René van der Kroon and Luc Haen recently mentioned at Digitaal-Werven that it was quite a task when the four branches of the armed forces (Army, Air Force, Navy, and Military Police) merged into a unified employer brand: Dutch Defence.
This meant saying goodbye to 4 separate recruitment sites and 4 different ATS’s. From now on, there should be only one site, and one ATS, for the entire military structure.
But how do you create a good candidate journey on such an umbrella recruitment site?
That was quite a search, the Strategy & Creative Director of Radancy Netherlands and the Head of the Online Media Labor Market Communication Section of the Ministry of Defence fully acknowledge. The first design of the site actually contained everything from the 4 previous sites together. ‘It mainly led to a lot of information,’ says Van der Kroon. ‘It was also very channel-oriented, a kind of Wikipedia about working at Defence.’
The lessons learned
René van der Kroon
This wasn’t the most attractive story for potential candidates. That’s why Defence and Radancy teamed up to tackle the challenge. They made the candidate’s experience and journey the central focus of their efforts moving forward, recognizing its importance. While this sounds promising, how exactly can it be achieved? There’s still much to contemplate. They translated the lessons learned over the past year and a half into five fundamental principles. According to Van der Kroon, these principles apply to every recruitment site, whether large or small. What are these principles?
1. Keep it simple
The basic principles:
Candidates don’t want to search, they want to find.
‘On the homepage of the 2019 working for Defence site you could click on 27 different buttons. 27!’, Van der Kroon remembers. On the one hand, this offered something for everyone, but on the other hand, it was killing the candidate experience on the recruitment site , he says. And so, the decision was made for simple functionality. On the current site, visitors will only find three buttons: Discover Defence, View vacancies and Training. Plus a search function and a menu. Making things easier than before.
The job opening button is essential, according to Luc Haen. Defence will require an average of 6,800 new soldiers annually in the upcoming years. This is an additional 3,200 soldiers per year on top of the current number, as indicated by recent results. State Secretary Christophe van der Maat described this as a significant challenge in the present job market, emphasizing the need to maintain, engage, and inspire individuals in his letter to Parliament : Maintaining, binding and inspiring contours .
2. Know your candidate
The basic principles:
- Immerse yourself in the available knowledge
- Do your own research
- Test your site
- Mobile first , in everything
As Haen strolls down the street or takes a train, he observes a growing number of young people with AirPods. While they often use them for music or movies, he notices that these devices are frequently worn almost as a default, signaling, “I am not available to you in the outside world. I am in my own bubble, and if I want to communicate, I will initiate it myself.” It’s a form of literal noise-canceling from the surroundings. For him, it emphasizes the point: you may have a story to tell, but always remember that candidates decide if they want to listen.
And so you have to dig deeper into your candidate. Or you could say: candidates. Because werkenbijdefensie.nl managed to attract 3.5 million visitors in 2023 (so far), 80% of whom visit the site via a mobile device . According to Haen, this not only means that you have to adapt your site as best as possible. ‘It also forces you to think in less equals more . See tip 1.’
The common perception of a soldier is still that of a man in a green suit, running through the forest and shooting,notes Van der Crown.
“Another insight from our numerous studies is that many potential candidates aren’t fully aware of what Defence can offer them. Taking a step towards a potential application is a significant move for them. The prevailing image of a soldier remains largely confined to someone in a green suit advancing through the forest. What many people may not know is that at Defence, you can also work as a cook, doctor, driver, or a cyber specialist.”
That’s why the new recruitment site, developed collaboratively by Radancy and Defence, features eight areas of inspiration. Each area has its dedicated subpage along with a 45-second video showcasing the full range of that specific field. “This way, you can promptly explore and decide for yourself: does this appeal to me or not?”
3. Navigate together
The basic principles:
- You cannot know what the prior knowledge is of every candidate,
- Or what phase in the candidate journey they are in,
- So put the wheel in the candidate’s hands.
Empowering the candidate to make their own choices is the recurring central theme. Van der Kroon explains, ‘The philosophy is to put the candidate in the driver’s seat. We don’t dictate what you see, receive, or can do – you have control as a user, managing the navigation yourself.’ A strategy that has proven highly effective, he notes.
For instance, they implemented a ‘role finder’ module allowing candidates to easily gather more relevant information through a few simple questions. Uncertainty about its success? Van der Kroon counters that the reality is different. ‘The ‘For you’ page now ranks among the Top 5 most visited pages, following the homepage and the job vacancy pages for both military personnel and civilians.’
4. Lower the threshold
The basic principles:
- First seduce, then sell
- No difficult application forms
- Get them in, move them up
- Smart ATS connection
- Create intermediate steps towards application (information days, online information, etc.)
The rules to join Defence are strict because it’s about keeping the country safe. Defence wants to keep these rules tough. But this also means we need to pay even more attention to making the recruitment experience good for candidates, says Luc Haen. ‘Our process is more complicated and detailed than a regular company’s. So, it’s even more important to make it clear and easy for candidates.’
For him, this means, among other things, not asking too many questions right at the start. Save that for later. First, let’s make a connection. Haen stresses not letting your application process be solely driven by your ATS. How many young people have their CV on their mobile? ‘If you know that 80% of your visitors use a mobile device, don’t make the CV a mandatory field. Almost half of all candidates now apply via their mobile phone because we’ve made it easy for them.’
Almost half of all candidates now apply via mobile, because we have facilitated this.
A ‘Candidate Portal’ has recently been introduced on the site, aiming to simplify the application process for the mainly young audience by breaking it down into understandable, bite-sized chunks. Now, every applicant can easily see on the site the information they need to provide in one central and clear system. Recruiters at the back end can also access this information clearly in their system – the ATS. Haen explains, “The Candidate Portal provides a better user experience for candidates and saves time for DCPL colleagues involved.”
5. Make contact personal
The basic principles:
- Not just a page with your location and an info@ email address.
- Talk to the target group on the channel where they feel comfortable.
- Interact on social channels, offer contact via WhatsApp.
- Have recruiters call after an event or contact moment.
- Set up a dynamic FAQ to keep it manageable.
The smallest doubt can prevent significant decisions,’ notes Van der Kroon.
That’s why, according to him, everything on the site is designed to minimize those uncertainties. Potential candidates can reach out via email, WhatsApp, or phone for more information. Additionally, there’s a detailed FAQ with 20 question categories, showing the number of questions (and answers) in each category. All of this is to keep the barrier low for this target group and make contact more personal.
Will it be sufficient to recruit nearly 7,000 additional soldiers? Only time will tell. However, Van der Kroon and Haen express satisfaction with the initial outcomes.
We’ve never had so many applicants before. Considering the current job market, that’s an achievement we can already be proud of.
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