The first childhood memory I have is of my parents acting like children; this, when you are very young, is a rare and exotic novelty indeed. For all the times they’d scolded me for such seemingly trivial acts as jumping on the couch, screaming in the house (inside voice only) or running indoors, it was precisely because this one time where they themselves were so delighted that they could not contain their inner, impish impulses.
The reason for the ruckus, and foundation for my first memory, was the Kansas City Royals winning the 1985 World Series.
I grew up watching this team that somehow took home the title sink further and further into irrelevance; it was, after all, the family tradition. ‘
My parents used to describe how there was a packed house in the K (then Royals Stadium) every night; this seemed impossible, since the place was so empty that at several games, the guy doing crowd shots for the Jumbotron had to ask if we’d already been on. And yes, for an entire half inning.
From Worst to First.
So it went; we lost 100 games, the place was deserted, and yet, my parents still bought season tickets every year and listened to Fred White and Denny Matthews call games on AM radio when they weren’t in town.
Meanwhile, I was a mediocre catcher who always felt a sense of identity with the worst team in the league – hey, at least we were trying.
That’s gotta count for something, right? Our shared futility brought us closer together, in a way. We were playing for pride, and I was for some reason proud of a team that spent the formative years of my youth in the cellar, the laughingstock of the league.
That drought, of course, continued for 30 years, until finally, this week, the Royals brought the crown back to Kansas City; for a moment, a generation removed from their uncharacteristic outburst, I too felt a little like a kid again, which is cool, since obviously this entire anecdote makes me sound (and feel) old.
But as they say, with age comes wisdom. While I’m still waiting for that, what the Royals did remind me that even when you completely suck, when there’s pretty much no hope that you’ll ever be anything more than a shred of your former self (and maybe a punchline, too), that losing, even epically, is ephemeral. Eventually, with enough dedication and a belief that somehow you can beat the odds, an entrenched mentality and conventional wisdom and come out on top.
This, if anything, should be good news for recruiters and the talent acquisition industry. Because when it comes to our professional reputation and impact, it seems, not only are we somehow always at the bottom of the business standings, but we’re constantly playing from behind. But if the Royals can turn it around, even after 30 years of futility, trust me: there’s still hope for recruiters.
The Farm System: Minor League Recruitment Marketing.
Rebuilding starts with having the right building blocks in place; in baseball, like in talent acquisition, it’s all about developing raw skills and building a pipeline to ensure that your organization has all the pieces it needs to succeed tomorrow, today.
But instead of making it happen, recruiters, it seems, would prefer to watch, and wonder, instead.
Recruiting, unfortunately, appears to be suffering from its own industry wide Curse of the Bambino, or perpetually getting its own Billy Goat, when it comes to marketing; there’s a really long legacy of losing that has to be overcome, one that’s so entrenched in our ethos that we’re willing to ascribe it to anything other than the fact that we’re playing minor league marketing ball with major league talent.
You’re never going to knock it out of the park without focusing on the fundamentals, first. And like batting in baseball, making contact is everything in recruiting. This is why engagement is so imperative for building the lineup of all-stars you’re looking for when you’re recruiting top talent.
The problem is, so many recruitment marketing and employer branding initiatives ignore the scouting reports, meaning that most of these would be clean up hitters swing and miss so much of the time.
A recruiter is a lot like a pitcher; you’ve got to know how to pitch to a candidate if you’re going to throw the right strikes to hit an often improbably small zone. There’s little warm-up involved anymore, since candidate information has become completely commoditized due to a spate of new sourcing tools and talent technologies that give us so much information about candidates without our actually having to put in a whole lot of effort.
That means when we’re trying to convert them, we’re often coming in cold. Not having built any prior engagement or brand awareness into a candidate interaction prior to throwing that first pitch almost always ensures that it’s going to miss the mark. And even if you’ve got the best closer in the game, there are no save opportunities when you’re playing minor league ball.
Getting the closer relies on consistency; you’ve got to consistently reinforce your employer’s mission, vision and values in every single candidate or career communication and make sure that you’ve got the designated hitters to really make marketing initiatives like social media, talent networks or e-mail campaigns score at every opportunity.
It takes an average of 8 brand impressions to positively impact a consumer purchasing decision, which is why when it comes to digital marketing, you’ve not only got to build your lead, but constantly protect it, too. Every inning might not go your way, but what matters is that your brand wins in the 9th.
Digital Marketing, FTW…
As former Orioles manager and celebrated curmudgeon Weaver suggests, the key to winning in recruiting is a lot like baseball.
It comes down to three things: pitching (or employer branding); fundamentals (engagement) and finally, that three run homer: digital marketing.
Rounding the recruiting bases and hitting it out of the park require every employer have at least three key players in the lineup.
Leading off is search engine optimization, better known as SEO; 85% of candidates begin their job search on search engines, so it’s important to make sure to put the right strategy in place to lead off by getting you on base with candidates.
Obviously, organic is the best way to do this, but if you want to advance that candidate, Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or Pay-Per-Action (PPA) advertising platforms, such as Google AdWords or retargeting, are a sacrifice that’s worth investing to make sure you’re able to at least put yourself in scoring position.
Finally, the potent third bat in the lineup, the hitter responsible for driving it all home, is social media; while social recruiting rarely has enough power on its own to clear the fences, it can be invaluable for creating enough contact to bring your next hire home.
Every recruiter is like a manager, and the job, similarly, is all about situational judgement and playing the odds; big data, like sabermetrics, replaces gut feeling with hard numbers, but in recruiting, like in baseball, sometimes the numbers just don’t factor in the manifold variables that evade explanation.
Whether that’s chemistry, destiny or just plain mojo, sometimes magic happens; the underdog wins the World Series, the little company somehow scores the big candidate with an average offer. Things happen. That’s what makes all of this stuff so damned fun.
What’s really cool is that in recruiting, like in baseball, these million variables – and occasional miracles – unfold in real time, and if you’re keeping score at home, you not only have a record of what’s happened on the field, but the numbers behind the action. In digital marketing, similarly, staying on top of the action means being able to adjust spend in real time, test campaigns and optimize results instead of simply sitting back and filling out some static scorecard, as so many employers seem wont to do.
If you want to look at the pitch, click here to check out The Recruiter’s Guide to Content Marketing; if you want a deep dive into the fundamentals, check out The Recruiter’s Guide to Inbound Marketing. But if you want that three run recruiting homer, here’s what you need to turn your team into the big leagues – and into a big time contender for top talent.
Leading Off: Search Engine Optimization.
We’ve been talking about building Boolean strings for years now. We’ve discovered other innovative and often overly elaborate ways to stalk candidates on the internet (see this Jim Stroud post on using Singles Ads for sourcing as evidence), and, turns out most of the information we find on candidates has absolutely nothing to do with their candidacy whatsoever.
Forget compliance; when we look for information on candidates, we can’t always control what we find out about them.
For example, I once had to knock two direct sourced candidates for the exact same search out of the process because in trying to figure out the best address to send their interview prep packet to (yeah, we did that), I also happened to discover they were registered sex offenders.
Which makes some sense, I suppose, given I was slating for some random corporate gig at the Walt Disney Company.
Similarly, I lost a retained search once because, turns out, in trying to find some sort of shared musical interest on his MySpace page so I could build that connection you need for pre closing, this mild mannered CMO by day was, in fact, a dominatrix at night. I really wanted to tell her she should move to HR and kill two birds with one stone, but instead I had to ditch the only person in the Southland with this really niche skillset, industry experience and credentials and start from scratch.
The downside of direct sourcing is you never know what you’re going to find, and sometimes, it ruins everything. I know this from experience.
Similarly, Search Engine Optimization is the digital dirt candidates are digging up on you when they do perfunctory research on your company, careers or corporate culture. Like the sexual deviants I disqualified who were otherwise consummate professionals, there’s probably some skeletons out there in the company closet that are likely to be deal killers when it comes to closing top talent. But while you can’t suppress a digital footprint, the at least you can bury it – and make sure that candidates only see the information you want them to see.
Think of it as the digital version of reference checking – when you can control the information, it’s really unlikely that any of your sources are going to raise red flags. This means the emphasis in recruiting on SEO isn’t getting found by potential, as is often the exclusive rationale behind implementing search strategies, but also, what they’re finding.
While you can potentially control messaging and overcome objections while direct sourcing individual candidates, you’ll can’t control what people are saying about your employer brand online; only in what order they see it. The same goes for your available jobs, which is why it’s so important to know what phrases applicants are most likely using to find you, and making sure that your results appear before your competitors.
In SEO, like real estate, location is king, but in SEO, it’s content marketing that owns the crown; the higher you rank, the more likely it is the right talent is going to find you, first. Content marketing is the currency of SEO, and by continually creating optimized and targeted content with consistent, compelling messaging, you’ll not only organically control search results; you’ll largely be shaping reality, too, at least as far as candidate conceptions about your company are concerned.
Recruiting might not have the silver bullet, but SEO ranks right up there as among the most potent tools of the talent trade.
The Squeeze Play: Pay Per Action Recruitment Advertising
Sometimes, organic traffic isn’t enough to rule the rankings roost. This is particularly true in recruiting, where there are so many direct employers, agencies, job boards or service providers bidding on the most common keywords.
In fact, paid traffic is one of the largest revenue sources of online job boards, with aggregators like Indeed or retargeting networks like Monster’s CAN offering more or less making money on the margins of the traffic jobs-related search terms redirect.
It’s obviously important to have visibility any time a candidate researches your company, function or specialized position for which you’re hiring; if you’re not on the first page of those search results, you’re irrelevant. While there’s no way to measure opportunity cost, the costs of strategic PPC in talent acquisition pale in comparison to the price employers could potentially pay for losing priority over the keywords required to drive candidates.
One common tactic, for instance, is for companies to buy out “jobs” and “careers” related searches linked to a direct competitor, so that when someone searches for jobs specifically at that company, the most prominent result often belongs to the career site of their chief competition. If you’re not already owning your own name, chances are the other guy is.
While it’s expensive to buy a term like, say, “Software Engineer in San Jose,” it’s far less expensive to buy keywords around your brand. When you bid on terms like “Working at” or “Life At,” you can control your employer brand message, have targeting capabilities around location, demographic information and behavioral targeting like online user history and other far more powerful content destinations than generic job ads.
Because you’re facing less competition and eliminating the intermediary, you only have to pay for results – not a flat fee regardless of results, as is most commonly the model in online recruiting today; instead of a flat fee for a seat license, employers can control costs by spending on what’s working, and throwing out what’s not.
Like having status on an airline, having priority in search results can not only make you look like a baller, but over time, will quickly add up into the positive impressions required to move a potential prospect into an active applicant. If they’re looking, this is the one way to make sure that you can be found by any candidate out there.
And, you know, have the ability to directly correlate spend with actual results, which in recruiting is nothing short of revolutionary.
Cleaning Up With Social Media.
Social media is the three run homer of recruiting. Results show that it doesn’t work, but when it does, it’s a game changer. Only problem is, to achieve this end result requires an odd confluence of circumstances.
You’ve got to have the right number of base runners, be in the right part of the lineup, get the right pitch and hit the sweet spot, and even if you really connect, there’s a chance variables like where you’re competing or outside conditions can minimize the damage of even the most powerful hits.
There’s obviously no formula for this, nor predicting if social media is going to work. It’s trial and error in a field where there are no experts, success is largely anecdotal and subjective and there’s no real established “best practices” since the medium is so new everyone is pretty much still figuring it all out.
But if you’ve ever had that moment of connecting with a candidate based on a shared interest you saw on Facebook, or engaging them about their personal interests or professional aspirations on a network like Twitter, seen the world of work they live in through their eyes on Instagram, then you know what it’s like when the ball flies out of the park. You don’t even have to watch it leave the park before circling the basepaths – when an employer and a candidate really connect, you just know.
Big data be damned.
Taking Your Recruitment Marketing To The Major Leagues.
To learn more about what recruiting and HR pros really need to know about accelerating their talent pipelines through digital marketing, make sure to download my latest eBook, “The Recruiter’s Guide to Digial Marketing,” brought to you in partnership with our friends over at Smashfly Technologies.
I promise you’ll learn something. And if you don’t, well, you know where to find me.
DISCLAIMER: This post was obviously sponsored by Smashfly, but the opinions contained in this article are exclusively the author’s, who also wrote a pretty kick butt e-book on the exact same topic this post is designed to promote. For any global readers, sorry for the baseball references. It’s kind of a thing over here.
To our friends at Smashfly – sorry about your Sox.