Human Resources

Recruitment Strategies Report: Invest in Employee Referrals and Promote Your Brand Better

Oct 4, 2017

GetApp surveyed recruiting professionals and consumers to find out their views on the recruitment strategies that can help companies compete for talent.

Karen McCandlessAnalyst
Recruitment Strategies Report: Invest in Employee Referrals and Promote Your Brand Better

I’m a member of a recruitment professionals group on Facebook. It’s one of the most active and useful business-related Facebook groups I’ve seen. These hiring pros regularly (multiple times a day) post questions and open up interesting topics for (lively) debate. Recent topics have included:

  • Are cover letters dead?

  • Do candidates read job adverts?

  • The future of applicant tracking systems

  • Have you ever dated a candidate?

  • Many, many, many posts debating the pros and cons of cold calling.

This highlights not only the wide variety of approaches that recruiters find successful (especially with reference to cold calling), but also the uncertainty and challenges surrounding this fast-changing industry. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

To get more insight into this market, GetApp surveyed 400 recruiting professionals and 300 consumers to find out their views on the hiring process, and the recruitment strategies that can help companies compete for top talent.

Key findings:

  • A shortage of skilled candidates is the biggest challenge recruiters expect to face over the next 12 months.

  • The main channel candidates use to look for jobs is job boards.

  • Compensation remains the number one factor that attracts candidates to a role.

  • Employee referral provides both the shortest time to hire and the highest quality applicants, yet the primary source for finding candidates is through direct applications.

  • Almost half of respondents don't use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to recruit candidates.

Shortage of skilled candidates

In response to our survey, 40.4 percent of recruiters named a shortage of skilled candidates as the biggest challenge they expect to face over the next 12 months.

What is the biggest recruitment challemnge you expect to face over the next 12 months

According to the Gartner CIO Agenda Report: “66 percent of CIOs believe there is a talent crisis in the world … yet there is surprisingly little talent innovation.”

In fact, the research says that most IT organizations had the same talent gaps in 2016 as they had in 2012.

This is further exacerbated by the emerging digital skills that companies will need to compete. As companies invest in areas such as analytics, the Internet of Things, business intelligence, and cloud services, specialists in these areas are becoming more in demand in the “war” for talent.

Further research from Gartner reports that 34 percent of survey respondents cite information-related skills represent as the biggest gap in talent, especially those skills which are needed for the newest, most advanced analytics environments.

This suggests that companies need to invest in strategic ways to compete for this talent, as well as overcome any roadblocks in the hiring process.

Problems with the recruitment process

Going hand in hand with the problem of a shortage of skilled candidates is the issue of outdated hiring process. Almost a fifth of our respondents cited it as the biggest recruitment challenge they expect to face over the next 12 months.

Maia Josebachvili, VP of Marketing at recruitment software Greenhouse, said that the most successful organizations see recruiting as a strategic driver of the business versus an administrative function.

“This positive shift is well underway but there’s still work to be done,” she said. “The companies that have gone through this transformation have realized the positive ROI of investing in their hiring process. According to a BCG study, companies with excellent hiring practices can experience three times more revenue growth. On top of this, there’s five times greater chance that a company makes a bad hire when they don’t have an structured process in place—a huge waste of time and money.”

Employer branding

One way that recruiters can overcome this shortage of talent is through the use of branding and marketing tools and software. Our research revealed that 75.1 percent of candidates say that employer brand and culture is important when applying for a job.

This approach involves:

  • Working out who your target audience is

  • Creating a strong brand and culture that helps attract skilled candidates

  • Using channels such as social media to get your brand in front of your target audience to convert them into "fans" of your company before they even apply for a job.

This brand does not have to be created at a company level, but can differ per department or business unit, as Gartner notes: “The IT organization in an insurance company may have a brand that represents innovation, even though most insurance company brands represent stability and predictability.”

James Ellis, talent acquisition expert and host of The Talent Cast podcast, said that the only way to overcome the talent shortage is to connect and engage with talent better than other companies.

He explained: “You can’t clone talent. You can train it, but it takes time. Presuming you pay them fairly, you need to make it crystal clear why someone would work for you over another company. Do you have the best benefits? Amazing coffee? A culture that drives excellence? An opportunity to see your work in the world? An office that closes its doors at 5:30 every day? Something about you is different, special, interesting or even unique. In order to fight Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, et al, you need to take a different strategy from them. Rather than try to be universally known, you need to be narrow in your excellence.”

Job search channels

If recruiters are to address the shortage in talent, they also need to diversify their talent generation channels. Currently, recruiters’ primary source for finding candidates is through direct applications (36.4 percent). Only 8 percent come through social media, 11.2 percent through employee referral, and 3.2 percent through internal hires.

What is your primary source for finding candidates

Survey data on finding candidates

This compares to data from job seekers, which revealed that 55.4 percent use job boards as their main channel to look for jobs, while 16 per cent use social media as their main channel, and 13.6 percent a company’s website.

What is the main channel you use to look for jobs?

Ellis suggested that to take advantage of job boards, you need to change how you writing job descriptions.

“People look for jobs on job boards when they aren’t already in love with the idea of working for a specific company,” he said. “A job board is a fairly level playing field, so either you need to inject a little more art and emotion into all your job descriptions, or you need to connect with potential talent before they start looking on job boards.”

Importance of employee referrals

One important way of finding and recruiting talent is through employee referrals. According to our research, employee referral provides the shortest time to hire for 24.9 percent of recruiters.

Which of these sources for finding candidates provides the shortest time to hire?

The other key channels which provide a short time to hire includes direct applications (20.7 percent), internal hires (18.7 percent), and recruitment agencies (18.45 percent).

Employee referrals also came out top in terms of providing the highest quality applications (25.9 percent), with direct applications (20.7 percent), recruitment agencies 20 percent), and internal hires (18.7 percent) again making up the rest of that list.

Which of these sources for finding candidates provides the shortest time to hire?

In terms of shortest time to hire and the highest quality of applications, job boards (paid and unpaid) and social media came out bottom.

This points to two different action points for recruiters:

  • Optimize (or create) employee referral programs

  • Invest in other forms of hiring, such as social recruitment.

Ellis explained that a great referral project focuses on the staff and what motivates them to take action.

He said: “In this case, assume three kinds of motivations: People like working with their friends who are smart, people like getting referral bonuses, and people like feeling that they are making a clear connection to the company (and enjoy the recognition therein). Then, arm your staff with what they need to know: do they know how to create a referral in your HR system? Do they have any talking points about why they work for you? Do they know the value of a hired referral? Once armed, your staff can become effective advocates for your brand and talent attractors”

Ellis added that for employee referral programs to succeed, businesses also need to recognize their best advocates regularly.

“For example, at quarterly business reviews, identify the staff bringing in great hires (and maybe even establish an ad hoc prize at the end of the year for the person bringing in the most talent),” he said.

It’s also important to extend the idea of employee advocates by making hiring something that the whole business is responsible for and actively plays a role in. Collaborative recruiting means involving all employees, whether that be through employee referral programs, or making them brand ambassadors by promoting the company culture on Twitter.

ATS adoption

Another key way to improve the hiring process, and gain access to a wider pool of talent is to invest in an application tracking system.

However, only 44.8 percent of respondents use an applicant tracking system to recruit candidates, compared to 49 percent that don’t use an ATS, and 6.2 percent that don’t even know if they use one or not.

Do you use an applicant tracking system to recruit candidates?

When we carried out similar research into the adoption of sales management and lead generation software, the rates were a lot higher - 66 percent of respondents to that survey use sales software, while 57 percent already use lead generation software.

What we saw from the survey results suggested that the benefits of using an ATS are just as pronounced as that of using sales management or lead gen software.

Benefits of using an applicant tracking system

From our survey, the benefits of using an ATS for recruiting are as follows:

  • 86.1 percent say using an ATS has increased the speed at which they hire candidates

What effect has your applicant tracking system had on the speed at which you hire candidates
  • 78.3 percent say it has improved the quality of candidates they hire.

What effect has your applicant tracking system had on the quality of candidates you hire?

According to Maia Josebachvili, VP of Marketing at recruitment software Greenhouse, ATS allows recruitment to move beyond just the hiring managers, and enables everyone across the company to get involved in a structured and measurable way (think employee referral programs).

She said: “The game-changing opportunity is to leverage a talent acquisition suite that intelligently guides you to bring everyone in the company together to win at hiring. Organizations should shift away from ad-hoc and administrative tools to a suite that enables them to win every candidate interaction and get ahead and stay ahead with powerful and proactive insights.”


While it may seem that there is a “war” for talent and that finding candidates with the right skills -especially for digital businesses- is a major challenge, investing in employer brand, collaborative recruiting, and newer forms of hiring such as social recruitment can be a real game changer.

To make all of this easier and more efficient, it’s also worth considering purchasing an applicant tracking system to help you automate time-consuming manual tasks, which would allow you to focus on innovating to attract top talent and positioning yourself as a company people actively want to work for.

Next steps in transforming your recruitment strategies

If you would like to find out more about how to choose applicant tracking software or what other users recommend, as well as read more on how to optimize your recruitment strategies, here are some resources that can help:

  • GetApp's ranking of the top 25 ATS based on factors such as integrations, mobile apps, user reviews, and security certifications

  • An ATS scorecard to help you shortlist apps according to factors such as features and pricing

  • GetApp's hiring blog that gives tips on recruitment strategies and process innovation

  • Watch this quick video for three tips on how to your upgrade your recruiting process


This research is based on a survey of 400 recruiters and 300 job seekers in North America. The survey was carried out in September 2017.

About the author

Karen McCandless