Source of Hire Report: Referrals, Career Sites, Job Boards Dominate

CareerXroads released its annual source of hire report this week and, as usual, the report is full of information about the broader talent acquisition landscape. We’ll get to that in a moment.

The beginning of this year’s report spells out the demise of more simplistic views about source of hire tracking: that data is easy to get, that it is reliable across the board, and that it is clean (one source = one hire). If you’ve been in recruiting for more than a decade, you probably know that things weren’t much better before the Internet drove so much hiring activity. I remember laughably tracking sources of hire via a questionnaire we asked applicants (online and on paper) and trying to create data based on employee’s recollections of how they came to apply for their job 5-10 years ago.

So no data is perfect but this data is very imperfect. Still, it is the best set of data and analysis we have on sources of hire. With that monster-sized disclaimer out of the way, here are some of the results.

Referrals, Career Sites and Job Boards Top List Again

Source of hire 1While internal hires accounted for the most hires in 2012, most people take that for granted. Yet, that’s what drives some companies to have a dedicated recruiting team to just seek out internal candidates for roles.

For external hires, referrals were nearly overtaken as the top source of external hire, accounting for 24.5% of hires. Career sites made up 23.4% with job boards lagging behind at 18.1%.

From those three, source of hire stats drops of significantly with other sources being the top of those below the double digit mark. Social media, a source that CareerXroads just started tracking in 2011, dropped from 3.5% to 2.9%. While social media wasn’t necessarily a strong source of hire in their reports, employers believed that social media helped drive and influence other sources of hire (in fact, 7 out of the 11, according to the report).

Direct sourcing also dropped significantly from 9.1% to 6.8% in 2012. However, the survey did indicate that more than 58% of employers had internal sourcing teams (and 11% used outside or contract sourcing teams).

How Social Media Actually Stacks Up

Source of Hire 2Social media has continued to grow in its usage, and we are now getting an idea about what networks seem to work best for getting results.

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As you can see in the chart on the left, the most effective social media site that impacts hiring is clearly LinkedIn. By a long margin, LinkedIn job posts and using the LinkedIn Recruiter product seems to have the best results out of any of those. But even LinkedIn’s lesser-used features like groups or company pages still beat the effectiveness of Facebook and Twitter.

Two other categories that did fairly well were customized landing pages and SEO/SEM campaigns on search engines. While these don’t get talked about as much, you can see that employers rate both very highly in comparison to everything outside of LinkedIn.

Final Conclusions

I don’t pretend to speak for Gerry Crispin or Mark Mehler, but I’d love to get closer to really great data on sources of hire. As relayed in the report, the information often gets collected but the results aren’t always clear (and aren’t always easily interpreted).

There’s a good amount of interest in this report from recruiters and staffing leaders who are looking at how they will be investing in the coming years. The data comes from recruiting departments and it is only as good as what you can provide. I think we’d all like to be able to dive more granularly into the social media data and see for certain (or more close to certain) how much of an impact it really plays in hiring. Until then (2014, 2015, or beyond?), we can read and reread this report and hope to get a hint as to how the market is slowly shifting over time.


22 Comments on “Source of Hire Report: Referrals, Career Sites, Job Boards Dominate

  1. I’m not a fan of the sentence: Career sites made up 23.4% with job boards lagging behind at 18.1%.
    Lagging? Do you really not believe that an individual could have been on a job board, seen a job opening, open another browser, then go straight to the company career site that way? Job boards absolutely have direct correlation to career site traffic. That’s how Job Seekers do their research before applying to jobs these days. There are many studies (and simple analytics and tracking tags) that show this.
    Job boards lagging? Hardly.
    Job borads worthy of being a top source of hire? Definitely.

  2. Don’t sleep on SEO. We saw thousands of applications in 2012, and the number 3 source: Google Organic.

    Think about it. Candidates immediately Google your company when they hear about you or are contacted by a recruiter. They want to do their research before engaging. What do they find? For most businesses, the search results steer them to Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn, SimplyHired, or the front-page of your careers site.

    The reason we’re seeing Google Organic so high on Ongig is because we are optimizing for SEO at the: location, department, and job levels versus just the front-page of the careers site. When candidates come to your front-page you are dependent on them selecting the right job(s) to apply for.

    By the way, our number 1 source for applications…referrals from careers sites.

    Great article, and I’m surprised there’s not more debate here!

  3. Great to see the real surge in effectiveness of careers sites here. I fully agree with comments in the article and above that source tracking is so very often imperfect that I’ll take this with a little pinch of salt. However this still affirms my belief in the growing potential of a well crafted career site to full control your employer brand and value proposition.

    Controlling the candidate experience through this channel should be easier, but is often made more difficult because of underlying technology (i.e. ATS) integrations, but there are various companies such as ourselves – 4MAT – trying to improve this aspect, and these stats seem to bear witness to our efforts.

  4. Thanks, John. I’d also like to see more gtranular information on this study, particularly (which positions tend to be hired through which sources. For example, while only 3.1% of hires is from “3PRs”, these may be very high-level positions (or maybe not). Also, I’d be interested in finding out if there’s any differentiation in “Direct Sourcing” between various types of direct sourcing, say between looking on Monster and deep phone sourcing a la Maureen. Finally, I’m very interested in the great increase in “Career Sites”- what’s that all about? (Perhaps a different way of calculating it?)


  5. Thanks Lance. Good thoughts. Love the comments.

    Keep in mind folks that Mark and I have no investment in this study beyond enticing people who should be doing the heavy lifting to raise the bar in how they collect the data and crunch the numbers.

    We don’t charge and we don’t have a particular agenda other than sharing what we see. We’re as surprised as everyone why the heavy research folks don’t put some serious effort behind the ‘big data’ they claim to have. Until then GI=GO

    As to the issues of SEO and Career Sites mentioned by Jason and Gareth I suggest we all consider the imagery of a series of streams feeding your ‘pool’ of talent.

    SEO represents something close to the headwaters and the company CareerSite is much closer to and perhaps even adjacent to the pool. The problem in attributing too much importance to single source- especially those at the beginning or the end, is the likelihood of ignoring influences in between that caused the talent to gravitate more to our pool than the competition.

    Years ago the cost of acquiring complex data was beyond us -technology unproven, time not a priority and cost too high but now, the only obstacle preventing us from having an evidence based understanding of our sourcing efforts is…us.

    To be fair there is a small and growing group of companies breaking these barriers down…one step at a time. They are, unfortunately, too few to be an incentive for the ATSs, and other tools (that have partial solutions) to step up..probably for 3-5 years.

    Lance, if there is enough interest in an online open mike discussion between some folks who are passionate about the subject, I’m happy to facilitate the conversation and then, Keith we can engage on the wildly differing results year to year on why CareerSite gets attributed differently, why much of Social Media is probably subsumed under referrals and direct sourcing etc.

  6. I have to say I agree with Lizzie on her point re jobboards. I live in a household with two job seekers, myself being one, and the pattern is that a role may be seen on a jobboard, but the very next step is straight to the homepage of the company with the vacancy. Whether justified or not, but I myself feel that applying directly via respective company career page is a preferred option (call it a sense of being ‘closer to the company’, believing in ‘direct into relevant recipient’ rather than routed via a jobboard) why 9 out of 10 times doing it that way.
    So on that basis I think that may apply much more than we may believe being the case.

  7. When working as a contract recruiter, I often contact candidates whose resumes appear on a job board. Also, our job board ads are viewed by many job seekers. However, they often apply via the company website and that is logged as to where they have been sourced. This is definitely misleading because the job board attracted that job seeker and they opted to apply directly to the company, not via the job board. Job boards remain an excellent source of advertising for the company and the job seeker.

  8. Saw an article just recently suggesting branding is a key (or the key?) benefit job boards offer to employers (Job Board Doctor blog). That seems to be reiterated here. I too have heard employers speculate that job seekers will often cite their company’s website as their source because they believe it will “make them look better” in the employer’s eyes. So yes, it is likely that the Career Site numbers are bolstered by Job Boards and the numbers here don’t tell the whole story.

  9. @ Gerry: Thank you. I’m not a data analyst, but I have a SUSPICION that many of the sources may become increasingly tangled (particularly as many additional sources come along), so that it might be very difficult and/or arbitrary to attempt to classify all types of precise hiring sources, and that in cases of some of them, it might be necessary or desirable to have a relatively few “clusters” of related sources (such as have been discussed above) instead of a larger number of very specific ones. As a worst-case scenario: things may get so complicated that while we may not be able to precisely tel where they DID come from, it might only be possible to tell where they DIDN’T come from…It might “revert” to an advertising-like situation:
    “We know that 50% of money spent on advertising works, but we can’t ever figure out WHICH 50%….”



  10. Hi Keith

    As has been pointed out a number of times on here, the reality is that many sources have a part to play in many hires. The career site may well be the end point of conversion, but with something as big a decision as a job application (or at least it should be) then many separate sites and channels may have led up to the final decision and conversion. The science of trying to assign due credit to all of these touch points is called Attribution Modelling in the marketing and analytics community – an overview is here

    It’s tricky to achieve at best.

  11. It would be fascinating to get an insight into how traffic gets the career site? My experience is will be a healthy mix of social media, Google, direct and campaign driven eg Job Boards.

    As everyone (including candidates) increase their Google search and social media engagement on smartphone and tablet it is ever more important to deliver a good candidate experience. If the career site and associated career micro sites can “Go Mobile” their lead will increase the delta between the lower sources.

  12. Edit to last comment – I mean an insight to mobile / desktop split for how traffic gets to the career site!

  13. Hello All –

    Great article by far this year!

    If you’re reading this article OR have have read it, then you’re most likely using CareerBuilder’s SaaS product “Talent Network”.

    If you are not using CB’s Talent Network, then what’s the hangup?

    Please walk with me here while I try to quickly explain my question.

    On average, a candidate will touch 14.5 different resources in their job search and 70% of candidates do so before hitting APPLY. Job Seekers will begin their search on Google (which averages 300+ million job related searches monthly), next they will click on either a job board, aggregator or company website ONLY if on first page.

    After selecting companies of interest do you really think they will GO BACK to the original source where they found the job to apply? NO way! Why would they? Ask yourself this question. In the mind of a job seeker which source would you think employers prefer?

    A) Job Board (CB, Monster, Dice)
    B) Aggregator (Indeed, SimplyHired)
    C) Company Website

    Answer: C

    It’s because of two reasons.

    1. Employers feel they really believe in the company/brand and exactly what they want. They’re confident and show commitment.

    2. Surely my resume will be at the top of the stack of resume instead of the bottom if I apply through a job board or aggregator.

    In May, 2011 CarerBuilder and Inavero conducted a study of 4,500 job seekers to learn more about job seeking behavior in the digital age.

    We studied: How people search for jobs today –
    – Where do they search?
    – What is their process?
    – What are they doing?

    So it’s not me telling you what to do in the talent acquisition space…the market is.

    Talent Network leverages the digital technology candidates use in their daily lives and CONNECTS them to your company.

    Talent Network Empowers you to…
    – Access to new candidate pools (Optimize Jobs thru SEO)
    – Reach hard to find candidates
    – Reduce candidate drop off / Capture Data
    – Auto Re-engagement / Pipelining Talent
    – Connect via Mobile

    My job is to help companies transition the strategy to align with the changes. I want to help. I will be happy to chat about this offline if you want to know more or have differences in opinions.


  14. Job boards are actually watering down the process. As a college educator, students just laugh at them because they don’t have a use anymore. Unless you apply in the first five minutes of a job requirement opening, you get lost in the shuffle.

    There are some innovative technologists in pursuit of rendering these job boards obsolete. They eventually will be successful. It will be an interesting dynamic when job boards, and 3rd party recruiting become extinct because of technology.

    Now the referral aspect is interesting because no one is paying close attention to why this is so important. Naturalized professional networks instead of impersonal ones created by Linkedin.

    Can’t wait to see the reactions of people when technology takes these ridiculous job boards, and 3rd party recruiters and throw them down the drain.

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