Recruitment Definition

The term recruitment refers to a set of organizational activities and practices that are intended to attract new hires to an organization. The goal of recruitment is to generate applicants who are qualified for employment, who will accept employment offers, and who will ultimately succeed on the job. Recruitment is an important complement to employee selection. Recruitment generates a pool of applicants from which organizations can select new employees and influences the likelihood that the most desirable candidates will accept the organization’s offer of employment.

Effective recruitment is essential to organizational success. In recent years, scholarly research and the business press have documented the importance of human capital to organizational performance; recruitment is the process by which human capital is drawn to the organization. Indeed, the search for qualified employees is frequently referred to as a war for talent, a phrase that clearly conveys the importance of recruitment. Recent research suggests that recruitment can have significant impact on applicant quality, which, in turn, can lead to significant productivity advantages for the hiring organization.

Recruitment has important implications for individual job seekers as well. The hiring process is a two-way street: Employers attempt to attract qualified employees, and individuals attempt to find satisfying work. Ideally, recruitment leads individuals to make job choices that meet their personal needs.

Recruitment is a process that unfolds over time. It comprises three phases. First, the organization must generate applicants. It must identify a pool of potential employees and persuade a reasonable number of individuals in that pool to apply for work in the organization. Second, it must maintain applicant interest as the candidates proceed through the organization’s (sometimes lengthy) screening processes. Finally, the organization must persuade the most desirable applicants to accept job offers.

Recruitment outcomes also unfold over time. In the short run, organizations might assess what are known as prehire outcomes, such as the quantity, quality, and diversity of applicants or the length of time required to fill a position. In the longer term, organizations might assess long-term or posthire outcomes, such as the performance and longevity (retention) of the recruits. Similarly, individual job seekers initially might attend to whether or how quickly they obtained employment; later, they might focus on how satisfying the employment is.

Generating Applicants

Some have argued that the first phase of recruitment, the generation of applicants, is the most important phase. If the right individuals are not in the applicant pool to begin with, then no amount of attention to maintaining applicant interest or persuading successful candidates to join the organization will result in the right hires. Certainly, this phase requires the organization to make a number of critical strategic decisions, including where to search for applicants and how to communicate with potential applicants. Fortunately, there is a reasonable body of research evidence to support these strategic decisions.

Recruiting Sources: Where to Look

One of the most frequently studied aspects of recruitment is source selection. Applicants may be sought from a variety of sources, both formal and informal. Formal sources typically involve a third-party intermediary that assists in the recruitment process, such as an employment agency, a college placement office, or a newspaper or online advertisement service. Informal sources typically involve direct contact between the potential employee and the employer and include such techniques as direct applications and referrals.

A significant body of research on recruitment source effects has accumulated over the years. The most consistent finding of this research is that informal sources (referrals in particular) tend to have positive effects on posthire outcomes. Specifically, individuals who are hired by means of referral from existing employees tend to have greater longevity in their new positions than those who are hired from other sources. Two theoretical frameworks have been proposed to explain these effects. First, it has been suggested that different recruiting sources yield individuals with different characteristics. These individual differences then translate into different posthire outcomes. Second, it has been proposed that applicants recruited from different sources have access to different information. Individuals with greater advance knowledge may be better positioned for long-term success on the job. Unfortunately, research testing the power of these two models has been somewhat inconclusive.

Early Recruitment Communications

Once an applicant pool has been identified or targeted, the organization must communicate with potential applicants to persuade them to apply. Quite often, this initial communication comes in the form of advertisements, flyers, or brochures. More recently, employer Web sites have become an important aspect of early recruitment. For each of these areas, research has investigated the role of design as well as the role of content in attracting applicants.

Design of Materials

In terms of printed material, research suggests that applicants are attracted to firms whose recruitment materials are informative, and both the amount and the specificity of the information seem to make a difference. In most cases, applicants seem to devalue positions about which important information is not made available. One explanation for this reaction is that the failure to provide sufficient information may be seen as a signal of undesirable organizational attributes. Firms that provide less informative materials may be seen as less concerned about applicants’ (and by attribution, employees’) needs.

Recruitment materials are also more effective when they are distinctive and vivid. To attract attention, materials need to stand out from the group in some way, either through physical representation or the presentation of unusual information. For example, materials that promise uncommon benefits (such as pet insurance) may be more effective than materials that promise more conventional benefits.

Content of Materials

Research on the portrayal of specific job or organization attributes in early recruitment communication has demonstrated that applicant preferences (and reactions to specific content in ads) vary as a function of their personal characteristics. Rather than specifying absolute or universal rules about desirable attributes, studies in this area have demonstrated that applicants respond to attributes through the lens of their own values and preferences. In other words, a person-organization or person-job fit perspective prevails. For example, individual differences in demographic characteristics, values, and personality have been shown to predict attraction to job attributes such as pay system, work system (i.e., individual versus team based), and diversity policies (affirmative action versus equal employment opportunity).

Internet Recruitment

Although most research on early recruitment communications has focused on traditional (usually print) media, the impact of Internet-based recruitment has not been ignored. Studies of applicant reactions to employer Web sites reached similar conclusions to those for print media—that is, both content and design matter. Applicants prefer Web sites that provide useful information and that are easy to navigate. In addition, the interactive nature of Web sites allows applicants to more easily identify the extent to which specific positions and organizations match their personal qualifications and needs.

Organizational Image

Applicants sometimes have knowledge of an organization even before the organization begins its targeted recruitment. In particular, large organizations may be familiar to many individuals. It is common for individuals to have loosely structured general impressions of a company—in other words, to hold some image of what the company is like. These general impressions or organizational images may be formed by corporate advertising, the way the firm is depicted in the media, personal experience with the company or its products, and many other factors. A number of studies have documented the impact of organizational image on applicant attraction. In particular, several studies suggest that firms that are viewed as socially responsible are attractive to potential applicants. What is less clear is whether organizations actively manipulate their images in an effort to be attractive to prospective employees.

Maintaining Status

In many cases, there is a significant time lapse between a candidate’s initial application and the organization’s decision whether to hire that applicant. The goal of recruitment during this phase is to maintain the applicant’s interest in the organization while the screening process runs its course. Every interaction between the applicant and the organization during this period can influence the applicant’s interest and, as a result, has important recruitment aspects. In this section, the impact of recruiters and interviewers, as well as applicant reactions to other selection devices, are reviewed.


In many hiring processes, the initial application is followed by an interview. In most cases, the first interview has a dual nature: It serves as a selection device but also provides an opportunity for recruitment. Most existing research on the role of the early interview in recruitment focuses on the characteristics and qualities of the individual conducting the interview (i.e., the recruiter).

Research has consistently demonstrated that applicants prefer recruiters who are warm and informative. Furthermore, they form more favorable views of the organization and are more attracted to its jobs when recruiters are warm and informative. Two theories have been proposed to explain the impact of reactions to recruiters. First, the interview is, to a great extent, an opportunity for recruiters to convey information about the organization, and warm and informative recruiters may simply do a better job of communicating with applicants. Second, recruiters may serve as signals for unobserved organizational characteristics. Applicants may presume that the recruiter is representative of the organization and its employees—that is, organizations whose recruiters are warm are likely to have a friendly, collegial culture; organizations whose recruiters are informative have a culture that respects employees’ need for information.

Research has also attended to the demographic characteristics of recruiters, but here the results are more ambiguous. Recruiter gender, age, experience, and functional area were found to have significant effects on applicant attraction in some studies but no effects in others. Likewise, the degree of demographic similarity between the recruiter and the applicant was found to have an impact in some studies but no impact in others.

Applicant Reaction to Selection Devices

Because the recruitment and selection processes occur simultaneously, an organization’s approach to selection will likely influence how an applicant feels about the organization and its methods, and therefore it is likely to influence whether the applicant will accept the job if one is offered. Two rationales have been offered to explain these reactions. First, applicant reactions may be a function of privacy concerns; some selection techniques, such as drug testing and certain psychological tests, may be viewed as overly intrusive. Second, applicants may respond based on their desire for and perceptions of justice; some techniques are seen as more fair, either in process or outcome, than others.

Literature in this area has focused primarily on the question of justice. Rather than identifying lists of techniques that are viewed as just or unjust, most research has focused on aspects of the selection process that may be perceived as just or unjust. The timeliness of feedback, the job-relatedness of the selection device, and the degree to which procedures are explained to applicants are examples of elements that enhance the perceived justice of selection techniques and thus are likely to lead to maintenance of applicant status. It is also clear that the context in which selection and recruitment occur can make a difference. For example, the impact of specific selection techniques on attraction to the organization can vary as a function of job type, characteristics of the organization, and applicant characteristics (in particular, race).


During the maintenance phase of recruitment, organizations supplement their initial recruitment communications with additional information. Decisions regarding the nature of the information that is added are critical. One of the most frequently studied aspects of recruitment is the impact of realistic communications. Organizations can use realistic job previews (RJPs) to present a balanced and true representation of the job and the organization. Such previews are carefully designed to include both positive and negative aspects of the work. This approach can be contrasted with the more traditional sales-oriented approach, in which organizations strive to present jobs in a uniformly positive light.

Numerous theories have been developed to support the realistic approach. The first is the met-expectations theory, which suggests that providing realistic information prevents applicants from developing inflated expectations of what the job is like and therefore makes them less likely to suffer disappointment on the job. Second, the ability-to-cope perspective suggests that giving applicants advance notice of negative aspects of the job gives them time to develop coping strategies. Third, RJPs may create an atmosphere of honesty that is appreciated by applicants. Finally, RJPs may operate through self-selection: Candidates who react negatively to the unattractive aspects of the job can remove themselves from consideration.

The cumulated evidence suggests that RJPs are associated with positive posthire outcomes. In particular, applicants who receive realistic recruitment communications exhibit lower turnover and higher performance. These effects are moderated, however, by design factors such as timing (when the realistic information is provided) and medium (the method used to communicate—for example, written versus verbal).

Closing the Deal: Influencing Job Choice

During the final phase of recruitment, organizations must persuade their most attractive applicants (those to whom job offers have been made) to join the company. This stage is critical because significant investments in both recruitment and selection processes are lost if candidates reject offers. Unlike the other two phases of recruitment, research on this final phase focuses on the thought processes of applicants as they make decisions about which job to choose. Substantially less research has focused on the activities of the organization at this final stage.

Job Choice Research: Content Issues

One of the most significant debates in the job choice literature focuses on what content is attended to in job choice—that is, which characteristics or attributes of jobs and organizations are most likely to lead to a positive job choice outcome. By and large, this debate has centered on the validity of two methods of assessing attribute preference: direct estimation and policy capturing. In the direct estimate technique, applicants are provided with a list of job attributes (e.g., high pay, opportunities for advancement, pleasant working conditions) and asked to rate or rank the importance of each of these factors. The underlying assumption is that more important attributes will play a greater role in job choice. However, this approach has been criticized as lacking in context. For example, it does not allow for variation in levels or for tradeoffs among attributes. In addition, the direct estimation technique has been faulted for requiring more self-insight than applicants might have.

Policy capturing provides a methodological alternative to direct estimation. In policy-capturing studies, applicants are provided with a set of job descriptions across which attribute levels are systematically varied.

They are then asked to rate the attractiveness of the job. Statistical regression is used to identify the degree to which specific attributes influenced attraction to the job.

It has become increasingly clear that, methodological issues aside, neither of these approaches is likely to yield a single set of universally attractive attributes. Instead, research using both techniques has identified differences in attribute preferences as a function of demographic status, individual values, and personality traits.

Job Choice: Process Issues

Research on the job choice process offers consistent support for expectancy-based decision-making models. The expectancy perspective suggests that applicants will estimate the probability of obtaining certain outcomes if a specific job is chosen (e.g., attributes such as good benefits or pleasant coworkers), weight those probabilities by the value or attractiveness of each attribute, sum across attributes, and then select the job that obtains the highest total weighted attribute score.

Consistent findings notwithstanding, some have argued that job choice is not as rational as the expectancy model suggests. For example, some recent research suggests that interactions that occur during the final job offer negotiations can have an impact on job choice, above and beyond their impact on attribute levels (e.g., through their effect on perceptions of justice). However, relatively little research on this topic has been conducted.


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