What is the ‘apply anyways’ trend and how is it impacting recruitment?

Research suggests HR teams are being flooded with job applications from unqualified candidates, all while grappling to find the best talent to fill skills gaps. What has prompted this and how can the hiring process be improved?

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An ‘apply anyways’ culture has been cited as a key factor behind a slowdown in the hiring process, leading to HR teams grappling with an “unqualified applicant overload crisis”, a global report has found.

In a survey of more than 1,100 recruiters, managers and HR professionals, conducted by video interviewing platform Spark Hire, three quarters (73 per cent) of respondents cited a lack of qualified applicants for roles as the biggest challenge in their hiring process.

As a result, 84 per cent of hiring teams are actively looking to improve their ‘time to hire’ as a KPI.

For Rebecca Francis-Davies, human resource management lecturer at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, the apply-anyways trend has been accentuated by technological advancements. “Technology has made it so easy for people to apply for jobs; no one needs to sweat over handwriting a job application and cover letter like we expected in 1997,” she tells People Management. “It’s not difficult to see how the ease of application has led to an increase in unqualified applicants.”

Impact of skills shortages

Spark Hire’s findings come amid a recent report based on a study by Gallup and Amazon Web Services, which revealed that only one in 10 UK workers possess digital skills, while 72 per cent of businesses in the UK have vacancies for workers with digital skills.

Meanwhile, the latest Office for National Statistics data shows that the UK still faces unprecedented labour shortages.

Liz-Sebag Montefiore, co-founder and director at 10Eighty, suggests that the apply-anyways trend might have actually been caused by the continued skills shortages across the UK, as candidates take their chances by applying for any roles going. “We have been hearing about skills shortages for years and we all know that not much has been done to address them,” she says. 

“Candidates are applying anyway because they hope that they will be recruited on aptitude and trained to help fill the gap. If they have other attributes that meet the job spec and can demonstrate aptitude it’s not an unreasonable tactic.”

The current labour market conditions mean that applicants have more power than employers, Montefiore adds, as some applicants know they have a pick of vacancies and can “test the market and play potential employers off against each other”. This in turn slows down the hiring process.

Untimely vicious cycle 

The Spark Hire research suggests that recruiting teams are keen to make changes, with more than half of the respondents (56 per cent) who state that time to hire is something they are actively trying to improve agreeing there are too many steps in their hiring process.

According to a 2022 Recruiting Benchmarks Report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 42 per cent of candidates on average will complete the recruitment process from the application to the offer stage, while two thirds (66 per cent) of applicants will accept the first job offer.

Nick Allwood, regional director at Macmillan Davies, says longer hiring processes are leading to an untimely vicious cycle for companies looking to recruit the best talent. “We have seen long, drawn out recruitment processes adding to the problem when ultimately the preferred and most suitable candidates become disengaged or find a role elsewhere. Often leaving the company having to go back to square one,” he says.

Allwood calls on recruiters to give equal balance between ‘fit to hire’ candidates and skilled applicants. “A blend of both is the ideal scenario,” he suggests. “You need some practical measures at the outset like technical or formal skill requirements to attract relevant applicants, but you then need to aim to offer some cultural insight into your organisation to ensure hiring for fit isn’t discarded.”

Improving the system

When it comes to improving recruitment systems, respondents to the Spark Hire survey suggest a more efficient screening process for applicants and learning more about candidates early in the hiring process (82 per cent), and getting more timely feedback from hiring managers to advance top candidates faster (87 per cent), are the most effective ways to improve hiring speed.

Nicola Watson, head of HR recruitment at Tiger Recruitment, adds that providing clarity from the outset would inevitably improve the hiring process. “Clear hiring requirements and definitions, such as specific skillsets, experience and tools can help to streamline CV screening,” she says. “The job description and role analysis should thoroughly outline the key skills and experience required.”

Watson also calls on organisations to look at pre-screening tools provided by platforms such as LinkedIn, which allow those who do not have the required skills to be sifted out from the early stages. “If the pre-screening questions are focused on the required skills and knowledge to perform the role and are not discriminatory, they assist in streamlining the recruitment process,” she explains.