Focus group insights including candidate priorities, job search behaviour, attitudes towards job boards & more.
Hatch has a big vision - to build a future where everyone finds meaning in work. It’s BIG and many may ask, how exactly will we achieve this? The answer isn’t a simple one, but to get closer to an understanding, we talked to the people so often needed but neglected by employment platforms: Candidates.
In January 2022, we ran a series of focus groups at Hatch with early-career professionals in the US. We connected with the people most crucial to an employer’s growth and success for tomorrow. We wanted to understand their attitudes, experiences and approaches in one specific yet highly significant part of their lives: Searching and applying for their next role.
We listened to those who were looking for that first job out of college, to those determined to break into the industry of their dreams, and to those who feel that working 80-hour weeks on an average salary is just not worth it. Let’s dive into the 6 key insights from our candidate focus groups.
Insight 1: Candidates put in time and effort to apply, but get ghosted in return.
It's pretty discouraging. It would be nice to know what part of my resume or application wasn't up to par.
We’re just going to keep it simple - enough with the ghosting already! Candidates highlighted how frustrating it is to put a large amount of effort into an application, only to either not hear back at all or receive generic automated feedback that offers no indication as to why they were unable to get the role. Many candidates have said that they feel like they’re throwing their applications into a dark void.
Insight 2: Candidates know what they want in a role, but job boards feel like a maze.
We all tend to know what we want from a role, but this kind of information isn’t always easy to find. Candidates want to find roles that are a good fit for them, but dislike the lack of search functionality on most job boards. For example, they can’t filter jobs by specific requirements, like salary or remote work. No jobs boards allow candidates to search according to their skillset - one candidate said “Why can’t they filter by skills, such as account-based sales?” Frustrated from not being able to easily find the roles that match them, candidates take matters into their own hands and would start by looking at the companies they like, then working backwards from there. Roles where candidates had access to speak with team members were prioritized.
Insight 3: Job descriptions are vague and lack the crucial details.
Culture? Honestly? I mean, everyone says teamwork, collaboration, happiness, but I feel like I care more about a culture of growth… you want to enter somewhere where you can actually grow into a role.
Taking on a new role is a big commitment and before applying, we’re typically given a job description as the only available information about that role. It’s a big blob of text, usually with a lot of jargon and with very little of the information we truly want to know about the role to see if it’s a good fit. Many candidates from our focus groups found it difficult to understand exactly what they would do in a given role. They want to know what a “day in the life” is like and the actual tasks they would spend their time on in that role.
So, what do candidates actually want in a job description? We discovered these key themes:
- Tell it like it is. By and large, candidates wanted more information and transparency about the role. They want to know about the team they are going to join, including their co-workers’ backgrounds and demographics, how they approached their work, and how they interact with others. Importantly, representation in leadership matters - candidates want to see people of similar demographics to their own represented in their leadership team.
- Show support for growth. Growth opportunities was a strong consistent theme, with this ranking as a top priority for many young candidates. Learning is just as important as earning, with candidates admitting that they’re willing to sacrifice earning potential to accelerate their trajectory or to learn more.
- Share the work life perks. Candidates want to know the administrative stuff. What will they get paid for giving you 80% of their week? Employers mention that they have excellent benefits, but what exactly are these plans and what do they cover? Location was frequently mentioned as an issue of increasing importance. Whilst many candidates expressed a desire to work in the office a few times a week, they want the flexibility to work from home when it’s appropriate.
- Go easy on the must-have list. Unsurprisingly, candidates do not love laundry lists of requirements. Are these “hard” requirements or will the company be flexible for the right candidate? Often a candidate would need to take a risk and put in the extra time and effort to apply, and pray that a screening recruiter is feeling good that day.
Insight 4: Candidates want genuine and meaningful opportunities to grow.
Whilst I am not actively looking, because I’m in such a new role… it probably won't be a super long-term role because I am not feeling inspired day to day. So I am definitely looking.
While each person has a different approach to their job search, everyone is looking - almost all the time, to varying degrees, using different platforms. Whether they’re an active or passive job seeker, candidates keep a close eye on open roles to avoid missing out on growth opportunities that are a genuine fit to their priorities, including their values, working styles, strengths, and interests. If the best role at the best company happens to show up, they’ll put in the effort to apply.
Insight 5: Some believe in quantity over quality, others believe in the personal touch.
I loved one-click apply when I was in college… I could apply to hundreds of jobs in an hour. Now there are maybe four companies I would leave my job for, so I would definitely want to include a cover letter.
LinkedIn’s “One Click Apply” proved to be a contentious issue. Some candidates looking for their first job were more likely to like the feature, because they aren’t quite sure what to apply for or who will consider them. Applying to as many roles as possible is a pretty reliable strategy when you’re starting out, and doing so with one click is even better. Many candidates said that they would apply to upwards of 150 jobs in a typical job search.
More experienced job seekers did not hold the one-click apply in such high regard. At this point, candidates usually have a more sophisticated understanding of where they want to work and what they want to do. Now, the key objective is to make sure they stand out to hiring managers in the few roles they care about.
Insight 6: Let candidates talk to you, so both sides can find a better fit.
One thing I've been thinking about is how much more interested in, and engaged with the company I am when I have an individual there that I can speak with or just have a conversation with.
One of the biggest themes raised by all focus groups was that candidates just want to talk to their potential employers, and they don't want to wait until you are ready to interview them. Applying for a job is mostly an exchange of both interest and information. Each time a candidate applies to a role, they’re giving up their time. However, in most cases, they do not have enough information to make a good decision. How can they know if a role is right for them based on a few words in a job description? If they are interested, why not let them ask you a couple of questions?
Perhaps an indirect signal of how hard it is to understand what a role involves, many candidates mentioned that they want to talk to someone in the same role or team right now. If anyone is going to know what this role is like, it's likely to be them. Most interview loops don’t include a conversation with someone like this - why not?
Most employment marketplaces unfortunately operate on the same old-school model, focusing on employers as the paying customer. Candidates are equally important, but they’re treated as products within a product for employers. These employment marketplaces rely on economies of scale, so they like to standardize things, including candidates, job descriptions and processes. Are you surprised they don’t seem to work well in this multifaceted and complex world in which we live and work? Neither are we.
As leaders and managers, we want to find and hire talented people who will help our growing team thrive with their potential, motivation and dedication. They’re somewhere out there amongst an incredible pool of candidates, who put in their time and effort to apply for their next opportunities. But, one big question comes to mind: Are we, as employers, giving them the right treatment from the very beginning to reaffirm that we deserve their time, effort and future loyalty?
Adam Jacobs is our very own Co-Founder of Hatch. Connect with him on LinkedIn.