We need to talk about the modern recruitment funnel. And we will. But I explain the stages and steps you can take to optimize your funnel, let’s take a brief look at the state of recruitment in general.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth: GoodTime’s 2024 Hiring Insights Report found that for years, TA teams have struggled to hit just half of their hiring goals.

Percentage of hiring goals attained from 2021 to 2023
Source: GoodTime’s 2024 Hiring Insights Report

There are no convenient excuses for this underperformance, either. Numbers of job seekers have remained roughly the same, while job openings have dwindled. So in theory, hiring goal attainment should be ticking upward, right?

But of course, it’s not quite that simple. The report also speaks to skills gaps in available candidates and increased demands of potential hires as significant obstacles.

So how can companies turn things around? What “secret sauce” can ensure you meet your hiring goals while ensuring your candidates are of the highest quality?

Let’s take it back to the basics: A well-defined, fine-tuned recruitment funnel.

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What is a recruitment funnel?

When it’s working correctly, your recruiting funnel is a self-replenishing candidate pipeline to ensure top-quality candidates can fill roles in your organization as needed. Typically, the recruitment funnel can be broken down into seven stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Application
  4. Consideration
  5. Interview
  6. Offer
  7. Hire

Below, I’ll break each of these down in more detail.

The 7 stages of the recruitment funnel

A recruitment funnel can’t help you achieve your goals unless all seven stages are clearly defined and you have a shared understanding within your TA team. You might want to adjust these definitions a little to suit the unique needs of your organization, but for the most part, your recruiting funnel should look something like this:

1. Awareness

This stage involves creating and spreading awareness about a job vacancy and the organization among potential candidates through various marketing and advertising channels.

Here, you’re introducing visitors to your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and your organizational mission, whether candidates are suitable for the role or not.

You’ll want to go beyond just the basic job posting and actually inform candidates about your organization, sell them on your company, and convince them they’ll be an ideal fit.

This is also an opportunity to capture names, emails, phone numbers, and other basic candidate information to bolster engagement further. 

Use social media – especially LinkedIn – to make your employer brand more visible and transparent. For instance, the banner on your LinkedIn Company page can spread general brand awareness to promote upcoming events, celebrate awards, or use other ways to project/promote your identity. 

Make sure to highlight the benefits that are a priority to your target candidate group (e.g., parental leave, childcare subsidies, and student debt relief).

You can also use platforms like LinkedIn to show off your employee experience and attract new applicants. HelloFresh does a great job at this. Take for example, their “day in the life at HelloFresh” video series, which lets users see what the offices actually look like, what perks they can expect, and what the general vibe of the company is, all before they even have an intro meeting.

2. Interest

In this stage, candidates express initial interest in the job opportunity or the organization by engaging with content or outreach efforts.

Drive interest by crafting compelling job descriptions. Techniques include addressing candidates in the 2nd person (referring to them as “you” instead of “they” to make it more personal).

Call your company “we” to make your candidate feel like part of the company. 

Use active voice. Make your candidates feel like they’ll be part of the action. “The objective is to convert sales and satisfy customers” isn’t clear about who will do what. Conversely, “You’ll interact directly with customers, build relationships, and convert sales” is more direct and impactful. 

Make sure to also write clear, descriptive job titles, craft an honest and transparent “About us” blurb, and be precise about role responsibilities. 

3. Application

The application stage is when candidates formally apply for the position by submitting their resumes or applications, indicating a strong interest in the role.

A simplified application process is one of the best ways to keep potential candidates engaged and interested. Note how 60% of job seekers quit while they’re completing applications due to complexity and length.

These days, it’s crucial to make the application process mobile-friendly is crucial since 52% of job-seekers look for roles on their phones. You want to be where your top candidates are. 

User-friendly application interfaces are a must. Select typography and color schemes carefully to align with your company’s brand. Colors and thoughtful formatting should be used to highlight the most important elements of an application and establish a visual hierarchy. Make sure to keep things simple visually. You want the process to be as easy as possible to avoid any confusion or unnecessary labor for the applicant.

4. Consideration

At this stage, recruiters review applications and qualifications to determine which candidates merit further consideration for the position.

48% of candidates claim employers failing to communicate with them about their candidacy is a top-five frustration when seeking a job. Regardless of a candidate’s chances for landing a role, don’t ghost them – word spreads. While you’re at it, always send confirmation emails to show candidates you’ve received their applications. It prevents unnecessary back-and-forth over email and helps them see you as an engaged employer.

As discussed in our article on tech hiring challenges, AI tools can streamline personalized communication, showing consideration to candidates without bloating your workload. 

In the consideration phase, it’s important to set clear expectations about your hiring process from the start. Consider publishing a FAQ section on your careers page, answering queries of would-be applicants proactively.

5. Interview

Candidates who pass the consideration stage are invited for interviews, where they are assessed further for their fit and suitability for the role.

Conduct interviews with your shortlist of candidates. While three interviews should be enough, this number can change based on who you’re hiring and for what position.

Interview scheduling software like GoodTime closes the gaps between hiring stages, making communication and interview scheduling with candidates much more efficient. In fact, it can help TA teams reduce your time-to-hire by up to 50%. Read Pinterest’s story to learn more.

Ensure a positive candidate experience by giving them information about the process. Prepare your hiring team to ask the most effective questions that help avoid unconscious biases.

And never ever skip an intake meeting. Trust me. That’s your chance to align with the hiring manager on what a good fit for the role looks like. An efficient intake meeting sets the entire process up for success.

Just as important is the post-interview debrief. Debriefs are how you make sure you’re evaluating candidates against the right criteria and are an important opportunity to coach and align with hiring managers.

Want to learn more about coaching hiring managers for interviews? We asked Socotra’s Head of Talent Acquisition, Dubi Ben-Shoham, about his process for coaching and training interviewers, including behavioral interviewing techniques. Watch his advice in the clip below.

6. Offer

After successful interviews, a job offer is extended to the chosen candidate, outlining the terms and conditions of employment.

The first thing your chosen candidate will read in your offer is the compensation. Be transparent with the starting base salary in either pay-per-period or hourly amounts, payment frequency, payment methods, and stock options/bonuses. 

Next on your chosen candidate’s priority list will be your benefits. Include anything pre-negotiated (e.g., healthcare plans, relocation assistance, insurance, vacation time, and wellness benefits).

If you do end up negotiating on compensation, Indeed suggests these employer negotiation strategies:

  • Research industry standards
  • Set a range
  • Determine candidate expectations
  • Spearhead the negotiations yourself
  • Expect a counter
  • Consider a signing bonus
  • Understand the significance of your benefits

7. Hire

Once the candidate accepts the offer and completes any required background checks or paperwork, they officially become an employee of the organization.

Your new hire onboarding process – and its overall soundness – will dictate whether your new hire succeeds and sticks around. Nearly 70% of employees will stay with a company for three years when the onboarding experience is on point. 

Forbes suggests “Preboarding” new hires. This effort entails engaging and communicating with soon-to-be-starting employees before they begin, keeping them excited about the new opportunity. Send company swag (e.g., notepads or water bottles with your logo) and encourage them to ask questions. Email them an onboarding schedule to ensure the smoothest first day possible.

Also, get the initial paperwork out of the way ASAP. Include other team members as “welcoming crews” to help new hires immediately feel part of the team. Job shadowing is another suggested onboarding tactic, as is making the first day an exciting event (consider taking the new employee out for lunch).

Optimizing the recruiting funnel

Conceptually, optimizing your recruiting funnel sounds excellent. But getting from concepts and hypotheticals to concrete results is no simple task. 

For one, you wouldn’t be alone if you felt like the net you’re casting in the marketplace isn’t wide enough. Moreover, gaps often exist in available data to help find specific candidates.

While we’ve established the benefits of brand recognition, enhancing this organizational and recruiting facet has its obstacles.

Choosing the right Applicant Tracking System (ATS) — along with the right add-ons and integrations — helps you overcome all these challenges. 

Data-driven decision-making will prove crucial in developing a high-functioning recruitment funnel. The ideal tech stack allows you to view and analyze complex recruitment data, identifying the differentiating skills of top performers within your organization. 

Isolating success factors within your data enables you to create more targeted and well-defined postings. It also allows you to assess skills and screen candidates more granularly.

This information will also shed light on recruiting funnel weaknesses. Your dashboards should paint more thorough and specific pictures of your preferred candidates, developing a more personalized and headache-free experience for potential hires. 

Seeking constant improvement and feedback through the hiring and recruitment funnel will help cultivate long-term success.

4 key challenges in recruitment funnel management

1. Attracting best-fit candidates

We discussed in the introduction how skills gaps are increasingly prevalent in potential candidates. Yes, plenty of job-seekers exist, but the increasing demands of today’s workplace mean fewer potential candidates are qualified for the roles to which they apply.

When you’re pressed for time and need to hire someone ASAP, you’re in a position where you can’t make an optimal hire.

Avoid this lose-lose situation by following the tips above. For instance, investing in your employer brand might not feel like a priority, but it really pays off in the long run. 

At a basic level, writing more engaging job postings highlighting attractive benefits and compensation will go far. The truth is you’ve got to be prepared to shell out some cash for quality hires at the end of the day. 

2. Keeping passive candidates engaged

Passive talent comprises 70% of the global workforce

These individuals keep their ears to the ground, are typically highly skilled (they already work somewhere, after all), and are in high demand. They have all the leverage and have a long line of recruiters chasing after them. 

How do you differentiate yourself from all other recruiters? A bolstered employer-brand identity and sterling reputation will go far in attracting passive talents.

Moreover, employee referrals can make a massive impact. Passive candidates don’t respond much to job ads since they aren’t actively looking. So, a connection through an employee and their network can catalyze your recruitment efforts in this area.

3. Implementing data-informed decision making

Recruitment metrics and data are vital to your hiring process. However, many recruiters and hiring managers find themselves stuck using spreadsheets and manual calculators that stifle progress more than provide insights. It’s important to establish a realistic recruiter capacity model to make sure your plans are attainable.

Data-driven recruitment strategies will ensure you hire the best people, and you can streamline these efforts with automated or AI technology. This way, HR workloads won’t skyrocket, and everyone can work with quality data that helps make informed hiring decisions. 

4. Hiring fast enough

The clock keeps ticking when a position is vacant. The company loses money every second you haven’t hired someone.

Unfortunately, making snap decisions increases the likelihood of an ill-informed hire when you must recruit top-performing people to stay ahead of your competitors. Moreover, stretching out the recruitment funnel can make quality candidates disinterested.

So–you must hire quickly, but you can’t rush your decision. That’s a conundrum if we’ve ever heard one.

CareerPlug suggests the following methods to hire the right person faster:

  • Immediately respond to all applicants
  • Lean on your employees for referrals
  • Implement text messaging in your recruiting funnel
  • Use pre-screening questions to fast-track quality candidates
  • Incorporate automation to expedite the interview process

Recruitment funnel metrics and benchmarks to watch

Time-to-hire efficiency has proven itself a pain point for many hiring professionals trying to foster a thriving recruitment funnel. 

In a recent chat we had with Skyla Lambeth, Recruiting Operations Manager for Collective Health, she shared “It’s crucial to monitor candidate time-to-hire data. Pay close attention to pass-through rates, understanding how many candidates are required at the top of the funnel to make a job offer. Additionally, it’s vital to assess how many candidates successfully progress from the on-site stage or panel interview, especially when multiple people are involved in the interview process.”

The GoodTime 2023 Hiring Insights Report points to 71% of industry leaders claiming an increase in time-to-hire in 2022, an uptick from 60% in 2021. 

43% of respondents spoke to heightened candidate demands. Then, when unicorn candidates are discovered, the competition is fierce. 

Consider this statistic: Three-quarters of hiring managers say reputation impacts their recruiting ability. Moreover, 83% of potential candidates are hesitant to work with companies with bad reputations. 

Jackie Dube, the Chief People Officer at The Predictive Index, explains that Glassdoor ratings can only be good–and stay good–if you have “a structured, efficient hiring process.” 

“For your candidate experience and Glassdoor ratings to be good (and stay good), a structured, efficient hiring process is essential.”

-Jackie Dube, Chief People Officer at The Predictive Index

There’s a reason why 37% of survey respondents have prioritized upgrading automation and technology in their hiring process. 

Improved efficiency in hiring will functionally enhance your recruitment funnel. It will also bolster your brand identity as an employer. Employees don’t take kindly to being victims of the runaround. 

While your goal is never to treat a potential hire poorly, inefficiency and oversights in your recruitment funnel can cause these hiccups.

Turn your recruiting funnel into a recruiting flywheel

A strong recruitment funnel is great, but you know what’s even better? A flywheel. 

Turning your recruiting funnel into a recruiting flywheel involves shifting from a linear and transactional approach to a continuous and relationship-centered one. In a flywheel model, candidates are not just seen as one-time hires but as potential advocates and sources for future talent. 

By providing a positive candidate experience, nurturing relationships, and fostering a strong employer brand, you create a self-sustaining cycle where engaged employees refer top talent, reducing recruitment costs, and improving overall retention. This approach emphasizes the long-term benefits of building a talent community rather than simply filling immediate job openings, ultimately making your recruitment efforts more efficient and effective.

About the Author

Jake Link

Jake Link is a business process automation expert and Director of Content for GoodTime. He draws on over 10 years of experience in research and writing to create best-in-class resources for recruitment professionals. Since 2018, Jake's focus has been on helping businesses leverage the right mix of expert advice, process optimization, and technology to hit their goals. He is particularly knowledgeable about the use of automation and AI in enterprise talent acquisition. He regularly engages with top-tier recruitment professionals, distilling the latest trends and crafting actionable advice for TA leaders. He has advised companies in the tech, legal, healthcare, biosciences, manufacturing, and professional services sectors. Outside of work, you can find Jake exploring the coastline of Massachusetts' North Shore with his dog, Charlie.