RecruitmentRecruitment is typically defined as activities engaged in by an organization with the purpose of attracting potential employees. Internal recruitment refers to the processes used to attract current employees to apply for job openings in the firm. External recruitment refers to the processes involved in attracting individuals who are not currently employed by the firm to job openings in the firm. In general, however, the term recruitment is used to describe external recruitment, which involves the processes of identifying and attracting applicants for open positions, keeping the applicants interested in the position and the organization, and ultimately turning the applicants into employees. Much of the recruitment research on which our current knowledge is based has examined larger firms. Although evidence indicates that larger firms are somewhat more formal and bureaucratic in their recruitment than smaller firms, it seems likely that many of the findings, which are based on larger firms, are applicable to smaller firms.

Recruitment is influenced by and influences other human resource management and career development practices used by firms. The first step in recruitment is identifying potential sources of applicants. However, before a firm can identify potential sources, the firm needs to have conducted a job analysis, which provides information about important attributes needed by employees to perform the job successfully. Information about such attributes influences sources used to advertise the position and to attract candidates. For example, firms may use different sources to attract secretarial support staff versus chief financial officers. The recruitment process, which involves attracting applicants, is conducted concurrently with the selection process, which involves evaluating the suitability of the applicant for the position. Thus firms need to balance the processes used to “sell” the firm to applicants with the processes used to evaluate the fit of the applicant to the firm.

Evidence indicates that a firm’s human resource management practices can influence organizational performance and thus can provide a firm with a competitive advantage. Recruitment is an important human resource management practice because it influences the characteristics and quality of the applicant pool, which subsequently influences the success of subsequent human resource management practices such as selection, socialization, and training and development. Firms that attract more and higher quality applicants can be more selective, which can result in higher quality employees and fewer, or perhaps different, training and socialization needs.

The firm’s recruitment processes influence other important outcomes in addition to the quality and the diversity of the applicants. Important outcomes relative to the recruitment process are the percentage of applicants that remain in the applicant pool during the recruitment process and the percentage of applicants who subsequently accept a job offer. In planning their recruitment process, firms typically use a recruitment yield pyramid, which shows the ratio of invites to acceptances at various recruitment stages. For example, a recruitment yield pyramid might present information about the number of applications expected, the percentage of those applications that will be invited to interview with the firm, the percentage of applicants who will accept that invitation, the percentage of applicants who will be offered a job following the interview, and the percentage of applicants who accept the job offer. In addition to outcomes measured during the recruitment process, firms should consider post-hire outcomes such as job survival rates, absenteeism, length of employment, and job performance.

The first step in the recruitment process involves informing potential applicants of the job opening and encouraging high-quality applicants to apply for the position. Evidence indicates that organizational characteristics can influence applicant attraction to the firm and actual application decisions. For example, location of the job opening appears to be an important organizational characteristic that influences applicant attraction and application decisions. In addition, both industry and size of the firm appear to influence attraction to the firm as an employer, at least for some applicants. Perhaps some of the more important organizational characteristics influencing applicant decisions are whether the applicant is familiar with the firm and the firm’s reputation or image. Applicants tend to be more likely to pursue employment opportunities with firms with whom they are familiar. Note that familiarity can result from specific recruitment activities as well as from non-recruitment activities such as media exposure, advertisements, and product usage. In general, firms with better reputations tend to attract more and higher quality applicants than firms with less positive reputations. A firm’s reputation is theorized to influence applicant attraction through two related mechanisms: (1) reputation sends a signal about working conditions in the organization, such that firms with more positive reputation are perceived as having better working conditions; and (2) individuals may feel more pride (enhanced self-esteem) from working with well-known firms with positive reputations.

There are many methods, typically called recruitment sources, that can be used to notify potential applicants of job openings: newspaper advertisements, advertisements in professional journals and newsletters, job fairs, Internet job boards, school placement offices, private and government employment agencies, and referrals by current employees. Although the evidence is being accumulated, the quality of applicants appears to vary depending upon the recruitment source. In general, internal and informal sources, such as referrals by employees and rehires of former employees, lead to longer job survival and somewhat better job performance than do external and formal sources such as newspaper ads, school placement services, and employment agencies. Several mechanisms have been proposed for such relationships. The realistic information mechanism proposes that applicants who learn about the job from inside sources are provided with more accurate information about working conditions, which leads to more realistic expectations and better job attitudes, job survival, and job performance. Similarly, the prescreening mechanism proposes that potential applicants may obtain better quality information about the position and poor-fitting applicants will self-select out of the applicant pool. The individual difference mechanism proposes that different recruitment sources target, and therefore attract, applicants who differ in terms of important individual differences such as applicant quality or fit with the position. Current evidence does not indicate which mechanism best explains the increased effectiveness of internal sources and, most important, all three mechanisms may be occurring simultaneously. Nonetheless, current research does support a prescription to provide applicants with realistic information about the job.

In an attempt to attract many applicants and then keep them in the applicant pool, traditional recruitment activities may overemphasize the positive aspects of the position and perhaps ignore or minimize the negative aspects. Although such a strategy may attract more applicants and allow the firm to be more selective, the job may not meet the expectations of the individuals hired, which can lead to dissatisfaction and subsequent turnover. Thus many firms now provide what has been called a realistic job preview (RJP) in an attempt to align applicant expectations with the realities of the job. In general, but not always, realistic job previews provide applicants with more negative information about the job than do traditional recruitment activities. Thus, firms are concerned about whether applicants who receive an realistic job preview RJP self-select out of the applicant pool. Evidence suggests that applicants provided an RJP typically do not self-select out of the applicant pool, and that RJPs typically lead to somewhat less turnover and somewhat higher performance, although the effects are not large. Nonetheless, the accumulated evidence supports the importance of providing applicants with realistic information about the job and working conditions.

As noted above, recruitment is most effective when firms attract a large number of qualified applicants and keep those applicants interested in the job (i.e., in the applicant pool) while they are being assessed for their fit with the job and the organization. Evidence suggests that the firm’s recruitment processes (e.g., job postings, initial interviews, site visits) can influence applicants’ attraction to the firm and their decisions to stay in the applicant pool and to accept/reject job offers. Although applicants want to know what it would be like to work at a firm, they typically have incomplete information about the job and the organization and thus experience uncertainty. Thus, in an attempt to understand what it would be like to be an employee of the firm, applicants may interpret recruitment activities as providing signals about working conditions in the firm. For example, unimpressive recruitment materials may signal that the company does not invest much in developing human resources and result in low applicant attraction to the firm.

Considerable evidence indicates that the initial interview influences applicants’ perceptions of the firm as an employer and attraction to the firm. In general, applicants are more attracted to firms when the interviewer is more personable, is interested in the candidate, and is knowledgeable about the firm. Although the evidence is somewhat mixed, interviewer demographic characteristics, such as gender, race, and age, typically do not influence applicant attraction to the firm. Some evidence suggests that applicants prefer line recruiters versus staff recruiters, although it is important that the recruiters receive training in how to conduct interviews. Notably, recruiters can influence applicants’ perceptions of job and organizational attributes that, in turn, influence attraction to the firm. Thus, the evidence indicates that interviewers have an important influence on applicant attraction to the firm since they provide information about the job and the organization and applicants tend to interpret interviewers’ behaviors as providing signals about working conditions in the firm.

Typically, following the initial interview in campus-recruiting programs, a subset of applicants is invited for a site visit (i.e., a visit to the site of the job opening). The recruitment processes involved in site visits can influence applicant attraction and retention in the applicant pool. For example, long delays between the initial interview and the site visit invitation may lead applicants, particularly high-quality applicants, to infer the firm is not interested in them and thus to drop out from the applicant pool. The site visit typically provides applicants with detailed information about working conditions in the firm and opportunities to meet and interact with potential coworkers and supervisors. In general, employees met on the site visit tend to have more influence on applicant acceptance decisions than do employees met during the initial interview. More broadly, evidence indicates that the likableness of individuals met on the site visit and applicants’ evaluation of the site visit are related to job offer acceptance decisions.

As noted, since recruitment and selection are conducted simultaneously, an important question concerns how applicants react to selection procedures used by firms. Even a valid selection procedure can be detrimental to a firm if applicants withdraw from the applicant pool following the procedure. Although little research has investigated whether applicant reactions to selection procedures lead to applicant withdrawal, considerable research has investigated how applicants react to selection procedures and whether such reactions are related to applicant attraction. Applicants tend to evaluate interviews, work samples, resumes, and references most favorably followed by cognitive ability tests, personality inventories, and biodata; honesty tests and graphology were evaluated least favorably. In general, applicants react more positively to selection procedures when they believe that the procedure is related to job duties and predicts job performance. More broadly, research indicates that applicants who perceive selection procedures as fair and job related are more attracted to the firm as an employer, and indicate they are more likely to accept a job offer from the firm, although further research is needed to investigate actual job offer decisions. Nonetheless, the research indicates that to keep applicants attracted to the firm as an employer, firms should attempt to make the relationship between the selection procedures and job duties as transparent as possible to the applicants without, of course, affecting the validity of the procedure.

The final step in the recruitment process is turning applicants into employees (i.e., having applicants accept the job offer and subsequently report for work). Scholars have proposed three mechanisms describing influences on job choice decisions. The objective factors mechanism theorizes that job choice decisions are made based on attributes of the job. The subjective factors mechanism theorizes that job choice is based on perceived fit of applicant’s needs and the ability of the firm to meet such needs. Finally, the critical contact mechanism theorizes that applicants have difficulty in differentiating among firms and therefore are influenced by recruitment contacts (i.e., the interview, site visit) with the firm. These mechanisms are not conflicting, and there is evidence to support each of them.

In support of the objective factors mechanism, considerable research indicates that “vacancy characteristics” are a strong influence on job acceptance decisions. Not surprisingly, pay and benefits tend to be important characteristics that influence job choice decisions. In addition, individuals are more likely to accept job offers when the job is perceived as providing challenging and interesting work and when applicants see opportunities for development of skills and advancement in the firm. Interestingly, evidence suggests that the factors influencing job offer rejections may be different from the factors leading to acceptance. For example, applicants may eliminate potential jobs based on factors such as location, although location does not, typically, influence job acceptance decisions. Such evidence supports a model suggesting that applicants have a threshold for certain job attributes and eliminate jobs that do not meet the minimum level for a threshold (e.g., location). The remaining alternatives are then compared based on other job attributes (e.g., type of work).

Whereas the objective factors mechanism suggests that the level of certain attributes influence job choice decisions, the subjective factors mechanism theorizes that applicants determine their fit with the firm by considering their needs and the ability of the firm to meet such needs. In support of person-organization fit models, considerable research indicates that characteristics of applicants influence their reaction to organizational attributes. For example, although, in general, people are more attracted to higher paying firms, compensation tends to be more important to individuals who are more materialistic and/or have a higher need for pay than to individuals who are less materialistic or with a lower need for pay. More broadly, research also indicates that applicants’ perceptions of their fit with the firm influence their job choice decision. However, although research supports the importance of person-organization fit for job choice decisions, less is known about which attributes of the person and which attributes of the organization are most important to consider when assessing fit.

Finally, the critical contacts perspective suggests that because applicants have difficulty differentiating among firms, they use recruitment contacts to assess how they will be treated as an employee. Stated differently, recruitment contacts are interpreted as providing signals about working conditions. Considerable evidence supports the belief that applicants interpret recruitment contacts as a signal about working conditions. However, the information value of recruitment contacts as a signal of working conditions is theorized to be the greatest when applicants have the least information about the firm, because they have little other information about the working conditions beyond those suggested by the firm’s recruitment activities. Based on such logic, recruitment contacts would be expected to have a stronger influence on whether applicants stayed in the applicant pool than on final job choice decisions, since applicants with a job offer presumably have learned more about working conditions. Nonetheless, recruitment contacts can influence the number and quality of applicants who are given job offers if applicants withdraw from the applicant pool during the recruitment process. Furthermore, some evidence suggests that when there is a delay between accepting a job offer and reporting for work (such as with college graduates), applicants are more likely to report for work if the firm keeps in contact with them after they accepted the offer.

Given the importance of human resources management for firm success and the importance of attracting top talent, considerable research has investigated recruitment processes, although much of it has focused on the recruiter and examined the initial interview. Furthermore, while research has provided insight into factors related to applicant attraction, we know less about factors that lead to applicant decisions to apply for, or to accept, a job. Researchers have begun investigating how image and reputation influence application decisions and factors that predict job acceptance. Such research will benefit organizations participating in the “war for talent.”

See also:


  1. Barber, A. E. 1998. Recruiting Employees: Individual and Organizational Perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. Breaugh, J. A. 1992. Recruitment: Science and Practice. Boston, MA: PWS-Kent.
  3. Cable, D. M. and Turban, D. B. 2001. “Establishing the Dimensions, Sources and Value of Job Seekers’ Employer Knowledge during Recruitment.” Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management 20:115-163.
  4. Hausknecht, J., Day, D. and Thomas, S. Forthcoming. “Applicant Reactions to Selection Procedures: An Updated Model and Meta-analysis.” Personnel Psychology.
  5. Phillips, J. M. 1998. “Effects of Realistic Job Previews on Multiple Organizational Outcomes: A Meta-analysis.” Academy of Management Journal 41:673-690.
  6. Rynes, S. L. 1991. “Recruitment, Job Choice, and Post-hire Consequences: A Call for New Research Directions.” Pp. 399-444 in Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2d ed., vol. 2, edited by M. D. Dunnette and L. M. Hough. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
  7. Rynes, S. L., Bretz, R. D. and Gerhart, B. 1991. “The Importance of Recruitment: A Different Way of Looking.” Personnel Psychology 44:729-757.
  8. Rynes, S. L. and Cable, D. M. 2003. “Recruitment Research in the Twenty-first Century.” Pp. 55-76 in Handbook of Psychology, vol. 12, Industrial and Organizational Psychology, edited by W. C. Borman, D. R. Ilgen, and R. J. Klimoski. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  9. Zottoli, M. A. and Wanous, J. P. 2000. “Recruitment Source Research: Current Status and Future Directions.” Human Resource Management Review 10:353-382.