Recruiting’s Magic Bullet

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Dec 15, 2015
This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.

Every recruiter, regardless of business, industry, or company size, is being asked the same thing by hiring managers: Find me more and better talent. Sadly, those increased demands don’t come with increased budgets. While marketing can point to increased sales to justify increased budgets, the near-impossibility of drawing a straight line from hiring amazing people to growing the company profitably means that most talent acquisition departments are seen as cost centers rather than as the drivers of future growth.

To make matters worse, the competitive ecosystem is getting crazy. Now that the economy is bounding back, everyone may be looking for a new job, but the number of companies hiring is significantly outpacing the supply of real talent.

At the core of the issue is a simple fact: We all live on a platform of technology and ideas that feels very old. We are forced to build boring, vague, or borderline untrue job descriptions and manage them on ATS databases that would look familiar to someone in 1998. Those interlocking platforms are near-inviolate. No matter how many recruiters, recruiting managers, directors of talent, or VPs of employee success complain, they are simply not going anywhere.

These tools and ideas are so engrained that when a company like Zappos attempts anything different, it’s all we can talk about for weeks.

In the customer journey, we can’t control the last mile: the job descriptions and ATS application forms leading to the hiring process. Let’s call this part the hurdle. No one likes the hurdle, but no one can eliminate it. Thus, we focus on the first mile, using advertising to drive more people to the hurdle, hoping it’s enough to get them over this immovable obstacle.

Every year, we look to squeeze pennies out of existing ad buys, branching into predictive analysis and retargeting, but so is our competition. Overall, it feels like we’re working twice as hard just to stay in place. Someone keeps pressing the “faster” button on the treadmill and we’re sweating harder to go nowhere new.

But an ad is a very small thing. At its most effective, it cannot convince or compel action (not unless you’re buying 30-minute infomercial spots). Ads are really good at one thing: drawing attention.

From “Where’s the beef?” to “tastes great, less filling” to “It’s everywhere you want to be,” ads have 30 seconds, or 140 characters, or 80×480 pixels, to get your attention and ask you to look at something new. That’s all. It can’t explain your employer brand. It can’t outline why people love working for you. It can’t even explain what the job opening is. It can only get someone’s attention and say, “Hey! Look over here!” and point them to more information.

The issue is that 99 percent of the time, the thing the ad is pointing to is a job description, something that, as we know, doesn’t really compel action. If it did, recruiters wouldn’t have to spend long hours on the phone trying to explain what the job is really about.

Structurally, this is how pretty much every “modern” company recruits: Spend a lot of money to get people’s attention and then squander that attention by driving them to the job description hurdle. If we were making a movie, we would effectively be spending 90 percent of our budget on the trailer, and not investing in the movie itself.

While everyone is focusing on whittling down the hurdle to be slightly smaller or slightly less painful, what we need is a new step in the middle that turns the attention of ads into engagement and motivation, building excitement to get the people we’ve spent so much money to attract to actually apply.

What we need is better recruiting content on our career sites.

How Recruiting Content Works

Content does two things that the current model simply ignores: It creates differentiation between you and other companies and it lowers uncertainty within the application process.

Most companies are under the false assumption that just because they know what their company and logo stand for, everyone else does, too. But as a loyal shopper at Target or Walmart, I really only know the retail experience — not the employee experience. Companies seem to assume that because I spend time and money within their stores, I must have a positive association with their employer brand. But that’s a faulty assumption. No one assumes that just because I shop at a store means that I understand that company’s reputation dealing with vendors, its accounts payable policies, or its stance on recycling packing materials, so why would I know how they treat their employees? I might only interact with customer service employees, so what can that tell me about how its supply chain team approaches its work?

At the same time, job descriptions are beginning to all look and sound the same. If a project manager role at Google and a project manager role at a warehouse read the same, the only differentiator is the employer brand. But in the process of making the hurdle slightly smaller, we are skipping the one thing that differentiates the jobs in any meaningful way. If we agree that a job at Google and a job at a warehouse will be vastly different despite the job description, we have to focus more on what makes them different.

Companies need to provide a clear reason why someone should apply beyond a vague familiarity with their logo. They need to tell the story of what working at the company is like, what the office is like, what the job is like, and what the career path is like. That’s the information a job seeker in consideration of changing their life needs to hear.

This leads to the second major power of content: lowering prospect uncertainty. When someone is looking for a job, they are putting themselves “out there.” They are being asked to give up personal details, contact details, references, and even past salary information. If a stranger came up to you in the street and asked for that same info, you’d call a cop.

And in return, companies seem to bend over backward to avoid having to give any information in return. It’s not always clear how long the job has been open, what the salary range is, or who the hiring manager is. This leads to hiring managers seeing resumes far above and below their anticipated salary range, a wide spectrum of skill levels, and surprising variation in candidate quality. This is a huge waste of time for you and them.

Instead, you can deliver recruiting content that makes it more clear what the job really is, what will be expected of a candidate, and who would be successful within it. One of the best job descriptions I’ve ever seen has a section called “why you’ll hate this job” to help weed out candidates who will likely not succeed before they even apply.

At the same time, taking a new job is a huge change, akin to buying a house or getting married. When you bought a house, someone told you what the process was, who would be contacting you and when, what paperwork you’d need to file, what materials to bring to closing, how long the process can be, and all the ways this can fall apart. You had infinitely more information than you do when you apply for a job.

Think of it the other way: If you knew as much about buying a house as you do when you apply for a job, no one would own a home. The uncertainty of a large change is hard enough to overcome when you know what to expect. It’s almost paralyzing when you know that you simply don’t know.

The company that can supply the candidate with answers to their questions before they apply is saying at the top of the process, “We understand this is a difficult decision, so we’re going to help ensure you are making an informed choice.” They are destroying uncertainty, leading to higher application rates from better talent.

Recruiting Content Attracts and Validates

Content has two distinct impacts to the hiring process: It attracts candidates to the top of the consideration funnel and it keeps them from falling out. It fills the top of the funnel and makes sure more of them make it to the end and apply.

Most of us focus on the top of the funnel, which is why so much of our budgets are spent on ads. We assume that since we can’t control the last mile, the best strategy is to turn it into a numbers game: Fill the funnel with twice as many people and twice as many applications come out. But this strategy assumes that all people are the same — that applicants applying for entry-level jobs behave the same and are motivated by the same things as a potential director of strategy. The truth is, those people are playing very different games, and the process is only designed for the entry-level group.

Entry-level applicants are also playing a numbers game. These people generally have roughly the same (lack of) experience and same education, so their goal is to apply to as many openings as possible in order to get a phone interview. Content suggests a picture of what working there would be like, either serving to dissuade them from applying, or getting in the way of the process and slowing them down. For entry-level prospects, content helps filter out poor-fitting applicants before they apply.

But directors of strategy, regional managers, or specialized subject matter experts aren’t looking to “just apply.” Their time is far more valuable and their selection criteria more complete. They are looking for the right opportunity, and a job description isn’t going to work. In a best-case scenario, if they do see an ad and become interested, you are driving to a job description that doesn’t explain to a fellow professional what this job is. So they walk away in search of an opportunity they can understand.

This is how content plugs the holes in the funnel: It gives reasons to apply and helps candidates envision themselves in the role, making the opportunity feel more tangible. It gives you a chance to pitch the job to a candidate in a way that the job description can’t. It makes the company, office, and job more authentic and personal.

That kind of emotional connection is crucial for getting someone over the hurdle. If you have two candidates and one is somewhat interested in the job, while the other really sees this as a legitimate opportunity to make their life better, and then present each of them the online application, which candidate is going to consider the questions carefully, and craft an application that indicates interest and not desperation, engagement and not indifference? Which candidate is going to put their head down and get through it, and which one is going to give up and walk away?

Content creates that emotional spark that leads to better and more applications by better candidates because you’ve primed them to overcome the next immovable step.

And we know that the funnel is getting longer and longer. In the past two years, we’ve seen it take candidates 41 percent longer to go from unaware to action. This comes from new channels and ways to learn about a company and what people have to say about it.

This means that there are simply more opportunities for the candidate to fall out completely. You can’t make the funnel shorter (as that would only benefit less-selective and less-experienced prospects), so you need to focus on creating a clear and compelling path from the top to the bottom, giving candidates meaningful reasons to stick with the process.

Recruiting Content Achieves Strategic Objectives

Content isn’t easy, but by inserting content into the existing process, we can see powerful results. As we discussed previously, by establishing the true nature of a company and a more complete description of the job, content leads to less applications at the lower range of the workforce. But since we’re generally overwhelmed by an avalanche of applications for entry-level positions, a tool that filters out 30-70 percent of likely poor-fitting candidates pays us back in the form of time.

On the other hand, content gives candidates a reason to apply rather than just an opportunity. The difference is like that between seeing the word “dinner” and watching and smelling a great meal being prepared. We need to create candidates who are salivating at the chance to work with us — not someone who’s just looking to feel less hungry.

In this way, content encourages the most selective and valuable prospects to apply at a far higher rate than those who do not see your content. This content helps them understand who you are as an employer brand and what the culture is really like, leading to better fits and more engaged employees overall because they had a solid understanding of the company walking in.

Despite being an “extra” step within the recruiting process, content integrates within all the steps, driving the right people to apply and the wrong people to drop out. It gives a compelling reason to move forward, making the hurdle seem smaller.

That’s why content is the magic bullet that supports recruiters, brand managers, and prospects, leading to better outcomes across the board.

This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.
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