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Should You Keep Using Paper Advertisements to Recruit Job Candidates?

2014 April 30

ResearchBlogging.orgIn an upcoming issue of Human Resource Management, Baum and Kabst[1] examine the effectiveness of recruitment websites alongside more traditional paper recruitment materials. They conclude that the most effective recruitment is done with a combination of the two.

To determine this, the researchers sampled 284 German university students, primarily business administration majors, brought into a computer lab.  All students were exposed to a recruiting message delivered by a large, multinational organization.  They were divided into five groups:

  • Group 1 viewed the printed advertisement, then the website.
  • Group 2 viewed the website, then the printed advertisement.
  • Group 3 viewed only the website.
  • Group 4 viewed only the printed advertisement.
  • Group 5 viewed neither.

After viewing the recruitment message, the participants completed a variety of surveys.  The researchers found:

  • Printed advertisements alone did not cause increased knowledge, familiarity, reputation, job information, or attraction.
  • Website advertisements alone did cause increased familiarity, reputation, and job information.
  • High information recruitment practices (website) have a stronger influence on knowledge and attraction than low information practices (print).
  • The use of both print and website together have a stronger effect on knowledge than the main effect of either would predict.
  • The use of both print and website together did not have a stronger effect on attraction than the main effect of either would predict.

Although this is an interesting approach, I am not convinced of the authors’ conclusions for three reasons.

First, they used an actual recruitment website and an actual advertisement.  Thus, these two media contained different information.  The print advertisement only contained testimonials, information about applying, and some general information about the company.  The online website contained more in-depth and interactive elements.  There is no way to disentangle these effects – the website may have been more effective simply because it contains higher quality information than the print advertisement does. The effect may have been because the website was more “media rich”, or it may have been because the website simply contained more information. We cannot know from this study alone.

Second, the firm was a big, familiar firm to most of the students – this may have introduced an upward bias and/or range restriction among the students – and thus the information contained within the print advertisement may have already been information familiar to most of the participants.  Print may be just as effective – or could be more effective – but only if it is equally informative. This is a major confound.

Third, the experiment was conducted on undergraduates sitting in a lab viewing recruitment materials.  I’m not as concerned about the use of students for viewing the materials – but there’s a big difference between the motivation of someone sitting in a lab asked to look at recruitment materials for a job in comparison to 1) people flipping casually through a magazine (as if anyone does that anymore) and coming across a job ad or 2) specifically hunting down information on a recruitment website. These are dramatically different situations.

In general, the authors overstate the implications of their study.  For example, they concluded, “websites have a significantly stronger impact on employer knowledge than printed advertisements.”  Well, maybe.  More technically, this particular website designed by a particular well-known organization had a stronger impact than a print advertisement designed by that same organization.  There are an awful lot of confounds in this conclusion – with a different website, a different print advertisement, a different industry, a different organizational reputation – these effects may not have appeared. There is absolutely no reason to think that either this print advertisements or this website are representative of print advertisements and websites in general.  Interpretation of other observed effects is similarly limited.

When there is a whole universe (statistically speaking) of websites and of print advertisements, finding an effect of one particular website does not demonstrate much.

  1. Baum, M., & Kabst, R. (2014). The effectiveness of recruitment advertisements and recruitment websites: Indirect and interactive effects on applicant attraction Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm.21571 []
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