I don’t think it’s unfair to call spam “the fossil fuel of recruiting” – it’s cheap, it’s easy and it gets the job done. On the other hand, though, it’s non-renewable, non-sustainable and polluting our entire environment while slowly killing us all. This is the price we pay for convenience. Now, let’s get real. The reason that you send spam is because it’s easy.
The reason you never really get any return on investment is because you haven’t actually invested anything, other than putting together some canned company intro and a link to a job description (that’s likely about as uncompelling as the automated send accompanying it).
The only candidates who ever respond are the ones whose resumes show up to every position you post (you know the type) in the first place – you know, the “active” ones that we publically disdain but privately build “talent networks” around?
You can’t get passive candidates with passive tactics, just like you can’t hope to attract top talent with bottom sucking pseudo-strategies like spamming en-masse.
With spam, it’s not about working smarter instead of harder. If you think about it, the entire premise upon which it’s predicated is pretty silly; if this kind of scattershot approach to talent attraction worked as advertised, we’d all still be doubling down on our job board spend. Instead, we’ve moved the push method of “post and pray” to the purported pull of automated e-mails.
Neither work, but at least candidates could ignore crappy job descriptions instead of having them clogging their inbox. This is why people tend to dislike recruiters, as a rule, but you probably already knew that, right?
Child In Time.
There’s a movement – primarily via a closed Facebook group, so I suppose calling it a “movement” might be a little generous, given it’s more or less social astroturfing – that’s surfaced recently called #FightSpam. This is led by Allison A. Kruse (that’s @AllisonAKruse on Twitter, for the cool kids), who has made it her cause celebre to play the role of the HR Hans Brinker and single-handedly plug up the dam and avert the impending disaster that seems, to any objective observer, inevitable.
In an ERE article last year, Kruse states that the first step to solving the recruiting spam problem “is to admit that we have a problem. Once we’re done, we can work on a solution.”
Inevitably, Kruse goes on to cite candidate experience, another one of those concepts that, like this sudden explosion of recruiter spam that reminds me of that scene from Casablanca (“there’s gambling going on in here? I’m shocked. Shocked!”). I’m pretty sure in both these cases, though, we’re not only well aware that there’s an issue, but seem to revel in activism even though many of us are actually implicit in the problem. #FightSpam is basically in the same as the recycling movement was in the 1990s.
You do recycle, don’t you? You do realize that every common household item you use is somehow directly responsible for destroying a wetland or adding another “critically endangered” animal to the IUCN Red List, right? You do realize you’re causing the ozone layer to literally open up over our heads thanks to your hair spray, right?
If you are a spammer, of course, you’re basically a Japanese whaler being chased around by those Greenpeace Hippies or the head of environmental affairs for Monsanto or the City of Flint. You are an oil prospector, polluting the earth for the extraction of profits – and now, in a tight talent market where the pipeline’s pretty much tapped, you’ve got to turn to fracking to try to keep the price of crude worth the costs of production.
Now, fracking, as we know, is especially great, particularly if you like your tap water to go up in flames or enjoy the thought of serious seismic activity in the Upper Midwest, thousands of miles from the nearest fault lines. Speaking of fault lines, let’s go ahead and say that all the rumblings that are going on in recruiting are not only a pretty serious sign we’re destroying the only environment we need to ensure our survival, but we’re also starting to set the proverbial water ablaze.
Like Big Oil, though, the longer we keep the spam funnels flowing, the lower our stock price and public image is going to plunge. It doesn’t matter if you’re that one dude with a Prius – unless it’s capable of interplanetary travel, we’re kind of all in this one together.
Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming.
Let’s stop for a second and ask the obvious question: how the hell did we get here? How did we damage our ecosystem so badly? If you’re seriously considering that question, look no further than LinkedIn’s devolution over the past five years or so. Compare what it was then to what it’s become today.
Gone is the vibrant, active, kind of cool community of engaged and competent professionals there for the networking part of that whole social networking thing – and thing is, it worked. But now, it’s like walking through a social media Superfund site, the Chernobyl of candidates. The only thing that survived were the cockroaches.
In the nuclear fallout of this professional network’s epic collapse, LinkedIn has seen its number of repeat visitors plummet; fewer than 50% of all active monthly users (which is to say, the tiny minority of registered users who never even bother) only visit the site once a month.
If you want to know why, look no further than the hundreds of “thought leadership” posts out there telling you about how awesome and radically innovative InMail is, and how LinkedIn is basically a bunch of fish in a firewalled barrell, waiting there to take any bait you dangle their way. See below for actual footage from last year’s Talent Connect conference:
Next time you bitch about how LinkedIn has become more or less so polluted that it’s uninhabitable, remember you have only yourself to blame. You’re like the guy who bought one of the original Hummers is to climate change, a small, but obvious contributor to a much larger problem.
Now, let’s try to radically address the problem and pivot completely by going the totally other direction, implementing strict emissions controls, certifications like LEED or bullshit like “carbon credits.” First and foremost, you need to understand that the actual people you’re targeting on LinkedIn don’t know who the hell you are, have never heard of your company and could care less about your “opportunity.” You’re just another recruiter with another job blasting another obviously generic message to them. Sorry if that stings a little, but welcome to being on the receiving end of a message that treats you like just another faceless cipher instead of a real person. Sucks, doesn’t it?
I know this is not new news, but yet again, here’s yet another place where recruiters need to take a page out of the marketing and advertising playbook. When approaching someone with something new or exciting or something that’s an “opportunity” and not just another shit job, don’t ask what the candidate can do for you. Ask what you can do for the candidate – and show them that you actually can back up your branding and buzz and bullshit.
Take Coca-Cola – I presume, like 99.9% of the world’s population, you’ve heard of them. There is a reason for this. It’s because Coke does not advertise their product – which, by the way, is actually just a flavored syrup, since the bottling and mixing are done by contractors – in terms of how great it tastes, or what an amazing company they are or how Muhtar Kent is a “dynamic visionary” changing the world of work.
Admit it. You have no idea who Muhtar Kent (CEO of the world’s most valuable and recognizable consumer brand) is. You probably don’t even care, just like no one cares about your CEO’s “Talent Manifesto” or “Culture Code.” It’s not because you’re apathetic, you’ve just got other stuff going on and are too busy to pay attention to that sort of thing. So how in the world is Coca-Cola able to sell $46 billion worth of that syrup every year, exactly?
It’s simple. They don’t put the product first. They put the nostalgia, the emotional connection with the brand, and how people just like you make their little lives just a little bit better by indulging in a simple, universal pleasure. Aaaah.
Coca-Cola sells an idea, and you make your purchase off of an attachment to the brand – if you bought on price point, you’d probably be drinking one of those weird Dr. Thunder drinks they sell in the machines outside Wal-Mart. You getting the lesson here, recruiters?
This is all aspirational marketing, after all.
Knocking At Your Back Door.
When we talk about fighting spam, it’s time we changed the vocabulary of exclusion, the acceptance that spam is a problem but a refusal to take personal responsibility for the bigger problem, and realize that if we want to reduce, reuse and recycle enough to slow the disastrous climate change already occurring, then we need to make this an issue that all of us have a stake in. It’s not one company, or just everyone else, who does this shit. It’s all of us, which is how we’re going to have to work if we ever want to fix it.
So here’s a contribution to the cause: if you want to be a better recruiter, if you want to have better relationships and a better response rate, then learn to tell a better story.
It’s really that simple. The story you’re telling now, the one with the bullet points and boilerplates and sounds like it was written by a Speak & Spell? Yeah, that story sucks. No one wants to read it – much less live it for 40 hours (or more) a week.
Like the Neverending Story, this is one any reader is going to want out of for fear of being consumed by The Nothing (which is pretty much how they see recruiters). So how do you fix those stories enough to fix this problem?
Let’s look at your company. Strip back the brand and the messaging and the EVPs and CTAs.
What is it you do? What does your company do that’s useful, productive and meaningful? How is that different than any other company, and why is that work important?
If you don’t know these foundational elements of your story, learn it – it’s your “once upon a time,” all the time. Without a good opening line, you’re pretty much screwed. Now, once you know that story, that’s when you share it.
Tell that story about what your company does and why it matters, and tell it often. Tell it to your candidates, let them know the story is still being written, and offer them the chance to be a part of writing the next chapter. Who doesn’t want to be a part of creating a great product that does great things – and lets them work with great people and make great memories along the way.
It’s not that complex – there are only like 8 basic story types, and in each, the importance of the individual and his journey are the most important elements. The second, of course, is the supporting players they surround themselves with, and no one wants to work with a crappy cast of characters. Except interns at Goldman, I guess. But as Shakespeare, Walt Disney and Toastmasters would all tell you, a great story can be recycled – and should – again and again. That is, if you’re not selling software. Then, please don’t.
Pictures from Home.
Candidates don’t respond to logic. It might be obvious you have a better brand, a better job, a better opportunity (that word again), but that’s not what sells candidates – you’ve got to win them over on emotion. Recruiters, on the other hand, seem to need a justification for everything, so let’s think about this rationally for a minute. The “talent pools” we build, from external networks, internal systems or point solutions are often shallow enough to sit down in.
From my experience (and internal data), what I can see is that for any skilled job in pretty much every case, there are only a few hundred people in any specific geography who are qualified for any given job. This leaves recruiters with two options. They can send 30 personalized, hand-crafted emails and maybe expect three replies in return. Or, they can send 100 automated emails from a template with a single push of a button, and get five responses pretty much like clockwork. Hey, work smarter, not harder, right?
That’s dumb. Because while tempting a hundred prospects a week might be tempting, and targeting a carefully crafted message for 30 can be a daunting challenge, but think about it.
Your talent pool, once you skim off all the surface scum, probably only has between 100 and 500 truly viable candidates who are qualified, interested and available. More likely than not, those aren’t the candidates you’re going to find at the front of your funnel of job boards and resume databases.
90 days from now, when that job is open again because you weren’t able to find the right fit the first time, or when the hiring manager was asleep at the wheel and missed out on the in-demand candidates who you sent over because they got snapped up by the competition, what are you going to do? The answer, likely, is nothing.
Those candidates you activated are now off the market, and you’ve got to start all over again. Hey, Death to Purple Squirrels and all, but with a finite amount of qualified candidates out there, what are you going to do when you’ve really got to go on the hunt?
Will you send the same email blast you shot to everyone you could find in your database to the same 100 people? Would you open the requirements, send it to another 100 and hope for better results than the last time? What you’ll eventually see is you’re not going to be able to bag a damn thing because you’re burning down the forest you’re trying to hunt in by using these slash and burn tactics. If there’s no place to hunt, and our unsustainable tactics kill off our most precious non renewable resource – our candidates – then we’ll all go hungry together.
Look, I don’t have data to back me up on this, but I suspect the reason every study or survey out there suggests time to fill is on the rise is not for want of better sourcing tools or trouble finding potential leads for even the hardest to fill positions. What I do think is finding and communicating with these candidates has become so easy to do, we’ve reverted to spamming without discretion and now find ourselves with dwindling resources and even fewer options for survival. They say only the strongest survive, and if this is true in business, let’s face it: recruiters don’t really have a chance.
Let’s think globally, act locally, and act now. Before it’s too late. Now, I’m doing my best to #FightSpam. So the question now is simple:
What are YOU going to do?
Because we’re all in this together. Whether you like it or not – you can’t deny hard evidence. Unless, of course, you don’t think climate change is real, either, in which case, you’re probably just dumb enough to think that these “marketing automation” techniques actually work.
Trust me: you don’t want to find out the truth the hard way. The odds are really just too high.
Mike Wolford has over 9 years of recruiting experience in staffing agency, contract and in house corporate environments. He has worked with such companies as Allstate, Capital One, and National Public Radio.
Mike also published a book titled “Becoming the Silver Bullet: Recruiting Strategies for connecting with Top Talent” and “How to Find and Land your Dream Job: Insider tips from a Recruiter” he also founded Recruit Tampa and Mike currently serves as the Sourcing Manager at Hudson RPO.
An active member of the Recruiting community, Mike has spoken publicly in an effort to help elevate the level of professional skill.
By Mike Wolford
Mike Wolford has over 15 years of recruiting experience and is currently the Director of Analytics at Wilson HCG. He has worked with such companies as Allstate, Capital One, NPR and Twitter. Mike has also published 2 books titled “Becoming the Silver Bullet: Recruiting Strategies for connecting with Top Talent,” and “How to Find and Land your Dream Job: Insider tips from a Recruiter.” An active member of the recruiting community, In 2022 Mike spoke both at SourceCon and HRTX in an effort to help elevate the level of professional skills. Follow Mike on Twitter, or connect on LinkedIn.
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