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In a tight labour market, employer branding isn't mass advertising, it's personal

How recruiting leadership candidates has taught me the impact of strategic and personalised recruitment messaging.

By Jamie Hoobanoff,, March 18, 2019

Recruiting the most talented people has long been a challenge for many organizations. A company’s greatest resource is its people. Your team is the cornerstone of your brand, the living source of your institutional knowledge, and the most important asset your organization has. Recruiting and retaining the right people for that team is crucial for success.

However, not every company can have the biggest brand name in their sector or afford to offer the fattest paycheques on the market. The struggle to attract and retain staff is particularly acute right now as Canada faces historic, 40-year low levels of unemployment.

The Business Development Bank of Canada found that, in late 2018, over 39 per cent of Canadian employers were having difficulty filling jobs, and that labour shortage conditions were expected to persist for "at least a decade." At the executive level, which is my area of expertise, we're seeing the competition for leadership talent reach critical levels.

I can speak to the essential strategies for reaching leadership talent – perhaps the greatest struggle in recruitment – and the lessons learned there can be applied across candidate career levels.

Employer branding, of course

Tight labour market conditions like these make employer branding even more critical than ever for companies seeking to compete for the people they need to hire. At the very basic level, employer branding is the information about what is it like to work for you, and why a candidate should prefer to work for your company over another similar organization.

It is your company's positioning as an employer of choice compared to your competitors.

As the recruitment industry has become more mindful of the necessity of promoting this brand message, the job market has become saturated with information about great company cultures, work-life balance, and positive working environments.

Those glowing attributes are broadcast on social media, corporate websites, and in job postings. This allows the message to reach a broad range of potential candidates. However, reach doesn't solve the problem of recruiting hard-to-find talent.

The internet and mobile technology have made reaching candidates easier than ever before – and even in periods of low unemployment, many people will apply for new jobs. Finding applicants is the easy part. When you communicate what a great place to work you have – lots of people will want to work there.

The trouble is, most jobs that are advertised online receive too many applications. In my experience, roughly 75 per cent of these come from irrelevant or unqualified candidates. At the leadership level, that number approaches 95 per cent.

Recruitment is marketing

Most companies have already realized that an essential part of recruiting is marketing. They broadcast their employer brand messaging to a wide audience, but broad reach doesn't solve the recruitment conundrum. To attract and engage the talent you really need, you have to understand what they want, what will motivate and influence them.

This is a very basic marketing principle: know your audience. By customizing employer branding messages to the wants and needs of the talent you're recruiting, you will achieve much greater success than by using one-size-fits-all corporate messaging.

This is particularly true at the top level. Leaders aren't out looking for a job. This makes them hard to reach by conventional means, and the usual language of recruitment won't speak to them. They won't be drawn to your company by a job title and a benefits package. Leaders seek out opportunities to lead. When you hire new leadership, you are asking someone to invest their time, their reputation, and their career energy and ambition in growing your business.

This is why you don't speak to them as recruits at all, but rather as investors. Savvy investors will not put their money in a company that is floundering or stagnating, a company that is behind the times, or lacks vision. Investors will also want to feel assured that they have been presented with a full and accurate depiction of the state of your business and its outlook before putting their money down.

You have to be just as candid with leadership candidates, detailing the state of your business and the market, the challenges your company is facing, and your roadmap for tackling them. Leaders look for opportunities in companies designed with scalability in mind, ready for growth, able to take on more. Can your company pivot and grow to meet shifts in market demands? Are you leveraging the latest technologies and leading communication tools? Are you seeking out new revenue streams? To engage leaders, companies must demonstrate their agility and scalability for potential hires.

While hiring leadership talent has never been easy - especially for smaller or lesser known organizations - that challenge is only increasing in today's shrinking labour market.

One of the vital elements of success is knowing your audience and targeting your message specifically. This is applicable across career levels, as well. For example, entry-level candidates are more likely to be looking for on-the-job learning, opportunities for advancement, and career growth. Mid-career candidates tend to be interested in positions offering flexible scheduling, work/life balance, and shorter commutes.

Marketing is sales

Recruitment is marketing. But what is marketing? It's sales. So, who is representing your brand on the talent market? When interacting with top candidates, your recruiters need to be making that sales pitch - using the language of the audience. To engage leadership talent, of course they need a deep understanding of your challenges, the technical skills required of new hires, and the values and attitudes that will make them a good addition to the team.

Above and beyond this, however, they should act as though selling an opportunity with measurable ROI to investors. This includes articulating things like how your products or services are disrupting the market, introducing innovative solutions, or making people's lives better. They are front-line ambassadors of the mission, the vision, and the impact.

The talent that can take your company to the top aren't just looking to add a line on a resume. True leaders across industries want to know that their work will contribute towards a mission they believe in. Your recruiters have to sell this.

When you can’t compete on brand name or salary, compete on other attributes. Pitch your company as mission-driven, rewarding results, flexible and impactful – something bigger brands may not be able to offer.

The same keywords companies use in their pitches to venture capital investors can be the secrets to persuading industry influencers to join your organization.

Everything is personal

The labour market is shrinking, and the competition for talent is fierce right now. However, you don't hire talent or staff, you hire people. The key to attracting and engaging with the right people is understanding who you really need to reach and speaking to them in the language that matches with their goals and interests.

That knowledge is gained through in-depth labour market research and years of experience sourcing and screening candidates. Organizations need recruiters who understand the motivators that resonate with their targeted candidates and who can sell that personalised marketing message to potential hires.

We focus on helping clients lead and have developed a deep understanding of what resonates with leadership talent, but at all career levels, candidates will be looking for something specific from an employer and a job. Understanding what that is and crafting the right communication strategy is the key to success when competing for a limited supply of in-demand workers.


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