How Canva scours 300,000 job applications a year

Every application is looked at by human eyes, says Global Head of People Jennie Rogerson.
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Hannah Minh

· 4 min read

Imagine you’re sitting alone under your office’s fluorescent lighting, watching the paint dry. Then suddenly, the ceiling opens and an avalanche of job applications comes spiraling down onto your head. As an HR pro, you have one job: Process this deluge of résumés and cover letters to fill a vital role in a timely fashion, while making sure every candidate feels seen, heard, and ultimately un-ghosted.

Now, exit the nightmare and consider Canva. The graphic design platform processed 300,000 applications between August 2021 and September 2022, according to Jennie Rogerson, its global head of people. It’s not a gargantuan figure on par with today’s foremost tech giants, but it’s nothing to sniff at, either, especially considering that every application is reviewed by human eyes.

As Rogerson told HR Brew, to efficiently wade through and find promising applicants, talent acquisition teams need to be on the ground floor of company culture, intimately familiar with the organization’s heartbeat. At Canva, TA teams are “really embedded in our people group to make sure that they truly understand our culture, how it’s evolving, and what we’re looking for,” said Rogerson.

Know who you want before they apply. Standing before a mountain of applications, you can become less daunted by familiarizing recruiters with your company’s culture. That way, the right candidates stand out. “That really tight alignment upfront makes the reviews of any application much easier,” Rogerson said.

Problems are more likely to arise when communication is sparse. “I’ve had a few instances where we saw a huge application pile and upon review of several of the applicants, they were very unqualified, so we took down and then reposted the role in order to ensure the applicants were closer to the qualifications,” Daniel Space, a senior HR consultant, explained over email.

Canva attempts to avoid this by scheduling time for hiring managers and TA teams to regularly interface. Rogerson advises hiring managers to be “really clear on what you are looking for in this role, [to be] really defined on the skill set.”

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Every step in the interview process is logged in strategy hiring docs, so anyone jumping into the process can be immediately brought up to speed. Last year, Canva interviewed over 12,000 candidates, Rogerson said in a follow-up email.

Once the interview process is underway, Canva assesses candidates according to four pillars—craft, strategy, communication, and leadership. Typically, the process begins with your standard-fair screening, followed by a “challenge date, where we really look at that kind of working connection between the applicant and the recruiter,” Rogerson said.

The tech question solution. When processing a high volume of applications, technology needs to be on point. Canva uses an ATS, like most companies of its size. ATS are prone to certain biases and shortcomings, including the ever-present possibility of applicants firing résumés off into a void and only receiving static in return. “We hear this consistently from applicants on surveys, that over 50% of applicants apply to jobs and never hear anything back from the company,” Tim Sackett, an HR tech analyst and former HR manager, told HR Brew.

Sackett recommended conversational AI tools—like chatbots—to ensure every candidate receives a certain level of support and communication. “Artificial intelligence in recruiting can have a major impact in helping organizations hire and process applicants at very high volume,” he said.

Canva uses automated responses upon receiving applications and makes sure everyone who receives an interview speaks to an actual human, Rogerson explained. Still, the company’s team puts its nose to the grindstone in order to process its application load, without conversational AI. The hardest phase is usually the initial one, she said, but Canva scours applications for certain indicators—such as using Canva’s platform in the application process—to prioritize some candidates or others.

“A lot of [the recruitment process] is manual, but I think there’s certain things that we look for around it—great visual communicators, great written communicators,” Rogerson said.

With those processes at Canva’s disposal, whittling down a stack of applications from 300,000 to 300 becomes all the more manageable.—SB

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.