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Me and My Arrow: Recruiting in the Digital Age

Back in the day, job seekers would open a newspaper (remember them?), turn to the employment section, and circle with a red pen all the jobs they were interested in. They would then send via snail mail a well-written, typed cover letter and resume on soft dove grey stationery with a matching envelope to the post office box in the ad.

News Flash: High-quality candidates – the ones you are seeking – do not apply any more. They just don’t. We can cry all we want about this, but it’s the truth with two notable exceptions – recent grads and candidates relocating from one market to the next with no contacts in that new market. If you are not looking for either of these kinds of candidates then a strategy of relying on job boards is probably not a viable alternative for you.

We call this “posting and praying”: You post on your website or on LinkedIn, Monster, or Career Builder, and you hope the right people will show up. Posting and praying is reactive recruiting or following our religious theme, the Hail Mary of talent acquisition. Unless you’re Coca Cola, Apple or Facebook, good luck with this “strategy.” These companies’ brands extend beyond their products and to the workforce. Applicants are eager to work for them, so when these companies post a position, the resumes come pouring in. For most companies, a posting on a job site is the equivalent of searching for the Holy Grail. If you want stellar candidates for mid- to senior-level jobs, you have to go after them.

So how does recruiting work in the digital age?

Step 1: Develop a Position Strategy

Before you go looking, work out who you’re looking for and where you’re going to find them. What are your goals for this position? What would an ideal candidate’s profile look like? In which industry, trade association, or geographic market can these candidates be found?

I think of this as the marketing element of recruiting. It doesn’t need to take forever, but an upfront investment of time to suss out your needs will lay a strong foundation for your search.

With the answers to your position strategy questions in mind, work to articulate the selling points of the position. Especially in today’s job market, you have to sell your position to attract the most qualified candidates. Work with hiring managers and other stakeholders to agree upon the screening process and the metrics you’ll use to measure each candidate’s attributes. Finally, set expectations about the process, including the time it will take and the inputs required of the team, and establish check-in times to make sure everything stays on track.

Setting a good position strategy is the first step. As with many first steps, it is a foundational one that much of the remaining strategy is built upon.

Step 2: Start with the Low-Hanging Fruit

Finding high-quality candidates isn’t free. Sometimes, it’s not even cheap. When deciding the order in which you’ll deploy different strategies, it’s helpful to evaluate each on the cost/yield continuum. Luckily, I’ve got a little graphic illustrating that continuum for you.

This is my arrow (though if you like to think of me as Catniss, executing perfect aim to find the right talent, that’s fine too). It’s my strong belief (and, I’d argue, common sense) that your hiring strategy should follow the arrow.

I know what you’re thinking: But what about a job fair?!? Stop right there and follow the arrow. The candidate search process is intimidating, and often, hiring managers and others see attending or holding a job fair as a great way to source a lot of resumes at one go. But one look at my handy chart shows that job fairs are one of the most expensive and lowest yield options. You have to plan the event. You have to market the event. And, you have to staff the event. All of these activities take time and energy away from finding great talent and hiring them.  Sure, there is a place for job fairs, but let’s start with the lower cost/high yield tactics first.

Internal Promotion

Of course, the highest-yielding, lowest-investment strategy is internal promotion. If it’s possible, start there. Work closely not just with the hiring manager but other management personnel to source talent internally, and make use of consistent feedback and evaluations systems so you have information about your current talent pool at the ready.

Low-Investment/High Yield: Employee Referral Programs

If internal promotion doesn’t net a new hire, the next step on the continuum is the referral. Employee referral programs sponsored by business leaders (not HR) incentivize your employees to refer strong candidates, and they work. According to studies, employee-referred candidates are likely to out-perform non-referred hires, and stay in their positions longer. Properly implemented, referral programs can create a sense of community in your business, along with a sense of company growth and opportunity. Once established, a referral culture will pay dividends in the form of loyal employees and excellent hires far down the road – such programs should produce at least twenty percent of your applicant pool.

Step 3:  Let’s Start Investing in Talent Acquisition

In another post, I noted that Gmail or Outlook does not constitute an applicant tracking system (ATS). If you have more than 100 resumes in your email archives, you are a candidate for some form of organization. These systems allow you to handle the flow electronically. Plus, a good ATS will integrate with your email system and allow you to track and share application documents and correspondence easily. It will also integrate well with your company website and social media accounts. If you want to compete for the best candidates, an ATS is a good mid-range investment/yield tactic and the good news is there is a system for everyone, including some high-quality freemium versions.

This is the first step in moving beyond the the low-hanging fruit. Advancing beyond this point requires planning and funding. All those other fancy steps you’ve heard about – job boards, social media, employment branding, Boolean logic search strings, etc. – are on the continuum. If you think you’re ready for the wild world of social media recruiting, look out for the second part of this series.

In the meantime, start where it makes sense – with a recruitment strategy. Look for internal hires, implement a business leader-driven referral strategy for new hires, and consider a well-fitting ATS. Then, like the Yellow Brick Road, follow the arrow to successive strategies. Your perfect hire is out there. Let’s go get ‘em.

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  1. Lonnie Rich
    Lonnie RichSeptember 11,17

    Good advice!

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