3 Ways Recruiting is Like Marketing. And 3 Ways it’s Not.

There are many similarities between marketing and recruiting, and the concept of recruitment marketing has been hot in recent years.  But there are also some key ways that recruiting and marketing are quite different.  In this post, I share three ways that companies and hiring managers can apply marketing principles to attract and hire the right people.  I also highlight three ways that recruiting is nothing like marketing.  Because, really, it’s not.

Recruiting is like marketing #1:

You must be clear about your target audience.

Whatever the role - Marketing Director, VP of Operations or CEO - a title doesn’t define what you are looking for.  It’s like saying you sell “hummus.”  There are a million kinds of hummus.  What kind of hummus do you sell, what’s special about it, why would anyone want it over the million other brands of hummus out there?

When writing a job description, there are several things to keep in mind:

  • Be specific your target. Really think about the level and experience you are seeking for this role.  If your ideal candidate has a minimum of ten years’ experience and has managed a team, state this in the job description.  People who are underqualified and overqualified will apply anyway.  Why not do yourself a favor and increase the chances of getting what you want by putting it out there?  A lot of clients have an ideal profile in mind but want to stay open to an up-and-coming rock star that might not meet the qualifications.  If that’s you, state that in the job description as well...don’t be vague in the hopes it might happen.  The up-and-coming rock stars generally know who they are, so seeing that you value that type of profile says that you are a progressive brand where they could be a great fit.
  • Give a clear picture of what is expected in the role. Sounds like a no-brainer, but people often just re-use an old job description or copy a template off the internet rather than investing the time to really think about what they need at this point in the company’s lifecycle and for the future.  Of course, the job will evolve, especially if you are a small or midsize company.  There will be unexpected new responsibilities, or the person might have to take on duties outside of their job description.  But that should be clear in the job description as well.  It isn’t just a list of duties and functions for the role; it should also include the types of traits and personal characteristics you are seeking and that would fit in well with your team.  Vague or recycled job descriptions don’t help you target the right audience.  If the person is reading the job description closely, they should be able to self-identify whether they would be a fit, improving the quality of your applicants and the likelihood of success for the person you ultimately hire.
  • Get potential candidates excited about your company and culture. A dry, generic job description does nothing for your brand and your ability to attract top talent.  The job description should describe what is special about your company and what’s great about your culture.  Candidates should be excited to apply and have a realistic initial idea of what it is like to work with you.  The job description should reflect your brand, just like any other marketing piece, so take the time to really think about who your audience is and what you are trying to convey.

Recruiting is NOT like marketing #1:

Candidates are not customers.

Yes, in the literal sense they may be, especially if you are in the B2C space.  But candidates and customers have very different “buying” behavior.  A customer makes their initial purchase from you, experiencing your product or service, but there is not an exclusive relationship.  Over time, a customer might buy from you again and possibly also buy from your competitors, but they will also do other things with their money and time.  With a candidate, once they decide to work for you, they are effectively making a long-term decision not to work with anyone else.  Side hustles and job changes aside, they are committing to work for you exclusively and forgoing any other opportunities.  When they are evaluating job offers side by side, they are determining to which they will fully commit their time.  You need to provide them enough information in the hiring process to feel comfortable that they are choosing the right long term fit by selecting your company.

From your end, you are selecting that one candidate that you feel will be ideal for the role.  You will be investing in onboarding them, training them, paying them to fulfill the expectations of the role, and hopefully more.  If someone buys your hummus and isn’t a good fit, they just don’t buy the hummus again.  If you hire someone as your VP of Operations and they aren’t a good fit, it can have major long-term repercussions for your business.  Not only have your spent time and money getting them onboard, but a poor fit (especially in a leadership role) can have downstream effects on other employees, vendor relationships and even customers.  Going back to the drawing board after a mis-hire means time, damage control and the opportunity cost of having that role vacant... again.

Recruiting is like marketing #2:

You must proactively build awareness.

You wouldn’t just throw up a website for your business and expect people to find you, yet the majority of employers simply post a job description on their site, maybe write a social post, and wait for applicants.  When the right applicants don’t come, they might use a job board like LinkedIn, Indeed or even Craigslist, and settle for the top candidate from the inbound applications of people that happen to be looking for a new role.

If your goal is to find the ideal candidate for your organization and culture, you need to take a page from the marketer’s book and build an awareness campaign to fill the top of your funnel with targeted leads that match the ideal candidate profile you developed in your job description.  Your ideal candidate might be working happily in their current job, completely unaware that this amazing opportunity exists.  The same basic principles of marketing apply to generating awareness from passive (and active) candidates in the employment market.

  • Be clear about your employment brand. Simply put, your employment brand defines what makes your company special internally, whereas your company brand reflects what makes you special externally.  It should be unique and relevant to your organization.  Every company out there says that they have a great culture…tell potential job candidates what that looks like in YOUR company.  Is it Friday happy hours or monthly volunteer opportunities - or both?  And don’t wait until you need to make a hire.  Just like your company brand, your employment brand is a foundational piece of your organization that should be clear to current employees, as well as potential job candidates.
  • Feed the funnel. Whether you have a current opening or not, you should always be feeding the top of the candidate funnel and nurturing potential relationships with top talent in your market or industry.  Even a small company can put in the work to bring their employment brand to life on their website, as well as sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor, and develop a reputation as a great place to work.  Highlight key culture events on your blog or social media.  Talk about unique benefits you might have and spotlight employees that are doing interesting things, both professionally and personally.  People - candidates and customers alike – love stories about other people and will connect with your brand in a more personal way.
  • Get targeted. Invest in your employment brand, and you will likely have developed relationships that you can leverage when you do have a specific position to fill.  Again, the “post and pray” strategy will likely generate a good volume of applications but, unless you get lucky, your ideal candidate won’t be one of them.  This is where proactive outreach comes in.  If you have a well-defined target audience for your role, you can begin reaching out proactively to make them aware of the opportunity.  Think about where these people may be working currently and make a list of targets to contact.  LinkedIn is a great resource for searching profiles based on targeted criteria, but don’t just look there.  Check out industry association members and conference speakers, ask your relevant vendors who they recommend, and network at tradeshows other events.

Recruiting is NOT like marketing #2:

You can’t rely on digital.

Digital marketing has been trending for years, and digital platforms can be great for recruiting as well.  Getting the message out via your website, social, email marketing and external digital platforms can be effective and quick, but ultimately recruiting is about developing real connections and relationships with real people.  If you want to find your ideal candidate, you can’t just sit behind a desk, sending InMail and reviewing resumes.  You have to *GASP* talk to people.  Live.  On the phone, or even better, in person.

Too often hiring becomes an exercise in risk mitigation rather than an effort to find that right person.  Resumes are screened out for superficial reasons; hiring managers are reluctant to have interviews with people that may have a couple short stints in the career path or have a gap between jobs or haven’t worked with the right brands.  Yes, it is certainly necessary to whittle down applications to a manageable pool of potential candidates with the highest likelihood of being a fit.  But the mentality of screening out – mitigating risk – should be replaced with a mindset of looking FOR fit – identifying potential.  And that means taking a chance and talking to people that might not look “ideal” on paper.

Recruiting is like marketing #3:

Experience matters.

When we talk about experience in recruiting, hiring managers focus on what experience the candidate has, but much less attention is paid to what experience the company is providing the candidates.  According to CareerBuilder's 2017 Candidate Experience Guide, 73% of job seekers say that the job search process is one of the most stressful things in life.  In the olden days (like 2009), unemployment was high, jobs were scarce, social networking was in its infancy and online reviews didn’t exist.  Candidates were lucky to get an interview and, if they had a terrible experience, did not have many outlets to complain.  Fast forward to 2018, the market for talent is tight and candidates can leave a review on sites like Glassdoor on their way out of an interview to instantly share with the world how they were treated.

While treating people with respect (replying to applications, following up after interviews) should be the norm, our busy work lives and the volume of job applicants makes following up with candidates hard to manage.  Still, developing a structure around your hiring process is important to create a positive candidate experience and ensure that you are representing your culture and brand authentically.  Too many times there is a disconnect between the service that customers receive and the follow up that candidates receive.  Keep in mind, YOU posted the job description and asked people to apply.  YOU invited the candidate in for an interview.  The candidate was responding to your request, taking their time to explore a relationship with you.  At minimum, following up is just good form.  Ideally, the candidate walks away from the experience with a closer connection to the brand and what you stand for, even if they didn’t get the job.

Recruiting is NOT like marketing #3:

Your experience matters too.

When talking about the customer journey, the focus is, of course, on the customer and how they are experiencing the engagement with your brand.  With hiring the right people, the candidate journey is a two-way street.  While the experience is important to engage the ideal candidate, your company’s experience with that candidate obviously matters just as much in identifying the right fit.  It is important to pay attention to how the candidate navigates the process and also be aware of where your unconscious bias may be creeping in.  Confirmation bias can be particularly risky in organizations that have unstructured hiring processes based on “gut.”  Confirmation bias comes into play when interviewers form an opinion about a candidate – good or bad – and then look for ways to prove that opinion correct.  In order to make the best hire, it is critical to have a structured interview process that minimizes confirmation bias and other unconscious biases.


There is a lot of be learned from marketers about attracting the right talent.  From identifying your target, to creating awareness to creating a positive experience, applying marketing principles can enhance your ability to hire the ideal candidate.

Still, recruiting and marketing and not the same.  It important for even small and midsize companies to understand the unique aspects recruiting and hiring, so they can create an effective recruiting process that results in quality hires.

Interested in learning more?  Watch my video – Steal These 5 Marketing Fundamentals to Make the Best Hire – for details on upcoming training opportunities.

Or contact me to set up a 30 minute complimentary strategy session.

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