Signaling Theory and Nurse Recruitment

What's signaling theory?  It's a really interesting concept that helps us better understand the signals a recruiter sends during the interview process, and how that impacts the applicant's attraction to your organization. 

Let’s start with the science on signaling theory. It's been around since the ‘70s so it isn’t anything new. When two people come together with a difference in the kind or amount of information they have, what often happens is the person seeking the information will make assumptions about that information or the organization based on the signals the recruiter might send. 




Inexperienced job candidates often assume that a recruiter’s every behavior or reaction is signaling something. Those assumptions can easily be misinterpreted, which just goes to show how important it is for the recruiter to be really mindful of their behavior and actions, and how they portray themselves in an interview.

Let's call all of this “unobservable information” that is signaled to the candidate. So if I'm a friendly, warm recruiter, the candidate assumes "Oh, this must be a friendly, warm place to work." That, in a nutshell, is how signaling theory works. Since recruiters are sending signals all the time during the application and interview process, are there right and wrong signals to send? The answer is, absolutely.


Traits that impact applicant attraction

One of the things that really impacts whether or not a candidate chooses your organization is how competent that recruiter is perceived to be. So one of the most important things you can think about is how your recruitment process unfolds. Does the recruiter ask questions of the candidate? Does the recruiter willingly answer candidates' questions? Does the recruiter signal trustworthiness to the candidate? If this process is consistent and runs smoothly, then the candidate says, "Oh, since this recruiter is competent, this whole organization must be competent. I would like to work in this organization because it's secure and it's reliable and I can see this consistent competence in this recruiter." The recruiters must be absolutely very competent, not only with the function of recruitment, but also by being able to answer the questions that the candidate has.

The second key recruiter trait is personableness. Are your recruiters thoughtful? Are they friendly? Are they respectful of the candidate and does the candidate perceive that respect? Are they warm? Do they have the appropriate small talk at the beginning of an interview? Do they have empathy? Will candidates perceive them as trustworthy? All those little non-verbal behaviors—-maintaining eye contact, smiling, nodding—-also need to happen during an interview because they too send signals to the candidate about your organization. If such personableness features are prominently displayed by the recruiter during the interview, candidates think, "Oh, this is a very supportive organization. This is a caring place to work. Everyone was so friendly and so nice during the interview process." All of these behaviors by the recruiter translate and send signals about the entire organization. 





So, that being said, how do you ensure that your recruiters convey both competence and personableness? Well, the key question is, how are your recruiters trained and what is the process they are expected to use? Do you have structured interviews? Do you have a format with structured questions? How do they engage with those candidates who, some of the research indicates, want to individualize an interview versus sticking to the structure of a screening question or the structure of your interview questions? The recruiters need to be able to balance that. If you have a very structured process, there can still be a mutual personableness established between candidate and recruiter, that's the best of both worlds. We have a recruiter that is friendly and personable, takes questions, responds in a timely fashion, is very competent, knows the organization, and knows how to smoothly take a candidate through the process. 

I’ll be the fist to admit I have my own personal bias. I used to be a nurse recruiter, so this is something that I feel really strongly about. Having a nurse as the nurse recruiter sends signals to the candidate, and those signals make a difference in how attractive your organization appears. 

In conclusion, ask yourself how you're training your recruiters. Are they sending the right signals? Are they competent in such a way that engenders confidence in your organization with candidate? 

Check out this episode on our educational series, On the Horizon in Healthcare, on YouTube. For more information on how to effectively attract talent, schedule a demo



Dr. Beth A. Brooks

Dr. Beth A. Brooks

Dr. Brooks is an accomplished health care executive who has a unique blend of leadership experiences from three distinct sectors of the health care industry: for-profit companies, academic administration, and nursing operations within health care systems. She is an internationally recognized expert in quality of nursing worklife, having designed a questionnaire that has been used in 45 countries and translated into 10 languages.

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