Rethinking Recruitment Marketing

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Sep 21, 2017

I would like to challenge the way recruitment marketing is approached, measured, and done. I’ll be taking the current approach and breaking it down, addressing flaws, and making recommendations.

I’ll cover a few bases before continuing so there is no confusion in the foundational definitions of marketing and recruiting. I am going to do this because the term “recruitment marketing” is not a dictionary-defined term, but that is the key topic of this article. I’ll cover the Wikipedia meaning below.

Marketing is defined as “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising”. Market research is done to understand the buyers and promotional advertising is targeted to attract the right buyers that we can sell to. The end goal is selling, but it often stops at building a pipeline of marketing qualified leads.

In the image above is a marketplace where buyers see signs and go up to sellers.

Since recruitment is the action or process of recruiting, let’s define “recruit.”

In the context of this industry, recruit is defined as “to attempt to acquire the services of (a person) for an employer.”

I imagine that in the marketplace image above most of you picture the company looking to hire as the sellers with the fruit stands, and the possible candidates are those walking around the market. But who receives the money in the transaction? The person with the goods.

Since the goal of recruiting is to purchase the services of someone by means of hiring, the company and their recruiter are therefore the buyer who is shopping at the marketplace. At least I hope you are going to pay new hires money, because most people do not work for pats on the back. Yes, companies try to market and sell why a candidate should work for them, but the selling of an open job or company ideology is still buyer marketing because in the end the company buys the services of the talent that agrees to sell their services too.

A person without a job may behave like a consumer shopping for a job, but if you want the 80 percent market of people who are passive candidates then you are the consumer trying to buy a talented person who already has a secure job. Consumers get to pick what they want to buy and who they buy it from. It’s much like shopping for candidates and selecting who to hire. So, you’re the buyer and buyer marketing tactics can be very different than seller marketing, which is always looking to offload a product or service.

Wikipedia defines recruitment marketing as: “The strategies and tactics an organization uses to find, attract, engage, and nurture talent before they apply for a job, called the pre-applicant phase of talent acquisition.”

Wikipedia explains the process as “The focus is initiating relationships with candidates prior to talent needs and beyond job openings by engaging them through the many touch points of the modern job search. The goal of a recruitment marketing strategy is to increase the number of qualified candidates in an organization’s talent pipeline.”

Notice it says “… of the modern job search,” as if assuming the person is looking for a job. Does that mean it’s only target is the 20 percent market of people actively considering new employment?

So, since the goal of recruitment marketing is on initiating/starting relationships and getting ready for future needs with qualified candidates in the talent pipeline, that is where we will focus our marketing efforts.

Let’s apply the goal to the definition, and using core marketing and recruiting, look for improvements.

“… find, attract, engage, and nurture talent before they apply for a job.”


Hold your horses!

All great marketing always starts with research. If you skip this step, then the whole process will be much less successful. Once you have done your research, only then will you now know “What and Who” you are looking to find. You don’t have a good understanding of who and what without a relationship with the teams you are building the talent stockpile for. I would not want to waste my time looking for something if I don’t know what it looks like. How do you know what to look for if there is not a job requisition, since our target is initiating relationships with candidates prior to the needs? I am guessing you are studying all high-turnover positions and working your way down, or have some sort of direction from leadership about positions they are forecasting giving the current state of growth or high-priority goals in the company.

Next, most people want to search the 80 percent market of passive candidates who are not even at/on the market. Great people who are not for sale can be difficult to find, but harder to attract and buy. Why not start with a search of passive candidates who are already in the company? I bet they would rather talk about a promotion or move within the company than to someone outside the company. Sure, a hire from within creates a new opening, but we will get to that opportunity below.


In a nutshell, this is inbound marketing, which includes, advertising, promotions, employer branding, and employee branding, for lead generation to fill the position or build a pipeline. But the plurality of actual hires come from employee referrals. Every successful business owner who I know says they became successful from putting their people, their current clients, and past clients, first and foremost. The new lead generation came from referrals of those clients more than anywhere else. Referrals appear to be the No. 1 source of new hires, so more time should be spent working on growing the attraction through employee branding and referrals, which go hand in hand.

Since referrals have the highest rate of successful hire, that is what I want to attract the most of.

Companies are made up of people, and people are what we are attracted to more than stuff. Branding and attraction is about appearance and what appears on the outside mostly flows from the talent that is inside.

Attraction May be Portrayed Externally, but It Starts and Finishes Internally

People are attracted to companies for a lot of different reasons. When you get past the cool or edgy factor that some buy into, the real attraction comes from what they hear about from people who work there or have worked there, and brag about how great it was. That is employee branding. Employee branding that attracts me most to companies are ones that put employees first like close family, have a proven record of career growth, pay fairly or high, and have low turnover to show for it. What attracts you most?

A nice recruiter, who found me by referral, once got me to go to an interview for a big flashy company. During the office walkthrough, the hiring manager showed me all the great stuff they have for their employees. They had a free gym, a fully stocked break room, and even bragged about their corporate location in Bermuda that employees could vacation at every year if they wanted to. Wow. When they offered me the job with great pay to boot, I had to say, “Thank you so much but I am not able to accept.”

The gym was empty, the break room was silent, the people all looked tired and overworked, and the one person I asked about Bermuda said they only wished they could go. And their colleagues all laughed in sad agreement.

You see this stuff all the time; telecommuting, for instance, being advertised on career sites, but only a few employees able to do it. This makes the recruiters job much, much harder. Some of this is HR’s role, but it affects recruiting.


In this phase or process, be a real person who places the needs of the candidate ahead of themselves. If this is not a referral, your phone call, email, or first meeting may be the only impression this person gets from someone at your company so set the bar high. The nice recruiter who engaged with me at a real level was in fact what attracted me to take the interview described above. If you read that story then you realize that attraction does not stop with the recruiter or the external brand.

Engagement happens in many places across a lot of channels these days. The ones that matter most are the ones that come from person to person. Email is still king when it comes to personalized messaging, but it is being used across a lot of new channels like LinkedIn Inbox, Facebook Messenger, Twitter direct messaging, and so forth. Put a high priority on these person-to-person communications, and next the universal experience across the social networks and resources available to the public.


My mother-in-law is a great nurse. She places the needs of her patients at the highest level and people love her. To nurture is to take care of people and help them feel valued and important. If we are talking about a candidate in the pipeline or the hiring manager, never leave them hanging, and always keep them informed. Get to know the hiring manager’s team that is looking for a new member. Building those relationships is the best way to know how someone needs nurtured. Marketing is a lot about communication. Be sure to be an open channel and nurture the internal business relationships as much as the external talent.

Real nurturing doesn’t happen by automated emails or ads; it happens with two-way conversations. Think about ways to open up or use all the great tools we have available to really show you care for the needs or situation of someone else. Nurturing.

The End Goal

Not even an actual application? Wait, What!

Oh yes, we are only building a talent pipeline for future needs. In the Wikipedia definition, the non-application for a job seems to be the end goal of recruitment marketing. I don’t know about other marketers out there, but If I did not convert any marketing money to sales, I’d never get more money either. Maybe that’s why companies don’t give talent acquisition very much marketing money. There is very little if any ROI on building a pipeline that you may or may not use in the future.

Let’s change the end goal to an application or some monetary value that we can prove some ROI.

Where This Leads Us

Recruiting needs foundational marketing which doesn’t happen overnight. It also needs to work very close with HR. I will explain why.

If the attraction doesn’t come from employees, nurturing gets old, and engagement only happens when the future need arises. Then each of those steps is much harder than it should be and will never blossom to its true potential.

If I was the head of recruitment marketing and building the talent pipeline, I would want to be able to share all the great success stories of people who have come to work with us. Like I said before, people attract people, and that is where the lasting success would come from.

Build successful stories — case studies of employee growth leading to valuable employee branding and a referral talent pipeline.

Since the No. 1 source of all hires come from satisfied employees making referrals, double down on it and invest a heavy majority of your time and money on ways to build on employee referrals and external referrals from employee branding efforts.

Recommendations for a Strong Talent Pipeline

A long-term marketing growth strategy that starts at the root. Take care of the customers already in the business, the employees. You know the old saying, “Beauty is only skin deep.” Well if the attraction of the outward beauty does not match the internal joy, then the façade of happiness and meaning will eventually show its true colors.

Who is it who can attract and engage others around them to go where they are? The ones that are excited about where they are or where they have been. Those are the people who will refer anyone they see fit. They do it because they want to help their peers, colleagues, friends, and family.  I would never refer someone to a company that I didn’t feel would be a great place for them to work. I would never refer someone to a company that could potentially be a poor move.

So, what is it that makes people excited about their career and their employer?

After a market research study, I have concluded that the top three reasons people are excited about their career and the company they work for are as follows:

  1. Money — Because nobody works for free.
  2. Career growth — The true reinforcement of contribution, success, and progress.
  3. Work/life balance — Autonomy and freedom with no fear.

Recommendation No. 1

Promote from within as much as possible. People who get promoted usually enjoy all three of the top reasons to get excited about their job and place of work. With promotion they attain the feeling of contribution, success, and progress. They might make the same money or a little more but they are happier, harder-working employees who will share their status update of their new promotion on LinkedIn, Facebook, and maybe even Twitter. They will work extra hard to fill they earned their promotion and will work hard to help you fill their old job. They will also do their best to refer all their friends to a company that takes care of its own family.

Recommendation No. 2

This one is two parts. First raise referral incentives to a meaningful amount that is worth their time. Maybe it is management level based or demand based, whatever you find works best just be sure to internally market and communicate referral hires and who referred them so that everyone knows about the guy that was rewarded for his time and the new hire joining the clan (not in the same message lol).

Second, work with employees to reach their networks with an advocacy or ambassador program. Each employee has a network that some say is 10x more wide-reaching than the company’s, depending on the company of course. Provide fun social graphics and a media kit resources for them to share. Easy links to send to a referral, great information about the company, maybe even invitations to informal gatherings.

Recommendation No. 3

Work on a visibility campaign that elevates the success of the employees of the company. You know what FOMO is right? Well, when people see the way the business lifts up employees, they will be attracted to it and want the opportunity to be a part of it. Knock their socks off with success stories.

Recommendation No. 4

Have fun and encourage corporate networking events where employees can bring their friends, family, and coworkers. Get people from the outside to feel welcome and get a sneak peak of what all the great people are like. We spend more hours a day working than with our family; share some of that time with their closest family and friends.

I’m not sure this company even exists — but I want to work there.

A few concerns to proactively address:

  1. Tough-to-find skillsets. Still think you can’t fill that super hard-to-find programmer/developer with all the right certifications, qualifications, and skillset? Try promoting your best one to lead the team, and I bet you’ll soon have three more. You can mold and train a qualified doer to lead his team. He has a network of connections and resources that you don’t. I bet he’ll use it to find a replacement so he’s not leading and doing.
  2. An immediate need for thousands of new hires. I realize a company cannot hire 5,000 or 50,000 hourly employees in a short timespan from a foundational shift of creating growth through employee brand ambassadors/advocates submitting referrals. That requires different marketing tactics or may even call for agency services for the unusual demand. I’m also not saying it’s the end-all piece, but rather a foundational change or shift for stable growth of long-term employees.
  3. Yeah, but this is mostly about referrals and branding. Yes, it is, and growing businesses that last are the ones that get the most referrals because of happy customers who tell their friends. Employee branding is something you can control because it is in-house. If you have 50 or 50,000 employees, and instead of 1-2 percent employee brand advocates you have 30-50 percent advocates that each reach 10x the market that you can, what is the ROI for your time and money?


I know I covered a lot that is typically outside of recruitment marketing, but I don’t believe in superficial marketing tactics that don’t get to the root of the problems. That would be like putting duct tape on a cracking foundation. If there is an area you would like to hear about more or disagree on, please comment below or tag me on LinkedIn when you discuss it.

BTW, we have a lot of great doers from talent acquisition, recruiting, and sourcing, all coming to share at ERE Recruiting Conference in Minneapolis this October 16-18. They are doing unique and innovative things in employer and employee branding, culture, hiring, retention, and all areas of talent acquisition, and I’m looking forward to meeting with and learning from all of them. If you read this and are attending, be sure to find me and say hello. Let me know your ideas and thoughts. You are the reason I stayed up after work many nights to research, write, and rewrite this several times.

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