Let’s begin with the obvious: Good talent is in high demand and short supply. Candidates have become discerning shoppers, more aware of their worth than in recent market cycles.
As a result, the onus is on us to change the way we source candidates and generate demand for our company. It’s no longer a case of boosting job ads across a few different channels; to court the best people, we need to focus on strategies that build meaningful and beneficial connections over the longer term. Today, branding, Employee Value Proposition (EVP), messaging, positioning, and creative differentiation are more important than ever.
Here are some questions you and your team may be asking:
Summarized in a single phrase, your best recruitment marketing strategy is this: Add value. Sounds simple, but it does need some unpacking.
Take this recent episode of Sapia.ai’s Pink Squirrels! podcast, in which we spoke with Jennifer Paxton, VP of People at Smile.io. Jen has taken an always-on approach to talent acquisition by being active as a content creator on LinkedIn. Jen regularly posts helpful tidbits and articles about people leadership, employee engagement, career development, and plenty of other topics. In doing so, she is also able to organically (and indirectly) promote the virtues of Smile.io.
Here’s what’s neat about this: Jen is promoting Smile whether she references Smile or not. If you’ve built a dedicated audience, and that audience sees your other associations, they are much more likely to look favourably on those associations than if you mentioned them overtly or if they came upon the association in a different context (e.g., a display ad on LinkedIn). That’s good marketing.
According to Jen, this has been a big success for Smile, because she is constantly engaged in the process of creating and fostering good relationships with potential employees. Today, they may simply be followers and consumers of her content; tomorrow, they may be teammates. When a vacancy opens up, Jen has more tactics up her sleeve than merely boosting job ads. Her first (and best) option is to put a call out to her always-growing network of engaged professionals.
What Jen does is not necessarily easy – it requires dedication and consistency – but it is simple. It’s about adding value as a people leader, and creating a first-hand connection with the market. Everyday customer facetime is truly invaluable, and for Jen, it’s certainly working.
If you want to learn more about how you can lead recruitment marketing through an always-on content strategy, you can also check out this Pink Squirrels! episode with Russell Ayles, a veteran recruiter and LinkedIn Top Voice for 2022.
Here’s the rub: If you’re having to do all these new things over a long period of time to prime and court the talent you want, how do you know what’s working? For example, if it takes six months, at minimum, to build and execute a recruitment content strategy, how will you know in month two or month four how things are tracking?
Trickier still, when your CEO or CHRO asks to report on outcomes, what will you tell them? What level of analysis is suitable for stakeholders at that level? How do you reconcile the need for patience with the performance pressures of the executive?
This conundrum is the main reason most companies don’t bother with an add-value strategy, even when their talent pools have dried into a puddle. After all, the ‘boost-your-job-ad’ method still yields concrete and easily-understandable numbers, even if those numbers are bad.
Going new-school with recruitment marketing requires a bit of faith, supplemented by regular analysis of the signals of success. So let’s look at one of the biggest signals for success: Self-reported attribution.
Seems far too simple to be useful, doesn’t it? In actuality, this one question can inform the success and evolution of your entire recruitment marketing strategy. It’s not a quantitative metric, of course, not as black-and-white as your abandonment rate or NPS metrics, but the insights can be truly transformative. Here’s how it works.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say your team has decided on a three-pronged strategy:
Three tactics, three different channels. Now, to track the ongoing health of these measures, you might look at the following metrics on a monthly basis:
And plenty others besides. But, crucially, you should also add a field to the form you use as a first step in a job application: A free-text field with a simple, mandatory question: How did you hear about us?
(Ensure that, in form design, you don’t lead the candidate in any way. Don’t have any pre-text in the field (saying something like ‘e.g., Seek’). You want unbiased results.)
You’ll be amazed at what you can learn. Some candidates will offer you vague and unhelpful responses (like ‘Internet’), but over the medium term, you should start to see trends emerge. For example, if a great many of your good candidates are hearing about you through the podcast, they will tell you, and you will come away with hard numbers showing which of your long-term brand-building strategies is working best.
After six months, you’ll start to see more candidates. And you’ll see the following (for e.g.):
This kind of recruitment marketing attribution is helpful because it is simple, it is highly indicative (both of past performance and future improvements), and it is compatible with the reality of the market we’re in. Right now, the majority of candidates aren’t looking for work with you – but they are looking for useful, valuable, enjoyable content. It may be a six-month journey from awareness to application readiness, and you should be with them along that journey, helping, educating, informing.
If, instead, you get stuck looking at the ROI of job ad boostings, or even the success of individual pieces of content, you’ll be led astray by the data. In isolation, individual customer touchpoints do not help you iterate. In fact, they will have you doing something different every week. You’ll confuse your audience, see limited success, get frustrated, and quit.
Channels, conversely, paint a picture of customer consumption behaviors and traffic patterns. They show, over time, that your presence is of net benefit.
The best part about self-reported attribution? You can start doing it now, without making any changes, and start to capture data about your activity and brand strength to date.
Give it a try.
Becoming, by Netflix tells the Michelle Obama story, and throughout the documentary, it is clear that other people’s stories resonate with her just as much as her story resonates with them. As inspiring as you would expect her to be, she spends much time mentoring and coaching young women, just by listening to them and sharing her story. Midway through the doco, as another young African American woman shares her self-doubt because she doesn’t have all the reference-able facts to open up the right doors, (the right college on her CV, the right GPA, etc. ). Michelle Obama says this:
Wow! That line just nailed it for us because your story of what makes you you. What shapes and motivates you is what matters not how you turn up to your education, to an interview, to your job.
It’s why so many organisations are investing in testing your softs skills, the real skills because hard skills can be learnt. Your openness to new ideas, ability to cope with change, humility to ask for help, are way more relevant than ‘your stats’ at any point in time. That means two things for HR: Finding technology that will help you understand the story and removing bias that gets in the way of being able to hear the story.
COVID-19 enforced WFH restrictions have created zoom fatigue. It’s a real thing.
Eight weeks and already we are so over video.
Text has been around for a decade. Ever heard of text fatigue? No, that’s because text is easy, it is fast (especially if you are a 16-year-old who texts in acronyms (our latest fav ‘POS’ (not point of sale but parent over shoulder)). It’s also safe. Safe for introverts, safe for people who might not feel comfortable on a video call or even worse a video interview.
Forcing your applicants to invest in impression management is not a good start to building a relationship of trust and authenticity with your newest employee. How many great introverts, deep-thinkers and high-integrity individuals are you at risk of losing when you force people to perform on a video interview?
And why would you make people play a game, answer 150 +multi choice questions, (many repetitive that gives your experience no platform at all), when you can make it easy and comfortable with a chat or text interview?
Doing it by text gives everyone a chance to shine, without performance anxiety, without having to prepare or risk someone gaming it by googling the right answer. When you connect with people about them, using technology they trust, that lets them be themselves (without bias getting in the way). That is what a candidate first experience looks like. It’s why we get 99% + candidate satisfaction from 10,000 applicants a month.
COVID-19 has forced a lot of us to become remote workers by default. Now more companies are now declaring it is likely to become their new norm, with little understanding of what successful remote teams look like.
Zoom exhaustion is a thing. The reality of working from home for many of us has become long days trying to get small tasks done between back-to-back video calls. The founder and CEO of Automattic, Matt Mullenweg, a company with over 1000 remote workers spread across 75 countries, chose remote as the working norm for two key reasons. First, to access a broader pool of talent, and second to unleash productivity. He describes five levels of remote work maturity. Most companies now forced into WFH are at Level 1. We have just moved our way of doing things to a different location and are following the same daily routines that we always have.
Mullenwag describes Level 5 as the ‘nirvana’ for remote work where your distributed team works better than any in-person team ever could. He says his company is not even there yet.
We have missed one of the drivers of remote work productivity gains which is asynchronous work- which needs asynchronous communication. This simply means that work doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone. Productivity and flexibility for employees come when we don’t all have to get in a room or via Zoom. That means communicating in writing, not by video is imperative.
Forcing people to do video meetings also risks continuing to drown out team members who don’t thrive in a live group setting. The introverts. The deep quiet thinkers. The ones who prefer to reflect on an issue and not be forced into making a contribution because everyone else is on Zoom. Again, written communication solves for this.
It’s quite simple, if you want a fully functioning remote team written communication is the way to go. It has to be the way you define a business problem, debate the key issues, and fast track from idea to execution.
Jeff Bezos cottoned on to this years ago. Amazon requires every meeting to be guided by a six-page memo laying out all the key issues. Everyone, regardless of their title, has to read every word. Bezos turned written narrative into a competitive advantage, recognising that writing clearly requires clear thinking. Effective written communication is a foundational building block of a successful remote workforce. GitLab, another fully remote organization with over 1000 employees across the world highlights this fact in their Remote Work Playbook (page 19).
This ‘new productivity hack’, how you write, whether via text, Slack, Wiki or on Google docs also impacts your hiring processes. At what point do any of us test for written communication skills when hiring? If you want to hire people who can work autonomously, be productive and who can collaborate you need to test their text communication. This calls for a radically different approach to talent acquisition.
Mullenweg worked that out early in Automattic’s remote working journey and all their job interviews are via text. The other obvious benefit of this approach is it means there is far less room for bias. In contrast, put someone in front of a camera for a video interview and the bias risk is amplified. Hiring going forward has to test for written communication. This is not something you can ignore anymore.
If you speak to C-suite about why it’s taken so long to permit remote work, the word trust will come up a lot. Bottom line, managers don’t trust that people will actually work when at home, creating instead an unproductive culture of ‘presenteeism’. To manage the risk of hiring ‘slackers’, the other thing you have to test for is motivation.
Other personality traits that relate to good remote workers include discipline. The advantage here is that we stop Big ‘P’ personality-based hiring. We have all made those hiring mistakes – inclined to the person who tells a good story. In a remote work environment, self motivated employees, big talkers and non-doers get discovered quickly!
What may not be known to many people, is that testing for written fluency, clarity of thought, motivation, discipline, can all be done via text analysis in the hiring process. Testing should not be just limited to the skill of writing. It should also test the motivation behind expressing something in writing. That requires more effort and thinking than speaking it out. If someone is not motivated to express themselves in writing when a job is on the line, you can assume what it might be like once they are on the job.
The power of Natural Language Processing (NLP) based machine learning models that can tell you all of this immediately is here today. From just 300 words, we can infer writing skills, personality traits and job hopping motives. This means there is no excuse for not hiring for the key skills required for remote work right now.
Noam Chomsky, a pioneer of language studies said it best –
“Language is a mirror of mind in a deep and significant sense. It is a product of human intelligence. By studying the properties of natural languages, their structure, organisation, and use, we may hope to learn something about human nature; something significant, …” (Noam Chomsky, Reflections on Language, 1975)
I am seeing organizations increasingly rely on AI that comes from social media or resume data. How do you see that? Does that bother you? Do you think we need to educate the market about the difference between first-party and third-party data and ask questions about how clean and unbiased the data is?
As a former HR leader, I couldn’t use technology that analyzes my candidate pool or my people based on what they do on social media. It horrifies me, and it kills trust. I feel like that kills trust, you know, because I’m on social media in my own personal way. What do you think about that trend, and how can we tackle it?
I think we need to educate people at the point of recruitment. We could let them know why they should feel safe using AI-based technology and that it doesn’t use third-party data or do anything unethical.
If we provide warnings and information, people will start to look for trustworthy AI. Remember how banks got everyone to feel safe about transferring money online? We need an education piece on how this AI is different from that one.
Imagine if we said, “Before you’re about to go through AI-based technology for this recruitment process, we’re going to let you know why you should feel safe in doing so. It doesn’t use third-party data, it doesn’t do anything unethical.”
Again, take internet banking: How did the banks get everyone to feel OK about transferring money online?
I mean, all of us used to go and check the money even got there, and you know, there’s some people that still don’t use it today. I’ve got a friend with a fantastic organic beauty products business. Another one who’s got a collagen business. Both are constantly having to say, “We look the same as other products – but let me tell you how we’re not.”
And I think there is an education piece on, let me tell you how we’re not.
I love that you’ve taken the candidate’s view on that. We need to protect them and our brand, and trust is crucial. We shouldn’t blindly trust AI; we should be able to trust it because it’s safe to do so. That’s a great call to action for all of us in that space.
Listen to the full episode of our podcast with Meahan Callaghan, CHRO of Redbubble, here: