According to a study of 300 career sites, carried out by TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications, LLC, the time it takes for candidates to move from the top of the sourcing funnel — i.e., being totally unaware of a company and its job openings — to the bottom — i.e., taking action and applying for a job at the company — has increased by roughly 41 percent in the last two years.
Presented without further comment or context, this seems like a troubling development: what are these companies doing wrong? Are other companies making the same mistakes? How can we stem the lengthening of the sourcing process — and the attendant extension of the overall hiring process?
But if we consider TMP’s research in the context of the Internet and how it has radically reshaped the hiring process, this increase in funnel-time begins to seem less like a misstep, and more like a natural progression.
How the Internet Empowered Candidates and Changed the Hiring Process Forever
“Before the Internet, if you had an opening, you put an ad in the paper,” says James Ellis, director of inbound marketing at TMP. “Then, someone who has never heard about you before — who knows nothing about your company — sees the ad, and he says, ‘I can technically do that job,’ so he sends in a resume.”
In these pre-Internet days, employers owned the entire hiring process from start to finish, Ellis says.
“The process was: I have an opening, you have a resume, and now I am in charge of the rest of the process. I will tell you when we’ll have a phone interview, when we’ll have a live interview, how to dress and what to expect …” Ellis explains. “And when I decide I’m not interested in you, I may or may not even tell you.”
But the Internet doesn’t allow for such totally employer-owned hiring processes anymore — because the Internet doesn’t really allow for any authority to completely own any process. The “people,” in a broad sense, have a lot more power than they used to.
“In the same way that WebMD lets me look up symptoms without talking to my doctor and become better informed for when I do talk to my doctor, the Web has also allowed me to poke holes in the hiring process,” Ellis says. “Now, I want to own a little bit of this process. I want to understand who you are before I apply. I want to have a bigger stake in this process, and not be a slave to it.”
Thanks to the Internet, applying for a job is now more like buying a car: candidates conduct research; they compare choices; they investigate openings; and they make decisions based on their own criteria.
“Instead of ‘I have an opening, now give me your resume,’ the candidate’s journey is much more in line with the marketing funnel,” Ellis says. “It starts with, ‘I don’t know who this company is, but I understand they have a job I might be interested in.’ I become interested in the job, and I do some research, and then I have to validate that interest, make a decision, and then act.”
So it makes sense that job seekers are now taking longer to make decisions about where they apply. They have access to more information, and they’re using that information to make smart career decisions for themselves.
“There’s so much content [on the Internet] about companies,” Ellis says. “I don’t feel compelled as a job seeker to say, ‘Oh, there’s an opening! I have to click the [apply] button!’ Instead, I’m going to say, ‘Interesting. I’m going to go to LinkedIn and Glassdoor; I’m going to call my friends; I’m going to do some research on Google.”
Recruiters and employers have no choice but to adjust to this new hiring reality. The change has come. Job seekers can research more jobs and more companies than ever before. They’re no longer content with hiring processes in which employers hold all the cards.
“No one would blindly send their professional information into a hole and hope for the best,” Ellis says. “That doesn’t work anymore.”
To Attract Candidates in This New Age of Hiring, Recruiters Must Turn to Inbound Marketing Strategies
Now that job seekers hold significant power in the hiring process, recruiters can’t rely on traditional recruitment marketing tactics. Instead, they need to adopt inbound marketing strategies.
In other words: recruiting is no longer about placing job ads in front of candidates; it is about adding value to job seekers’ lives.
“Advertising is based on the idea that you will give me attention because I am interrupting you,” Ellis says. “Whether it’s a banner ad, an email, or a commercial on t.v., I am getting in the way of whatever it is you are doing.”
The same could be said for traditional recruitment advertising, which relied on poorly written, vaguely defined job ads to grab candidates’ attention and lure them into applying for jobs at companies they knew little about.
“Inbound [marketing] flips that completely on its head,” Ellis explains. “It says, ‘We’re here, and we’re going to make content so interesting … that you are going to find us organically.”
To illustrate the point further, Ellis uses the example of a magazine. A person buys a magazine to read the articles. In traditional methods of advertising, the ads in the magazine interrupt these articles in an attempt to grab the reader’s attention. When it comes to inbound marketing, however, the companies advertising to the reader are the ones writing the articles — and, ideally, they’re writing articles so interesting that the person enjoys reading these articles.
“If the articles are written by companies, and they are so compelling I want to pay for them, then they aren’t interrupting me. They’re giving me value,” Ellis says. “They’re interesting; they’re useful. I’m being drawn to them. But [the companies] are not advertising — even though they really are.”
The idea is that, by giving people value, companies will make positive emotional connections with them. Rather than actively pursuing people and selling products — or job opportunities — to them, a company using inbound marketing strategies essentially lies in wait. It creates useful content that people experience and enjoy. The people then look fondly on the company for giving them enjoyable experiences, and they come looking for the company and its products — or job opportunities — on their own.
How to Use Inbound Marketing Techniques In Your Recruiting Efforts
Content is the crux of any inbound marketing effort, so let’s start there.
In the context of inbound marketing, content can take any number of broad forms: articles, blog posts, videos, infographics, etc. Basically, Ellis says, anything that is “informative and useful” counts as content.
Inbound marketing content should not exclusively focus on the organization itself in an attempt to attract job seekers. Most people will not find this content particularly useful — especially not passive candidates, who are not even looking for jobs. Content that focuses on how great it is to work for a particular employer will never enter a passive job seeker’s life — because they aren’t looking for such content.
“[I can't just] say things like, ‘My company is great; you want to work for my company,’” says Ellis. “What I want to talk about is, ‘This is why this industry is changing; this is an interesting story or case study we’ve seen that might help somebody else solve a problem.’”
Content such as this puts value out into the world. Because this content is valuable, it will attract an audience organically, through search engines and social media.
Of course, attracting an audience does require some effort. Recruiters looking to attract candidates through inbound marketing need to be smart about where they post and share their content.
“What I need to do is [put the content] in a place where you will come and find it,” says Ellis. “[That's] the same reason that I put a restaurant in a high foot-traffic area, and not in the middle of nowhere.”
Content should be coded properly so that search engines know to “give it to the right people,” Ellis says. Employers and recruiters should also be sure to share their content through appropriate social media channels — that is, any social media platforms on which the right kinds of candidates hang out. This way, people will see the content, read it, and — if it’s valuable — share it.
Once people find and read the content, they’ll begin to look at the company behind the content in a favorable light. Then, when jobs at the company open up, these same people will consider applying.
“When I have a positive emotional connection with that company, and I see that jobs are open there, I’ll think hard about applying,” Ellis says.
Who Can You Attract Through Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing content is useful for attracting both active and passive job seekers:
- Active Candidates: Content can help active an job seeker validate their decision to apply to a specific company.
“I can’t make a decision about you as a company based on a job description alone,” Ellis says. “In order for me to act, I need validation — and content does exactly that. It says, ‘This is what the job is like; this is what the location is like; this is what the office is like; this is what our picnic looks like; these are the kinds of people you’ll be working with; this is what your day will be like.’”
This kind of content helps active job seekers decide whether or not a company or job is right for them.
- Passive Candidates: Passive candidates are not even looking for jobs, so trying to attract them via job advertisements makes no sense. Instead, employers and recruiters can use content to get themselves onto passive candidates’ radars. This, in turn, can help turn passive candidates into active ones.”What you’re doing is laying this groundwork that says, ‘Feel good about this company, so that when it is time to look for a job, we’re one of the companies you think about positively,’” Ellis says.
So, Does Inbound Marketing Really Work?
We can talk about inbound marketing all we want, but it’s just a nice theory until we have some evidence to back it all up.
To find out whether content can really attract candidates, TMP conducted a study for a major telecommunications company. The results?
“Not everybody looks at content — in fact, a very small slice of users do — but those who look at content act dramatically different than those who don’t,” Ellis says.
Imagine two job seekers: one is a young person right out of college, the other is an experienced veteran of their industry.
The young person is looking for an entry-level job. They aren’t terribly concerned about finding the right job — they just need to find a job. For them, the job-seeking process is a numbers game: apply to as many jobs as you can to increase your chances of landing one of them.
TMP’s study found that these entry-level job seekers were 30 percent less likely to apply to a given job after seeing content.
“That sounds horrible, but it’s actually a good thing,” Ellis explains. “Recruiters get too many applicants for these entry-level jobs, and [content] helps weed some [job seekers] out. Content says, ‘This is what the job is really like,’ and the people say, ‘Maybe I don’t really want this job.’ They self-select out.”
On the other hand, we have the experienced veteran. They have 10+ years of experience in their field. They can afford to be selective in their job search. For these people, content increases the likelihood that they will apply by 289 percent.
So, what’s the takeway? Content works: it filters out ill-equipped entry-level candidates and attracts selective veterans. If you’re not using inbound marketing techniques to attract candidates, there’s only one question to ask:
What are you waiting for?