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Recruitment Marketing: From Trendy to Necessary

SmashFly's Mike Hennessy talks about how companies are recruiting top candidates—before they start their job search

A man sitting on a chair in a room.
​Mike Hennessy, the founder and CEO of SmashFly Technologies.

Recruitment marketing has grown in the last few years from being just a buzzy fad or aspirational "nice to have" into a core HR discipline.

Study after study shows that best-in-class talent acquisition functions begin the recruiting process long before a candidate applies for a job or future new hires even think they need a new job. Increasingly, organizations are adopting consumer marketing strategies and tactics for recruiting to more effectively engage with potential talent and educate them on the employer and its job opportunities. This shift to more strategic, proactive recruiting is the reason that recruitment marketing technology is one of the fastest growing areas of HR tech, with nearly 70 percent of enterprise companies investing in these capabilities, according to Aptitude Research Partners, a Boston-based analyst and advisory firm.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: How can we develop an employment branding strategy?]

One of the earliest and most visible proponents for recruitment marketing is Mike Hennessy, the founder and CEO of SmashFly Technologies, one of the leading recruitment marketing platforms, based in Concord, Mass.

Hennessy discussed the state of recruitment marketing with SHRM Online, how it differs from traditional job advertising, the challenges employers encounter and the misconceptions they have, and what's expected next.

SHRM Online: What exactly is recruitment marketing?

Hennessy: Recruitment marketing is every tactic—including content marketing, e-mail nurturing, social recruiting, mobile recruiting, the careers site, SEO [search engine optimization], employee referrals, talent networks, job marketing, employer branding, recruiting events, recruiting analytics and candidate relationship management (CRM)—that talent acquisition team members use to promote their employer brand message so that they can more successfully find, attract, engage and nurture leads and ultimately convert them into applicants. Organizations that employ recruitment marketing techniques can generate three times more leads, 10 percent greater revenue and a 100 percent higher close rate.

SHRM Online: What are some typical misconceptions about it?

Hennessy: Recruitment marketing isn't owned by marketing. It doesn't just involve posting to multiple job boards, and it isn't even all about jobs. It isn't the same thing as employer branding. It's how you activate your brand in the candidate journey. Also, it isn't solely executed by recruiters. It's one strategy with numerous tactics that should be led and executed by a company's recruiting, employer branding and talent acquisition leaders.

SHRM Online: How does it differ from job advertising of old?

Hennessy: While the demise has long been talked about, job boards and niche sites are still relevant, but the ways in which we interact with and attract candidates have expanded greatly. When I started SmashFly back in 2007, the major job boards were the only game in town. Today, social media, search, mobile, online communities, CRM and SMS [text messaging] lead nurturing are becoming increasingly important, valuable ways to interact with and attract candidates. No longer is it just about posting to the big-name boards or leveraging a handful of legacy job boards—it's about providing the tools that will turn your strategy from a guessing game into a sophisticated, strategic use of your time, budget and resources across legacy and emerging channels.

The other major difference is around candidate expectations. These days, companies shouldn't just be selling jobs. Candidates are looking at your brand, your message and your value. The "job" may be the final transaction with the candidate, but to attract the best people that fit your organization's purpose, your recruitment marketing strategies must be brand-led. Your brand value message needs to be communicated at every interaction throughout the candidate journey.

SHRM Online: Why push recruitment marketing forward as an HR discipline?

Hennessy: Every successful organization has a sales function and a marketing function, and we believe every modern recruiting organization needs both recruiting and recruitment marketing functions to successfully attract, build relationships with and hire the right-fit talent in today's competitive market. You can't have great hires without great applicants, and you can't have great applicants without great leads. When a company can't find and ultimately hire the right people, productivity goes down, quality decreases, innovation slows, the corporate culture goes to pot, the best people leave and market share is lost. It's a swift decline that leads to corporate extinction.

How do companies find the right people at the right time? Having a strategic recruitment marketing practice in place will help build relationships with candidates early. Nurturing those relationships over time is so important because you don't know when they'll be ready, and they don't know when the time will be right, if ever.

SHRM Online: With automation and artificial intelligence being the HR tech buzzwords this year, will those trends play a part in recruitment marketing?

Hennessy: I've heard a few people say that technology automation removes the human element from talent acquisition. I couldn't disagree more. Automation, when used intelligently, can drive more meaningful interactions between candidates and employers.

One of the biggest opportunities in automation is ensuring an authentic, high-touch experience with candidates who may not be ready to apply. Organizations are increasingly becoming more thoughtful about their content and nurture strategies. They're realizing the benefits of delivering personalized, timely messages to hundreds of thousands of candidates to help educate them and provide value throughout their career journey. A recruiting team conducting manual outreach would never be able to achieve communication on this scale, or even come close to delivering the level of impact automation can provide.

We're seeing artificial intelligence and machine learning provide major benefits for talent acquisition. This means leveraging the data that we collect from the digital footprint of candidate leads, as well as their interactions with our brand and channels, which tells us how to optimize who to reach out to, and how and when to do it. With this data, recruiters and sourcers have a better starting place for their searches because they're able to better identify candidates more likely interested in joining their organization today. They can also use this data to deliver more personalized content through all channels, whether it's content and job recommendations on the careers site, retargeting ads, or personalized e-mail and SMS nurture tracks to the company's talent pipelines.

SHRM Online: What are some of the challenges employers are having with adopting or practicing recruitment marketing, and how can they be dealt with?

Hennessy: Talent acquisition has been focused on marketing jobs, not marketing their company's brand value. If the most sought-after people aren't looking for jobs, why are companies still spending most of their time pushing jobs? Why are they trying to start the recruiting process only when they have a new requisition? Why are they still treating recruiting as something transactional?

Companies should think about an omnichannel approach to finding, attracting and engaging people. This is different from a multichannel, siloed approach. An omnichannel, brand-led approach is a seamless strategy across every potential recruitment marketing channel. There's one brand and one core message that's personalized for target audiences and different channels. One of the biggest shifts I've seen over the last five years is the move from measuring source-of-hire to source-of-influence. There's always going to be one conversion point, but tracking the savvy candidate's journey from "initial interest" to "apply" is pivotal to understanding where to optimize your strategy and investment.

Recruiting channels such as social, e-mail and digital are untapped opportunities for many HR organizations, so training their existing recruiters or hiring digital experts as additional support will help them get a handle on recruitment marketing. If a company wants to get its recruitment marketing feet wet, it should start small by adding calls-to-action throughout its careers site, building talent pipelines through simple forms candidates can fill out on the site, and creating e-mail nurture campaigns of compelling content to these candidates, and then measuring the results.

SHRM Online: What's next for the discipline?

Hennessy: Talent intelligence will play a critical role in the future of recruitment marketing. Now that we have the engine that attracts and captures the candidates, we need to get better about understanding who they are [and] where their interests lie and qualify them accordingly.

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