Recruiting’s Blunder of Epic Proportions: Ignoring Mobile

by Dr. John Sullivan and Master Burnett

It’s 5:30 a.m., and Joe McHenry, a 36-year-old international tax manager who works in New York City, wakes up, checks his e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter activity from his smartphone all before getting out of bed. By 6:45 a.m. he’s dressed and walking to the train station for his 40-minute commute into the city. From the moment he grabs a seat to the moment he steps off the train, his eyes are glued to the four-inch screen of his personal onramp to his digital life and the information superhighway. Throughout the day, he’ll spend another 4.25 hours engaging with the world through it.

Now consider this: you’re trying to recruit Joe McHenry. He has blown off your e-mails, your voicemails, and even your InMails. This morning, however, his friend who used to work for your firm retweeted a link to the job you’re recruiting for, and it appeared on Joe’s Facebook wall. While on the train, Joe’s curiosity got the best of him and he clicked the link. The browser on his smartphone opened and started to load a page from your career site. He waited and waited, but the page just wasn’t loading. He figured, “I’ll try the parent domain instead.” He typed in and up came your company’s WAP site, nicely formatted and clean. He looked for the link to jobs, but couldn’t find it. Frustrated, he abandoned his curiosity and went back to catching up with his friends on Facebook.

Sound like a poor experience? Only eight of the Fortune 100 have a career site that detects mobile browsers, and sadly, few of them optimize content for mobile visitors. Among those companies that have invested in building a mobile website, jobs content is more often than not missing. An infant-sized handful have done something for the mobile audience. They have built a careers app users can install on their phone or built out a mobile careers site. You can check out the progressive few: Raytheon, Starbucks, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Hyatt, and AT&T.

The New Normal

Joe McHenry’s lifestyle is the new normal.
As of September, 40% of U.S. cell phone users carried a smartphone, and predictions show that by year’s end a majority of the population will have one. Around the world, smartphones are quickly becoming the primary means of engaging via the Internet, with the PC being downgraded to second place. Factor in the lack of IT controls on personal devices and you can see why everything that is personal online will soon be done via mobile. Whether or not your firm blocks Facebook doesn’t matter when you carry Facebook in your pocket. Today, a majority of the traffic to Facebook already comes from mobile devices. According to Richard Cho, Facebook recruiting manager, mobile users are two times more engaged than non-mobile users.

A new Global Mobile Workforce Report from iPass based on input from 3,100 global workers indicated that 91% of those with mobile access to the Internet check in with their digital lives during the unoccupied moments of the day. “Not only were they checking their email first thing in the morning, 38% worked before their commute, 25% during their commute, and 22% worked again on the way home — each and every day. And they didn’t stop when they got home either. For many, work is a never-ending cycle; 37% work each evening — 33% work again when they arrived home, 26% after dinner, and 19% said they work again after they put their children to bed at night.”

A Blunder of Epic Proportions

Think of it. Precisely during the time periods when individuals are the most likely to be free, they don’t have access to mobile-friendly career information. If they find out about an opening from a friend on a social network, in most cases the link provided will bring them back to your ATS, which does nothing to support the mobile user. If they want to watch videos or read blogs, their browser will encounter technical challenge after technical challenge. If they are on an iPhone or Android, they may see your site, but they will be pinching, flicking, scrolling, and getting irritated the entire time. It’s important to realize that mobile-capable candidates aren’t stupid; not providing mobile access is an employer-brand bruiser for most companies, but if you are a tech firm, it’s an employer-brand killer.

“HR’s dirty little secret – you can’t get there from here!”

How Bad Is Your Site?

Among the Fortune 100 mentioned earlier, only one allows you to actually apply from a mobile device. That one is Raytheon. Among tech companies, some of the worst performers include Microsoft, Apple, and RIM, all of whom make mobile operating systems and browsers!

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Using the mobiReady testing tool that tests the suitability of site design for mobile devices, you can see just how poorly the recruiting professions effort has been to court the mobile audience. The tool performs numerous tests, but assigns a score of one (horrible) to five (excellent) based on the total experience. Among the Fortune 100 the highest score for the primary career site was achieved by McKesson (AT&T’s site did not redirect the tool to its mobile website or it would have received a 5.0.)

Among the top ten Fortune firms, the scores looked like this (click to enlarge):

Why You Must Embrace Mobile NOW

The dominance of the mobile device has been a trend barreling toward us with considerable speed for some time. I first wrote about it just over three years ago when I proclaimed the mobile phone “The Most Effective Recruiting Communications Platform.” The recruiting profession has had more than ample time to prepare, but the stat’ prove few took action. Some of the reasons you can’t wait any longer to embrace mobile include:

  • Mobile communications receive response rates unheard of for other communication channels. Well-designed SMS campaigns can achieve 100%-plus response rates!
  • Smartphones provide ubiquitous access to digital communication/engagement tools. Global research by mobile advertisers found that 67% of smartphone users are never more than three feet from their device and NEVER turn it off!
  • When people get bored or need a distraction, it’s what they turn to!
  • The smartphone does what no other device on your desk can do: it unifies all communications, including voice calls, video calls, text messages, recorded videos, pod asts, social media messaging, email, instant chat/messenger, and Internet content. This range of message options allows you to cater to your prospects’ lifestyle versus forcing them to engage in your administration-centric process.
  • The current generation is so hooked on them that messages not accessible from a mobile device may never be seen.
  • If you’re targeting innovators and first adopters (both of which prefer Android), and the technology savvy, you have no choice.
  • If you’re recruiting for a temporary or contract job, the rapid response rate of mobile makes the mobile platform the ideal choice.
  • Personal phones are not subject to idiotic IT policies. The employees of your competitors can engage with while on the job without fear of being snooped on!
  • Referral conversations happen in the field. It’s only logical the process should start there!
  • As QR codes (quick response) become commonplace, the mobile phone will become critical in driving people to your information.
  • If you are successfully messaging or posting jobs on Twitter, you are already aware that your audience is hooked on the mobile platform.
  • Nothing shows the candidate quicker that your firm isn’t an innovator or a technology leader than ignoring the mobile phone platform.
  • Google has already started to improve the ranking of sites that support mobile in search results over those that do not. Other engines will follow.
  • The application capabilities afforded by the smartphone enable a perverse world of opportunity to make the recruiting process personal, local, engagement-centric, media rich, real-time, etc.

A Grander Opportunity

While the vast majority of recruiting professionals are primarily concerned with closing requisitions as quickly as possible, there are a significant portion who also consider the impact of their efforts on the greater productivity of the workforce. If you embrace mobile for no other reason, do it for this one: workers capable of work-shifting — i.e. working while mobile — are more productive, so stuffing your pipeline with candidates who have proven their mobile adeptness will positively impact your firm’s long-term productivity. Don’t take our word for it. Read the iPass Global Mobile Workforce Report and learn that among mobile workers:

  • 75 percent worked more hours because of the increased flexibility in when and where they could work
  • 55 percent worked at least 10 or more hours each week
  • 64 percent felt they were better able to balance their workload with personal commitments
  • 54 percent felt their productivity was substantially improved

Final Thoughts

Kat Drum was working as the global employment brand manager at Starbucks (she is now with RIM) when it launched its first mobile e-commerce application which had a tab for Jobs at Starbucks included. While presenting at mRecruitingcamp in September, she indicated that “Starbucks produced hires within a few weeks of launching the app.” While PepsiCo’s efforts are just a few months old, Chris Hoyt, who leads talent Engagement & marketing, presented evidence of mobile’s value at the same conference, juxtaposing PepsiCo’s mobile efforts against more traditional sourcing channels. Hoyt elaborated, saying that the early evidence justifies the initial investment and that mobile will be a considerable part of PepsiCo’s strategy for sometime.

While a few leading-edge firms (check out Verizon, Fidelity, HCA, and the U.S. Army in addition to those already referenced) have tried the mobile platform, most recruiting leaders have delayed the decision to “go mobile.” The lack of action can be attributed to ignorance about what going mobile would require, lack of funding and lack of desire to find it, general apathy, and lack of support from the ATS community. But the time to realize the cost of not going mobile far exceeds the cost of doing so is upon us. The mobile workforce is the future, and the future is what most firms try to dominate!

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," 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 and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



34 Comments on “Recruiting’s Blunder of Epic Proportions: Ignoring Mobile

  1. John

    Great article! I am based in the UK and I was at mRecruitingCamp to see how North America compared to Europe & the UK in terms of mobile adoption in recruitment.

    My view is that the US and Canada are at a similar stage to the UK and Europe where you only have a handful of companies who truly understand the reasons why mobile should be an essential part of a recruitment strategy and the benefits that mobile offers.

    This means of course that the majority of companies don’t appreciate yet just how much mobile is going to affect them in the coming months and years.

    Successful online businesses like Amazon and eBay recognised early on that they needed a mobile strategy in place to satisfy the increasing demand from their customers.

    However, recruitment has been slow to recognise the needs of their own customers (job seekers) in offering a true mobile experience.

    To help educate Companies and Recruiters understand the role of mobile, and its impact on recruitment going forward, I am running Europe’s second Mobile & Video in Recruitment Conference in London on the 17th November 2011: where we will cover all aspects to consider when putting together a mobile recruiting strategy.

    Mike Taylor

  2. This article is spot on – more and more brands are jumping onto mobile for their m-commerce and marketing, but people forget about other aspects of their web presence – recruitment being a prime example.

    A mobile strategy needs to encompass all devices and understand that a true cross platform experience is required – not just an app that works on an iPhone, for example. You would advertise your jobs on only HP laptops after all – would you?

    ‘Going mobile’ is perceived as difficult, but this doesn’t have to be the case – a good development firm can and should be able to do this very easily and should also be talking about futures – what about Internet TV’s, tablets, kiosks – your web site should work on all these without having to rewrite it everytime.

    Here at bemoko we provide expert skills at helping to define a successful mobile strategy and develop cross platform websites. We speak to a lot of brands regarding specific sites, but no one has ever asked about making sure their recruitment sites are mobile optimised – why not be the first!

    Mat Diss

  3. Cracking overview, very compelling and a very clear demonstration of just how behind many organisations are – For me it actually demonstrates how out of touch companies are with their audience, something that extends to the customer side not just candidates.

    Top line for me:

    “Personal phones are not subject to idiotic IT policies.”

    That is so obvious to everyone except the exec team and IT it seems! Weel done, great piece.

  4. John, great article. However, should companies really invest in an ap that someone has to download? Is a highly sought after candidate really going to download 20 different aps from target companies waiting for the push announcment? Maybe ….

    With all this, there STILL isn’t a way someone can even APPLY on a mobile phone. Do you know of anyone who has a resume or CV they can attach and apply using mobile?

    While I like the thought of making career sites mobile friendly, and using TEXT to communicate, I would really like to see how Chris at Pepsi and others fair using this.

    I’m not sure I’d download 10-20 company aps … it could be that or someone makes the app and uses push technology, or maybe it’ll be Facebook or LinkedIn if they’re smart.

  5. Rob,

    You raised a great point, and one that should have been expressed in this post. Apps are interesting, but more than 1:4 that are downloaded are never opened again!

    Pepsi has opted to use their app as a brand influence platform, recognizing that true branding requires the entire org to be engaged and content people find worth sharing. It’s an interesting approach and one a mega-brand can support, but you’re right, the App doesn’t make sense for most organizations.

    The real issue driving App vs. mSite decisions today is cost and HTML5 capability. It’s easier to do way cool things using an App today than with a mSite, and cheaper too. Every mobile browser and phone has different capabilities, so designing mobile websites that deliver a great user experience can be labor intensive. Apps on the other hand don’t rely upon the browser, so I really only need to build one and port it to the different handset environments.

    As HTML5 matures and mobile standards consolidate, mSites will win out.

    As for applying online via mobile, it’s possible today, but not really practiced. The application is still way to lengthy to execute on a small screen and JavaScript isn’t supported by most handsets, so the online application fails. The answer is simple, use the web-to-lead of most major CRM platforms and craft a mini-app that lets mobile visitors apply using a LinkedIn profile or attach a resume stored locally or via one of the file sharing sites like DropBox. All data entered could then be pushed into the ATS by a script.

    A great user experience is capable today, and not nearly as expensive as people assume. The real issues are those related to process, lack of knowledge, apathy and politics.

  6. Great points, John. I must point out that most organizations’ PC-based online recruiting is horribly bad for candidates and that is not quickly changing. Many of the benefits of a good mobile experience are available to organizations for simply making their web experience better.

    For whatever reason, recruiting organizations have not made the link between candidate experience and recruiting success (especially for the kind of passive candidate you sketch).

  7. Rob,

    Thanks for sharing the validator link. We have used both. W3C’s validation is embedded in the tool and I like the 1-5 rating versus the %compliant output of the W3C tool. Regardless which one you use, most career sites score horribly.

    Did you test your site? We just started working on ours. Testing infrastructure now, then rolling out device specific templates for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows7, and generic. It’s not hard, but can be time consuming.

  8. This is a grand article. John Sullivan and Master Burnett at their best.

    My only nit is that I am not sure why it is entitled “Recruiting’s Blunder of Epic Proportions: Ignoring Mobile.”

    I suspect that most Recruiters of substance, while not having the depth of detail that is available to the authors, are aware of the importance of mobile in terms of recruiting. I wonder how many of them have beat the drum to move capability in this direction only to be ignored or put off by those who are simply not onboard with all that changes in the world of recruiting on a regular basis. Is it not more of a leadership issue?

  9. “The real issue driving App vs. mSite decisions today is cost and HTML5 capability. It’s easier to do way cool things using an App today than with a mSite, and cheaper too. Every mobile browser and phone has different capabilities, so designing mobile websites that deliver a great user experience can be labor intensive. Apps on the other hand don’t rely upon the browser, so I really only need to build one and port it to the different handset environments.”

    Do you need to do ‘way cool’ things for a recruitment website? It’s on the web already so why not make the web version optimised for mobile. Directing people to an mSite from Twitter or Facebook is much easier then asking them to download an app to view the job – think of the user experience – it’s much easier and quicker to follow a link. Also imagine the frustration where your potential recruit follows your link but can’t download your app because their phone is not supported – an even worse experience.

    Whilst it’s true that there are many different browsers and capabilities on the phones, using such proper cross platform tool (such as the one bemoko provides) removes this problem by allowing you to write the site once and taking care of the differences for you.
    An app, on the other hand, cannot just be written once and easily ported – because they don’t use the browser, they rely on the underlying operating system which is even more complex to port across. You have to rewrite the app in a completely different programming language to port it – a much more daunting experience than dealing with relatively minor browser differences.

    In summary, you can get an mSite created which works on all phones for far less than writing an app for the different devices.

    To address other points raised – yes it’s not easy to actually apply but there are many other routes available – filling in a simple for so he can be called, SMS reminders, email reminders.

    Embracing mobile means thinking differently – our clients who do think differently find an incredible uptake of the new services offered – tailored to they way people engage in this mobile world.


  10. Disconnects in systems and technologies exist [for recruiters] due to operating rigid but tried and tested revenue streams with little room for innovation. But systems must now be geared for an excellent candidate experience as your job is no longer about just being ‘hopefully’ found by available candidates looking. That’s the old system of things. Some of your best people for the job are in employment and in travel mode – on trains, planes etc., in between meetings sat in star bucks. As a recruiter today your opportunity must inbound attract the right passive and active candidates and the upwardly mobile is where much of it will happen. In fact, given the positioning technology, smartphones would even seek and nudge the candidates depending upon their location.

    Firstly, many recruiters and the HR corporate cannot get the static website or even email application technology working right let alone mobile – and even with a great mobile ready site the final content would probably still just end the journey for many having no interaction that remotely resembles a call to action such as an application process nor connects to internal systems for two way continuation. Certainly, the linkedin ‘apply now’ button works well to deliver an online profile in a single click from a mobile, but still recruiters processes has still got to join up 360 and two way.

    Some are just going to have to just pick up that phone and talk in the interim – kind of short everything out. For social and mobile then we have a way to go – but a tremendous opportunity to stop talking and start doing .. and listening too!

  11. Thank you, Dr. Sulivcan and Master.
    I will leave the matter of Passive Mobile Sourcing (sourcing candiates to/through their mobile devices) to the engineers to develop the technology and then we can train the $11/hr virtual sourcers to do it and get hold of the candiate.

    I’m more interested in Active Mobile Recruiting (having recruiters perform our functions on our mobile devices) to minimize being chained to a desktop/laptop, either onsite or at home. My experience is you don’t want to recruit on a smartphone, but you might want to recruit on a tablet…



  12. Great article guys! Appreciate all the homework you’ve done and reminded us how many companies, big and small, are behind in the mobile recruitment space. We have a lot of work underway at RIM for a big 2012 launch. In the meantime, check out our mobile app on BlackBerrys and Droids (Apple denied it for the I-tunes store, but we tried. 🙂 ) Check it out, it’s called JobsInMotion.

    Keep on inspiring us to lead the way!

    Kat Drum

  13. Great article! Thanks for sharing and showcasing AT&T’s efforts. Although, I would remiss if I didn’t mention that the site DOES redirect users on a mobile device automatically to the mobile version of the career portal. BUT, if the user puts the mobile URL into a desktop browser, our site is smart enough to serve the desktop version! Take a look:

    Looking forward to future conversations on new ways to use mobile technology in recruiting!

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