No one would argue that sales and marketing are strategic business functions. They get strong executive support and the big budgets because they feature data-driven decision-making, market segmentation, powerful branding, and customer focus. Recruiting, on the other hand, has long been known as “just sales with a crummy budget,” as HR thought-leader John Sullivan puts it. That perception is rapidly changing as recruiting takes its rightful place as a strategic priority.
Recruitment is a sales process as defined by Dr. Sullivan’s work:
Strategic recruiting is an approach to winning the best talent based on three components: employer branding, recruitment-directed marketing, and skilled selling. Combined, these components create effective responses to dynamic market conditions in support of an organization's strategic objectives.
Transitioning to a more strategic role and adopting a sales and marketing focus is a sea change for most corporate recruiters and their company leaders. Again, we turn to Dr. Sullivan who, in 2008, was way ahead of his time in defining the future of HR as he developed “20 Principles of Strategic Recruiting,” which he has recently updated. Below, we highlight as well as add to some of his most critical insights and guidelines. Use them as a foundation for designing and implementing your own strategic recruiting objectives and processes.
Guidelines for Creating a Strategic Recruitment Plan:
- Well Defined Strategy. Develop a well-defined and communicated recruiting strategy based on a clear understanding of your organization’s values and vision for the future. Include your brand messages, target candidates, primary sources, and most effective marketing and closing tactics. This helps ensure closer alignment between candidates and your corporate culture.
- Strong Employment Brand. The external image you present has the highest impact and longest-term effect of anything you do related to recruiting. You should make it easy for potential candidates to read, hear, or see why they should consider working for you. Candidates are a key audience you need to market your message to regularly. Pay attention to what your message and value-proposition are, how you communicate them, and what specific segment of the talent market you are trying to attract. It’s only the organizations with a poor image that suffer a talent shortage. Build a positive, compelling image and you’re likely to have a surplus of top talent eager to work for you.
- Prioritized Jobs and Targets. Strategic recruiting processes maximize the use of resources by identifying and focusing on the positions with the highest business impact. This usually means revenue-producing and revenue-impacting jobs, and roles in high margin and rapid-growth business units. Your processes should also target high-impact individuals like top performers, innovators, influencers, and game-changers.
- Effective Sourcing. Sourcing is the most critical element after employment branding. If your sourcing doesn’t attract top performers, you can’t make a quality hire. The most effective source is employee referrals. Make sure you develop a referral program with a reward that motivates employees to refer good people. Recruiting at professional events is also an excellent way to find top talent. Whatever your means of sourcing, make sure it’s appropriate for the particular position. You should use various sourcing tactics depending on the individual, locale and other factors, targeting both “non-lookers” who may be happily employed at competitors or elsewhere as well as candidates who are actively looking. Effective sourcing saves time and money on candidate screening and the high cost of weak hires.
- Talent Pipeline / Recruiting Culture. Like every good salesperson, build a continuous “talent pipeline” of applicants you might want to hire in the future. Build your pipeline with impressive people you meet or hear about in a “pre-need” approach that includes workforce planning, employer branding, and continuous sourcing. Your pipeline should be part of a companywide “recruiting culture,” where every employee is an active talent scout, spreading your employment brand and identifying possible future candidates as they interact in the community. The very best candidates are in demand. When every employee contributes to your pipeline, you gain a competitive edge in getting to the right people quickly.
- Speedy Decisions. It’s worth emphasizing that candidates in high demand have many choices. When the right people decide to change jobs you need to be ready to hire them, even if you don’t have quite the right role defined. Build flexibility into your hiring decision process so that you can hire on their decision timetable, not yours.
- Data-based Decisions and Metrics. Making decisions based on objective data rather than on emotion, intuition, or “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” practices helps eliminate biases and produce more consistent, high-quality hires and outcomes. Similar benefits result when you put metrics and rewards on key aspects of recruiting. When managers are measured, recognized, and rewarded for their contributions, and results are converted to the manager’s revenue and profit, recruiting dramatically improves—and processes are meticulously followed. Using metrics/assessments also sends a clear message about the importance of recruiting and its business impact on revenue goals and cost reductions. Marketing made the switch to a data model, recruitment must too.
- Technology-based Processes. The best recruiting processes, in all of their aspects, are based heavily on technology and the internet. Technology can improve screening, increase decision-making speed, cut costs, and enable global hiring. It gives you the ability to do market research to identify the particulars of your recruiting segments and targets and then customize marketing and communication based on the data. Technology also gives you the capability to offer candidates remote work options, giving you a distinct competitive advantage, especially with younger generations who prize that kind of flexibility.
- Candidate-centric Focus. The primary reason candidates reject job offers is because of the way they were treated during the hiring process. Hiring managers and recruiters need to be laser-focused on creating a positive end-to-end experience for diverse candidates. A significant part of recruiting is “selling” candidates on why they should apply for and accept a position with you; another part is building trusted relationships. Throughout, communication should be clear and frequent; processes smooth and easy; and interactions personal and respectful. Treat every candidate as you would your best prospect or customer or, better, how you’d want to be treated yourself. After the hiring decision is made, make certain that the positive experience continues with a thoughtful onboarding process that ensures your new employee feels welcome, important, confident, and ready to make a meaningful and near immediate contribution to your productivity.
Recruiting will not be considered strategic until it adopts a sales and marketing approach. Just like sales and marketing, recruiting must outsell the competition. Use the guidelines above as a foundation for developing your recruiting strategy. Then take a seat at the table where you’ll be a vital partner in creating success.