Why Your ATS Candidate Referral Source Results May be Misleading You | The Hiring Site

Is your ATS misleading you?You deserve a pat on the back. Your paid job board resources have done their job and delivered you thousands of qualified candidates over the last 12 months — candidates from which your company has made a ton of great hires. Everybody is feeling pretty good.
It also happens to be that time of year again: contract renewal time. As expected, you get a phone call from one of your job board sales reps. Your rep says they delivered a lot of value this past year, and is quoting you a price increase. You first need to determine your company’s return on that specific job board investment to confirm their stated value, and to do that, you need to know exactly how many candidates you actually hired from that board.

Diving into the ATS

You turn to the obvious place — your company’s applicant tracking system. All your candidate and applicant data is stored here, after all. With a little bit of help, you’re able to find the reporting section in the system and in big, glowing lights, you see it: the Candidate Referral Source Report. A few clicks later and you’re staring at the reporting results—but something doesn’t look quite right.
The system shows that more than 300 candidates were hired at your company in the past year, yet only a handful of referral sources are tagged in total — with 275 sources being either ‘Company Career Site,’ ‘Employee Referral,’ or ‘Search Engine.’ How can that be?
Upon closer investigation, you realize all of your open positions were posted to your network of paid job boards — but that candidates were actually directed to your ATS-hosted career site to apply. These candidates should have been tagged with the real referral source, (i.e., the job boards), instead of the company career site through which candidates applied.
How can you possibly determine which job board partners delivered on their promise for a great return on your recruiting investment, or confidently plan your advertising budget for the next year, with missing information? Unfortunately, this scenario is way too common.

The long and the short of it

Too many companies fail to take the steps necessary to ensure their ATS is accurately capturing and tracking their external sources of candidate hires. The reason for this can be both simple and complex:
  • The simple answer is that many companies just don’t care enough to determine what paid sources are providing them with the best return.
  • The complex answer generally has to do with the technical side of things; specifically, that many companies don’t make use of the automated candidate source tracking tools available to them within their ATS.

Why not to rely on candidate responses

Many ATS-hosted online applications will include a referral source field as part of the job application. It’s a self-select option, usually in the form of a drop-down menu, where candidates can select the source that referred them to their job opportunity. While exact numbers may vary, CareerBuilder research estimates that on average, this is inaccurate more than 80 percent of the time — meaning that 8 out of 10 candidates are consciously or unassumingly selecting their inaccurate referral source.

What would motivate a candidate to select an inaccurate referral source?

  • Some candidates believe that selecting ‘Employee Referral’ as the source will give them a competitive advantage over other applicants.
  • Others believe that by selecting ‘Company Website,’ they’ll stand out as a premier applicant who knew about the company, came straight to their website, and searched specifically for the company’s job opportunities.
  • Still others may even select ‘Search Engine’ because they began their search on Google, though they ultimately found your job opportunity on a job board partner.
Whatever the reason may be, the candidate self-select option is inaccurate the majority of the time.

How to get accurate referral results from your ATS

The good news is that the majority of applicant tracking systems offer functionality to automatically and accurately capture and report candidate referral sources without relying on the candidate to choose. In fact, some systems even offer more than one way to do this.
The most common and preferred way to ensure your ATS is capturing the correct referral source is to append the referral source in the URL once the candidate leaves the job board to be directed to your ATS-hosted application to apply. Many times, it’s as easy as requesting this from your job board partner. Job boards can usually append any type of a referral source variable in the URL — they just need to know what to use to represent their referral source. To get that answer, reach out to your ATS contact. They should be able to tell you what the source variable should be for most, if not all, of your job board partners.
You can also check out this generic (and fake) example of how the URL may be structured (the end of the URL string reads “Source=CareerBuilder”). Once you know the source, it’s really quite easy to request it to be appended to the URL string.
When the appropriate job board source variable is appended to the URL of the job application, the ATS will recognize it and populate it automatically as a part of the new candidate record. Companies can then be confident their reporting will include the actual referral source of the job board that should be credited with the referral — as opposed to any other potential source that may be incorrect or misleading.

One last tip

Remember, when it comes to your job boards, it’s your investment. Make it count. Use ATS referral source tracking technology to make smarter choices on the job boards that are providing you with the best return on your recruiting investment. Avoid spending money on results that can’t be tracked.