May 31, 2023

Decoding Candidate Behavior in 2023


Episode Highlights

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Noticing any “odd” behavior from candidates recently? Or is it just us?

Not bad. Just different. Maybe you get far more questions. Maybe your response rates are lower. Or maybe you’re getting responses…from messages you sent a year ago.

So what’s with the shift?

Jeff Smith and James Hornick will explain what’s behind the current mindset and how you can adjust your approach in The 10 Minute Talent Rant, Episode 66 “Decoding Candidate Behavior in 2023

Episode Transcript

The 10 Minute Talent Rant is live. I’m James Hornick, joined by Jeff Smith, and we are on the clock. The 10 Minute Talent Rant is our ongoing series where we break down things that are broken in the talent acquisition and hiring space, maybe even pitch a solution or two or three. Before we dig in, all of our content can be found on

This week’s topic, episode 66, “Decoding Candidate Behavior in 2023.” The 34 and a half minute talent rant. Yeah, this one may go long, but I have time on my calendar, so whatever. Alright, so I-

things are just odd, is the best way I can describe it. This candidate behavior, and I’m not saying that this is not in a, like, good or bad way.

We’re not disparaging the way candidates are acting. We’re just calling it like it is, like things are just different now. And for recruiters it’s a lot of it just kind of unexpected, you know, you’ve been doing your-

you’re working a certain way for a long time and all the things, sudden things have changed you’re trying to-

don’t quite understand why or what you need to do. I’ll give you- I think it’s interesting too to frame this, like this is kind of a last 60 days sort of thing, which did the whole discussion. Yeah. So I’ll give you four specific observations, and these are from our team, but also I post about this on LinkedIn and got a huge response of everyone kind of chiming in that they’re seeing the exact same thing.

So it wasn’t just us. One, response rates on initial outreach way down, at least like the type of like outreach that used to work. You know what I mean? So you’re standard, “Hey, we got an exciting company and got an amazing culture,” like nobody cares. So like even companies that are just like, they’re saying, “Hey, we’re high growth,” like nobody cares.

That type of stuff. It’s just not working. Cool. Yeah. Great. Cool. Good to know. Second, and this is the one that’s probably the weirdest of all, and I’ll probably come back to this at the end. Response rates to old messages and I mean really old messages, way up. Like six to 12 months plus multiple years.

Plus we’ve had people, even again, this is another one on LinkedIn, everyone’s like saying yes when I talked to, or someone I messaged five years ago just got back to me. So, more on this later, but it is just an odd thing that everyone I talked to has had at least two or three of these in the past month.

Yep. Third, there’s more back and forth before even a live connection. So like whether it’s LinkedIn, DMs, or emails, everyone’s reporting that they’re seeing like more and more, time to think it over. They’re asking more questions, but they’re just more reluctant to actually just talk live and hash it out.

Sometimes they just disappear entirely after asking a bunch of questions. Yeah. And then lastly, the salary ask is just way higher. Just full stop. Everyone’s asking for crazy money, at least commemorable people used to ask for, which raises the question, why is all this happening? Why is there this sudden shift in the last 30, 60, 90 days, you know, whatever it is.

I think it’s easy to say, well, the market just shifted, but it’s deeper than that. I think I, we want to kind of get into specifically how- why this is happening. I think a lot of some of these changes are going to be more permanent than people realize, and it’s just kind of a different way that like you’re going to have to recruit going forward.

So, yeah. So digging deeper into kind of what caused these things, and again, a lot of this will get contextualized later, but number one, the big elephant in the room, COVID, it happened. Everyone kind of learned to live through a meltdown and make ends meet. So you know, it wasn’t pretty. But everyone kind of came out with their livelihood intact more or less.

I know that there’s, you know, horrible stories, and realized like there’s just a certain amount of like bullshit that you just don’t need to put up with anymore and you prioritize your life. Everyone did that. Yeah. It’s the whole what doesn’t kills you makes you stronger. It’s a lesson that you know isn’t going to be unlearned anytime soon.

Number two, salary transparency laws again. I just want to say overtly, we are for salary transparent laws. So like whenever we poke a hole in it, it’s just kind of some unintended collateral damage. People feel entitled to know what jobs pay because they are. And it’s not just what company X, Y, Z is paying, it’s seeing what other similar companies for comparable positions are paying.

So everyone definitely has a better understanding of their market value. I worry that there’s a lot of over-inflating of their market value. But more importantly, we can’t ask to verify current salary anymore. So again, love it or hate it as an employer or as a recruiter. You know, crazy high hassle are obviously just a smart negotiating tactic.

Yeah. And along more causes for the part and parcel with that, salary inflation. The 2021 to 2022 era, just like salary shot through the roof. So with that transparency, everyone could see just how much it was shooting through the roof, you know, not just through reports. We could see what salaries were, you could see what salaries from other jobs were being posted online.

Everyone knew what everyone was making, or at least what they could make at other places. So that was, that was a huge one. It hasn’t gone down. I guess is the other thing too, that has been salary deflation. It’s either stayed up or in some positions have continued to go up a little more. Another cause just the fear of switching.

I don’t know how often people have, how many people have left a job then gotten laid off, but I can say I’ve seen plenty of posts about it. People talking about it on social media. It’s a f*cking horror story when it happens. Yeah. And no matter what, no matter how common or rare it is, once you see something like that once, especially if you’ve made it through multiple layoffs, you just don’t want that to be you, so you’re much more- everyone’s much more guarded.

This was a big red flag for us, like, everyone rung this bell. That bell specifically. Last one. Death of the big tech mystique. FAANG, MAANG, whatever we’re talking about nowadays, like once upon a time dropping all of these high growth unicorn, it was to get people excited and ready to apply and all of this stuff.

It’s over. Yeah. The tech sector will come back. I have a feeling it’ll come back much more fiscally responsible, thank God. But the memory of all of the stuff that started this is not going to fade anytime soon. What’s this ultimately mean? Lazy ass recruiting just isn’t going to work anymore. Full stop. Yep.

Post and pray. Looking for inbound candidates. Blast all outbound doesn’t have a future. People want more specifics and more insights and more actual details, and you’re going to have to give it to them upfront, far more than you ever have in the past. Yep. Yeah. Anyways, and we’ll come back to the thing about the people again, I promise at the very end we’ll come back to why people are responding to messages five years later.

Yeah. Okay. So what we’re seeing specifically, like first thing, and again, this comes from our ball pen of recruiters, but from other recruiters from outside organizations as well. Like we’re seeing there’s a critical mass of clients that were used to hiring junior and then moving up.

And there’s been, at least in this year, specifically like, oh my gosh, we have huge gaps and we actually need to buy some of that talent externally from like the three to seven year pool market. But we need those people to perform right away, just like they have all the institutional knowledge from all the other people.

These companies also are like, well, we’re used to these salary bands of people who have made it six years in our company. The three to five year people that have grown organically inside the company magically make 75K. This is just editorial by the way. External market, you guessed it makes X amount more and then I know it’s 90K, but the point remains, you go external market as a candidate, you’re going to make more money. The net result in these live situations has been, in this particular instance when I was talking to the recruiter, five straight offers that were well below market that were all declined.

So, other Hirewell teammates, who had worked in-house, also saw this problem even predating kind of the start of the big terrible R word recession and there was feedback that it took internal conversations, I saw this when I was internal, like years to get leadership to rectify this problem. So like, no wonder there’s fatigue and sometimes apathy on the candidate market to engage with us as recruiters, from their perspective. Like, believe me, we totally get it. Yeah. And kind of along with that, like salary banding, if you’re trying to get an idea of what the current market rates, it’s just not dynamic enough.

There’s not good data out there. Historical precedent, like most of the data you’re going to buy is historical data based on the past year or whatever, and it just doesn’t cut it anymore. Like we need actual tools that kind of combine com compensation on a more quarterly basis. I mean, that’s how fast things are changing.

Yep. It is the single most important data point folks want to know about. That’s why they’re asking about it so often and when you’re basing your hiring process off outdated data, you have no chance to compete. And that’s why a lot of these people are just ghosting you once they find out what your salary details are, even if, like, maybe you can do something about it later, you know, back in the day it’d be, “Hey, come do the interview. If you do really well, we’ll see what you can do.” And it wasn’t bullshit. People actually like, knock out of the park. You have plenty of times you could like lobby to get more money for the position, but no one wants to go through that route anymore, they want know what it’s going to be upfront.

They’re going to sell themselves, but not as a, “You have to not only get the position, but you have to score 11 out of 10 to even get the salary you want.” Like, that’s over, so. Totally. Goes all the way back to no more lazy recruiting.

All right, drum roll number three. This is where we’re going to drop a little bit of the instance of why we think it’s happening, with the response rates, they’re abysmal, like literally ratchet. Yeah. Terrible. We are struggling as recruiters candidate population, and we understand that you’re just inundated with it. We’re seeing like huge long cycles, weeks of back and forth. You know, which incidentally, by the way, it again editorializing it.

It’s definitely part and parcel with recruiters getting a little leery about someone’s communication style. Like, why can’t we have like just a normal conversation? I think that there are tons of reasons why, but just throwing it out there, we had an example of a candidate who had never replied to a six month, like it was about six months where we sent.

This individual gets back to the, recruiter six months later, you had said, multiple recruiters said they’re, getting a lot of these responses specifically in the last 60 days from candidates that are for messages that are 12 months plus old. So then you also have old candidates accepting InMails and wanting to learn more about like this old opportunity, then they’ll never respond or you’ll never hear back from them again. It’s kind of like, what’s real, what’s not real on both sides. It’s the Spider-Man candidate and recruiter. Yeah. Yeah. So my take and, yeah, you tell me if I’m wrong, my concern here is that adoption overall for what LinkedIn was supposed to be used for, i.e. relationship building, networking, et cetera, has fallen off the proverbial cliff.

Nobody’s on it anymore. Yeah. I think there’s, well, I don’t know if adoption is, I think it’s flatlined. I think it’s fully saturated, so there’s not more people entering the platform, per se, and I think everyone’s just kind of inundated with bullshit, you know, so everyone’s so much more guarded.

I do think the platform in some ways has lost relevancy. I don’t think it’s going away, but I guess that actually kind of ties into the, like the last point I went on to talk about kind of on this line is like, when we do get responses, no one actually wants to talk until they get literally every detail.

Yep. Which used to be like you would get every detail when we talk. Now they want every detail before they even talk. And I think it’s a direct result of just the oversaturation of the amount of spam and bullshit that they’re getting on a daily basis. Because everyone, whenever you send a message out that doesn’t have all the details you want, they all look the same.

You know, like, what can you, without getting into like the specifics of what the role are, what the company is, how they make money, what they do, what the salaries are, like, what is there left to say that’s going to look different than any other messages out there? And it’s just a lot to filter through and they want to, like-

this is not unique to recruiting in hiring right now. No one buys anything right now without doing all their research. We just hit that point in the world where no one shows up to a car lot saying, “Hey, I wonder what cool stuff the car salesman’s going to say to me. Like, what model’s the best?” No. You go up, you know exactly what car you want, you know what exactly what the features are.

You know exactly what package you want is. I can’t wait to talk to the car salesman. I know. It’s the same for B2B software like you’ve got, because that’s more kind of direct related to this is everyone, like people are getting hit up constantly with like every B2B SaaS companies, like making their pitch, but you can go onto their website, you can go onto like G2, you can find out what these places are about. Like everyone’s-

Or if it’s an Amazon purchase, like everyone does their own research nowadays, they’re sure as hell going to do their own research about a job before they talk to someone who might just be bullshitting ’em.

Yep. We all have Excel. Yeah, there might be a cool way to visualize it, but cost is a thing. All right. Takeaways. Look for recruiters, you have to get over, you know, the old school mentality, like the way were all of us were raised up, that you can’t give away any details upfront. It’s dead. You know, the buyer is more sophisticated in our market, just as you said, every other market. You can’t get past much stuff anymore.

So in my experience, like it can happen, but it’s rare. I can count on my hand, one time out of 10. How many times it’s rare. So if you don’t give a candidate everything they want upfront, you’re just, you’re staring down the barrel of a really bad response rate, bar none. Yeah. You got to change with it. Number two, you got to sell. Recruiting has always been a sales job, but it’s really a sales job now, and not in the cheesy way, not in the joke of the used car salesman. It’s-

I mean, stop talking about features and start talking benefits. Reciprocal value. No one cares if you’ve got a big round of funding, or if you claim to be a leader in the space, or you’re super high growth, or you’ve won awards or everyone’s an amazing ping pong player.

Just stop. Yeah, stop. People want to know the benefit for them specifically and their families. So why it’s a better job than the one they currently have has to be top of mind in every conversation that you have when you go to market with candidates. And then you also have to articulate why the role that you hire them for will be a good career move and will also be a safe seat.

Yeah. Now before we wrap up here, let’s come back to these old school messages, or it’s really old messages, why people are hearing back. Before this call, I was talking to, Dawn Maragos, who’s one of our partners here. Those of you who know Hirewell. She just got a response back this week from someone she messaged about a job in 2014. 9 years ago. Nine years. Nine years later, someone just responded to a message. So here’s what I think is happening. LinkedIn DM-

First, it’s part of the technology. LinkedIn DMs are really, depending on if you’re on mobile or if you’re on your computer, it’s really hard to see like when exactly someone message you sometimes, is really clearly accurate, like it mentions, but sometimes it just doesn’t really show the date very often.

So it’s really easy for someone, for some of these messages, to just like not realize, “Oh, that was years ago.” Two, history, like, it’s not like email. History in these messages forever, like if you want to reach out to somebody with an-

you can always send a new email chain looks like nice and fresh. If someone messaged you five years ago and there’s been no interaction since then and you and you realize, “Hey, I need to talk, contact this person to get back to them,” there’s no way around the fact that you ghosted them five years ago for a message they sent. Like, this is not positive. You can’t redo the chat. It’s just always there and kind of always forever. And then lastly, I think a lot of people, so differently from that-

A lot of people realize they’ve hit the point, they understand the value of proactive networking. Maybe they’re a layoff. Maybe they just learned from 2020 with their covid experience when they had to looked for a job and it was all hands on deck, that reconnecting with people has value reaching back on people has value, and it’s all hitting at once. You’ve got this kind of wonky platform that doesn’t do a good job of it, then you’ve got a lot of people realizing they’ve been way more proactive than possible. And that’s why we’re all getting these kind of weird messages from a decade ago. When you’re on the receiving end, it seems odd, but you know, it’s just people doing what they got to do on a weird platform. Yep. Anyways. 17 Minute Rant. Yeah. Crushed it. We are short on clock. That’s a wrap for this week. Thanks for tuning into the 10 Minute Talent Rant, part of the Talent Insight series, which is always available for replay on as well as YouTube Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, and Amazon.

Jeff, thanks again as always, everyone out there. We’ll see you soon.

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