In order to deliver a truly efficient candidate experience, the online recruitment industry needs to come together to adopt a set of best practices. This is the third in a series of posts that explore a few of these potential best practices and the reasons they’re so urgently needed. In this post, we tackle the issue of inaccurate candidate source tracking data and how we can work together to ensure candidate traffic is accurately reported to employers.

The virtues of analytics and big data have been preached in many industries for the last several years. The recruiting industry is no different. Recruiting functions bring about tons of data, and arguably much of this data can and should be used to determine how/where to spend recruiting budget based on past results.

But what happens when you make decisions based on bad data? At contract renewal time, job boards report to their employer customers the value they’ve delivered: specifically, candidate views and redirections to employers’ applicant tracking systems (ATSs) for their job postings. Employers take this data and compare it to the reports provided by their ATS. Most of the time this data doesn’t match up. Job boards know how many times a candidate clicked “Apply” on their sites (and were subsequently redirected to an employer’s ATS application form); however, due to candidate abandonments and inaccurate source tracking, the ATS reports drastically different numbers. So what’s an employer to do?

To answer that crucial question, let’s consider the sources of the ATS numbers.

The primary source is the candidates themselves, and we all know that people often make mistakes or unintentionally provide misinformation. Many ATS providers typically offer a dropdown field on the application form asking candidates the source that referred them to a job application. Most candidates select an option that looks something like “Company Career Site” because that is the site they are on. The candidates don’t realize they are being asked specifically which site they just came from! Others may select “Google” or another search engine, even though they actually used a job board they arrived at via their search engine. Sometimes, the proper job board or recruitment site isn’t even listed in the dropdown, so candidates choose an option that appears to be similar. As a result of any of these issues, the correct job board doesn’t get credit for referring these candidates. In short, in the ATS – reported data is just plain wrong.

Another source used by many ATS providers is source tracking through the application page URL — specifically, the URL that the job board redirects the candidate to when the “Apply” button is clicked. One issue with this tracking method is that there is no standard for these “tracking tags.” Some ATS products look for “src” in the apply URL, others look for “source;” the parameter name is whatever the developer named it when this method was implemented. And then they need to match up the job board information provided with their own referral source list, or throw candidates into an “Other” bucket. With no standard in place, this method requires employers to contact their ATS provider to find out what “tag” their ATS looks for in the URL. Then employers have to contact their job boards to request that they append this specific tag (and very likely a specific value) to all of their apply URLs. Most employers don’t want to get involved in this coordination. It’s annoying and time-consuming — and, to make matters worse, it’s just not that important to employers because they don’t realize how much it impacts their data and thus their buying decision down the line. It’s a time-suck for the job boards too, but they have to invest the time to make every attempt to get their candidate referrals properly credited at the ATS.

CareerBuilder research estimates that candidates self-selecting the referral source on the application form is inaccurate more than 80% of the time. Jake Firth of published a whitepaper stating that ATS sourcing data is 83% inaccurate. These are astounding numbers that tell us that not just a majority of the candidate source data reported by ATS providers is inaccurate but nearly all source data reported is inaccurate.

So, we return to the question, “What’s an employer to do?” The answer, quite frankly, is simple: employers shouldn’t have to do anything. They’re our clients and customers. We are the ones who should be solving these problems. We need to standardize candidate source tracking data.

That’s one of the main benefits of SimpleAPI and the SimpleAPI ecosystem. Each time a job board or other recruitment site uses SimpleAPI to connect with an ATS to send candidate data, they use our standard fields for providing candidate source data. We deliver this data in a standard format to the ATS products connected to us with each candidate record so that they receive and report accurate data back to their employer customers. Our recruitment site customers can receive reports from us (i.e., a reliable third-party report) to validate exactly how many candidates they delivered through SimpleAPI to bolster their ROI at contract renewal time.

Obviously, not all candidates will be delivered through the SimpleAPI ecosystem, as much as we’d like that. This is why we believe candidate source data best practices need to be put in place to ensure that employers make decisions based on accurate data. And, if we can remove the self-selection dropdown from the application form, that’s one less question candidates have to wade through — and one more improvement to the application experience.

Now, we need to unite as an industry to get this done. Let’s start building upon and using best practices for our customers.

Image courtesy of pannawat at