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Tim Geisert

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How to recruit higher quality candidates: a key lesson from consumer marketing


By thinking like a marketer, recruiters can create a targeted sourcing strategy that can deliver a higher quality of hire, says Tim Geisert of Kenexa.

In 2004, Dove, one of Unilever’s biggest beauty brands, sponsored a global research study that asked 3,200 women for their views on female beauty and well-being. Among the results was the poignant finding that only 2% of women around the world would actually describe themselves as beautiful.

The hypothesis of the study was that the beauty industry has distorted women’s perceptions of their own appearance. The researchers concluded that the portrayal of female beauty in the media and popular culture has helped to perpetuate an idea of beauty that is wholly inauthentic and unattainable – all of which has had a profound and negative impact on the self-esteem of women and young girls.

Here’s the thing. Dove’s marketing team decided to take action based on this data. In 2006, Dove created an advertising campaign that aimed to change the definition of beauty, as represented by supermodels and the media. At the core was the message that regardless of their age, height and weight, all women are beautiful. While this may seem worthy and altruistic, it should also be noted that, on the back of this campaign, sales of Dove’s products increased 600% in the first year.

The moral of this story is that data can give you valuable insights and if you can turn the right insights into the right actions, you can achieve demonstrable results. This is thinking like a marketer. Sometimes, taking a different approach can bring you closer to the people you really want to reach.

Targeted sourcing
Let’s apply this to recruitment. To be successful in an organisation, a candidate will need to have the right Skills (what they are trained to do; their education; their past experience), Talent (what they were born to do; their innate capabilities) and Cultural Fit (an environment in which they can thrive; whether their personality and aspirations will match the corporate culture).

These three components – skills, talent and cultural fit – should therefore be at the heart of any selection process.

To assess the effectiveness of their own selection processes, many recruiters have focused on understanding the costs and/or time associated with finding talent. However the decisive metric is actually ‘the quality of the candidate who is hired’.’s 2010 Corporate Recruiting Report supports this view as it highlights that, over the past year, the ‘quality of hire’ has become the single most important factor for recruiters.

So how can you achieve a higher quality of hire? One way is to garner insights, at the outset, that can shape your recruitment process. Interview top performers in your organisation to better understand how and why they are successful – and where you could find other people with a similar profile. Try to get to the core of what makes them tick and what they enjoy in their work. Also, ensure you fully understand the cultural environment of the organisation – and of the team in which the new recruit will work.

If you’re thinking like a marketer, you’ll want to move from insights to actions to results. The action from the above insights is to create a targeted sourcing strategy, articulated around key messages, which will attract the right candidates. It helps if you have a positive and succinct story to tell and if you have an authentic and inspiring Employee Value Proposition. You can then deliver your messages through appropriate mechanisms (such as your career site; social media; internet mining; job boards; events; referral programmes; traditional advertising; direct targeted sourcing or through talent communities).

A word of caution here. The traditional approach to recruitment is to build a ‘funnel’ of candidates. However if you attract a large number of applicants, you then have to sift through unnecessary CVs. You also risk overloading your hiring managers with inappropriate candidates.

A better approach is to build a ‘tunnel’ of candidates. If you can apply knowledge and efficiency to the process, your targeted sourcing strategy should deliver a constant flow of qualified candidates. Throughout the process, assessment tools and techniques can help you to identify candidates who have the appropriate skills, talent and cultural fit. State-of-the-art assessments are now available which can even predict whether a candidate will be successful in the role.

In practice
Here’s a brief example to illustrate this process. A large healthcare company used to recruit globally, predominantly by hoping that the right candidates would notice its ‘post and pray’ display advertisements. After interviewing their top performers, it found that key people in the organisation had some interesting traits in common. For example, their pharmacist techs were particularly compassionate, persistent and had a love of healthcare. They then used this data to create a different campaign for them, based around these values, which successfully created a tunnel of qualified candidates.

Some multinational companies find it easy enough to recruit high quality candidates in their home markets, where their brand and Employee Value Proposition are recognised and understood. However, problems arise when they try to recruit in emerging markets, where they are an unknown quantity.

Our experience shows that, even in this scenario, the same principle applies. Look for insights in your labour market and in the candidates that you want to recruit. Turn those insights into appropriate actions and you should see results. Remember, think like a marketer, not just like a recruiter.

Tim Geisert is Principal of RPO Marketing at Kenexa. He can be contacted at [email protected] or via

One Response

  1. Head of the Employee Experience

    A few years ago I was sitting at a Business Link seminar next to an interesting woman from a small consultancy. She told me she advised retailers on their customers’ "shopping experience". Rather more than just a "secret shopper", her aim was to make sure that every aspect of shopping with a retailer, whether in a shop, through a catalogue or online was a positive experience.

    Which got me thinking about whether HR needs to creat a new role called "Head of the Employee Experience" tasked with ensuring that all employees and potential employees have a positive experience with their organisation from the point of adverising an initial vacancy to the moment they resign. After all, recruitment is as much about marketing as it is about finding the right people; while the right people are an organisation’s best ambassadors.



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