Different on Purpose: Solving Recruiting Problems With Employer Brand Thinking

Let’s say for a minute that while you as a recruiting professional are pretty darn good at your job, that your boss is pretty darn good at her job, that your sourcers are good at their jobs, and that your hiring managers are pretty darn good at their jobs … something’s not working right.

Maybe you see more and more money and tools being applied to your team, but they don’t really seem to move the needle. The level of competition is getting higher faster than your ability to meet it. You hold meetings. You take training. You watch webinars.

And you keep falling behind.

It’s not clear who you are falling behind. Maybe it would be easier to blame Google and Facebook and Amazon, but their recruiters would tell you how they are feeling the pinch just as much as you.

The struggle, as the kids would say, is real.

Since we’re pretending, let’s take it one step further. You’re in charge (congrats!). Now what? What would you do to fix things? What needs to be changed? You’re a pretty darn good recruiter surrounded by pretty darn good people and tools, so what’s the fix?

The problem, it turns out, is that you’re too good at being a recruiter.

Hear me out. We’ve all heard the story about how if Ford had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses. That’s human nature. No one was clamoring for Post-it Notes or Instagram or on-demand rides in other people’s cars. Why? Because they had never seen it before, so they didn’t know to want it. If all you know is horses, a car is strange, uncomfortable, impractical, and probably kind of dumb. I mean, where do you get gas?

Let’s remember. The first car wasn’t the M3, the Camry, the Beetle, or the Pinto. The Model T was launched 22 years after the first car, so even though it looks like it runs on bicycle wheels and has the handling of an old sponge, it was the product of 22 years of ideation, testing, experimenting, trial, and error. By all accounts, driving or riding anything before the Model T was a terrifying opportunity to take your life in your hands while moving at a whopping 10-12 miles an hour.

Compared to the horse, which everyone knew how to ride, had places to leave and feed or water almost everywhere, investing in an automobile is an absolutely crazy thing to do. Why would you choose something slower, more expensive, harder to maintain, noisier, broke down more often, and was just more dangerous if you could have a horse?

Something similar is happening in recruiting. If you ask recruiters what they want, they will ask for more headcount. They will ask for tools that streamline processes within the ATS. They will ask for more candidates to talk to. They will want the exact same thing they already have, just … more.

That’s not something about recruiters, that’s how people work. Salespeople want more leads. Developers want faster tools. Marketers what bigger budgets. They want what they have, only more.

More isn’t the same as better. More isn’t always the answer.

So here come employer-branding folks wandering into the recruiter’s world, like a ricketty two-cylinder jalopy that burps soot, is loud, and isn’t even cheap. Compared to you and your darn good recruiting team, which everyone understands, is the product of a hundred years of experimentation and optimization, has ecosystems devoted to it, and has a obvious cost/benefit curve, why would anyone invest in employer branding?

It’s hard to ask that question when we live 110 years after the introduction of the Model T. We know how it all plays out: cars, while crazy and expensive, drop quickly in price. People realize selling gas and tires is a solid way to build businesses. More players get involved to support cars with new ideas like wipers and seatbelts. The government invests in roads designed around cars. And here we are: a world of cars, not horses.

This might be a long way to go to explain how employer brand is the change within the recruiting system. On its face, it can seem strange to invest in something that is more “expensive,” isn’t nearly as well-optimized, doesn’t have clear metrics attached to it, often doesn’t have a clear place within the organization, and doesn’t have the authority to actually get done what it is expected to do.

But this isn’t an accident. The car was a radical departure from the horse and it eventually succeeded because it could do things a horse could not. It could travel farther and faster, carry more people, haul more stuff, and become a part of a complex web of infrastructure (roads, train rail gauges, shipping container dimensions, fuel and safety standards, and driver training and certification) to launch the second wave of the industrial revolution and begin what we think of as the modern world.

We had maxxed out what could be done with horses. A faster horse would never have changed the world. It had to be different in order to achieve different outcomes.

Employer brand isn’t just strange and different; it is different by design. It is different intentionally. It doesn’t fit within recruiting because it is based on a marketing mindset. It doesn’t fit in marketing because it is focusing on candidate quality rather than customer quantity. It doesn’t fit into internal communications because it is external facing. It is an idea that is so different, it looks and feels like an outlier wherever it lives.

To a recruiter, every problem looks like a recruiting problem. But some problems can’t be solved with more recruiting power. They are more systemic and strategic, requiring solutions that see the entire company rather than the req to be filled. They need different thinking.

Which makes sense why employer-brand professionals are a different breed altogether. They are bringing a completely different set of tools and thinking to bear on the recruiting and hiring problem. Their focus isn’t just on candidates, but on the entire ecosystem (candidates, recruiters, employees, hiring managers, third-party resources, etc).

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And because they are different, they can achieve very different outcomes.

Some of you are EB pros, and you get this and you’re cheering me on. But some of you are recruiters and you can feel that something needs to be done beyond “more recruiters” or “more tools.” You’re searching for something different, but because you’re a recruiter, you might not know how to put your finger on that need, or know how to express that need to the powers that be. Or maybe you’re a business leader, and you see the hardships of hiring ahead of you and know that doing the recruiter dance the way you’ve always done it isn’t going to work as well now, and even less so tomorrow.

What you are looking for is a revolution in hiring. A way of starting with a clean sheet of paper and developing your entire hiring process from the ground up. But maybe you don’t know where to start.

That’s why I (along with help from many, many others), wrote the Employer Brand Manifesto. I want hiring (your hiring, my hiring, everyone’s hiring) to cast off the chains of “number of reqs” and “time to fill” metrics and butts-in-seats thinking that keeps us stuck in an old model.

If we want to get beyond the horse, we need to invest more deeply in what’s next. And employer brand thinking is how you and your company can start harder conversations with your fellow recruiters, your boss, and your business leaders on how to reinvent hiring. This is how you rethink your goals as an organization. This is how you establish the recruiting function as a core business driver, not as a cost center.

Employer branding is different from recruiting on purpose, so it needs to be invested in differently. It needs to be used differently. That different perspective and thinking is how recruiting will be able to change the game and attract and hire people smarter and more efficiently. Employer brand is how pretty darn good recruiters will be able fix their unfixable problems.