One-to-One Recruiting: The Importance of Personalizing All Aspects of Recruiting

Mar 8, 2010

color_colonelThe most powerful recruiting advertisement I’ve seen in the last two years didn’t originate from Google and it wasn’t found on a social media site; instead it was a “take your breath away” billboard designed to attract a single person.

Usually billboards are a complete waste of money, but this one dared to go where no one has gone before. We’ve all seen the famous 1916 James Montgomery Flagg portrait of Uncle Sam with the caption “I want you for the U.S. Army,” but imagine if instead of a generic message you passed a billboard or poster bearing your name, your image, and a message specific to you, i.e. Nicole Pollock “we want you!” There is zero chance you wouldn’t pull over immediately just to stare, but chances are you would have already learned about it through calls and text messages from your family and friends. Such a startling communication would even cause people who didn’t know you to take notice and to wonder about both you and what kind of organization would be so bold to attempt this type of recruiting.

The roadside billboard was only the beginning of a broad reaching “one-to-one recruiting” campaign launched by Wilkes University to land a single student. In addition to the billboard, it added personalized messages to pizza boxes at the local pizza shop, signs on top of local gas pumps, pre-screening ads in local movie theaters, directory signs in the local mall and even localized ads on MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central. The campaign turned everyone in the community that interacted with Nicole Pollock, the student of interest, into a stakeholder/influencer of her decision, which was ultimately “yes.”

The marketing firm, 160over90, hired by the university, clearly understood the value of the seldom used but powerful one-to-one approach. While not appropriate for every vacancy, the cost of a one-to-one campaign pales in comparison to the value of getting a top performer into a key role. Even if you are not ready to engage in an effort as bold as Wilkes University, there are components of one-to-one recruiting that can bolster any effort.

Narrowing Recruiting Scope Broadcasting to One-to-One

Defining the scope of recruiting processes and activities is perhaps one of the most overlooked elements of planning in the typical recruiting function. Instead of developing programs and practices that target a specific range of actions or individuals, most recruiting leaders engage in broadcasting, i.e. using a one-size-fits all approach. One-size-fits-all clothing generally isn’t that attractive, and neither are overly generic recruiting processes and communications. Scope, like clothing comes in many sizes, including:

  • Broadcasting (targeting a large multi-demographic audience)
  • Narrowcasting (targeting a smaller more defined audience)
  • Microcasting (targeting a specific population within a narrowcast audience)
  • One-to-one, aka 1:1 (targeting a specific individual)

Personalization is the Wave of the Future

The practice of 1:1 or personalized marketing is a well-established concept in customer relationship management circles, and is becoming more of a mainstream practice thanks to many emerging technologies. Last fall, the Castrol Oil Company practiced an extreme version of personalized marketing by placing cameras along a main road in London to capture the license plates of passing vehicles. The license numbers were then cross-referenced with vehicle registration records, enabling Castrol Oil to display targeted ads on a digital billboard suggesting which type of oil the drivers should use as they drove past the billboard!

In addition to 1:1 marketing, personalization is invading the product and service deliver arms of organizations as well. Mass customized manufacturing enables firms like BMW to personalize literally every car they produce so that no two are the same.

Rarely do HR functions support mass personalization, but there are exceptions. Cafeteria style benefits programs allow employees to personalize their benefits portfolio. Career planning tools in use by firms like Deloitte allow employees to customize their careers (Deloitte’s program is referred to as the Mass Career Customization Program.) Executive recruiting efforts often target “most wanted” individuals i.e. individuals the organization has remotely assessed and determined that they would like to recruit them in the near future. One-to-one recruiting isn’t unheard of, just rare. Google has employed it several times, most notably with its famous “math puzzle” billboard, and the practice was common at FirstMerit Bank while under Michael Homula’s recruiting leadership.

The Many Benefits of One-to-One Recruiting

When I present during corporate recruiter trainings or HR offsites, I frequently mention one-to-one recruiting examples just to see how progressive the organization is with regards to its thinking about the value of top talent. Undoubtedly, most audience participants rarely ponder the value of the talent, they seek and universally assume it’s just too expensive for them to consider. Those open to actually delivering strategic recruiting versus just talking about it, often change their viewpoint once they learn more about the approach and its many benefits, some of which include:

  • One-to-one marketing builds the employer brand—one-to-one recruiting efforts provide the organization with an opportunity to establish a much more realistic brand perception among a highly targeted and highly desired population, often in a way that gets talked about by others. (Contrary to popular belief, not all employees/candidates experience the organization the exact same way, so brand perception is not universal across the organizations despite generic corporate messages that say “we are…”) Using one-to-one creates high visible individuals who can become ambassadors of your brand in the community.
  • One-to-one targets act as magnets—one-to-one efforts almost always target industry icons. While you will certainly spend a little more money to capture these individuals, doing so will not only send a message that “something is up,” it will save you money in the long run as magnet hires often bring with them or attract from other organizations a significant volume of quality hires.
  • One-to-one efforts can boost morale—if your organization has recruited team players who like to win, one-to-one efforts send a clear message that your organization will do whatever it takes to recruit the very best for existing employees to work alongside fellow top performers and industry game-changers. A win for the team is a win for all, and morale will likely skyrocket.
  • One-to-one efforts increase visibility—bold recruiting efforts are almost always noticed in ways that dramatically increase the publicity the organization receives, raising the profile of the recruiting function both inside and outside the organization.
  • One-to-one efforts will also likely net boomerangs—even if you don’t actually “catch” your primary target the first time around, the power of the one-on-one campaign guarantees that they will consider your firm again later in their career, without much additional effort on your part.
  • One-to-one efforts produce amazing results—rarely are recruiting efforts 100% successful, but one-to-one efforts almost always produce positive results.

Tools and Approaches to Consider

Even if there’s no chance that you’re going to try a full-fledged one-to-one recruiting campaign, there are many tools and approaches that have proven to be extremely beneficial when included as a component of broader efforts. These approaches include:

  • Identifying how to reach them—get at least a rough idea of the best way to reach your target candidates. Start by asking your own top performers in similar jobs, “how could we find you again?” Use the information your employees provide as an indication of the best ways to identify and communicate with your targeted candidates.
  • Identify their job acceptance criteria—there’s no more important step in any sales process than asking each of your top targets what decision criteria they will use when deciding to accept or reject an offer. With that information in hand, you can at least modify the recruiting and offer processes to ensure that you have provided each candidate with enough evidence to prove to their satisfaction that you best meet their criteria.
  • Ask them to apply—most recruiting processes assume that merely being made aware of a job opening will be enough to trigger everyone to apply. This is a huge mistake because there are a significant number of currently employed individuals who, for whatever reason, won’t apply to a new job unless they are personally invited.
  • CEO calls—if you’re not already using them, you should be aware that a personalized call from a CEO who knows the candidate’s background is the most effective recruiting tool there is. If you can get your CEO to agree to a limited number of calls per month, you can use them to convince individuals to apply or to sell them on your final offer.
  • Personalize the job—top candidates generally accept because the work itself and the opportunities are unique and exciting. As a result, if you expect to have a reasonable chance at landing top candidates, you will need to realize from the beginning that at least part of the job will need to be customized to their unique needs and interests.
  • Identify who they would like to meet—most recruiting schedules are set based 100% on which individuals within the company have decided that they want to interview the individual. Unfortunately, that ignores the fact that the candidate themselves might want to meet certain individuals (by title) before they would be comfortable in accepting the job. Allowing top candidates to meet a few people of their choice makes the hiring process appear more personalized to them.
  • Personalize onboarding—if you tailor the onboarding to their unique needs, not only will they feel accepted by their team faster, they will also reach their minimum productivity levels in a much shorter time and be more apt to share positive stories about the organization with former colleagues.

Final Thoughts

Every freshman studying journalism, communications, PR, sales, and marketing learns in their first semester that if you want “your message” to be read and accepted, you need to make it personally relevant to the target audience. It’s a basic lesson that we often forget in the world of broadly targeted recruitment advertising, candidate messaging, and employer branding. Mass personalization is essential if you are courting top candidates, but I would argue that it’s quickly becoming essential for all quality candidates. No one wants to feel that they are entering a corporate monolith where they will become lost. Recruiting leaders need to examine every program and process to determine how each can appear more personalized to candidates. They should also allocate more time to benchmarking marketing functions, which are light years ahead of most recruiting functions in the area of effective personalization.

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