Once upon a time we sold products much as we “sell” jobs and organizations today. At the turn of the 20th century, merchants waited for a potential buyer to show up. The buyer was supposed to know what they wanted and ask for it. Most of the merchandise was kept in drawers or under the counter. A customer had to ask for something specifically and the merchant showed them only one particular item. There was no engagement, no selling, and no touting the benefits of the product.
But, soon department stores like Macy’s changed all this by displaying items openly, running ads targeted, in particular, to women. It offered well-known socialites the newest fashions and relied on gossip and word of mouth to attract new referral customers. Window displays created dream worlds and played to emotions. They encouraged salespeople to engage with the customers, build relationships, and even try on clothes or demonstrate the product.
Recruitment has a lot to learn from this story and from marketing.
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Talent scarcities remain and the primary differentiator between companies is often only their brand, public image, and emotional appeal. Why work for Google over Facebook? The pay is roughly similar, benefits are great, and management is similar. The primary reason is a belief that one is in some way better than the other. This opinion is largely subjective, built or weakened by friends, and also partly built by the press and social media.
To create differentiation and improve candidate engagement, recruitment must morph into a marketing process. While there has always been an element of marketing in a good recruiting process, it has never been the core.
Most recruitment resembles the turn of the century store I wrote about above. It has been and still is centered around a recruiter. A person applies for the only position they know about. The candidate is a relatively passive element who the recruiter and subsequently a hiring manager interact with. Many jobs are not advertised at all or advertised only lightly. Others are advertised, but the descriptions don’t reflect reality. The job a person applies for may or may not be a suitable one, but only the recruiter makes that judgment. A recruiter generally decides if and for which job a candidate is best suited. The recruiter controls everything by reaching out, interviewing, and ultimately recommending the candidate. The candidate’s role is to be compliant, somewhat subservient, and showcase his or her talent.
While there are better variations on this, it is a fair summary of most recruiting processes.
If the goal of recruitment is to bring the best possible people to the organization – the people who will accomplish the objectives, sell the product or service, design, and innovate — then to accomplish that goal we need to attract candidates from as wide a spectrum as possible and always have the attitude that by interacting together and learning more about each other, we can find a good fit.
There are three areas where recruiting functions can begin to make the changes that will keep them relevant and useful.
This will require some deep discussion about where recruitment can add real value. One of the ways is to enable potential candidates and people in the organization to share information, talk about the brand, about daily life, and about the good and not so good sides of working there.
Websites, social media, and communication tools need to be redesigned to deliver a personalized, customized experience to the candidate and go so far as to invite them into conversations with current employees or experts within the firm. Candidates should decide where to focus their interests and when to look for opportunities. It is the job of the recruiting folks to provide them with information about all the opportunities you have. There should be tools that let potential candidates screen themselves against a variety of job competencies and skills.
The usual, simple, and one-directional recruitment websites we are used to are not adequate. Even social media pages that are updated only occasionally offer little to no value to a candidate who is seeking current information or looking for help in understanding or needs a question answered.
Other aspects of redesign include making job descriptions better indicators of what the work really is like, locating employees who are willing to talk with potential candidates, building referral programs that are engaging, and making sure mobile apps are appealing, easy to use and effective.
Be fully aware that candidates seek out information about the corporate culture and research who works at the organization by searching on LinkedIn. They check on Glassdoor to see what employees are saying. They look at social media, and their own network to become aware of issues, culture, working style, and even knowledge about who they will potentially work for and what that person is like. There are no secrets and open communication is critical to creating trust.
In order to build the most useful websites and social media tools, recruiters need information that is gleaned from data. Many corporate websites and social media sites collect data — number of hits, retweets, likes, clicks, and so forth, but few make much sense of the data.
Does it matter than one item was retweeted more than another? Do more Likes mean more hires? What data elements are most useful to predicting a good candidate versus a mediocre one? What content draws the most number of qualified candidates? When do people engage in the website and with who? And so on.
Every recruiting function needs to collect this kind of data and analyze it. Decisions about new content and areas to focus on can be made better and faster. You should have a data scientist involved who can help answer these kinds of questions. Perhaps you can pull together a cross-functional team made up of data scientists, IT folks, and marketing people to get the information you need to continuously learn and update your content, websites, and social media.
You can only target content and draw in the most qualified people when you have the right data.
Using the tools and data that I have described, recruitment functions can become engagement hubs, information centers, and conduits. Employees and potential candidates can get to meet each other, learn from each other, and find ways to collaborate, whether it is as a full-time regular employee or as a part-time or sometime-employee or in some informal way.
Think of this as a journey. For some it will be the first time they have heard of your organization; for others, they will know some but not a lot. For others your firm may be an old story. But wherever they are, there should be compelling content, videos, and perhaps games or other tools that enlighten, engage, and keep them involved.
To do this will require redesigning the recruiting function and moving it from a transactional, sequential, one-directional process into one that is relationship-based, multi-directional — involving a cross-section of employees and potential candidates — and whose end goal is not necessarily a hire, but an engaged and interested person who might become a candidate at some point.
The formula for recruiting success is beginning to look a lot like a marketing strategy:
Recruiting Success = Data + Targeted Content + Authentic Information +
Candidate Interaction + Candidate Experience + Brand
A note on brand: Do not confuse what I am saying with recruiting brand. Recruiters have spent too much time relying on their recruiting brand to differentiate themselves when, in reality, it is the ability to shape opinion, create emotion, and create authentic interaction between candidates and employees that leads to the best results.
Employment brand is only a small piece of the equation. For example, Macy’s brand is an important part of its success, but it also needs to make sure salespeople engage customers, that there are discounts, and enticements to come into the store. They need ways to solicit shopper feedback. They need displays that create emotion and create a desire to buy. They also need to collect and analyze data about what customers buy, when they buy, what actions improve sales and inhibit sales, and so forth. A successful marketing or recruiting process is far more than just brand.