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Recruitment marketing can rebrand the hiring process

More companies are using branding, market analysis and targeted messaging to attract and retain top talent.

When Miles Technologies needed to boost its ability to attract and retain top talent, it borrowed some ideas from experts at influencing people: executives in the marketing department. The year-long effort, which includes posts by Miles staff members in blogs and online forums of interest to targeted professionals, is already paying off.

"Taking a marketing-focused approach, combined with other factors, has greatly increased our candidate awareness and helped build our brand as a top employer," said Luke Trovato, talent scout for the Moorestown, N.J., company, which hires professionals in IT, software development, marketing, and Web and graphic design. "In the first six full months of 2014, we saw an almost 186% increase of applications from the six months prior."

Trovato isn't the only proponent of recruitment marketing, a strategy that applies marketing principles such as branding, market analysis, targeted messaging and lead qualification to the hiring process. Chief human resources officers, or CHROs, and recruiting managers in a wide variety of industries are using similar approaches in the hope of attracting and retaining high-performing employees in an increasingly competitive market, industry analysts said.

"We're seeing more capabilities being added to the recruitment function that draws on expertise related to marketing and sales," said Scott Erker, senior vice president at Development Dimensions International, a talent-management consulting firm based in Bridgeville, Pa. "The goal is to market to the right candidates to get them to pay attention to an organization, and then to close the deal with the right candidates."

Talent management technology is also evolving, with new tools to support demand generation, marketing automation and analytics. These capabilities may come in standalone products or in modules that are part of applicant tracking and human capital management suites, industry sources said.

But most human resources departments are still struggling to achieve the full payoff of recruitment marketing strategies and technology. "They are still working on creating the right brand messages, leveraging social networks and using the automation technology effectively," Erker said. "There are opportunities for improvement, but all signs are pointing towards this being a way for companies to get ahead in the hiring market."

In recruitment marketing, branding is key

For many organizations, successful recruitment marketing starts with defining an employer brand, which encapsulates the organization's image of itself, its culture, key differentiators and reputation, in addition to the products and services it offers. "Employment brand is about what's in it for me as an employee in the organization," said Robin Erickson, vice president of talent acquisition research at Bersin by Deloitte, a research and consulting firm based in Oakland, Calif. "Branding is a critical component of effective recruiting."

She added that in a recent survey by her organization, talent acquisition leaders in the U.S. and Canada identified an employer brand as a leading predictor of talent acquisition performance.

At Miles, Trovato's marketing-influenced strategy builds on brand development with other important activities, such as modeling candidate profiles according to likely interests and what stage they are at in the job search. These descriptions are similar to the buyer personas used by marketing and sales teams to characterize potential customers, he said.

Rounding out the strategy is a formal plan for publishing informational content about Miles in email campaigns and on blogs and social media sites frequented by targeted professionals. The postings often avoid promoting the company directly. For example, a blog entry may offer tips on how techies can make themselves more attractive candidates to employers. Contact information for Miles comes subtly at the end of the blog.

To hone messages, Trovato uses analytical tools provided by a company that distributes its online ads to assess key data points, such as which content gets the highest open rates. He also relies on analytics in the software used for inbound marketing activities. The Miles staff also created a custom candidate portal where people can submit profiles of themselves that are viewable by hiring managers. "This helps us build a pipeline of potential candidates," he said.

Recruitment marketing is especially useful for connecting with passive candidates -- those who aren't actively looking for new positions but want to learn about interesting employers, Trovato said, adding that active job seekers will typically visit job boards for leads.

Gauge the payoff for top hires

Recruitment marketing requires time and perhaps new technology investments, so understanding the potential return on these investments is crucial, Development Dimensions' Erker said. To do that, he advised organizations to estimate the dollar value of an excellent hire versus an average employee based on what each contributes to the organization during their tenure. "The advantage gained from the excellent hire has to be enough of a difference to justify what you need to invest to improve the quality of new hires," Erker said. "If you can't show a four- to 10-times performance improvement, CEOs will likely choose other investments with the potential for at least those rates of return."

Even if the potential is clearly quantified, recruiting marketing alone isn't enough to attract a valuable workforce. HR professionals should guard against one potential downside: letting other recruiting activities suffer, Trovato said. "Since we are a growing IT company, we still need to hire people who are actively searching for jobs," he said. "Organizations shouldn't neglect that part of their recruiting strategy."

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