The fundamental difference between marketing and recruiting really comes down to a simple difference: in marketing, there’s no pressure (or expectation) to “get it right” right out of the gate. The fact that marketing, as a profession, places a premium on creative experimentation, relentless innovation and continuous iteration means that more often than not, marketing does “get it right.”
When failure is an option, success is almost always inevitable. As a marketer living recruiter land, it never ceases to amaze me how afraid everyone seems to be to screw up once in a while, to break things and put them back together. That’s how you learn, but it seems the threshold for failure in recruiting is non-existent, the lessons learned not worth learning. The costs of missing the mark in marketing might be a couple customers or a few bucks.
Failure in recruiting could be far costlier, from short term employee morale to long term business viability.
It Ain’t Me, Babe.
This is why recruiters would rather tread water than make waves. Not so in marketing, where we’ve got far more flexibility (in fact, often carte blanche) in how we do our jobs and far less red tape to cut through to try something new or different, and if we fail, there’s little to no accountability.
A/B testing, which optimizes results by what’s working in real time, is not only a specific skillset and functional niche within marketing, but unlike recruiting’s paralysis by analysis, marketing believes in learning by doing, even if doing doesn’t end up delivering as promised. Failure is more or less a line item in most marketing budgets.
These failures, after all, occur in private, whereas when marketing succeeds, it does so inherently in the public eye. We remember the successes, and these more than justify the many failures marketing must suffer through to get there.
Recruiters, though, have no safety net. One compliance violation can threaten an entire company; one bad hire can be a fatal cancer on a carefully constructed culture. Recruiters know that if they mess up, it could cost them more than a candidate; they risk their jobs and professional reputations with even the most mundane daily interactions. Recruiters know to play the game exactly as the rules dictate, and this slavish adherence to the protocols and policies these draconian rules entail makes changing the game almost nearly impossible.
So, most play along, even if that doesn’t always entail playing nice – which must be how recruiters get such a bum wrap. Recruiters, largely, have an almost perfect success ratio for the only metric that matters, filling almost every single job that they open (even if it takes a ton of time, money and stress to make that happen).
But like O-Linemen in football, the one mistake they make every hundred or so plays is the one time we ever notice recruiters, really – so unlike those failure-prone contrarians over in marketing, we assume this is the rule rather than than the exception.
The reason for the vast disparity between perception and reality in how we think of recruiters and marketers, that we see one as a stooge and the other as a strategic partner, likely has to do largely with the fact that marketers make more mistakes but have much less accountability than recruiters, whose asses are on the line and therefore, must change at a glacial pace, if at all, the functional laggard to marketing leaders widely lionized in business today.
The First Time I Saw Your Face.
Think about it. Look at the budget or headcount at almost any company, and there’s a damn good chance that the pole position is occupied by marketing, the high man on the totem pole of SG&A specialties.
While their work doesn’t create or sell whatever widget the business is built around, it almost always pays the bills, justifying big teams and bigger budgets, not to mention total autonomy for allocating both needs.
This means when marketing screws up, not only is no one watching, but if they are, there are enough people for the team to take it, instead of the blame being borne by a smaller department with no room to hide or money set aside for contingency plans or unexpected expenses.
When something goes wrong in recruiting, we point fingers; when something goes wrong in marketing, we call it “testing” half of the time, which is a pretty damn good excuse for avoiding any liability whatsoever. Success looks pretty damn impressive when you’ve set the expectation you’re going to fail, a lesson recruiting might stand to learn a lot from.
The only “testing” recruiters receive is the trial by fire of having to get the right people in the door, right now, with mixed verdicts. So instead chalking it all up to A/B, recruiters who don’t get it right risk getting stuck with a PIP (individually) or a RIFT (collectively). Because no one knows when marketing messes up; if an ad buy goes wrong, no one’s really that scared to fail. I’m sure if our professional reputations were staked on the success of every single element of every single campaign, marketers would be fairly risk averse, too. But while fear can be a powerful motivator, it’s really no fun.
I know if I ever somehow ended up in an HR role, I’d be petrified every moment of every day I’d ever spent on the job. I don’t like feeling the burden of constant scrutiny and unrealistic expectations, but recruiters and HR are responsible for always getting it right, facing severe consequences (“up to and including termination”) for even the tiniest of missteps or superficial of mistakes.
They say recruiting isn’t brain surgery, but man, most people treat it as such – and recruiters, as a result, get treated with mistrust and scorn. No wonder no one plans on doing this for a career and just kind of falls into it. But whatever it is you fell into, let’s be very clear that based off of the major disparity in mindset, expectations and execution each respective risk file entails, there is no way, in hell, recruiting is marketing. I hope you heard that.
Marketing is not recruiting. No way in hell, never was, never will be, and if you think that it is, you’d better think again.
While I concede that recruiting is, superficially, marketing jobs to qualified consumers as a means to inform a purchasing decision, that ignores the facts.
The pressures for recruiting to always get it right, the scrutiny and dismissiveness with which recruiters are widely taught and the expectation you don’t have to spend money to achieve recruiting ROI run contrary to how things work in marketing. And the view from here is that, well, you’re kind of getting a crappy deal.
I’ve made some stupid mistakes, like erroneously buying impressions in Columbia, Maryland instead of Columbus, Ohio or misspelling a word on a display ad that generated millions of impressions (none good) before our pre-set campaign buy and dates finally expired.
It costs a few bucks, some potential leads, but no one was really any the wiser. No harm, no foul, lesson learned with few shits given. Better luck next time. Recruiters make a bad hire, it’s pretty much on them, and even if they weren’t actually responsible for sourcing or selecting a candidate, recruiters are liable to assume liability for the toll in bottom line results, emotional well-being and team morale that took a hit when you signed that fatal offer letter.
Even if it was the hiring manager who cajoled you to extend that offer after ramming the candidate down your throat, going behind your back and ignoring policies to expedite the process, that hiring manager will only know that you, as the recruiter, are the douchebag who’s to blame. And Lord knows, they do. You’re that guy who’s always going to take the heat for “that guy,” and we all have that guy, no matter who that guy is, somewhere in our past.
As badly as that guy sucks, being the guy behind the guy is actually even worse. In talent acquisition, guilt by association can be a capital offense, and there’s no such thing as a fair trial in the kangaroo courts of recruiting.
I Walk The Line.
Now, one of the nice things about messing up is the learning opportunities mistakes inevitably present. I’ve burned hundreds of dollars trying stuff that failed miserably – like building a branded island on Second Life, or paying for premium placement packages when Microsoft first rolled out Bing back in the day.
I could go on, but I’m not sorry – I chalk that up to doing my job, which is to constantly optimize and iterate to produce the best results possible.
This experiential learning is not only a fertile source of lessons learned, but also serves as the foundation upon which I’ve created the marketing principals and precepts that define how I do what I do, and how I do it pretty damn well, thank you.
I’ve come to a decision and made up my mind on most of what I’d think of as fundamental beliefs about marketing by this point. Hell, I might be wrong on a few, but I base them off of what I’ve seen, and I’ve sure seen a lot over the course of my career.
And the more I sit through recruiting podcasts, webinars, conferences, whatever recently on the topic of marketing – and there are too, too many to count – I realize that the more recruiters talk about marketing, the less they seem to evidence the fact that they actually know a damn thing. From where I sit, recruiting just doesn’t get it at all, much less “getting it right.”
Ring of Fire.
I feel responsible to at least try to right some of the oh so wrong misconceptions and mistakes the HR industry seems to be making about marketing.
After all, I kind of live in both worlds, and everyday, I walk the line – and want recruiters to know more about marketing than some consulting speak or some BS that vendors create to inspire fear and push product. The campaign of marketing misinformation has become an epidemic, fundamental fallacies that have become codified as the Gospel Truth.
Best practices are the worst.
I’m sick of the evangelism of recruitment marketing, this peddling of parables and proliferation of parasites all looking for an easy buck as recruiters are told that suddenly, they have to become marketers. Or else. That’s why I’m hitting the road to talk to recruiting and HR professionals about what marketing really is and what recruiters should know, instead of trying to sell some product or service. It’s not like little old HR ladies read blogs, so since I can’t bring them to the mountain, I’ m headed to Orlando.
That’s right. I’m going to be hitting up HR Florida, the state SHRM conference for a state known, like HR, for an overrepresentation of sociopaths, the confused elderly and floral print casualwear.
I am fairly certain that the people who would show up in Orlando for the purposes of meeting benefits providers or getting hours for SCP certifications aren’t going to be reading this blog. And since I monitor the traffic of Recruiting Daily, I can safely assert that the vast majority of you aren’t going to be going to the Happiest Place on Earth to talk about learning and performance management, OSHA or succession planning.
This is why I figured it might make sense to write the rules I’m going to be covering at HR Florida down. Here’s what I’m shining some light on in the Sunshine State, and what I feel passionate enough about to subject myself to humidity, embroidered mouse ear hats, sinkholes and whatever Jimmy Buffett cover band the state of Florida’s SHRM soiree has booked for the binge drinking that passes as a “networking reception.”
On the Road Again.
We know that where candidates get information, and how they research, screen and select employers or jobs, is evolving; sites like Glassdoor, Indeed or even LinkedIn are causing the diffusion of a captive audience across an infinite number of platforms and channels, complicating which ones to target and where best to spend a limited ad budget.
What recruiting is facing right now is exactly what marketers experienced when broadcast TV suddenly had to compete with cable, or home video companies found out that the Internet might just be a bigger problem than they had originally thought.
We’ve seen this all before, and the fact that we still have traditional broadcast, print and foot traffic driving consumers and spend suggests, contrary to recruiting assumption, that you really can keep the old while keeping up with the new.
We know that candidates screen time is evolving. Marketing spent a lot of time talking about the primary screen, which was television until we had a desktop computer in our hands. Think about how awesome it was in marketing when they realized instead of competing for attention with dozens of competitors in a daily newspaper ad, they could reach a captive audience that, in theory, could be infinitely larger than any newspaper, and do so whenever they wanted, however often they wanted, and constantly reinforce their message to their audience. No wonder marketers love e-mail so much.
While you probably complain about how much spam and marketing messages you get in your inbox every day, the truth is that this is a relatively young medium, and a big change for the business of marketing. We’re still trying to figure out how to get this powerful (relatively new) medium right, and how to best use e-mail to talk to people and scale, develop and convert as many people on our mailing lists as possible. These fairly mundane challenges dominate marketing blogs and daily discourse – marketers talk about e-mail optimization so much that it’s almost annoying even to people, like me, who care about this stuff.
I’m thinking you probably feel the same way about mobile recruiting.
The good news is that more than ever, that “screen” consumers primarily focus on is no longer television, or even a computer monitor – it’s mobile, which means that marketers have figured out how to sell to the screen since the 30 second ads started appearing in the Eisenhower era. Marketers don’t talk about “mobile,” they talk about going where the people are, and just because that’s mobile doesn’t mean reinventing the entire marketing wheel.
Similarly, recruiters should realize that the phone has always been a big part of the business, and that you have to do what it takes to get your brand in front of the right people. It all comes down to reach, and today, you can’t reach most people – candidates or consumers – without being mobile first.
It’s no big revelation, but if you want to know marketing as a recruiting or HR professional, mobile is a damn good place to start. That’s where job searches begin, so you might be well served doing the same. In marketing, we call this “knowing your audience.” You better know yours. And if you do, I don’t really have to say much more about how important mobile really is to recruiting, marketing or recruitment marketing. Period.
I Won’t Back Down.
Marketers have talked a lot about how different channels and different targeted audiences require different communications methods. Personalization and customization, marketers know, are anything but platform agnostic.
That’s why we follow rules like sharing video on Facebook instead of Twitter, because that algorithm is optimized to reward video content with improved placement, whereas Twitter can’t even properly render previews from YouTube links. Or rules like personalizing Tweets through @ replies or DMs leads to higher levels of engagement than RTs or likes, as well as overall conversion rates and click throughs.
Small stuff makes a big difference – think about how a photo of your dinner from tonight could blow up Instagram, but no one on LinkedIn could give a shit about your goat-cheese crusted, balsamic infused experiment at not feeling like a complete shut in. We know every platform works differently, and if we know what those differences are, we can start figuring out the right message for the candidates we need on the channels we’re targeting.
That includes social media (no surprise), where a lot of potential new hires are turning to help find a job. Capterra, a software review site, reports some 86% of job seekers used social media during their most recent job search, a number that’s consistent with the percentage of employers studies currently recruiting on social. With that alignment, you would expect the results to suck way less, until you consider that having the right medium is worthless if you don’t also have the right message.
This, of course, is where recruiters are largely failing, posting job titles and automated links non-stop instead of, you know, being social and stuff on social media. I’m not going to go much further into this one, because we both know that you likely have a feed set up between your own account and your ATS, since you’re probably a recruiter, and therefore, like emerging technology, productivity hacks and being as lazy as possible whenever possible. It’s cool. But it’s stupid, and it should surprise no one that all that shit fails to stick.
Instead of blasting content, try connecting with candidates – you know, that whole “social” part of social media. Even better, connect other candidates with each other – being the guy who knows the guy makes you the man, and the person who brings people together is the person people most want to get together with.
That’s why I highly recommend Private Groups on Facebook as an ideal platform for concentrating your social recruiting efforts. While other social networks or professional platforms offer closed group functionalities, I like Facebook not only because it’s intuitive and easy to use, but because I’m already on it all the time, just like everyone else – so people can connect with each other, your employer and your recruiters without having to go out of their way. Might as well make it look easy and simple before they hit your ATS, right?
The reason private groups work so well is that it creates a captive community and audience you administer and effectively manage, but individual users can drive the conversation and connections themselves, and extend their network while inviting existing connections to grow the group, a win-win for everyone. People want to feel like they’re part of something exclusive, and are more willing to share “insider information” or meaningful conversation in a forum that’s not technically public information.
This strategy often works with minimal effort, as long as you can bring in the right kinds of people, and share the right kind of information with them. How you share that information is important, too – and while no one wants to be sold to, everyone wants a connection. Good marketers and good recruiters can make the distinction a dubious one at best.
We’ll Meet Again.
So, what’s the best way to share information and facilitate conversations and engagement between group members without jamming a pitch down their throats? Remember, you’re not an orator, you’re an instigator.
No one wants to listen to a monologue about you, everyone is open to a dual dialogue focused on understanding their motivations, needs and personal preferences. That’s how you get to know someone – and turn them into a potential new hire (or friend) in the process.
Groups are great for building this type of community based conversation at scale, and should be the focus of your “social recruiting” and talent network based initiatives.
I think Stacy Zapar put it best when she so truthfully stated:
“The difference between an audience and a community is the way the chairs are facing.”
I couldn’t agree more with Stacy, or many of the other sentiments about marketing for recruiters she shared on a recent podcast (click here for the full version, or check out the embed above – Stacy, as always, is bringing the awesome and is totally worth the time).
I don’t know if you’re an audience or a community, but I hope if you’re in recruiting, you’ll forget the chair, get off your ass, and actually do something more to get your marketing game on than simply paying it lip service and awarding recertification credits to anyone with a pulse and a Powerpoint on this talent trending topic. But the fact is, none of this is nothing new, and marketers have cracked the code a long time ago.
Here’s hoping recruiters are next, if for no other reason than they’ll finally shut up about marketing and how important it is and just do it, already.
Talk is cheap, social media is free, but the combination of the two, in marketing and recruiting alike, is pretty much priceless.
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.
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