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Recruiting strategy: 3 tips to change from tactic-driven to strategy-driven

James EllisJuly 17, 2017AwarenessRecruitment Campaigns

You're falling behind.

Well, more to the point, it feels like you're falling behind.

You are spending lots of money on a seemingly unending list of tactics you can barely keep straight and if you looked at your inbox right now there are dozens of people trying to sell you even more. And the best news? New companies are launching every day with tools they are sure you need.

But you still feel like you're falling behind.

Go ahead, pilot yet another new project. Dip your toe in this project or that tool. Test the tenth idea to see if anyone cares. Spread the peanut butter ever thinner to the point of near abstraction. Spend more money and get less in return. And enjoy that conversation with your boss when they want to see how things are going.

When it comes to recruitment marketing, tactical thinking is a trap. It drives you step by merciless step towards the mediocre section in the middle of the pack. It nips at your heels like a small dog, encouraging you down the path paved with good tricks and hacks.

Why is that? Because tactics are for sale to anyone. Think investing in Snapchat puts you on the cutting edge? Wrong. Dozens of companies are helping thousands of companies try Snapchat. Think video job descriptions are is cutting edge? There are companies selling those services to anyone willing to pay. Tactics are for sale, so relying on them is building your house on shifting sand.

Tactics only work in service of a strategy, never for their own sake. But so many companies get so focused on telling the story of how they are leveraging this new tactic or that new tactic, they forget the core of idea of what recruiting is all about: attracting and hiring the right candidate, not just trying to spread a message far and wide. Their day to day is peppered with all those companies selling them the "next big tool in recruiting" that they never take ten seconds to think why they might need it.

Need proof? Who's the number one most desired employer in the world for years now? No need to say the name out loud, as we all know who they are and there's no need to give them any more link juice. But do you think they spend their time worrying about whether they should have a [insert your tactic du jour here, be it Slack channel, automated bot, Facebook jobs application process, Snapchat filter, hyper-targeted or lookalike ad targeting, etc. etc. etc.]? No. They post jobs, run anyone who shows talent through a gauntlet of interviews, turn almost everyone down, and still get all the applicants they need. This company isn't tactic-driven, and they are insanely successful.

In fact, the companies who recruit best are strategy-driven, connecting tactics to a core strategy rather than thinking up tactics and trying to duct tape them to an ad hoc strategy later on. Instead of working with vendors who sell the next big whatever, they work with companies who establish strategic partnerships. Strategic thinking means having a rationale for why a given new tactic makes sense to leverage. There's nothing wrong with leveraging video job descriptions when it connects to the larger strategy.

Here's three steps to change your thinking from tactic-driven to strategy-driven so you know when to launch that new idea or tactic with confidence that it serves the larger strategy.

Quality Over Quantity

First, remember that recruitment marketing is a game of quality instead of quantity. The mistake so many make is to treat the concept of recruitment marketing as "marketing for recruiting" instead of "recruitment-focused marketing." It may seem like a quibble, but it really isn't. Marketing's primary motivation is to create the largest possible audience. Marketing is amazing at selling iPods and tacos and detergent and cars. Marketing doesn't care who you are it just cares that you have a dollar to buy a taco. You could be a drug-dealer on the run from the law and other cartels, but if you've got a buck, we've got a taco for you.

Recruitment cares very, very, very deeply about who it sells to. If you don't believe me, send the first person who applies for a job to the hiring manager. Chances are, that person doesn't even meet the most basic qualifications. Do it enough times and the hiring manager will be asking for a new recruiter.

Look at how we measure marketing versus recruitment marketing. If you're selling tacos and you sell a million tacos, you're getting a raise. If you're selling a role and you get a million applications, you're getting fired. The goal of marketing is to bring as many customers to the table with money in hand. The goal of recruitment marketing is to get the best candidate to apply. Quality versus quantity.

This is important because we too often attempt to take successful marketing tools and tactics and graft them onto our work, forgetting they are geared towards selling as many tacos as possible. Sure, it may seem cool to think that you'll double the number of applicants to a given role, but pity the poor recruiter who's got to go looking for a needle and you just made the haystack bigger.

Prescription: Start having the quality conversation now. Bring hiring managers and recruiters together and talk about the reason why you are bringing them fewer candidates and why that serves them. Their initial instinct might be demand quantity, but you can use candidates from your ATS to prove your point. Survey everyone and ask this simple question: Would you rather have a thousand random applicants or three amazing ones? When everyone is on the same page, the conversation about if, when and how to use a tactic like Snapchat or will become far more focused.

Be Different

Second, you need to define a meaningful difference between your company and others. Marketing was built in a world where they had to create a fake difference between nearly identical soaps and detergents, Post Toasties and Corn Flakes. When you and your competition are effectively offering the same product, you need to articulate those differences.

Look back at the Mad Men pilot and watch Don Draper figure out how to market cigarettes. They were the same as all the other brands, and in a last-ditch effort, the entire marketing campaign ends up being "It's toasted." Are all the other tobacco companies toasting their product? Yes! But when you've got nothing to differentiate yourself, you have to pretend.

Just like when you tell the world that you stand for customer satisfaction (show me a company who doesn't care at some level about customer satisfaction), but don't have anything significant that makes it clear how different you are. Companies like Zappos and Nordstroms are known for their amazing customer service, not because they talk about customer service on their website, but because of the amazing limits they will go to in order to make a customer happy. Their value is defined by what they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it.

Are you as willing to meet the same standards set by these companies? No? So you're an also-ran. Not exactly "differentiated."

From a recruiting brand, every company says they have an amazing culture, top-notch benefits, excellent management and a fun office. But they say it in a way is perfunctory. It's a check-box they have to check. Or worse, it's the thing they say because they've drank the kool-aid and are desperate for you to think their mediocre culture and same-old-same-old management is somehow special. And every person who joins gets to have that moment a few weeks after they join and realize the bitter truth. Which is right about when they leave their first Glassdoor review.

Who are you really? What do you stand for? What are you amazing at? Give people what they are desperately searching for: a why. Why should they work for you? 18-20MM businesses in the US alone, why pick you? If you're not seen as a top company around a given idea, whatever that idea, value, goal, etc might be, you're stuck in the mediocre middle.

Prescription: Take your employer brand (or corporate mission if that's all you have access to) and ask recruiters and hiring managers to identify the concept or idea that makes your company different, that makes the experience of working here different from other companies. Test that idea by comparing that quality or attribute against the best of the best and see if it still holds water. Tell everyone that they can't leave the meeting until they define a single way they are better or different than anyone they compete with in the talent space.

Be Loud, Be Heard

Third, to complete the core of an effective recruitment marketing strategy, you need to build your communication around what makes you different so that you are actively trying to drive away as many poorly-fitting candidates as you can. If you appreciate the value of focusing on on quality over quantity and you have a sincere and authentic reason why, you need to make sure people hear and understand it.

Every single one of us has at least one company you'd never work for, regardless of title or salary. Whether it's the professional equivalent of PETA or the NRA, there's a company you abhor. And you know what? That company wouldn't want you anyway. You wouldn't be a fit, you wouldn't value what they value. You wouldn't align to the same mission.

But if you're applying to a company that isn't very vocal about where it stands, how will you learn? If you're applying to a 15-person boutique agency, how will you know that the owner is a long-time Trump supporter or hugs trees on the weekends? In a company that small, the owner has an outsized impact on the culture and mission of the company, but you won't sense it until you've been on the job a few weeks.

That lack of communication hurts both sides. As a candidate, they've wasted time and energy, potentially even other offers to take a job they are doomed in - and for the company, the cost to find and train that employee will never be actualized. As soon as the candidate can find another offer, even a sub-optimal one, they're going to bolt like a rabbit.

Most companies hide who they are. They are so scared that in a talent - competitive world, spooking anyone is one less potential candidate to hire. But again, if they get spooked by your basic mission or employer brand, would they have ever made a quality hire? Your goal in communicating who you are and what your employer brand authentically is, isn't to make everyone love you (even that company everyone seems to want to work for has millions of detractors who would never work there), but to make the right people fall in love.

In a world of 7.5 billion people, if only 5% of the world gets what you do, that's still 375 million potential applicants. Don't think about having 3 billion people who are vaguely positive about you, focus on trying to make 1% (still 75 million people!) be raving fans. The numbers will actually be in your favor.

This area is where most tactics generally end up being used: to communicate that authentic core of who you are to people. Snapchat (or Slack or programmatic media or bots or AI or whatever) is only a tool. Knowing how to use a hammer doesn't make you a carpenter let alone tell you how to build a house. But when you understand the lengths to which you will go to satisfy a customer or change the world or get to Mars, these tactics suddenly can be focused on getting the right message to the right person.

Prescription: Take that attribute or brand from the previous step and create stories that illustrate and define that concept. If you're all about employee engagement, what lengths have you gone to in order to engage an employee. While you'll quickly find stories that show the idea of, look for the outlier, the story that almost seems crazy or outlandish but proves your point. That's the story that will get shared and plant the seed of an authentic employer brand in candidates' minds.

Putting It All Together

Taken together, the concepts of understanding who your audience really should be (not just "everyone who could conceivably do the job"), the unique value you offer a specific candidate and connecting those two ideas with a message that resonates is really Marketing 101, but designed for the realities of the recruiting world. When you know your audience, you know where they are, what they read, what they care about and how to find them. You won't be fishing with a wide net hoping to get lucky, but targeting great talent who will likely understand your uniqueness and appreciate it. You will not be filling desks, but creating chemistry between two unique entities.

This only happens because you've establishing a recruiting strategy around the authentic core of what your business is all about and how that connects with a very select group of people.

Without a core strategy and a strategic partner who understands how to leverage that strategy, you are a leaf on the wind, being pushed in this direction or that by fads in technology or recruitment fashion. Every added tactic will only water down what you're trying to say and disconnect you from the people who want to learn about you. You will be seen as an easy target for companies looking to sell you the next big thing. Your budget conversations with your boss will become less and less fun.

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