inigo_montoyaThere’s a cottage industry out there of industry analysts, speakers, consultants and bloggers dedicated to the HR and recruiting industry, and the fact is, these “experts” must be seeing something I don’t see about the industry they’re covering.

The thing is, I don’t really understand how, exactly, so many people get so much mileage on talking about something as simple as selling jobs, which, of course, is still an over simplification, but seems to be what most of this stuff boils down to.

I mean, how hard is it to close someone on something that everyone needs?

Why is there such a focus on tools and technology instead of the fundamental stuff like getting better at building relationships and business alignment? How hard is really to find candidates in the age of social and search, really? How come recruiters spend so much time talking about really obvious stuff like “candidate experience” or “mobile recruiting?”

I would think not treating people like shit as a professional would just kind of be common sense, similar to the fact that, uh, yeah, people use their cell phones to access the internet and don’t think twice about it. Recruiters, on the other hand, obsess over this simple stuff. I can’t figure it out, but then again, here’s the thing.

I don’t know the space.

What Am I Missing?

quote-about-if-you-dont-know-where-youre-going-any-road-will-get-you-thereIf you’re a recruiter, you know how important relevant industry experience is – whether it’s your hiring manager bitching about how you don’t really “get” whatever vertical you happen to be working in, or a candidate calling you out during a screen on the fact that you clearly don’t know much about what they really do. And they have questions for someone who really needs to “get the industry” – whatever the hell that means.

And one of the biggest challenges is that when it comes to getting this industry, I just don’t see, I suppose, what there is to get. And have no idea where to even look to better “know the space” that I’ve been floating in for most of my career.

Now, when it comes to focusing on consumer marketing initiatives directed at selling child care to harried moms, I can safely assert that photos of cute puppies and babies are always a winner, and if you can combine the two, you’ll drive sign-ups.

Yeah, I know you’re thinking, no shit, Sherlock, but that’s kind of how most of us feel about, say, “big data.” Really, you can make better business decisions by using statistical instead of anecdotal evidence? Fire me up a white paper, stat.

I also know that if you’re working to translate what those users are saying to the developers running point on your product team, you’d be better off making some joke about an obscure programming language or inserting a Tolkien allusion or reference to your WoW guild.

These are industries I know, spaces I get – because ultimately, I’ve spent my career working in inbound marketing long before it became co-opted as a recruitment-related trending topic, and I know that it really all comes back to that basic precept: you’ve got to know who your audience is if you want to compellingly convince them to answer your call to action. People who have actually done a job or are a subject matter expert in a particular industry or specialized function, for instance, are likely to have better instincts about what people like them are interested in than anyone in marketing.

They know what’s going to add value, what they really like and what topics they just don’t give a crap about – and hopefully, that’s reflected in creating content that actually makes people care enough to click. This isn’t easy, but everyone thinks they can write copy or do social. Anyone can do this, or so most people who haven’t done this kind of work think.

Just because you’re a consumer doesn’t mean you know how to market to them; similarly, recruiters know that just because you’ve been involved in some aspect of the hiring process doesn’t mean you actually knows what goes on behind the curtain. Looks can be deceiving, which is why in this respect, I’ve always looked at recruiters as something like kindred spirits, and know better than to think I know the first thing about how hard making a hire must be. Thing is, I’d like to.

Who Are You People?

i-do-not-know-youI’ve put in a fair share of my career now into the recruiting industry, but most of that tenure was spent working directly with the job seekers who serve as the primary consumers of the talent acquisition space, working in marketing roles for companies like VisualCV and Monster Worldwide. Which was great exposure, sure, but let’s face it, I didn’t learn a whole lot about recruiting talking to active job seekers, resume writers and career coaches.

So, suddenly, I find myself in this gig at Recruiting Daily, and I know it’s time I figured out what the hell it is you all really do, and what you’re really about.

Yeah, yeah. I know that’s a cliche – “what’s on your mind?” or “make your voice heard!” makes me sick, too. It’s classic marketing speak for, “I’m about to ask you to take a survey,” and it’s lame.

Almost as lame as the recruiters who send out a bunch of automated tweets and spammy templated e-mails telling you to “Apply today!” or “Join Our Talent Community!”  or whatever it is lazy recruiters say when they’re choosing automation over personalization, and reach over relevance. These approaches never work in consumer marketing, either, by the way – just in case you’re still wasting your time on this shit.

And don’t be scared. I promise I’m not going to ask you to fill out some survey or download anything at the end of this article. Just so you know, because I know marketing spin, and I know cloying copy or overt hard selling is a turn off. I’ve worked in this space since before I even graduated college – like most of you fell into recruiting, I stumbled onto this strange line of work – and put in my time in my early career at the birthplace of cheezy content and crappy copywriting: an ad agency.

Since then, I’ve worked in-house as a marketer for the last six years, and for some reason, most of that time has been dedicated to marketing to the recruiting and staffing industries. Hey, it’s a pretty hot market for marketing. I’ve done my fair share of blog posts about talent trends, live tweeting from industry events and writing how tos for this audience, but the truth is, I’ve never actually sourced or recruited a candidate.

But because I know the buzzwords – and luckily, thanks to Charney, a pretty decent BS detector for figuring out what’s actually living up to the hype, and what’s kind of just hot air. But everything I’ve really learned about recruiting has come directly from content marketing – and because I don’t know any better when it comes to this business. I just know marketing.

And if you think the two worlds are just now colliding, bad news: marketing and recruiting met a long time ago. I know, I’ve been reading blogs like this one since 2009, and I’d argue one of the biggest consumers of recruiting related content out there who’s never actually filled a req before. See? I am not even sure what the hell that even means. All I know is, you don’t necessarily need to know the space before cranking out content about it.

I’d just like to maybe get to know what recruiters actually do when they’re not on social, a conference or any of the skewed view I get being a marketing professional on the outside, looking in, and wondering what the hell is actually going on.

5 Things Content Marketing Taught Me About Recruiting

contentmarketingI can confidently assert that anything I know about great recruiting, I’ve learned from great content marketing. Because that’s the only way to get information about an industry that’s as insular and purposefully enigmatic as this one.Here’s what I’ve learned so far (I think).

1. Tell A Great Story

Great recruiters tell a damn good story. Don’t believe me? Buy a ticket to this year’s HR Technology Conference. Hell, just show up at the Mandalay that week and stop by a bar in the lobby for a little bit.

You’ll be surrounded by the kind of people who love nothing better than telling a big fish story with someone else who does this stuff for a living – and you’ll see that, even though they’re not worth listening to half of the time, these guys know how to sell even the most extravagant or extraneous of anecdotes.

That it might not have ever happened, for some reason doesn’t stop anyone from selling it. And after a few drinks and a few hands, you’ll probably end up buying it – or at least, almost believing that same sad spiel, too.

That quality is something I see in common when I think about a great recruiter – it’s someone who can sell you on a dream, and make work come across as aspirational instead of apathetic. We spend, what, 25% of our lives at work every week, at least, and like half of our waking hours at the office, dedicated to doing our jobs.

That dedication gets called into question immediately when a recruiter calls – because that ask is asking someone to surrender the security of the known, even if it is mundane, to consider not only changing jobs, but also to risk doing so on some unknown entity that’s got to be worth altering their everyday lives to take a chance working for.

That’s a really hard job, and no small task, but the best recruiters can tell a story – whether it’s on the phone or in a job description – that paints that picture convincingly enough to get a passive candidate to consider making a move. Because when you’re more or less selling a dream, stories are more or less the only thing you’ve got.

2. Looks Matter.

No, I’m not talking about physical appearance; I’m talking about employer branding, that most trendy of trending topics. But easy as it seems to dismiss this as a marketer or recruiter – after all, it should be about the ends, not the means – the fact is that reputation matters, and recruiters aren’t the only ones running background checks and running references during hte hiring process any more. Candidates want more than a job – they want a career destination. And, increasingly, the difference between recruiting success and failure really comes down to reputation.

Recruiters are catching on – and know that if their Glassdoor scores suck or if candidates or employees are sharing bad experiences with your employer brand on social, than their job is only going to get harder, and that there’s no escaping the fact that no matter how good a closer a recruiter might be,  they can’t recruit a candidate who won’t even call them back because of an employer’s crappy reputation.

3. Test Everything. Then Test It Again.

Just like great marketing, which involves continuous iteration – A/B testing being a good example – in order to drive results, great recruiters are always looking for new things to try, test and break. That’s where the best sourcing hacks and direct sourced hires always come from, after all – you’ll never beat the competition by recruiting the same way they do.

Recruiters obviously don’t go as crazy as marketers into the minutiae, probably because they’re working with much more limited systems and process flexibility, but knowing which of two job titles is going to generate the most qualified click throughs or which social networks or job boards you should be spending your time and budget on is something that great recruiters intrinsically understand.

They know how to personalize their style, alter course or adopt new strategies based on real time results, and are always willing to try something new, but know when it’s time to stop doing something that’s not working, too. They know there’s always something to learn, because this is one thing you can never really know everything about, since everything’s always changing so fast. In recruiting and marketing alike.

4. Content Is King

ShitContentYeah, I know. Another marketing cliche. Sorry, guys, but I warned you. Look, great recruiters don’t have to be great writers, and they most certainly don’t have to be awesome bloggers, but the thing is, no matter how they’re communicating – whether that’s through Instagram or InMail – has to be content people are actually going to care enough to spend time on.

The best content works on every channel, and you can repurpose accordingly to get the most mileage out of stuff like job descriptions or employee videos without having to constantly create a ton of new content or reinvent the wheel every time you open a search.

Now, you know what content doesn’t work in recruiting? Those assholes whose entire “social media strategy” is auto tweeting a job title and location through some feed, like that needle in a haystack candidate is somehow going to see that and think, yes. This is where I want to build my career.

Seriously, don’t be that guy. It’s like that guy who drinks half a beer and starts yelling about how wasted he is. It’s annoying, and the few people who pay you any attention hate you for it.

5. If the Idea Is Good, You Don’t Have To Be First.

Recruiters tend to be a bit, uh, competitive, so I know this sounds strange to a ton of you: being second sometimes, though, is OK. Seriously. I learned this lesson from one of the best marketing minds I’ve ever worked with in my career, who taught me early on that the best strategy for adopting new technology was to sit back and watch everyone else swing for the fences, first. Don’t do something because it’s new.

Do things because you know it worked.

Remember back in the day when everyone was first on Twitter and there were all those cautionary tales of people and brands just screwing themselves for not really realizing how this network worked? People who meant well, but still got either shit canned or created a PR nightmare because they very publically discovered they were not, in fact, doing it right.

While it’s always a good idea to take a chance, it’s also OK to sit back and watch before jumping in headfirst. Always make sure you have a business case, just in case. Great recruiters, like great marketers, know this, and know that the next or newest thing isn’t always the best thing for them.

Whether it’s a new SaaS solution or social recruiting tool, you’ve got to treat tech with a little skepticism, even if that means ignoring the proverbial wisdom of crowds (which is rarely conventional when recruiters are involved). I see this all the time on our Secret Sourcing Group on Facebook – yeah, it’s a secret, but if you’re still reading this, you really deserve to join (click here). If you think a new tool is worth checking out, just ask one of these many groups of your peers – they’ll set you straight. Which is pretty cool,.

And it’s in that spirit I’ve seen where recruiters seem willing to help each other out by openly providing their own perspectives, advice and experience with each other, I want to ask if I got any of this stuff right. Are any of the five points I’ve identified on point? Or was all this time I spent learning about recruiting by reading and writing about it a total waste of time?

Bigger than that, here’s my question: What do I not know about recruiting and sourcing that I should know? I want that “gets the industry” stamp of approval from you guys – our community – who’s actually out there recruiting every day. After all, I’m just a marketer.

But I’m really trying to learn.

By Katrina Kibben

RecruitingDaily contributing writer and editor.  I am a storyteller. A tactical problem solver. A curious mind. A data nerd. With that unique filter, I work to craft messages that strategically improve the perceptions and experiences of our clients, the people they employ and the candidates they wish to attract. I methodically review and collect research and insights to offer solution-based recommendations that meet the one-off, and not so one-off, recruiting and employer branding problems of today's global employers.