The secret to candidate acquisition, that no-one EVER told you!

The secret to candidate acquisition that no-one EVER told you!

For as long as I remember (and in recruitment, that is a very, very long time) getting good candidates has always been about getting their attention.

Way back in the day, all newspapers were bulging with job-classified sections. Seriously, I remember the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age job sections were way thicker than the rest of the paper combined! It was the same across the world. And it was all a mad attention-grab to stand out from the pack, and get a job-seeker to see your Ad.

Recruiters used to fight over positioning on the page, and spend hours training consultants on how to write compelling headlines. It was a ‘job beauty pageant’.

Indeed, in those days we used to pay a premium to get our ads out of the classifieds and into the main news section (The Early General News, as it was called) and the logic there was we would get away from the hurly-burly of the classifieds, and stand out as a juicy job, easy to spot in a page of news articles.

The Internet changed nothing. Classifieds just moved online, and we continued our mad scramble to get noticed. Getting the candidate attention was everything.

And it got even blunter. At Recruitment Solutions, I recall spending tens of thousands of dollars on giant railway platform posters, screaming out on three-meter high billboards, for commuters to “look at me, look at me! Have I got a job for you!” I remember seeing similar advertising on the tube stations of London at the time.

Job leaflets were handed out at stations. Some recruiters advertised on radio and TV, and even football team jerseys. All of it, a massive contest to grab attention.

And maybe we got a tiny bit more sophisticated in more recent times, with SEO and digital candidate identification tactics, followed up by in-mails and emails and texts. But even social media is used by most employers as a blunt tool, to advertise jobs, seldom to engage and build awareness and brand.

But no matter the mode, the tactic has always been the same. It’s a contest to get the attention of those elusive candidates.

And it is wrong.

Or at least it’s becoming less effective.

The fact is, job seekers are now behaving like consumers. And so, for smart recruiters to secure the best talent, we have to take a lesson from mainstream consumer marketing.

Hear me on this, please. It’s the most important thing you will read about candidate acquisition for quite some time. Maybe ever.

It’s no longer about gaining the candidate attention any more.

It’s about knowing their intention!

Yes, that’s right. We actually need to know what a candidate plans to do before he or she does it.

That’s what the ‘big data’ battle is all about, after all.

In our case we need to be so sophisticated in our talent acquisition strategies, that we are aware of the next step a candidate plans to make, and can act accordingly.

What do I mean? Well it’s cocktail of strategies, but it will include:

  • Use of automated marketing software and big data tools, to track the online behaviour of potential recruits, so we gain insights to their intentions. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Nor out of reach of the average recruitment business. Years ago, at Firebrand Talent Search, we used technology to track the online behaviour of visitors to our website and other digital assets. We knew what blogs they read, what recruiter profiles they perused, and what jobs they looked at, even if they did not apply. That allows you to then market those job-types directly to a candidate, or be more proactive and call them with a plum role that you already know they will be interested in! (We also knew a lot about our clients online behaviour but that’s another tale).
  • Investment in a talent community online, so that you can engage with prospective candidates, long before they are ready to move or they are ready to apply for anything. I see debate about whether online talent communities actually exist, usually from theorists and naysayers who have never actually built one. I have. Several in fact. It works. And it means you are building up relationships with people who have not applied for a job. Not even looking. Not even ‘registered’ with you. But they share their plans over time, or give a hint as to their objectives. Or maybe they actually do contact you when they are thinking about a move, but before they talk to anyone else. And that is the Holy Grail in a world of skills shortages. Candidates that are unique to you. Just in case you need convincing about the value of online ‘talent communities’, in 2012 Firebrand Talent Search made about 700 hundred permanent placements (across 10 offices), at an average fee of $16,000 AUD. 50 % of those placed candidates came from our social media built talent community. If you care to do the arithmetic, that is 350 x $16,000, which is  $5,600,000.  Reflect on that number next time you ponder social recruiting ROI, or question whether ‘talent communities’ exist.
  • A candidate-care program that is not lip service, hypocrisy and waffle, and is actually built on a culture of CRM. And for me, CRM is a purpose-built Candidate Relationship Management system, where consultants are trained and rewarded for actually engaging with people over the long term. They build up powerful alliances with candidates that are placed in temp jobs multiple times over decades, or placed in permanent roles several times through their careers. This will never happen with the majority of recruiters of course, as it requires a total paradigm shift about what is important in recruitment.

The fact is, candidates are the future of success in recruitment. Impending skills shortages will make sure of that. If you rely on candidates proactively approaching you, you will fail. Clients will only pay us fees if we can access unique talent they can’t find themselves.

So talent acquisition is no longer about gaining the attention of the candidates currently already on the job market. It’s knowing their intentions, and using that knowledge to give our clients what they cannot get via their internal teams, their own database, their own social strategies, and their own employer brand, all of which are lined up to give third-party recruiters an almighty kick in the figurative nuts.

If you have read this far, I thank and congratulate you. I don’t hold out much hope that many owners of recruitment companies will act on the advice in this article. Even if they agree with it. And that is because our industry is hamstrung by ‘shortermism’. This month’s target. This quarters budget. I want to run an Ad now, or make a head hunt call now, so I have a candidate to place in my vacant order today! I get it. But what about tomorrow? You plan to be in business in a year don’t you? In two years? What will you do when your candidate acquisition techniques no longer work?

I will say it again. Build a candidate acquisitions strategy around candidate INTENTION. Not getting their ATTENTION.

I have to admit, reluctantly, that at least some of the inspiration for this article came over a breakfast I had with Chris Savage, who in the course of a long, boring monologue on the advertising industry, did say a few interesting things about consumer marketing. He apparently writes a mediocre blog, which no one reads, called, ‘Wrestling Possums’. Give it a sympathy-read, won’t you?



About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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30 Responses to The secret to candidate acquisition that no-one EVER told you!

  1. Louise September 9, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Great article and great advice as always.

  2. Kymberly September 9, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Brilliant Greg! Agree agree agree

  3. Tim McNamara September 9, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    Hi Greg, a great read (as is Chris’s blog!).

  4. Mickey Stevens September 9, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    Great article, thought provoking as always.Thanks!

  5. Kiran Bhat September 9, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    One of your best articles … please keep sharing insights on the future of recruitments trends … will be of great help … thanks a lot 🙂

    • Greg Savage September 9, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

      High praise indeed Kiran. Thank you. I will continue to write blogs for now.. as long as I think I have something to say.. but for those who know me..that might be a while yet 🙂

      • Kiran Bhat September 9, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

        🙂 🙂 🙂 … will wait for our turn to hear / read more from you … 🙂

  6. Cara Kerr September 9, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    Great article as always, a topic that is a constant discussion with my team of recruiters! Candidate is king!

  7. Alan Whitford September 9, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    Hi Greg

    Great article as usual. Years ago when I helped create the Engage business unit within EuroRSCG with Keith Robinson and Martin Cerullo, we embedded the phrase Candidate Relationship Management along with a mantra that the Canidate is a a Consumer and the Consumber is a Candidate. Self evident, we thought. Needless to say, whether the client base was corporate or agency, the approach fell on deaf ears. We tried to support the approach with leading edge (at the time) technology to make it easier to create and manage communities and to track behaviours.

    I love your article. Hits the right notes. But, as you pointed out, who will dare break the mold?

    Loved Wrestling Possums. The article about Cannes Lions 2014 is spot on.

    With your permission, I would like to repost your article on RCEURO.COM



    • Greg Savage September 9, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

      Thanks Alan, you can certainly re-post my article on RCEURO.COM, with attribution of course. If you were referring to a Wrestling Possums blog, you will need to refer to Chris of course, very best, Greg

  8. Paul September 9, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    A very good read as always.

  9. Mike McGann - Accredited Skills September 9, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

    Mike, sorry mate, that comment was pure promotion for your business. I won’t publish that, best, Greg

  10. Nicole Shepherd September 10, 2014 at 12:45 am #

    Great article Greg. Thanks also for taking me back to the old days for a laugh. I remember trying to use my best sales skills to get top spot in the paper!

  11. Chris South September 11, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    Really enjoyed this article, thanks Greg. Even 8 years ago I remember the push to get ads in papers. It is surprising that most agencies still aren’t prepared to look past listing adverts on job boards and re-posting these advert links on Linkedin.

  12. RM September 16, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    My top “secret”:
    Get a desk phone number of one person in the business you are mapping out. Call the surrounding phone numbers (they should belong to people working for the same business) and write down the names of the people who sit around that person based on their voice message or just engage them when they pick up. Slowly call them all over a month, two or three and get their mobiles and personal emails. Enter into meaning full conversations with them about their career and what they want. Find out when they may be ready to look. Ask them what may tempt them to look sooner than that date. Ask them more and more and more…. Listen to them, give your pearls of wisdom…. meet for a coffee.
    You will access talent that linkedin, facebook, google, twitter and all the rest do not have. But don’t neglect the social media or active candidates as you should not neglect any channel but focus on the one that makes your $$$$ and mine is direct calling.

  13. Mona September 17, 2014 at 2:14 am #

    Hi Greg,

    This article summarizes what I believe recruitement is…or better said, should be today. Gather data, analyze it, define a model, draw conclusions, transform into actionable points. Which brings us to the next point: Talent Communities; such a brilliant idea with high success chances & minimum cost attached. And finally, the continuous candidate care and keeping the relationship alive. So straight forward, so logical, so clear and yet, so difficult to grasp by many recruiters.

    All my best,

  14. Anthony Hesse - Property Personnel September 20, 2014 at 12:05 am #

    Great blog as always Greg. I’ve been in this beautiful business long enough to remember the power of paper advertising. My how things have changed over the years, for the better in my opinion. Cheers, Anthony

  15. Sarah September 21, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    Thanks Greg. fascinating insights, really interesting perspective. Thanks. Sarah

  16. Dan LC September 24, 2014 at 1:24 am #

    Thank you Greg for the insightful words of wisdom and recommendations. I always enjoy your posts and usually glean actionable content from them.

    My question is — What recommendations might you offer around what best practices are available or creatable in applying true ‘CRM’? Is there a data collection, mining application already available (via cost or not) or is pure content-rich, industry-specific, blogging suggested, or are there other tools in process i should keep my radar on or apply?

    I appreciate and value your reply.

    • Greg Savage September 24, 2014 at 9:46 am #

      Dan, its a complex involved building a strategic talent community via an integrated digital and social strategy. It takes me 2 days to explain that to my clients so you will understand why I can’t here. but there are also automated marketing tools such as Marketo and Silverpop that go some way to assisting with this – and some of the advanced cloud based ATS/CRM systems such as job Science are building sophisticated tools that tackle this issue too

  17. Dan LC September 24, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    Thanks Greg. I will investigate these recommendations. Good day to you!

  18. TalentLists September 30, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    Yes, investing on talent community is good idea. But how do you invest is a quite difficult question to answer. Often, it would cost you a lot of time to engage with communities and possible candidates. It would need practical plan to carry out the idea.

    I have deleted your self promotion. Thats not what the comments section of my blog is for..Greg

  19. Nicola October 1, 2014 at 7:23 am #

    Unfortunately most recruiters don’t get to chose how they operate – they work in larger multi-office, national or global staffing firms.

    All the while those recruiters on the ground are trained and told and commissioned to work ‘closest to the money’ and to focus always and only on most place-able candidates who can fill open jobs right now, they will never have the time or motivation to engage in meaningful ways with potential future candidates or to keep in touch with people who they can’t submit right now, who aren’t looking right away. In fact in many recruitment firms they would be penalized for doing so.

    • Greg Savage October 1, 2014 at 9:18 am #

      No doubt Nicola, my message is for owners of recruitment businesses more than anyone else

  20. Jacob Sten Madsen October 3, 2014 at 5:50 am #

    I haave been following your blog and posts for some time, and have found (pardon me for saying this ) that much said and talked about is a merry-go-round, same old. However how utterly refreshing to read when someone take their years of wisdom and apply future thinking, and come up with new stuff, stuff that provoke, makes you think and that is so very spot on. As with Alan Whitford I would like to share in a wider context, the sad truth is though that not much said or being spoken about regarding the future of recruitment gets much attention. I have tried numerous times and the steadfast number of anyone listening is in single digit percentages. However for the few of us driven by passion engagement and a wish to constantly challenge status quo this is one very serious good piece that for definite in my archive of ‘Best of about recruitment’
    All the best

  21. Beat October 8, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Be different, build relationships and “go the extra Mile”!
    Thank you Greg, great article

  22. Sean Kelley February 4, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    makes you wonder how much data LinkedIn has and how they’ll predict what person from what industry is ready to make a change. It’s unfortunate that recruitment firms, small to mid, and HR recruiters may not have this valuable insight. Good article. Certainly a data point to leverage.

  23. Richard Mellor December 22, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

    I’ve decided – we’re going to have a lovely relaxed Christmas, then return and do this!

    Richard Mellor
    Cummins Mellor Group

  24. Ray May 7, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

    great post

  25. Sarah Savage March 21, 2017 at 10:16 am #

    Very good post Greg, thank you. Must remember intention, before attention.

    From one Savage to another!


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