The Importance of Adopting Mobile-First in Job and College Recruitment

Esther Shein

By now, most large enterprises understand the need to “mobile-ize” their businesses, but in certain key vertical industries, such as higher education and recruitment, the importance is underscored by demand from certain demographic groups, like students and job seekers (read: millennials), who use their mobile devices heavily and want an optimized experience.

Responsive web design ensures that web pages are optimized for any mobile device so a user doesn’t have to use their fingers to zoom in and out. Adopting a mobile-first approach is not just for outward facing apps; it’s also important for internal business functions to enable employees to work from anywhere.

At Fairfield University, IT is usually the driver behind mobile initiatives, says Russell Battista, interim CIO, because most departments “are looking at the functional capabilities rather than the technical capabilities,’’ he notes. “In the end, however, mobile-first is really driven by what the students want since they will pull out their phone to view just about anything.  IT has become very sensitive to that, so that is why we always incorporate mobile thinking into all projects.”

Increasing numbers of students are going to college websites from their mobile devices, so not having a positive experience can taint a prospective student’s impression of a school, which, of course, is working to increase enrollment and retention rates. Slightly more than 90% of high school juniors used mobile devices to register for a college open house and over 80% used their devices to register for a campus visit, according to the E-expectations Class of 2016 report by higher ed services firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz. 

 “I think mobile-first is a very well understood idea now” in the higher ed space, observes Matt Herzberger, an executive consultant at RNL. “I don't believe that there is 100% adoption, but I believe there is certainly the desire.” There are still some schools that have a mix of responsive versus non-responsive sites, he adds. For example, many schools have prioritized making their admissions section or home page mobile-friendly, but not necessarily the news section or the application. 

Users tend to prefer mobile devices to conduct quick interactions, he says, so something like an application “will still likely take place on a desktop device due to the amount of information needed and time required to fill it out.” Still, Herzberger says, from a web best practices as well as user preferences standpoint, optimizing the entire college website “is an end goal that most [institutions] want to reach.” 

Job seekers tend to have similar preferences.” They like a quick and optimized experience that can carry folks to their desired outcomes without additional noise,’’ he says. Research from eMarketer indicates a rising proportion of the US population – projected to be as high as 31.1 million people in 2016 – will only use a mobile device to help them with their job search. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 28% of Americans have used a smartphone as part of a job search, and half have used their device to fill out a job application. Other studies have found a significant number of job seekers feel strongly that mobile devices are important tools for job searching. In the 2015 report US Recruiting Trends LinkedIn reported only 34% of companies had optimized their career site for mobile. “With the meteoric rise of mobile devices globally, job candidates are increasingly researching opportunities and companies in a mobile-optimized format,” the LinkedIn report noted.

Just because a job seeker can apply for a job from a mobile device does not necessarily mean it has been optimized. This is something companies need to bear in mind as many job seekers today are using their mobile devices for more involved tasks, such as writing a resume. “Most job seekers start looking for jobs on search engines,’’ says Michael Wishnow, global relationship manager at digital recruitment advertising agency TMP Worldwide. They expect the same experience they receive shopping online at Best Buy as when they’re looking for a job, he says. “If your site is not optimized for mobile, you’re definitely not going to be as attractive to a candidate.”