I have audited, reviewed and tested many, many online application forms over the years and in pretty much every one I have seen the following question.

“Where did you see this role advertised?”

It’s a reasonable question. But it does assume a lot.

First, it assumes that the applicant actually understands it. Because what we’re really asking is “what prompted you to apply for this job?” And I am not convinced that the options contained in the drop down menu that often follows the question actually offer the right answers. Second, it assumes that they remember what actually prompted them to apply.

Because in reality the answer to the question “Where did you see this vacancy advertised?” is going to be “On this website”. Why? Because in many cases that is where they saw the vacancy for the first time. Job board traffic actually makes up a very small percentage of visitors to a recruiter’s careers website, the majority tends to comes via a search engine, from a link on their corporate website or direct via the URL.

So the question should really be, “Where did you first become aware of [insert company name here] as an employer and the fact that we may have jobs?” Which is a terrible question and relies on the candidate remembering exactly when they did first become aware of you as an employer and the fact that you may have jobs. And candidate recall is notoriously unreliable. What worries me more is that recruiters then use this rather sketchy data to influence their media strategy.

So as a question on an application form it feels pretty pointless. Especially when the alternatives are far more reliable and informative. Why not take candidate recall out of the equation completely? We don’t need the candidate to tell us where they came from, when we can automatically track it.

But also it feels to me that the question is simply out dated. It is highly unlikely that job seekers are using a single job board to search for their next role, so they may see the same vacancy more than once. But that aside, does a job posting really inspire someone to apply for that job? Or does it simply trigger a period of intense research during which a job seeker will search out and digest everything they can find out about you as an employer?

Which means that chances are they don’t have a proper answer to the question, “Where did you first become aware of [insert company name here] as an employer and the fact that we may have jobs?” There is likely to be more than one influencer. For me, a much better question would be …

“Which of these information sources helped you decide that we are a company you’d like to work for?”

Following this with a list the places where you’ve a recruitment presence – job aggregators, job boards, careers website, company website, Glassdoor, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. And allow for multiple selections. The data you get out of this should help you see which platforms are having a direct positive influence on applicants. And where you should invest your attraction budget.

After all a statistic such as “85% of applicants visited our Facebook page as part of their research” paints a very different picture from “2% of all completed applications came from Facebook”.

So put in place a more automated approach to track media performance. Then use the application form to ask job seekers a question that they might actually know the answer to. It could be the first step into tracking just how valuable your attraction and employer branding activity is beyond the job board.