In 2004, in Silicon Valley, Google posted a huge billboard ad featuring a mathematical problem. The answer led to a web address with yet another puzzle to crack. People who successfully followed this intellectual treasure hunt ended up being invited in for a job interview.
This is an extreme example of a recruitment principle spelled out in a new article by psychologists in Belgium. They say that distinctive recruitment procedures are the secret to attracting more and better job applicants, especially in fields like engineering where competition for the best talent is intense.
Working with a Belgian technology company, Saartje Cromheecke and her colleagues sent out a real job opportunity to 1,997 potential applicants, around half of them via email (as is the industry standard), and half via a hand-written postcard depicting a coffee mug and a blank daily agenda. The email and postcard message featured the same layout and included the same written information and content about the job vacancy.
Sixty-two of the contacted engineers applied for the job – 82% of them had received the postcard, just 18% had received the email. Stated differently, only 1% of the engineers who were emailed actually applied for the job compared with 5% of those who received a postcard. This latter figure represents a high response rate for the field. Moreover, the respondents to the postcard tended to be better educated, consistent with the researchers’ prediction that a recruitment message sent via a “strange” medium will be more likely to grab the attention of better-qualified personnel who aren’t actively looking for new opportunities.
The researchers said that social cognition research has shown how we adopt mental “scripts” for different aspects of our lives. “… recruiting in a strange way that differs from what competitors are doing is likely to be inconsistent with recruitment scripts,” they said, “enhancing potential applicants’ attention, attraction, and intention to apply.”
It’s important to note, Cromheecke’s team aren’t saying that postcards will always be the answer. Rather, “this field experiment puts forth ‘media strangeness’ as a more general evidence-based principle, which recruiters might take into account when selecting media for communicating job postings.”
Cromheecke, S., Van Hoye, G., and Lievens, F. (2013). Changing things up in recruitment: Effects of a ‘strange’ recruitment medium on applicant pool quantity and quality. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology DOI: 10.1111/joop.12018