The ultimate guide to the recruitment funnel

Last updated:
July 21, 2021
November 17, 2021
min read
Brendan McConnell
Table of contents

Recruiters today need to think like their friends in sales and marketing. While their jobs are quite different in terms of daily tasks, the desired outcomes are quite similar: to attract, convert, and close new prospects (or hires) through varied but complementary channels and nurturing techniques. This similarity is particularly evident when you consider the growing popularity of the recruitment funnel and its impact on hiring organizations around the world.

What is a recruiting funnel?

As mentioned, a recruiting funnel is a similar concept to what you’d see in sales and marketing. It’s just applied to candidates instead of prospects.

This is a defined framework that takes you through the entire recruitment process – from start to finish – and incrementally narrows the candidate pool after each step until a hiring decision is made.

Recruiting funnels can have a varying number of stages, depending on how complex or simple your recruitment process is.

The overall goal of the recruiting funnel is to create a repeatable, scalable, and systematic process for attracting, nurturing, and hiring talent.

By doing so, recruiting funnels help you:

  • Simplify the recruiting process into defined stages, each with its own strategies, goals, and actions
  • Break each of those stages into functional tasks that can easily be assigned to a member of the recruiting team
  • Optimize each stage of the funnel to ensure that candidates stay interested and engaged with your brand
  • Optimize resource usage at each stage of the funnel to ensure maximum ROI
  • Easily flag and remove channels or tactics that aren’t working at any stage of the funnel

Visualizing your recruiting funnel is also a great way to ensure that everyone involved in the process knows the workflow for each new hire. This is a valuable tool to ensure that your recruitment team is on the same page, and can be used to quickly onboard new recruits into your processes.

What are the steps in the recruiting funnel?

Most recruitment funnels contain anywhere from five to eight steps. Typically, these would include:

  • Awareness
  • Attraction
  • Application
  • Pre-screening
  • Interviewing
  • Hiring

Let’s look at a typical recruitment funnel framework that contains these six distinct stages. For each, we’ll define key activities for recruiters, common challenges and their solutions, and some key metrics to keep in mind for each stage.

1. Awareness

The awareness phase is all about getting your candidate’s attention, and making sure that they know your employer brand.

Key activities include:

  • Optimizing your employer brand. Identify what is unique and appealing about your company as an employer, and present that compellingly on owned and earned channels. This could include your careers site, job application, job descriptions, social media, and careers publications. Ensure that your messaging and brand story resonate with your ideal candidates.
  • Engaging in social outreach. Interact with target candidates, and join conversations in the groups and trends where your ideal personas congregate online. Encourage active engagement with potential candidates through social media, and use your own channels to showcase your company’s personalities and values.
  • Networking with passive candidates. Encourage recruiters to attend networking events to get your brand out there. Engage with passive candidates wherever possible to plant the seed in their heads about why they should work at your company.

Common challenges include:

Solutions to those problems include:

  • Finding what’s unique and interesting about your company and its people
  • Telling that story with compelling content
  • Sharing that content strategically on your earned and own platforms

Key metrics include:

  • Visitors to your careers page
  • Engagement on your social media posts
  • Number of conversations with new candidates

After the awareness phase comes attraction.

2. Attraction

The attraction phase is where you move from more high-level promotion of your employer brand to focusing on specific job openings that need to be filled. This is where the ongoing, more hands-on work will start in any recruitment funnel.

Key activities include:

Common challenges include:

  • Appealing to your ideal candidate
  • Enticing qualified candidates to apply through one of your outreach channels

Solutions to those problems include:

  • Writing unique job descriptions and ads for every position
  • Thinking through what your ideal candidates like, wants, and values
  • Optimizing the language in your job descriptions to appeal to that ideal candidate

Key metrics include:

After the attraction phase comes to the application.

3. Application

The application phase is where all of your work on awareness and attraction pays off. At this point, interested candidates apply for the job and go through the application process. You now have some active candidates - or “leads” - in your ATS to work through the rest of the funnel.

Key activities include:

  • Making the application easy and streamlined
  • Ensuring that applications take no longer than five to ten minutes
  • Optimizing the process for mobile devices
  • Automating confirmation and follow-up emails
  • Ensuring that applications flow seamlessly into your ATS for processing

Common challenges include:

  • Legacy application processes that can be cumbersome and lengthy
  • Drop-offs at different stages of the application process

Solutions to these problems include:

  • Stripping out unnecessary steps from the application process and only including what is 100% needed to make a hiring decision

Key metrics include:

  • Total number of applicants
  • Application completion rate vs. entry rate
  • The average number of applicants per visit to the job posting

After the application phase comes pre-screening.

4. Pre-screening

The pre-screening phase of the recruiting funnel is where you start to process, shortlist, and flag qualified candidates who you want to explore further. The goal in this phase is to weed out all candidates who do not meet the minimum requirements for the role, and identify who might be a top applicant based on their resume.

Key activities include:

  • Analyzing resumes versus your defined job requirements at scale using your ATS
  • Manually screening shortlisted resumes from your ATS to identify stand out applicants
  • Flagging candidates who go the extra mile to reach out and connect with you or the hiring manager
  • Keeping the lines of communication open by informing candidates when they’ve moved onto the next stage of the application process
  • Selecting candidates who will move on to the interviewing stage of the funnel

Common challenges include:

  • The volume of applicants leading to bottlenecks in processing and shortlisting
  • The lag time between application and next communication that can cause the candidate to become disinterested
  • Automated shortlisting causing you to unknowingly disqualify candidates based on omissions or small errors on their resumes

Solutions to these problems include:

  • Ensuring that you have a quality ATS in place that can automatically parse, sort, and shortlist inbound applications at scale
  • Setting up automated email replies, thank you emails, and check-ins that are delivered at scheduled intervals after a candidate hits “Apply”
  • Performing spot checks of disqualified resumes to ensure that your filtering parameters are set up properly.
  • Tweaking those filtering parameters regularly to ensure that your ATS parsing is as reliable as possible

Key metrics include:

  • Total applicants to shortlisted candidates
  • Total applicants to interview rate (this should be around 12%, but can vary depending on the role, industry, and volume of applicants)

After the pre-screening phase comes interviewing.

5. Interviewing

The interviewing phase is the most hands-on phase in the recruitment funnel and the best chance for your team to identify the right hire. This phase typically includes a preliminary screening with the recruiter, a hiring manager interview, and secondary interviews with other team members or senior management.

Key activities include:

Common challenges include:

  • Overcoming unconscious bias
  • Accounting for potential skewed performance during interviewing
  • Dealing with quality issues during remote interviews
  • Accounting for differing opinions between members of the hiring team

Solutions to these problems include:

  • Using collaborative hiring and structured interviews to limit to the influence of overt or subconscious bias
  • Evaluating candidates based on the totality of their application, not just the resume or interviews
  • Using quality video interviewing software to make the experience as seamless as possible
  • Clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and decision-making power during the formation of the hiring team

Key metrics include:

  • Total number of interviews per candidate (you want to keep this as lean as possible)
  • Outcomes from the interview scorecard
  • Interview to offer conversion percentage

After the interviewing phase comes the final step: hiring.

6. Hiring

The final stage in this recruitment funnel - hiring - is where you (and your hiring team, if applicable) select a candidate, extend them an offer, and negotiate on terms.

Key activities include:

  • Making a hiring decision based on input from the hiring team
  • Preparing a tailored offer for the selected candidate
  • Negotiating salary, benefits, vacation, and so on, as required

Common challenges include:

  • The time it takes to put together tailored job offers
  • The risk that candidates will have (and accept) another job offer on the table
  • Ensuring the chosen candidate remains engaged and committed to the role right up until they sign the offer

Solutions to these problems include:

  • Using templated job offers that can be quickly customized for each position
  • Using automated actions in your ATS to quickly send job offers and onboarding documents once a decision has been made
  • Ensuring that the recruiter on file actively engages with the candidate right up until their first day on the job

Key metrics include:

  • Percentage of offers accepted
  • Time from offer to sign off

As you can see, each stage of the recruitment funnel contains unique tasks, challenges, and metrics. Together, these stages make up the totality of your hiring process and the impact that it delivers to your organization.In addition to each metrics listed above, you should also pay attention to figures that reflect the overall efficiency of your total recruitment funnel.

Metrics to monitor recruitment funnel performance

Here are some important metrics that will help you monitor the overall performance of your recruitment funnel.

  • Source of hire. Or, where your hires came from to apply for the job. Keeping track of this at the “hire” level helps you identify trends that indicate which sources most often lead to a quality hire. This helps you make informed decisions about where to allocate your spending and effort.
  • Quality of hire. This is a rolling metric that you can use to measure the ongoing impact of your hiring decisions. Pay attention to sub-metrics like time to productivity, long-term retention, and performance to get a handle on how effective your recruitment funnel is at finding and hiring the right candidate.
  • Time to hire. This is the total time it takes a candidate to go from application to hire. Lengthy hiring processes can cause candidates to lose interest, but they are also indicators of inefficiencies and bottlenecks in your recruitment funnel.
  • Cost per hire. This is the total time and money spent to hire new candidates. Like time to hire, this is an efficiency indicator that can flag potential problem spots in your funnel. For example, high cost per hire might indicate that you’re not using the right sourcing platforms for the ROI.
  • Funnel movement. This is the ratio by which applicants move to each stage of the funnel. This ratio should be somewhat consistent across job openings, and it should be predictable as your funnel becomes more established. Funnel movement is an indicator of the overall health of your process. If the ratios drop off significantly at any point, it likely indicates that one of your stages isn’t working properly.

Recruiting funnels can be a powerful tool for systematically attracting, converting, and closing top talent at your organization. It’s also a great way to reduce your own workload as a recruiter and become more methodical about where and how you focus your efforts.

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