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What’s Behind the Drop Off in Job Applications?

By Peter Weddle, CEO TAtech

In our recent TAtech – Recruiting Future podcast conference, Appcast CEO @ChrisForman knocked many viewers back on their heels when he said “apply rates have cratered.” Based on the company’s analysis of millions of online ads, job seeker applications are down by 20% and clicks are down to historic lows. And now, SHRM has reported, “Even with the high levels of unemployment, many employers report labor shortages as well as hiring difficulty more than one year since the pandemic began.” What’s behind this situation and what, if anything, can we do about it?

Not surprisingly, there are a number of dynamics putting downward pressure on apply rates and even the size of the job seeker pool. Some are societal or economic, while others are vestiges of recruiting practices and processes that have overstayed their welcome. Four deserve mention here.

First, even though there are some 11 million unemployed workers in the U.S., the supply of “active” job seekers is down because many have received enough federal stimulus money to be able to opt out of the job market. That’s especially true in hourly occupations in the hospitality and retail sectors where demand is heating up as the economy reopens.

Second, a disproportionate share of those 11 million unemployed workers are women. Whether they were laid off or left the workplace voluntarily, they often continued to work during the pandemic, but not for employers. Instead, they labored as care givers and teachers at home, and in many cases, those roles and responsibilities continue especially as infections and hospitalizations have only recently begun to decline.

Third, many people are reluctant to return to the workplace for health safety reasons. With barely more than 50 percent of U.S. adults currently vaccinated, congregating with fellow workers in an office could pose an infection risk not only to workers themselves but, as they head home each evening, to their families as well. And sadly, beneath that concern, there’s a another virus at work – the lack of trust employees have in their employers and their commitment to provide adequate workplace safety measures.

And fourth, job searching remains an unnecessarily complex and frustratingly repetitive endeavor. The application forms used by too many employers are far too long and require the entry of the same data over and over and over again, as job seekers move from one opening or job board to another. Having been exposed to the frictionless experience of shopping online, they have no patience with a process that only a masochist could love. It’s an insult, wrapped in mistreatment, inside an application black hole.

So, What’s To Be Done?

It’s clearly easier to write than to actually accomplish, but HR and TA leaders are going to have to bring the c-suite in their organizations kicking and screaming into today’s “new abnormal.” They have to be convinced that normal – old as well as new – is over. The abnormal is what’s real and likely to remain so for well into the future.

What is that abnormal reality? It’s a surplus of workers in the population at the same time there’s a shortage of workers in the job market. This distortion in the structure of the labor market means that traditional assumptions about the supply and demand of talent are no longer applicable. From now on, employers will take longer and have to pay more to fill their openings, regardless of their brand stature or position in the market.

How much longer they will take and how much more money they will have to invest depends on how effectively they address today’s masochistic job search experience. Employers that reset their recruiting process to eliminate friction points won’t transform recruiting into a cake walk, but they will optimize their performance. Correcting such conversion killers as off-putting application forms and mind-numbing data reentry requirements are a good start, but even more will have to be done. A lot more. For those that make the commitment, however, the return will be substantial. They will accrue a real and sustainable competitive advantage in the battle for the best talent.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can check out his latest books on Amazon or in the TAtech Bookstore.