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9 keys to a killer recruitment marketing strategy

In a hiring market that presents unprecedented challenges, every HR and recruiting team needs to develop a marketing strategy to attract top-notch candidates. Here's how.

If you're an HR or recruiting leader, you know the economy and recent hiring trends are defined by a series of stark contradictions. There are the challenges of recruiting during a sustained period of record low unemployment despite rising layoff trends. And the Big Stay trend, which replaces the Great Resignation, is a response by employees who are now hunkering down in reaction to increasing job insecurity, high inflation and high interest rates.

"In today's tight labor market, where high employment coexists with frequent layoffs, the recruiting market is fraught with contradictions across industries," said Thad Price, CEO at Talroo, a data-driven talent attraction platform provider. "Even with many individuals searching for jobs, businesses find themselves in a tug-of-war for top talent. Astonishingly, 85% of hiring managers expect to hire this year, and over 40% admit their teams are currently understaffed," he said.

But with much of the available workforce now hesitant to make a job move, the usual enticements tend to fall flat. Meanwhile, those who are laid off are eyeing job postings that remain unfilled long after they have applied.

"The hiring process has become more prolonged than in previous years, often due to more comprehensive vetting processes and the increased availability of candidates," explained Molly Taylor, who specializes in recruitment marketing strategy at Symphony Talent. "This contrasts with past conditions where faster hiring cycles and less economic fluctuation provided a more stable recruitment environment."

But there are other reasons hiring processes remain almost universally clogged.

"It's been a challenging few years for HR organizations. The Great Resignation and the resulting war for talent has left many companies feeling depleted, no matter their size and resources, and people leaders everywhere are scrambling," said Anita Grantham, head of HR at cloud-based human resource platform BambooHR. "Challenges I'm seeing include poor job descriptions, downsized recruitment teams [and] an influx in applications for teams that aren't quite sure what they're looking for; and as a result, the candidate experience suffers."

Recruiting today poses a long list of unique obstacles requiring an exceptional recruitment marketing strategy built atop changing realities. "There's an increased focus on speeding up the recruitment process," said Iffi Wahla, CEO and co-founder at global hiring platform Edge. "Long hiring durations will discourage top talent today, who are used to processes being more instant and responsive. As a result, companies are using recruitment dashboards and data analytics more than ever to streamline these processes and keep candidates engaged and informed throughout their application journey."

HR teams need to think like the ad agencies behind those killer tourism marketing campaigns -- only, in this case, the destination is your company. This approach to attracting candidates is known as recruitment marketing, and it's a must for HR leaders and their talent acquisition and recruiting teams.

A recruitment marketing strategy is a far more proactive approach to hiring.

"[A] recruitment marketing strategy is the approach you take to making your company's culture visible and attractive to top talent. It's a pull rather than push strategy," said Wences Garcia, founder, general manager and head of culture at Marketgoo, a self-service SEO tools provider.

While there are plenty of ways to customize your recruitment marketing strategy, here are nine key steps for building the foundation.

1. Market your company as a talent destination

Going back to the analogy of tourism marketing tactics, you'll need to market what makes your culture special. That takes care and attention.

"Companies need a way to differentiate themselves to potential team members that isn't trite and speaks directly to their ideal candidates," Garcia said.

To that end, Garcia said it's important to ask current employees what they love about working for the company. In addition, creating an internal culture-building team will help grow what's been built organically. That culture should be used as a selling point -- specifically in terms of matching ideal candidates with the culture, and more generally in terms of having a thought leader, preferably the CEO, who can speak to the media about your culture.

Earning a reputation for the great culture you build -- for example, through social media, traditional media outlets and sites, such as Glassdoor -- is just as important. Part of that comes from empowering your employees to be your best brand ambassadors, Garcia said.

2. Refresh your social media mix

If your social media recruiting strategy is still focused on a handful of the expected channels, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and X (formerly known as Twitter), it's time to add to the mix.

Alternative social media sites include TikTok, Instagram, Bluesky and Mastodon. But there are others growing and dropping in popularity over time. Stay abreast of which sites are more likely to attract the candidates you seek.

Use social media platforms to engage potential candidates, share job openings, make company updates, tell employee stories and reveal industry insights.

"Leveraging social media and employee referral programs resonates strongly with Gen Z and Millennials, who make up a significant portion of the workforce and value flexibility and meaningful work experiences. By showcasing unique perks, diversity initiatives and career development opportunities, organizations can differentiate themselves and attract top-tier candidates," said James Neave, head of data science at Adzuna, a search engine for job advertisements.

3. Build and manage your talent pool

It takes several tools to manage a talent pool -- the most prominent one being an applicant tracking system. Don't forget to tap into candidate records that are already in your database. Use those and more recent candidate files as a starting point to connect with people, ask for referrals and develop market intelligence.

Go beyond building a database of potential candidates to proactively manage data compilation in the order of significance to current market demand, including a candidate's ability to adapt to change, learn new technology skills and master emotional intelligence.

"Unlike in the past, where recruitment focused primarily on traditional skill sets, today's needs call for strategic alignment of growth initiatives with technical progress. The rise of emerging technology like AI is reshaping the talent pool, requiring individuals with not only technical proficiency but also a strategic understanding of how these advancements intersect with industry trends," said Stacy Celata, senior vice president of talent acquisition at marketing and advertising agency Razorfish. "As a result, recruitment strategies are constantly adapting to prioritize candidates who demonstrate agility and foresight to navigate this ever-changing landscape."

You should also collaborate with your marketing team to create a compelling career webpage that aligns with your company branding and promotes brand awareness.

Diagram of a recruitment marketing funnel.
The steps in recruitment marketing, like sales marketing, can be understood as a funnel that starts with targeted marketing and leads to closing the deal. The job candidate undergoes a journey analogous to the customer journey.

4. Have an employee referral program

An employee referral program helps with both recruitment and retention. Referral candidates are usually good picks for a company, so the ROI tends to be good. But these programs are also a great way to measure employee satisfaction, which helps with employee retention efforts. If employees refer friends and family, it means they value the company.

"Companies should champion employee referral programs as much as possible," said Kolby Goodman, founder and lead consultant at BestFirstNow.

Goodman suggests HR leaders ask the following questions of top performers in the company:

  • Do you know any possible job candidates, and would you be comfortable referring them for open positions? Why or why not?
  • Where do you think we can find more talented individuals like yourself?
  • What incentives would motivate you to recommend candidates to our organization and be a culture champion as we evaluate and onboard new hires?

"Talented people know talented people. And asking these questions can help you know if your company culture/employer brand is strong enough to get your current personnel excited about being an advocate for your workplace," Goodman added.

5. Understand the role of passive candidates

Low unemployment rates, plush benefit packages and higher wages diminish the luster of traditional recruiting practices. The best talent might not be actively looking for work or they could be slow or indifferent in responses to enticements. The quest then becomes a matter of figuring out how to attract talent that is likely happily employed.

Identifying passive candidates and making a job offer can fall flat when the number of offers exceeds attention spans. An effective recruitment marketing strategy must include several ways to proactively identify and reach top talent.

Companies can use innovative AI recruitment tools to speed up the candidate sourcing process when targeting and headhunting passive candidates, said David Berwick, company director and senior IT recruitment specialist at recruitment consultancy Adria Solutions.

6. Know your ideal candidate persona

A good recruitment marketing strategy depends on your understanding of the candidates for any given job. That will help you identify and reach your target audience.

"Define your ideal candidate personas based on demographics, skills, experience and cultural fit. Understand their motivations, preferences and where they are most likely to engage with recruitment messaging," said Ryan Hammill, executive director at Ancient Language Institute.

In other words, to precisely target your efforts, you'll need to know who you're trying to recruit, where you're likely to find them and what they're likely to want out of a new job or career change.

"Automation often provides messaging that is not in sync with the audience or region being targeted. For example, the message for a role that is advertised or posted in New York City may not be optimal for an audience in Carbondale, Illinois. A message in Boise, Idaho may not resonate and have the same ROI in Milwaukee, Wisconsin," said Yvan Demosthenes, Ed.D., a recruitment specialist at HamiltonDemo.

"In addition, the method of marketing and advertising may require modification such as advertising with job agencies in situations such as recruiting for [veterans]," Demosthenes added. "These nuances should be considered in the different roles and in an organization's efforts to not only attract top talent, but to create a pipeline of top individuals for other current and future roles."

7. Use the job listing to attract candidates

Even in a candidate-driven market, job listings are a critical element of recruitment marketing efforts. Candidates might check Glassdoor to see what employees have to say about working at your company, check social media to see how your feeds reflect your culture and turn to LinkedIn connections. But how you present the company and the job itself is likely to determine whether a potential candidate becomes an applicant. Bottom line: Don't miss out on the opportunity to sell.

"We try to market and sell our open positions to our candidates just as we market and sell our candidates to our clients," said Luís Magalhaes, founder at ThinkRemote, a remote recruitment company.

"This means crafting a beautiful, sexy job description that inspires the potential employee reading it, challenging them but also providing an honest assessment of what it will be like to work on the position and why it will be great for them," Magalhaes said.

8. Use the right tools to cultivate your talent supply

Candidates find career opportunities in traditional online and mobile venues, and those with in-demand skills can afford to be extremely selective about which opportunities they pursue. Make it easy for candidates to find you on their preferred channels -- such as social media outlets -- and make communication and applications easy to execute.

That means shorter applications with easy, prefilled fields and even using text messaging to recruit are smart moves.

AI can also make it faster and easier to find talent and for candidates to have a great experience being introduced to your company and moving forward.

"Experimenting with AI tools can enhance recruitment processes further," Neave said. "For example, utilizing AI-powered chatbots for initial candidate screening or implementing algorithms to analyze resumes for potential fits can streamline and expedite hiring. Recruiters can also leverage AI tools to identify and remove subtle bias in job ads."

9. Measure, measure, measure

To manage something well, you need reliable metrics to show the status of your efforts.

"Regularly evaluate and refine your recruitment marketing strategy based on feedback, performance metrics and by keeping up to date on industry trends and sentiments. By taking these steps, HR and recruiting teams can effectively attract top-notch candidates," said Sarah McKinney, senior people operations specialist at WebMechanix.

You also need to spend sufficient time planning the recruitment strategy before implementing it.

"To kick off a recruitment marketing strategy, you'll need to figure out who will be executing the process," said Charlie Worrall, digital marketing executive at Imaginaire, a web design and digital marketing firm based in the U.K. "Most think that recruitment activities will have to be conducted by one individual or team. But the truth is quite the opposite. If you can, a synergetic effort will be a lot more useful."

Editor's note: This article was updated in May 2024 to improve the reader experience.

Pam Baker is the author of eight books and hundreds of technology articles published in leading online and print publications. She is also a speaker and industry analyst and a member of the National Press Club, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Internet Press Guild.

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