the tools you have before you go out and start buying new tools.

  9. @ David H: Thank you.
    To modify what I just commented on another article-
    As some of our folks probably said:
    “When you straighten up your room and keep it tidy for a while, then we can think about you getting some new toys, inviting new friends over (recruiting process consultants), or having a big play date with all your friends (ERECON, SourceCON, etc.).”



  10. We have been testing dynamically generated QR codes as a way for Candidates to quickly call about a job and save the job contact information and a link to the Job to the address book, as well as using Event QR codes on candidate and client interview confirmation emails to save interview arrangement to mobile calendars.

    Although feedback is always fairly positive (fad/cool factor?) I must admit the uptake is slow, and difficult to track when not using a web link to parse through. The vast majority do not know how to scan QR codes yet, however I am sure this will change. Just look at the QR craze in Japan.

    Here are a few examples of our early implementations for clients – alongside the rather cool Apply with LinkedIn buttons:

    Would love feedback!

    Senior IP Routing & Switching Engineer Jobs

    Design Director, Architecture Jobs London (Under development)

    BTW Happy to help with any questions on your implementations etc. Would like to see more examples and feedback from the community!


  11. Great Article. Here at BeQRious we have worked with a number of companies on recruiting initiatives and the use of QR Codes. One of the largest Transportation companies is using our services to track how their recruiting advertising is doing. They are also linking to a video which is great. We have also partnered with some of the largest companies in the recruiting space and are very excited with what we are seeing.

  12. Hey There, I believe that QR Codes could be put on Employer Branding Brochures and Depliants, especially when companies decide to take part of Job Fairs or Targeted Events on Campus because students and graduates have smartphones to catch it! 🙂

  13. I have a client that used QR codes at an event that was very effective. The event was NOT a career fair, but an industry trade show where the talent they were looking for would be. We created a a mobile landing page that fed the candidates into their CRM when the form on the landing pages was filled out. The QR code directed the person to the landing page when it was scanned. They handed out thousands of 3×5 cards that were nicely branded with brief information about their talent network and, of course, the QR code printed on them.

    If you get creative these can work, really well.

  14. Really good article, as Keith mentioned, I also viewed QR codes for marketing rather than recruitment.

    @Keith excellent suggestions–definitely something to keep in mind.

    @David, definitely a good point about looking at what a company has and if it is being utilized effectively before moving on to new technology.

    @Davide clever idea about including QR codes on brochures at job fairs or other events.

  15. I’m gonna go with using QR codes. QR codes are two-dimensional (2D) matrix barcodes that can hold thousands of alphanumeric characters of information. Their ability to hold more information and their ease of use makes them practical for small businesses. I hope more research is done so that recruiting will be better and easy.

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