Recruiting Gen Z talent in an age of application abandonment

Kelley Morse, SVP, Human Resources at Bullhorn, explains how recruiters and employers can modernise the job application process to help attract Gen Z candidates.

By the year 2025, Gen Z will make up 27 per cent of the total workforce. However, Bullhorn’s latest research registered a worrying development: three-quarters (75 per cent) of this cohort are abandoning promising job applications midway through the process.

The ongoing labour shortages in almost every major sector make this more concerning. Our research found that, for recruitment firms, the top priority is talent acquisition. Therefore, if this challenge is going to be overcome, employers must understand the root causes of Gen Z’s application abandonment.

What’s driving application abandonment?

The main driver of application abandonment seems to be the overall quality of the recruitment process. We found that 85 per cent of Gen Z candidates view application processes as “slow and complex”. The consequences of this are severe – two in five applicants say they have abandoned an application before the first interview and a massive one in three admit to giving up before they have even submitted a formal application.

This points to a major shift in the jobs market. Traditionally, employers held the power, but candidates now have access to a wider range of jobs, tipping the balance in their favour (what we call a ‘candidate-driven market’). If a candidate finds an application too stressful and complicated – which many regularly do – they can simply drop it and move to the next.

Having this freedom is a relatively recent development and is largely a result of skills shortages and the increased flexibility offered by remote working. But it is also important to remember that this is built on fair criticism. For employers, this now means making great efforts to ensure their job openings are attracting and engaging the right people.

What can be done to attract more Gen Z applicants?

So, which parts of the recruitment process are in most need of improvement to reduce the rate of application abandonment? Here are three key areas for recruiters to focus on.

1. Automation
Although the recruitment industry has made massive strides in its adoption of automation in recent years, many firms are still heavily reliant on manual work at every stage of the process, from reviewing an initial set of CVs right through to pre-employment checks and credentialing. This creates a bottleneck and limits the number of candidate applications a recruiter can process at any one time.
The result is that recruiters constantly end up working with fewer candidates than they should. A smaller talent pool overall means finding the best candidates for a large number of roles is less likely – causing all parties to lose out.
Investment in automation will fix this and allow applications to move along quickly and efficiently – no matter which channels they originate from. Bullhorn’s research found that firms who adopt automation increase their fill rate by 64 per cent and put forward 33 per cent more candidates.
While automation undoubtedly improves operations, it also helps firms to refine the candidate experience. While automation was initially perceived as a barrier to personalisation, in practice, it’s the exact opposite. Not only does automation leave room to customise processes to meet the unique needs of each candidate, but it also frees up recruiter time to build better relationships.

2. Communication
Technology is a large part of recruitment success, but communication is just as important. Gen Z tend to view communication differently to previous generations. They heavily value convenience, as their regular use of instant messaging apps suggests, and a personalised, digital-first experience. Around one in five (17 per cent) Gen Z candidates cite bad communication as a major reason for giving up on an application. Therefore, it is crucial that firms get this right.
Gen Z are also driven by context. This means that employers must make it worthwhile to complete each stage of the application. Simply put, it has to mean something. The best way to achieve this is to develop a complete “roadmap” for the application process. Doing this gives candidates more clarity – they will know exactly what to expect and when.
But Gen Z are also very particular about the channels people reach them on. Raised in the Digital Age, they expect employers to know what channels they are likely to respond on – they might even ignore messages sent to the wrong one.
However, it is important to remember there is no single “correct” channel to use. Around half (45 per cent) of Gen Z respondents to our survey want to be contacted via email, but 26 per cent prefer LinkedIn. These are followed by, phone calls (16 per cent), SMS (10 per cent) and apps (3 per cent). To accommodate these differences in preference, firms need to adopt an omnichannel communication strategy.

3. Messaging
One of the biggest challenges recruiters face when interacting with Gen Z talent is ensuring that they portray the employer’s brand values authentically. If a job description sounds too clinical or contrived, candidates are unlikely to progress with the application.
A large part of this – beyond making the job description exciting and engaging – is using the company’s story and purpose to hook applicants’ interest. They want to understand why the company does what it does and how it came to be. Therefore, companies should elaborate on their story and purpose, positioning job vacancies as a chance to invite candidates to become a part of it.
But it is not sufficient to just provide candidates with the company information – the market is too competitive. An application should also provide real incentives for candidates to see it through until the end. Displaying the company’s work, giving insights into career progression, making job descriptions more inclusive, and showcasing the company’s culture are all fantastic ways of doing this.

Investing in talent experience for all

Ultimately, many of the attributes valued by Gen Z are also appreciated by candidates of all ages. Today, we are all used to high degrees of personalisation, so being contacted on a preferred channel, having a painless application experience, a feeling a connection with the brand and its values can only be a good thing.
The challenges associated with recruiting Gen Z candidates highlights the need for what we at Bullhorn have termed Connected Recruiting. New generations bring with them new technologies and new career expectations. To ensure that they offer the best talent experience at every stage of the hiring process, recruiters must learn to keep pace with this change.


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