Four Lessons We Should Have Learned This Year

Dec 9, 2009
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Picture 2Adversity is a great teacher, and the past year will certainly be one of the most adverse and professionally difficult that we will ever experience.

It has been a year of paradoxes and contradictions: unemployment is soaring, but many organizations cannot find the qualified people they need. Rather than restructure work or rethink how work gets done in order to find people, we continue to seek people to work in traditional ways. More people are looking for part-time, temporary, or contract work, yet only a tiny percentage of companies are looking for these type of people. We know that being discourteous to people creates negative branding and is morally questionable especially when so many are unemployed, but we have perhaps never been as discourteous to applicants are we are now. Energy costs have fluctuated wildly and global warming is a topic on every agenda, yet most organizations and people prefer face-to-face relationships rather than asking people to save energy by working from home.

Here are four lessons we should have learned this year.

Lesson #1: Building and maintaining candidate relationships and generating referrals are keys to survival.

Job descriptions should be dead, but I have no doubt that they will live on for a long time. We should all agree that they are not the best, cheapest, or fastest way to attract good people.

In general, you are not going to find the people you need by posting on job boards. The most successful recruiters use social networks, ask employees (and others) for referrals and focus on building talent communities of potential candidates.

Learn from product and service marketing how to do a better job. Watch how IBM or Deloitte advertise and market their professional services. Go for targeted messaging and quality, not volume. Generate candidates from relationships you form using tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter and by asking for referrals. Make it a rule of thumb that if you are generating hundreds of responses to a job posting, you are doing something terribly wrong.

Lesson #2: Use targeted, bold marketing and branding to appeal to the types of candidates you want.

Don’t try to appeal to everyone. Focus your marketing messages and media on the type of candidate you are most in need of. KPMG and other organizations target college-age candidates with videos and other media designed to appeal to that age group and to the personalities of the type of candidates who usually want to work for them.

They don’t spend any time or money on marketing that is generic or that appeals to older potential candidates.

The best marketing is always targeted to a specific audience and discourages, although subtly, those who don’t fit the target. Partly this is done through words and pictures and partly by placing the information where the people you are targeting are most likely to see it.

For example, Mercedes advertises on television at the times and on programs where their research shows that highly successful and well off people watch. They place print advertisements in magazines that these types of people read. They do not advertise on Super Bowl nor do they advertise in Reader’s Digest. Targeted marketing requires research, focus, carefully thought-out graphics, and tested writing.

Wording is also key; what you say makes all the difference. If you say and imply that you are seeking only those with very specific backgrounds and qualifications, you will reduce the numbers who apply and improve quality. Even your recruiting web site needs to be worded in a way that is attractive to those you are most anxious to have apply. Cisco Systems has a web site that is appealing to technical professionals but less so to others.

Lesson #3: Do not just use, but embrace, emerging technology

Social networks, video, YouTube, candidate relationship management products, Web 3.0 websites, and SecondLife are all tools that can potentially enlarge your candidate pools, screen candidates, and build relationships.

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are perhaps the most effective recruiting tools in your arsenal. Video has become king in attracting people, and YouTube is the second-most used search engine after Google itself. If your organization has a recruiting page and/or video, it’s a good start.

Once you start attracting potential candidates, there are many tools to help screen them and communicate with them. CRM tools (Avature is a good example) let you track and communicate with groups of candidates. The most current ATS vendors are also offering this capability and even allow you to link to online profiles in LinkedIn and Facebook. This means candidates do not need a resume.

There are countless email programs, newsletter distribution programs, and other free or inexpensive communication aids that recruiters can use to do a better job letting candidates know where they stand. Even automatic bounce-back responses can be more intelligently written and distributed. A follow-up email could follow the bounce-back and automatically provide the candidate with another touch point.

Lesson #4: Accept change as a way of life

We will not be heading back to the more traditional ways of recruiting, and the contradictions and paradoxes I outlined at the beginning of this article will be with us for a long time. Traditional recruiting skills will be liabilities and will generate little profit.

Everything from face-to-face interviews to onboarding new employees will be more automated and will be done using the Internet. Software applications and mobile technology will dominate the recruiting space. Video interviewing and simulations for selection will become normal within five years.

To be a thriving recruiter you need to focus on building a new mindset that is centered on the acceptance of change as a constant and on taking advantage of technology.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of this year is that we are now at the place where we can use this technology to target our marketing, focus on a smaller number of candidates, allow more direct communication between candidates and hiring managers, and spend more time on raising awareness and marketing key positions using the various technical platforms we have available.

The ability to do this will be seen as strength and will generate returning profit for years to come.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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