At some point, someone has probably told you about the magical number: seven plus or minus two. At its core is the idea that the human brain, as complex and creative as it is, can only hold onto a small number of ideas at a time. You may know a million things, but you can’t think about them all at once, just between five and nine ideas at a time.

While I don’t necessarily hold stock in the specifics of this idea, it’s meaning is obvious. You, as a talent acquisition professional, can only juggle a handful of ideas at a time when determining a problem, building a creative solution, or just listening to new things.

If this was just 20 years ago, it wouldn’t matter, as attracting qualified candidates was as simple as posting ads in the local and national newspapers. Maybe you’d employ a headhunting firm in select circumstances, but it would just be a process of posting openings and collecting resumes.

But those days are long gone as you need to think about a lot more than seven ideas at a time. Consider the path a given prospect may take between blissful ignorance of your company and gleefully applying for a job there. They might be searching for a job, go searching for a specific job title in a search engine or job aggregator, find something worth considering, do a little research about the company, see if they know anyone in the company via LinkedIn, then apply via the link in the job aggregator they found.

But that path, as complex as it may seem, is a single path over a very broad space. Someone else you want to apply may come in via a wholly different route. They might see an ad about the job opening while surfing around and need to think about if they want that job, search for reviews of the company via GlassDoor, read the company’s social sites and blog to get a sense of the corporate culture, search news stories about the company to see if it is growing or struggling, all before finally searching for that job listing to see if they can find the most direct way to apply.

Same job, but with two different prospects, you see two different paths. Now consider the paths for different people applying for different jobs. Each path is different, winding its own unique way through the web. The math of just trying to keep it all straight is daunting. Seven plus of minus two? We’re trying to keep track of a hundred web properties and the millions of permutations they result in. It would be far easier to just ignore all that and just focus on your site, your job recs, your recruiters.

But what if there was a way to apply a model that helps you consider all those paths without having to think of every single one? What if there was a way to see the entire forest without getting lost in the trees?

We suggest a simple matrix approach. On the horizontal axis, you have active job seekers and passive job seekers, the split between those looking right now for their next opportunity, and those who may not have considered a change in employer.

On the vertical axis, you have those who are able to be more selective about their job choices primarily because they have specialized or advanced skillsets. On the other side, you have those who are less selective about who they will work for.


You can place any candidate on these axes and get a quick sense of how they find a job and more importantly, how you can lead them to your site to apply for your jobs.

For example, if you have a candidate who is active and selective, think about someone who is highly skilled and looking for a new position. This candidate is not going to click on ads or even need to see ads, because they will be fishing for interesting opportunities already. These leads will more likely be on high-end boards like TheLadders and LinkedIn rather than on Indeed. They know that they can be selective, so they won’t respond to blind ads and they will need a lot of information about the company and role they would be applying for. If you don’t have all of these things in place, this prize candidate will never apply.

A similarly selective person who is a passive job seeker will probably not step foot on the job boards. They may, as a matter of keeping informed, be somewhat active on LinkedIn, but more to manage their network than to look for jobs. You will attract some interest by posting specific job information on technical or industry web sites the candidate might already read. Or you can build content that those same websites will publish on your behalf.

Interest this candidate with good content and they will begin to seek you out, first on Google and then on your own career web site. And because they are highly selective, you’ll need lots of information about culture of the company and why people in this role love working there. And these candidates have a higher likelihood of applying via your mobile site. Any missteps and the candidate will lose interest.

But what about less selective people? A great project manager or administrative assistant can impact the company almost as much as a great developer or director, so consider their path. A non-selective active candidate will be all over the job boards, assuming that posting to dozens of jobs is the fastest way to get hired. Thus, they go to where all the jobs are. They will also use Google to find jobs in their location. Once they find you, what are you telling them about your company. Just because they are less selective about where they apply doesn’t mean that  you are any less selective in picking them, so give them good reason to want to apply. Content that describes culture and work-style is just as important for these candidate as any others. Finally, is your site easy to apply on, or does it take an hour?

All that’s left are those passive job seekers in less selective positions. This is a strange segment we might assume that if the candidate was good at their job, they would either be looking to increase their selectivity (by increasing industry experience or specific skills) or looking for the next opportunity. The fact that they aren’t might imply that they aren’t fish worth finding.

By placing the kinds of job prospects you want to attract onto this matrix, you are better served at understanding their needs and can build an ecosystem that attracts and interests them into applying. Embracing this matrix allows you to simplify and streamline your thinking without getting lost in the weeds of tactics and channels.