There is no doubt – we live in a data-driven world.  We crave metrics and data points that can shape our practices, and there is certainly no shortage on survey results that can guide our strategies.  But we are turning into a nation of “snackable” content.  In and of itself, snackable content is not bad, as it allows us to consume a huge amount of information in a short amount of time.  The question (and the potential pitfall) is what happens after we consume those tasty morsels of data.  If the “stat-du-jour” prompts us to read more in-depth surveys yielding the same statistic and we understand the limitations, generalizations, and inferences being told by the results, then we are on solid ground.  If, on the other hand, we latch onto that statistic and it’s that statistic alone that shapes what we do, we may find ourselves on shakier ground.

Multiple Surveys, Little Stats on Job Seekers’ Use of Job Search Channels

In our data-driven world there are multiple surveys conducted each year on the same (or very similar) concepts.

As professionals working in the talent acquisition space, we constantly scan the environment for data points that will allow us to acquire talent better and faster.  If you monitor that space, you are probably not surprised by the data bytes that come out of those surveys. But how many of us actually have the time to pull the reports for each of those surveys, thoroughly read the results, and compare their findings?

Since “data bytes” from each of those surveys hit us at different times, we tend to take them at face value and process them as discrete pieces of information.  If it intuitively makes sense to us and it does not blatantly contradict either our experience or past survey results, there is rarely a need to compare findings.  But sometimes a finding (or the absence of a finding) makes us raise a quizzical eyebrow.

Recently we had one of those eyebrow-raising moments that gave us reason to pause and, as quantitative psychologists, we formulated some hypotheses for what we were seeing in the results.  We then looked at findings from multiple surveys that addressed the question of how job seekers find their next job.

Two hypotheses were confirmed:

(1) how you ask a question matters, and

(2) the quality of the question asked moderates the conclusions drawn.

What’s in a Question?  The “how you ask” matters as much as the “what you ask.”

Earlier this year, LinkedIn published a report,Why & How People Change Jobs1, based on a survey of individuals who changed employers in 2014.  No surprise that LinkedIn, like most job seeker surveys, asked the ubiquitous question regarding “candidate source.” What did take us by (admittedly pleasant) surprise is that they asked it in a way that we believe is more meaningful and insightful than the typical job seeker survey.

In reviewing other surveys, we have always been perplexed by the omnipresence of corporate career websites on the “Top” list of sources reported by candidates.  In our experience with recruiting tens of thousands of candidates on an annual basis, we have found that corporate web sites become much more important to a job seeker once they become aware of an opportunity that they want to vet further (or they like what they hear about a company’s employer brand and they want to explore what other opportunities the company may have available).  Practice tells us that this indeed is true, but most survey results told us otherwise – at least until the LinkedIn survey results were released.

To demonstrate the point, let’s look at the “Top 3” sources reported by three 2015 surveys that captured candidate source, along with the essence of the question they used to elicit candidates’ responses.


Actions taken by job seekers to find a job six months prior to being hired

– Visited an online job site (49%)
– Looked at job opportunities on online job boards (47%)
– Looked at job opportunities on company career websites (46%)


Sources that would be most important to job seekers if they were job hunting

– Company website (67%)
– Job board (57%)
– Referral from a trusted friend (51%)

CareerBuilder4 Approach taken when searching and applying for jobs

– Look at companies’ websites for careers page (42%)
– Do extensive research on a company using multiple resources (20%)
– Online job boards (20%)

Now let’s look at LinkedIn’s “Top 3” Sources


Where a job seeker first read, saw or heard about the new (current) job

Referrals/someone they knew
– Staffing agency/3rd party recruiting firm
– Online job board

What’s missing from LinkedIn’s “Top 3” list –  If you answered “corporate career website,” you are absolutely correct!

Are LinkedIn’s results flawed?  Was their sample not representative of the typical candidate? Did they miscode their data?  Did something go wrong with how they ran their analyses?  We all know how critical corporate career websites are in the attraction and recruitment of candidates.  How can they be absent from LinkedIn’s list?

Such an omission may come as a surprise, but, from a methodological standpoint, it makes absolute sense!  The most likely reason corporate career websites did not make it on their “top” list has to do with the way they framed the question in their survey.  They asked “How did you first read, see, or hear about the new job opportunity (your current position)?”

LinkedIn’s question is substantively different from the ones used in the other three surveys.  It did not simply ask candidates, in a general way, about the source of their new job.  It asked candidates to reflect and report the source that made them initially aware of their current position. LinkedIn asked “How did you first read, see, or hear about the new job opportunity? This added specificity in how they asked candidates about the source. As it turns out, how you ask a question does make a difference!

Now LinkedIn’s findings start to make more sense.  Like we have written before in Source of Hire: Capturing both the chicken and the egg, it is rare that a candidate comes to learn, apply, and get hired because of a singular source.  Throughout a candidate’s job-seeking journey there are multiple stimuli that either cause candidates to be attracted to a job and/or a company or cause them to self-select out from pursuing an opportunity with a company.

In our work, we know that most job search channels have value in candidate acquisition. We also know that job search channels differ in relevance and importance to a candidate, depending on where the candidate is in his/her job search process.

Corporate web sites are hugely important in candidate acquisition, but they are probably not as critical and important in the initial stages of a candidate’s job seeking journey.  The reality is that most job seekers do not start their exploration of the job market by solely targeting specific companies (at least not to the exclusion of other sources).  As such, LinkedIn’s results and the glaring absence of corporate career websites from their findings makes good sense to us.

The Moral of the Story

So what are the key “take-aways” from looking at the results from the various surveys about the most frequently reported sources used by candidates in their job search?

  • It’s very helpful to compare data from different sources and critically evaluate the story that is being told by each survey’s findings.  In our hectic work lives, we tend to scan through the avalanche of data that hits our desks, laptops, mobile devices, etc., grab the data points relevant to our work, and use them to guide what we do in talent acquisition. (It’s no surprise that we all love infographics!)  But unless we take the time to fully understand what that data is telling us by examining what is the specific question they are trying to answer, we may be led astray in our talent acquisition strategies and investments.
  • LinkedIn’s findings poignantly remind us that not all sources are equally relevant and/or effective in reaching and attracting candidates at different times of their job search journey.  Certain sources are better at “spreading the word” about our job openings, while others are more critical in convincing intrigued candidates to move forward with actually applying to a position or continuing with their candidacy.

Nice job, LinkedIn, on asking a really well-crafted question that yielded some interesting results.  But life is never all good or bad, black or white In part II, we will be discussing the merits of a conclusion reached by LinkedIn on the basis of their findings regarding generational differences.

Stay tuned!

Part II


1 Why & How People Change Jobs.  LinkedIn Talent Solutions, 2015

2 Talent Attraction Study:  What Matters to the Modern Candidate.  Indeed, 2015

3 Job Search:  The Candidate’s Perspective.  Silkroad, 2015

4 2015 Candidate Behavior Study.  CareerBuilder, 2015.

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