Spend Less on Job Advertising and More on Recruiters

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Aug 4, 2022
This article is part of a series called Flashback.

The economy will recover, and the most important thing you can do now is to upgrade the quality of your recruiting team. I’d like to make a business case for slashing your recruitment advertising budget and investing some of that money toward rebuilding your recruiting department. There are three main points to consider:

  1. Too much money is spent on poor advertising.
  2. Without good recruiters, you can’t hire good people.
  3. In the end, bad execution is better than good planning.

Spending Too Much on Advertising Jobs

Let me first explain why I believe too much is spent on advertising. While job boards don’t deliver on everything promised, they do deliver in some areas. Well-crafted, highly visible advertising can quickly create a pool of good candidates, especially in a slow economy.

To my mind, job board advertising should always be the first option when starting a new search. But to make job-board ads work, you need to first write compelling ads with outrageous titles. Here’s the title of one we used recently to find sales people in Dallas: “Yeah, Baby Yeah! This Entry-level Sales Job in Dallas Is Shagadelic.”

The ad copy should be fun, and describe what the candidate will do, learn, and become. For maximum response, the ad must be on the top of the first page of the listings. This way, it will stand out and be read.

But this only happens on the first day. The response to an ad will drop by 50% or more per day as it falls down in the listings.

To increase the impact, pay to repost the ad on the third day, then stop advertising. Unfortunately, job boards and recruitment advertising agencies have an outdated business plan, and they can’t afford to let you stop advertising. We’re now in a just-in-time hiring environment, but the job boards and recruitment advertising agencies haven’t kept up with these times. They seem to offer only extensions of previous advertising ideas and longer posting periods.

While some of the programs might be good, many aren’t — and little proof is offered, anyway. Making matters worse, few companies track advertising effectiveness from an ROI standpoint.

So my first suggestion is to quickly review every dollar of recruitment advertising and re-justify it. This is a form of zero-based budgeting where you need to evaluate every item in the budget, not just the incremental changes.

In a slow economy, you can reduce your expenditures by 50% or more using targeted, rather than broad-based, advertising. This will save you the money you need to invest in strengthening your recruiting team. You’ll want to do this anyway, since you’ll be giving the ad budget to your recruiters.

This gets to my next point…

Good Recruiters Hire Good People

Wherever I go, I’m constantly reminded of this basic truth. For example, one of our current projects is helping a Fortune 100 client rebuild its entire recruiting capability. They have about 25 recruiters on their team. Five are in the great or potential-to-be-great category. These best recruiters do whatever it takes to find top candidates. They do this despite the quality of systems available, or the difficulty of the assignment, or the other challenges faced.

These best recruiters get it done, and their hiring managers trust them to make it happen. On a broader level, we’ve worked with or trained another 5,000 recruiters over the past 20 years. Here’s what we’ve discovered that the top 25% of these recruiters do differently than the rest on every search to find strong candidates. It’s a good model for everyone to follow:

  1. The best recruiters personally take responsibility for job postings, writing compelling ads, and monitoring results daily. They call the best new candidates the same day. Recruiters know the strongest candidates will be off the market quickly and that they must be called immediately.
  2. The best recruiters set up agents to review the new resumes that come into their public and private databases. The best of these candidates are called before 10 a.m. that same day. Good recruiters know the best candidates posting to resume databases will have six calls from hungry recruiters on the first day, so they become the hungriest.
  3. If these first two steps don’t provide enough good candidates, aggressive networking must begin by Day 3 or 4. Good recruiters proactively call their best current employees and their best candidates and get names of top people not looking. Good recruiters know they must network only with top performers. Networking is hard work, so they can’t afford to even talk with anyone not in the top 25%. This alone reduces the networking effort by 75%.
  4. If these steps still don’t yield enough top candidates, more search tools are added to the mix. This includes everything from purchasing names, buying pre-qualified resumes, direct sourcing, expanding the research team, and using outside recruiters.

While some of these tasks are assigned to another team member, the best recruiters still take personal responsibility for getting everything done right. Once the candidate pool is developed, the best recruiters work closely with the hiring manager, the recruiting team, and the final candidate to get the deal closed to everyone’s satisfaction.

None of this is easy, but this is what it takes to consistently hire top people. No amount of advertising can replace this hard work. The quality of the individual recruiter directly correlates with the quality of the candidate ultimately hired.

Unless you’re an employer of choice with an abundance of top people, your recruiting team will represent the primary difference between hiring great people within budget, hiring too many average people, or paying too much for hiring from a third-party recruiter — who is doing exactly what your internal recruiters should be doing.

This is why building the best possible internal recruiting team is the single best investment you can make. You’ll be able to finance this by reducing unnecessary advertising expenses that aren’t directly monitored by the recruiters responsible for getting the job done.

To make life easier for your recruiters, take some of the money saved in advertising and invest it in filtering technology that allows you to effectively rank-order resumes.

This now gets me to my last point…

Bad Execution Is Better Than Good Planning

In the end, bad execution is better than good planning. Without execution, you have nothing. Too many companies just talk about recruiting but never do much about it. While good execution is of course preferred, hiring top people is more about execution than it is about planning.

Good recruiters are field agents. They talk to candidates, they go to networking meetings, they belong to associations; they contact and nurture industry experts, they take a bunch of college students to dinner, they’re involved with the Hispanic MBA program, and they work with interns. They also take complete responsibility for all aspects of a search assignment from beginning to end. This is a critical aspect to consider as you rebuild and reorganize your recruiting department.

Make sure you haven’t weakened your recruiting team by giving up too much control to specialists who can only talk about what should get done but don’t have the responsibility for making it happen. Instead, hire the best recruiters you can, pay them as much as you can, give them the best tools and the best training, and let them make it happen.

Other than a superb employer brand, a good recruiter can do more to affect the quality of the person hired than any other aspect of the hiring process. So stop wasting money on unnecessary advertising. Instead, invest that money in rebuilding and reorganizing your recruiting team. In the end, if all else fails, this will be the group you can count on to hire great people every time.

Editor’s note: This article is part of our Flashback series, which reaches into ERE’s archives to bring you stories that still have significance today. This piece is adapted from the original version, published 20 years ago. It’s striking how the insights and themes in this article still seem current — perhaps for better and for worse. 

This article is part of a series called Flashback.
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