Candidates are the future of recruitment. And you won't have any.

For as long as I remember (and in recruitment, that is a very, very long time) getting good candidates has always been about getting their attention.

Way back in the day, all newspapers were bulging with job-classified sections. Seriously, I remember the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age job sections were way thicker than the rest of the paper combined! It was the same across the world. And it was all a mad attention-grab to stand out from the pack, and get a job-seeker to see your Ad.

Recruiters used to fight over positioning on the page, and spend hours training consultants on how to write compelling headlines. It was a ‘job beauty pageant’.

Indeed, in those days we used to pay a premium to get our ads out of the classifieds and into the main news section (The Early General News, as it was called) and the logic there was we would get away from the hurly-burly of the classifieds, and stand out as a juicy job, easy to spot in a page of news articles.

The Internet changed nothing. Classifieds just moved online, and we continued our mad scramble to get noticed. Getting the candidate attention was everything.

And it got even blunter. At Recruitment Solutions, I recall spending tens of thousands of dollars on giant railway platform posters, screaming out on three-meter high billboards, for commuters to “look at me, look at me! Have I got a job for you!” I remember seeing similar advertising on the tube stations of London at the time.

Job leaflets were handed out at stations. Some recruiters advertised on radio and TV, and even football team jerseys. All of it, a massive contest to grab attention.

And maybe we got a tiny bit more sophisticated in more recent times, with SEO and digital candidate identification tactics, followed up by in-mails and emails and texts. But even social media is used by most employers as a blunt tool, to advertise jobs, seldom to engage and build awareness and brand.

But no matter the mode, the tactic has always been the same. It’s a contest to get the attention of those elusive candidates.

And it is wrong.

Or at least it’s becoming less effective.

The fact is, job seekers are now behaving like consumers. And so, for smart recruiters to secure the best talent, we have to take a lesson from mainstream consumer marketing.

Hear me on this, please. It’s the most important thing you will read about candidate acquisition for quite some time. Maybe ever.

It’s no longer about gaining the candidate attention any more.

It’s about knowing their intention!

Yes, that’s right. We actually need to know what a candidate plans to do before he or she does it.

That’s what the ‘big data’ battle is all about, after all.

In our case we need to be so sophisticated in our talent acquisition strategies, that we are aware of the next step a candidate plans to make, and can act accordingly.

What do I mean? Well it’s cocktail of strategies, but it will include:

  • Use of automated marketing software and big data tools, to track the online behaviour of potential recruits, so we gain insights to their intentions. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Nor out of reach of the average recruitment business. Years ago, at Firebrand Talent Search, we used technology to track the online behaviour of visitors to our website and other digital assets. We knew what blogs they read, what recruiter profiles they perused, and what jobs they looked at, even if they did not apply. That allows you to then market those job-types directly to a candidate, or be more proactive and call them with a plum role that you already know they will be interested in! (We also knew a lot about our clients online behaviour but that’s another tale).
  • Investment in a talent community online, so that you can engage with prospective candidates, long before they are ready to move or they are ready to apply for anything. I see debate about whether online talent communities actually exist, usually from theorists and naysayers who have never actually built one. I have. Several in fact. It works. And it means you are building up relationships with people who have not applied for a job. Not even looking. Not even ‘registered’ with you. But they share their plans over time, or give a hint as to their objectives. Or maybe they actually do contact you when they are thinking about a move, but before they talk to anyone else. And that is the Holy Grail in a world of skills shortages. Candidates that are unique to you. Just in case you need convincing about the value of online ‘talent communities’, in 2012 Firebrand Talent Search made about 700 hundred permanent placements (across 10 offices), at an average fee of $16,000 AUD. 50 % of those placed candidates came from our social media built talent community. If you care to do the arithmetic, that is 350 x $16,000, which is  $5,600,000.  Reflect on that number next time you ponder social recruiting ROI, or question whether ‘talent communities’ exist.
  • A candidate-care program that is not lip service, hypocrisy and waffle, and is actually built on a culture of CRM. And for me, CRM is a purpose-built Candidate Relationship Management system, where consultants are trained and rewarded for actually engaging with people over the long term. They build up powerful alliances with candidates that are placed in temp jobs multiple times over decades, or placed in permanent roles several times through their careers. This will never happen with the majority of recruiters of course, as it requires a total paradigm shift about what is important in recruitment.

The fact is, candidates are the future of success in recruitment. Impending skills shortages will make sure of that. If you rely on candidates proactively approaching you, you will fail. Clients will only pay us fees if we can access unique talent they can’t find themselves.

So talent acquisition is no longer about gaining the attention of the candidates currently already on the job market. It’s knowing their intentions, and using that knowledge to give our clients what they cannot get via their internal teams, their own database, their own social strategies, and their own employer brand, all of which are lined up to give third-party recruiters an almighty kick in the figurative nuts.

If you have read this far, I thank and congratulate you. I don’t hold out much hope that many owners of recruitment companies will act on the advice in this article. Even if they agree with it. And that is because our industry is hamstrung by ‘shortermism’. This month’s target. This quarters budget. I want to run an Ad now, or make a head hunt call now, so I have a candidate to place in my vacant order today! I get it. But what about tomorrow? You plan to be in business in a year don’t you? In two years? What will you do when your candidate acquisition techniques no longer work?

I will say it again. Build a candidate acquisitions strategy around candidate INTENTION. Not getting their ATTENTION.

I have to admit, reluctantly, that at least some of the inspiration for this article came over a breakfast I had with Chris Savage, who in the course of a long, boring monologue on the advertising industry, did say a few interesting things about consumer marketing. He apparently writes a mediocre blog, which no one reads, called, ‘Wrestling Possums’. Give it a sympathy-read, won’t you?

This article originally published on The Savage Truth

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