The Next Frontier in Talent Acquisition Is Marketing

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 10.27.13 AMIn the next two to five years the top employers of choice will be the organizations that consistently communicate an authentic employer brand story and value proposition that wins the attention of highly specialized talent and compels them to follow, engage, and ultimately join (and stay) on their teams.

To tell the right story and deliver on their employer brand promise, chief human resources officers and talent acquisition leaders must evolve their recruitment marketing strategy with a tighter focus on building longer-term relationships with the right candidates. To do this, talent acquisition leaders will need strong marketing competencies within the talent acquisition function, a measurable process, and purpose-built technology. In this piece, I focus on the urgency to strengthen marketing competencies within the talent acquisition function and offer my tips for how to get started.

Analyst Josh Bersin nailed it in his 2014 trends piece: “The war for talent is over. The talent won.”

Not only is that brilliantly succinct, it’s ridiculously accurate. As global economies continue improving, my discussions with talent acquisition leaders increasingly include what I call “the consumerization of the candidate experience.”

Naturally, the increased demand for specific skills gives the most coveted talent exponentially more choices when evaluating potential employers. Add unfettered access to all types of information about employer brands, and we can’t be surprised by the logical result: talent is shopping for their next employer like they shop for consumer goods. Considering that 92 percent of people believe friends and family over marketing hype for consumer brands, it’s wise for talent acquisition leaders to assume the same for marketing the employer brand. Just like consumers trust reviews more than ads, 48 percent of job seekers say reviews posted on Glassdoor in the last six months have the most impact on their perception of the employer brand.

Candidates Are in Control – – but You Already Know This

In light of this reality, the role of the recruiter has evolved dramatically. Acting more like talent advisors, recruiting is less about the one-and-done permanency of the past and more about brokering the right career opportunities at precisely the right moment when qualified candidates are ready for their next move. As recruiters position themselves to successfully sync experience-hungry talent with opportunity, they will need to rely on maintaining longer relationships nurtured over many more touch-points before a candidate is ready to apply.

This is where talent acquisition leaders have an incredible opportunity: to dramatically improve the workforce and overall business performance by proactively attracting and nurturing relationships with qualified talent well before opportunities are available. Ultimately, talent acquisition teams must execute a modern recruitment marketing strategy that embraces the consumerization of the candidate experience and systematically nurtures talent through the marketing funnel starting with word-of-mouth brand awareness and ultimately ending in the consideration to apply.

Without a doubt, the opportunity to proactively meet the talent needs of the business resonates with the leaders I speak with, but there is another constant theme in our conversations — the HUGE skills gap they’re wrestling with. While most organizations have built talent acquisition functions that are efficient at screening and selecting, they remain weak in the type of targeted attraction and long-term relationship nurturing that is paramount to making them competitive from this point forward.

Translation: talent acquisition teams lack marketing chops.

To bridge the internal skills gap, most talent acquisition leaders have relied on outsourcing marketing functions, or relied on other parts of the business to execute the “marketing part” of their recruitment strategies. (Understandable given how fast technology and the talent landscape continue to change.) That said, modern recruiting requires talent acquisition teams to be as data-driven and brand-led as marketing from here on out.

In order to create branded campaigns and effectively nurture longer-term relationships with the right talent, new skills need to enter the recruiting and talent acquisition department. Skills related to branding, messaging, demand generation, content marketing, email marketing, lead nurturing, and social media come to mind. Unfortunately, until talent acquisition leaders build marketing competency and data analysis within their teams, the process (and results) will remain disjointed with little chance to proactively meet the company’s talent needs and push them to the forefront of modern recruitment marketing.

Newsflash: there is no time to wait.

There is an overwhelming sense amongst CHROs and talent acquisition leaders that it’s time to do things differently. It was palpable at last year’s HR Technology Conference — but even beyond that, the financial actions taken by venture capitalists in 2014 validate the urgency. Investors have put in over $400 million to address one of the largest pain points for any company — hiring. Applicant tracking systems are being systematically complemented with CRM systems and recruitment marketing technologies that overcome the transactional nature of the ATS with more engaging platforms that support a modern way to recruit talent.

Building Marketing Competency in Talent Acquisition

Talent acquisition leaders should be thinking about what can be done at the business level to bring marketing competency and data analysis into the talent acquisition function. Here’s my advice on where to start:

Embrace the consumerization of the candidate experience. Define a modern recruitment marketing strategy that honors how candidates search, find, and engage with the employment brand. As a consumer, think about what drives your own engagement with a brand. I’m betting it includes valuable content, delivered whenever, wherever you want it. Mobile isn’t a channel, it’s a lifestyle. Think about your strategy with a “mobile first” mentality, one that embraces how we consume content and do research in today’s information age. (Altimeter just published some fascinating insights on this here.) As consumers, we search, find, and engage with brands via multiple screens. It’s no different with candidates.

Lay a foundation for execution. To execute on your defined strategy you’ll need to commit to strengthening six core competencies within your talent acquisition team:

  • Brand Building — Communicating your employer brand and value proposition
  • Content Strategy — Creating and curating compelling content and messaging (job descriptions, landing pages, videos, blogs, career sites, etc.)
  • Digital Marketing — Using the full scope of channel mix (job boards, SEM, banner ads, pay per click, etc.)
  • Demand Generation and Nurturing — Segmenting candidate audiences, nurturing campaigns, lead scoring, and ultimately converting at each point throughout the candidate experience journey
  • Social Media  Sharing of content, engaging with candidates, transparency
  • Data Analysis — Capturing trustworthy data, producing the right reports and analytics, and identifying key trends to improve overall results and plan for the future

Take inventory. Maintain talent acquisition domain expertise in terms of evaluation, assessment, and selection — but those strengths are table stakes at this point. To strengthen the competencies listed above, you’ll need to take a realistic assessment of your team’s skills, and identify the skills you’ll need to further develop. While there are subtle differences between traditional marketing and recruitment marketing, the overall process is analogous. So as you advance your strategy, shift your focus on finding talent with creative and analytical marketing expertise like an employer brand manager, a content strategist, or a social media manager. (Side note: before you roll your eyes and tell me you don’t have budget, consider that embracing recruitment marketing as a discipline that complements traditional recruiting will bring greater overall efficiency and effectiveness to the talent acquisition function without needing to add more headcount.)

Gain control of the technology from end to end. I’m a big fan of life-hacking — I love efficiency –but talent acquisition teams shouldn’t waste time hacking marketing automation and CRM tools like Marketo and Salesforce. I’ve witnessed organizations struggling along this route; it slows them down, adds unnecessary complexity, and never improves results. Bottom line: talent acquisition teams need technology built for talent acquisition that supports all recruitment marketing channels, integrates with existing systems such as the ATS, and delivers data-driven insight into the full talent acquisition strategy.

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Position yourself as a proactive resource. Add predictability to the talent supply/demand chain. More than any other leadership role, talent acquisition leaders are in a position to improve the quality of the workforce and overall performance of the business. The only competitive differentiator most organizations have is talent (not only the talent they hire, but the talent they keep).

As the business strategy changes, so does the required talent. As talent acquisition leaders and CHROs, you work with the business units to understand the talent they have and the talent needed to meet their goals. If you are proactively nurturing candidate relationships and empowering recruiters to tap into a receptive bench of good cultural fits, you’re in tight control of the supply as the talent demands change. CEOs across the board are focused on top talent. The voice of talent acquisition has the potential to evolve from reactive and tactical, to proactive and strategic.

Get to know your chief marketing officer. They feel your pain. Get really good at sharing. Content will remain critical in your efforts to create awareness and preference for your employer brand. Just like consumers, candidates take unique journeys toward the employer brand. Along the way, they look for relevant, consumable content that provides value. Take a cue from the CMO and storyboard the unique journeys candidates take as they gravitate towards your brand. As part of that process, map relevant content to their journey — and this is key — find a way to share and repurpose content with marketing.

To help bridge talent acquisition and marketing, talent acquisition teams should look to recruitment marketing technology to make the process of sharing content between the groups seamless, approval-driven and automated. Though you won’t find 100 percent of the content that marketing creates relevant to the candidate experience, a lot of it can be edited to support your needs (enter your content strategist). For example, case studies or brand mission videos make great sense. On top of customer-generated content, you’ll also see employee-generated content heating up in 2015 and much of that fits naturally into the story you’re trying to tell.

The Talent Acquisition Opportunity 

I’m optimistic for talent acquisition leaders and your opportunity to LEAD. The business world is hyper-aware of the importance of a talented, engaged workforce. Simultaneously, leaders are viscerally in touch with how fluid the workforce actually is. By strengthening the marketing competency of the talent acquisition function and embracing the consumerization of the candidate experience — viewing it as opportunity instead of vulnerability — you truly have the power to have an unparalleled impact on the business.

Michael Hennessy

Michael Hennessy is the founder and CEO of SmashFly Technologies, a leading recruitment marketing platform, and has been an industry innovator in the HR recruiting space for the past 15 years, previously working as chief architect for BrassRing. As an expert in recruitment marketing, he helps hundreds of companies leverage marketing best practices and technology to build out data-driven recruiting processes and strategies that consistently meet talent demands.