What do applicants want?
The first impressions of a company as an employer have been shown to be related to initial attraction to an organization (e.g. Turban, Forret & Hendrickson, 1998). Brand image is a concept with a long history in the marketing literature (e.g. Keller, 1993; Levy, 1957). Lievens and Highhouse (2003) developed the ‘instrumental-symbolic’ framework (based on brand image theory) where images are composed of both instrumental and symbolic dimensions. Instrumental image dimensions describe the company in terms of objective, concrete and factual attributes that may or may not obtain (Lievens, van Hoye & Anseel, 2007). Applicants’ attraction to instrumental attributes is related to more utilitarian needs, such as pay, advancement opportunities and job security (van Hoye, Saks, & Weijters, 2014). Symbolic image dimensions describe the company in terms of subjective, abstract and intangible traits. In lay terms, symbolic image dimensions concern how people understand a company and make inferences about it. Employees use these symbolic traits because they help them to maintain their self-identity, improve their self-image or express themselves (Shavitt, 1990).
Studies on this theoretical framework have shown that instrumental/symbolic image dimensions are related to the perception of organizational attractiveness, organizational identification and recommendation intentions from employees (Lievens, van Hoye & Anseel, 2007). The most important finding is that symbolic image dimensions account for more incremental variance than instrumental image dimensions predicting organizational attractiveness. Moreover, companies are better differentiated from each other based on symbolic than on instrumental attributes (Lievens & Highhouse, 2003). Van Hoye, Bas, Cromheecke and Lievens (2013), using a Turkish sample, investigated whether these findings apply in collectivistic cultures. They confirmed that both dimensions are related to companies’ attractiveness as an employer (e.g., Lievens, 2007). More specifically, they found that Turkish applicants are more attracted to companies that offer better working conditions and to companies that are perceived to be more competent. However, the most important conclusion from their study is that their findings are in line with findings in Western societies, demonstrating generalization. As in Western countries, symbolic traits that applicants associate with companies account by far for more incremental variance than instrumental traits, indicating that they may be the key determinants of companies’ attraction.
As noted above, the first issue for researchers in the area is to try to list the most important factors in the prediction of applicant attraction. Thereafter, research needs to concentrate on how these may be ranked and weighted, and more importantly how they interact with each other dynamically.
Many studies have attempted to list the factors. One of the first and most important meta-analysis, by Chapman, Uggerslev, Carroll, Piasentin and Jones (2005), looked at studies on applicants’ attraction, job choice and reactions to selection procedures. They concluded that the best way to address this issue is to split the literature into three types of variables. Recruitment outcomes include:
- 1 Job pursuit intentions: These include submitting an application, visiting a site, attending an interview or generally staying in the applicant pool without committing to the job.
- 2 Job/organization attraction: This is the applicant’s overall evaluation of the job and/ or the organization.
- 3 Acceptance intentions: This refers to accepting intentions before and/or after a job offer is made.
- 4 Job choice: This refers to accepting or declining a job offer.
The second type of variable is predictors of which there are six:
- 1 Job and organizational characteristics: Those relate to the job (pay, benefits, type of work) and the organization (image, size, location).
- 2 Recruiter characteristics: Who and how the recruitment is done.
- 3 Perceptions of the recruiter process: Interpersonal treatment, timely information as well as the validity and procedural fairness of the whole process.
- 4 Perceived fit: This is the process where the applicant interprets the perceived characteristics of the job, organization and recruiter in the light of their own needs and values.
- 5 Perceived alternatives: The applicants’ perceived marketability, namely the perception of viable and attractive job alternatives.
- 6 Hiring expectation: Evaluations of the likelihood of being offered a position in the organization.
The third part is the moderator variables, which include gender and race. Chapman and colleagues concluded that both job and organization characteristics are important parameters of the recruiting outcome, that how the recruiting is done is much more important than who does it. Third, the perception of fit is one of the strongest predictors of attraction, and can involve considerable organizational resources to achieve.
Finally, an important practical question is, what should employers do to maximize the effects of their recruiting efforts with the fewest resources? Our results suggest several answers to this question. Early in the recruitment process, recruiters demonstrating personable behaviours may persuade applicants to pursue the position. Thus, selecting recruiters for how personable they are or training them to be personable would be worthwhile. Emphasizing positive characteristics associated with the work environment and organizational image may also enhance attraction to the position. Fair and considerate treatment throughout the recruitment process appears to be important with respect to acceptance intentions. Training recruiters to enhance perceptions of fairness by providing explanations for selection procedures, keeping applicants informed and avoiding undue delays in responses are all recommended to improve recruiting effectiveness. Although it is not a marked effect, a recruiter may entice a desired applicant into accepting a job offer by letting the applicant know that a job offer is likely in an effort to raise expectations about being hired. At a minimum, recruiters using difficult selection procedures should attempt to mitigate the negative consequences of reduced expectations of being hired by informing candidates that the selection task is very difficult and that many successful applicants find it challenging. Recruiters should also be aware that if time and resources are available, additional gains may be had by focusing on the values and needs that seem most in line with the values and needs of the applicant (i.e., enhancing the applicant’s perceived fit with the organization). Next, we discuss the limitations associated with this research and suggest some issues that we believe researchers should focus on in the future (Chapman et al., 2005, p. 940).
Another meta-analysis by Uggerslev, Fassina and Kraichy (2012) followed Chapman and colleagues’ (2005) but reduced it to seven characteristics:
- 1 Job characteristics: The favourability of attributes associated with the job, such as the intrinsic nature of the job and the compensation package.
- 2 Organizational characteristics: These include the image of the company, work environment, familiarity with the application, location and size. It might involve whether the company is in the private or public sector or indeed whether the company is foreign owned.
- 3 Recruiter behaviours: These include perceived recruiter competence, how personable, trustworthy and informative they are, and time spent recruiting.
- 4 Recruitment process characteristics: These include the attractiveness of various recruiter activities, as well as the perception of messages being complete, credible, realistic and timely. It also includes perceptions of procedural justice and of job-relatedness, treatment, timeliness and selection testing.
- 5 Perceived fit: This includes the perceptions of person-job and person-organization fit, such as in how well their goals, ideals and values fit the organization.
- 6 Perceived alternatives: These include all perceptions of employment alternatives.
- 7 Hiring expectations: These include the perceptions of how likely they are to receive a job offer from the company.
Uggerslev and colleagues (2012) conclude:
Organizational characteristics are more heavily weighed by applicants when maintaining applicant status as compared to the stage of application, and recruitment process characteristics are weighed progressively more as the recruitment stages advance. Job characteristics accounted for the greatest unique variance in job choice decisions. Job characteristics are more predictive in field studies, whereas recruiter behaviours, recruitment process characteristics, hiring expectancies, and perceived alternatives produced larger effect sizes in the laboratory. Results are discussed in terms of their theoretical and practical implications with future research suggestions. (p. 597)
However, the application process is dynamic and changes over time. Carless (2005) noted that perceptions of person-job and person-organization fit were important at different stages in the process, with the former being more important in the early stages. Harold and Ployhart (2008) were interested in how, when and why applicant decision making changes. They argue that the weighting of items changes as they progress. For instance, the process might affect their beliefs about their market value, which is an important factor. Von Walter and colleagues (2010) have argued that the time perspective makes a difference. Individuals with a more distant time perspective seem more interested in more abstract, higher-level factors.
One issue for those interested in attracting good staff is where to advertise and what to say. There is a variety of media to choose from: print media, websites, etc. It is possible to make all sorts of distinctions: websites may be been as high-information, younger person- oriented and more flexible, while print media is low-information, older person-oriented and less flexible. It is also a matter of branding for the organization which might want to be seen as high-tech and modern or more serious and conservative. Baum and Kabst (2014) note that ‘high-information rich’ media-like websites are much more effective than older, ‘low-information’ websites. They suggest that online job boards or social media are excellent platforms for recruitment advertisements.