Friday, March 23, 2007

Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 92, #2: Web Recruitment

March journal madness ends(?) with the latest issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

I'll post separately about all the recruitment/assessment goodness in this issue, but today's post is specific to one article: "Aesthetic properties and message customization: Navigating the dark side of Web recruitment" by Dineen, Ling, Ash, and DelVecchio.

Why treat this one special? For starters, it's a great little piece of research. And, it's something that I think many of my readers will be interested in--a way to increase the quality of candidates responding to Web-based recruitment methods and simultaneously cut down on the flood of unqualified applicants.

How do we do such a thing? By paying a lot of attention to two things, say the authors:

1) The aesthetics of your web page/job advertisement content. This refers to things like the fonts you use, graphics, colors, and Web page design. Seems like a no-brainer, but how many specific job postings had you thinking, "Now that's an attractive ad"?

2) The customization of your content. This refers to the extent that information presented to job seekers is tailored to their particular needs, interests, and competencies.

This particular study analyzed responses from 240 upper level undergraduate students enrolled in business courses (93% were business majors). The researchers first had the students fill out a Web-based questionnaire to gather information about their needs, abilities and values. The students then came back about 4 weeks later and viewed an actual job advertisement tweaked for the study (the article includes a great example of the actual "ad" that was presented to study participants). Each participant was in one of four conditions:

Condition one: Good aesthetics (job posting with color, pictures, multiple fonts, patterned background) and customized feedback regarding the fit between their needs, abilities, and values, and aspects of the position/organization (e.g., "It appears that your preferences for a company culture are INCONSISTENT with what you would find at [this company]")

Condition two: Good aesthetics and no feedback.

Condition three: Poor aesthetics (black-and-white, no pictures, backgrounds, or varying fonts), and customized feedback.

Condition four: Poor aesthetics and no customized feedback.

The researchers then measured the amount of time spent viewing the posting, information recall, and attraction.

Results? Depends what yer lookin' at:

Viewing time: Highest in condition one (mean of 202 seconds). Including customized information had a big impact on viewing time, but aesthetics mattered only when customized information was present--when there was no customized information, aesthetics mattered much less and overall viewing time was much lower.

Information recall: Pretty much the same thing, except providing customized information helped only if there were good aesthetics.

Attraction: Aesthetics didn't seem to make a difference, but providing customized information resulted in the highest attraction levels.

Why is this happening? The authors suggest it's a result of the amount of cognitive elaboration--the more customized and appealing the information, the "deeper" the processing, meaning better memory of the ad, etc.

But here's probably the best part...when looking at the job-person fit and the above factors, only under condition one did the "low fit" applicants report being less attracted to the job and the "high fit" applicants report being more attracted to the job. What does this mean? That paying attention to the attractiveness of your career website and job opportunities AND helping people understand if they fit with the job and your organization helps folks "select in" and "select out."

The authors say it best: "These strong effects suggest that the combination of good aesthetics and customized information allows job seekers to better recognize when they are a low fit, leading to far less attraction among the lowest fitting individuals."

Bottom line

Allowing potential applicants to self-screen out based on realistic job information has HUGE advantages, both to the individual and the organization. The potential applicant doesn't waste their time going through the (sometimes laborious) process of applying only to later find out the job wasn't what they wanted. The organization doesn't have to spend time and money selecting out these people. The payoff from a little invested upfront, whether it's working on the attractiveness of the web page, providing customized results, or some type of job preview video, pays huge dividends, and is in effect the most effective and efficient form of selection.

By the way, if this type of research is something you're interested in, take a gander at this (thank you, Dr. Lievens), this, and this.

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