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You Don’t Have a Recruiting Problem

 by Erin Osterhaus of the The New Talent Times blog at

If you’re not getting the quantity or quality of job applicants you want, you might think you have a recruiting problem. But rather than spend time working on efforts like re-wording your job descriptions to make them more exciting, or looking for yet another job board to post them on, you might instead consider approaching your recruiting problem as a marketing problem. Here’s how to apply four basic strategies marketers use to win new customers to help you win more and better candidates.

Build Awareness Among Candidates

Companies with little to no name recognition have it tough when it comes to recruiting. All else being equal, most candidates would rather pursue a job with a company they’ve heard of, rather than the one they haven’t. Posting job vacancies in all the usual places isn’t going to get you noticed. Your best bet: try an unusual tactic.

For instance, BBDO, an advertising company attempting to recruit talented young copywriters, created “The World’s First Napkin Book” and stuck it on lunch trays in universities to build awareness among young literature students. It worked. They got 15 times more applications the month after the campaign launched than the previous month.

Instill Preference to Work For You

Marketers would tell you that creating awareness is only part of the challenge. You also have to instill preference–candidates have to want to work for you.

Military and intelligence agencies worldwide know this all too well. In the face of declining recruitment levels, they’ve turned to video games to boost excitement about working for them. GCHQ, a U.K. government intelligence agency, embedded ad campaigns in Xbox Live games to get the attention of agile-minded 18-34 year olds. Meanwhile, the New Zealand government created its own video game to attract applicants to the Kiwi army. Even the U.S. Army has long been involved in the production of video games, with the intent of increasing its appeal to young men.

Stand Out From The Crowd

Generally, most companies make it a high priority to differentiate themselves from competitors, in all regards. The same is true when recruiting. To attract employees that stand out, you, as a company, have to stand out. But as James Clift, CEO of KarmaHire, explains, that’s hard to do. “There’s nine billion dollars spent on recruitment advertising a year, and there’s all these amazing companies out there, and they really just all look the same right now with their job postings.”

Although your company might have a great work culture, so great that employees actually want to go to work in the morning, the job description–and even the job itself–might be similar to jobs offered by your competitors. One thing that can make you stand out from your peers: culture and values. While Google might have jobs similar to those at other companies, what makes it stand out is its culture.

As a lesser-known company, communicating what makes you different is a bit more difficult. Companies like KarmaHire are making it easier for employers to attract people who believe in your company’s mission and values. As Clift says “The more you tell your story, the better people you attract.”

And since the most direct way to let applicants know your story is usually through your website’s job page, Karmahire is reinventing the job post. As Clift says, “We let companies create, instead of a job post, a really awesome landing page for their job that showcases their culture, their work environment, and what makes them unique.”

Make The Process Challenging–And Fun

Good marketers know how to attract target customers with the right messages, delivered in the right way. Recruiters need to do the same. And since CEOs value creativity as “the most important competency for the successful enterprise of the future,” the recruiting and application process needs to mirror the applicants you’re trying to attract.

John Sullivan, a recruiting consultant and professor of Management at San Francisco State University, has written on the best ways to recruit innovative, creative people. He argues that current hiring processes are sometimes so structured that they “punish” individuals attempting to be creative during the application process.

Wibidata has developed a playful recruiting process that attracts applicants while screening them at the same time. This software development company created a unique careers page on its site, designed not only to attract a larger quantity of applicants in the highly competitive tech sector, but also to filter out the best candidates–all through a custom version of Portal 1, a popular videogame.

The game requires players to solve a series of puzzles before moving on to the next level. Those who complete the most levels are therefore the victors–and probably the best candidates for the jobs Wibidata is offering.

The tech sector’s not the only one trying to create space for candidates to shine in the application process. MasterCard launched a campaign last year to find great interns for its advertising department. The company asked applicants to “creatively” promote the benefits of a cashless society. The result: 350 qualified applicants, compared to its usual yield of 20-30 applications for advertising jobs.

By challenging candidates to create original material–YouTube videos, blogs, Twitter campaigns, etc.–rather than complete a standard form application, not only did MasterCard effectively get the attention of potential candidates, but the application process became part of the interview. Applicants were allowed to showcase their skills and knowledge in the way they best saw fit, and the results were some pretty great interns for the advertising department.

What have we learned? Like Liz Ryan of the Human Workplace recently said: “The recruiting process is broken.” Traditional recruiting isn’t enough anymore. The typical job board posting just won’t suffice. If you want your candidates to be outstanding, you need to be outstanding.