Actually, Recruiters Are Marketers

Recruiters are not marketers, or researchers, copywriters, sourcing experts, or data analysts, according to a recent article by Graeme Johnson right here on ERE. While that article was chock full of true statements and accurate analyses of recruiter strengths and focuses, it also grossly undervalues the skill and strategy involved in recruiting.

Johnson paraphrases a 2014 Deloitte study, High Impact Talent Acquisition, in his piece, praising the relationship between hiring authority and recruiter as the top predictor of a successful hiring outcome, regardless of marketing tactic. This was the basis of his piece: that the best recruiters are skilled in maintaining relationships, and, to him, that’s not marketing.

But what the study actually says is the ability to develop “strong relationships with hiring managers is the top driver of talent acquisition performance.” Now this is a subtle difference in wording, but the meaning shifts drastically. TA teams are more likely to perform well overall if they can develop strong relationships with their internal hiring authorities. Johnson implies that successful hires are a direct result of maintaining relationships, and that’s simply not what the study indicates.

It’s important to differentiate between internal and external recruiters as well in this capacity, but I don’t want to get into the whole “in-house recruiters are failed agency recruiters” debate, because in reality, most in-house recruiters are successful agency recruiters, so the skill sets are roughly the same.

High Impact Talent Acquisition is about internal recruiting, and therefore the findings are biased to internal TA teams, relationships, and processes. Regardless, internal talent acquisition still consists largely of marketing activities. That is supported by the same report, which says, “TA leaders need to embrace technology like never before, adopt modern approaches to sourcing, and achieve metrics that are often hard to measure — all while maintaining strong partnerships across the organization and staying aligned with business strategy.” And in case you weren’t aware, all of that is also considered marketing.

Outside recruiting requires a unique approach on the front-end to secure relationships. Clients and third-party recruiters don’t bump into each other on the subway and begin a wonderful dialogue about potential placements. That may be the ideal scenario, no effort needed on either side, but it’s not realistic.

What is more likely is that a recruiter researched the industry, job market, and company where a hiring authority works, by analyzing historical and qualitative data. He or she may have hopped into their ninja gear to source a perfect candidate for that hiring manager, then developed a plan to market that candidate. If they do all of that correctly and strategically, the hiring authority is receptive to the outreach and thus blossoms a relationship.

Let’s break that down a little further with a real-world example.

James Brost, one of our directors, has been a recruiter for 20 years. He identifies first and foremost as a recruiter, not a marketer, yet his strategy and tactics closely mirror marketing. When Brost first joined Avenues, he brought a few clients over from his previous work, but 90 percent of his relationships are newly developed.

He secures new relationships by finding highly skilled candidates in his niche (sourcing), then performs a market analysis (data analysis) of that candidate’s preferred geography to identify the best openings and firms to work with (research). Next, he consolidates that data to draft a pitch, both for email (copywriting) and by phone.

He brought in more than 25 new clients and close to $250k in billings in less than seven months.

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Of course, a portion of Brost’s time is spent maintaining his existing relationships. But that time’s mainly spent on the “A” clients — those where he has a direct relationship with the hiring authority, is often the exclusive recruiter for them, and/or has a very clear understanding of their needs and wants. The “B” and “C” companies are those that may have a slow hiring process, routinely offer low salaries (comparatively), or ones where he is forced to communicate exclusively with HR.

By focusing on marketing, Brost cultivates a plethora of new relationships and can choose to maintain only the best ones in his book.

Getting and keeping clients require two very different skill sets, and both are essential to being a successful outside recruiter. Although the best recruiters may not think of themselves as marketers, they are marketers.

So yes, we need to be filling our team with the best quality recruiters, the ones who can maintain relationships and operate as an extension of the hiring authority as Johnson states, but the best recruiters are also skilled in marketing. Recruiters who consider marketing, and all the facets that comprise it, a necessary component to their day-to-day success are those who will have enough relationships to sustain a steady stream of placements even in dark economic conditions or organizational hiring lulls.

The best recruiters actually are marketers, and as director of marketing, I don’t throw that title around lightly.


image from bigstock

Nikki Stephens is director of marketing for Avenues Recruiting Solutions. She teaches her team of recruiters about the revenue benefit of thinking like marketers while highlighting their expertise and skills. She studies market and industry trends, manages their recruiting technology stack (CRM, ATS, job boards, website, etc.), and optimizes workflows and processes. She has a unique background in content development and data analysis, and enjoys working the two together seamlessly to achieve business objectives. Get in touch with her on Twitter @avenuesrecruit               


14 Comments on “Actually, Recruiters Are Marketers

  1. Great article, Nikki. However, as a fellow marketing director, I’d add that there are several other reasons why recruitment is moving rapidly from being a sales to a marketing-driven environment. Attracting candidates and clients through content marketing, effective job ads, online advertising, search engine optimisation, email marketing, etc. are all becoming key activities of successful recruiters.

    In addition, embracing and utilising metrics (e.g. job board spend, cost-per-application, sources of placements, etc.) and assessing return on investment is something the marketing world has been doing for years.

    The consulting aspect (building and maintain relationships with candidates and clients) will remain the most important part of successful recruitment, but building a strong book of business and a market-leading database of high-calibre candidates is arguably most effectively done by professional marketeers.

    1. Hi Richard, thank you so much for this reply and for reading the article. I agree with you whole-heartedly about the other reasons recruiting is moving into a marketing-driven environment. I purposefully shied away from giving an in-depth marketing lesson on some of these other features, because I wanted the focus to be on recruiting rather than marketing. There are absolutely aspects that should fall solely on a marketer’s shoulders (afterall, I wouldn’t have a job if this weren’t the case) but that doesn’t mean a large portion of a recruiter’s job isn’t marketing related as well! Thank you for the response once again.

    1. Thank you! I agree that recruiters wear many hats, sales and marketing being two of the main ones.

  2. Some great points here and good timing because I’m researching this topic for an upcoming presentation. I’d be interested to get your perspective on how you see the typical relationship between HR, Recruitment and Marketing today, and what changes (if any) in this relationship do you think would be beneficial for a business in it’s entirety.

    1. I think one of the common issues outside recruiters face when dealing with HR is that HR and internal talent acquisition feel like their job is on the line if they work with recruiters frequently. I think a shift should be that both functions realize they are necessary and neither should feel like its them or the other.

      There’s a reason my recruiter labels B and C clients as ones where he deals exclusively with HR, and it’s because HR can be a major roadblock rather than an ally for a third-party recruiter. HR are the gatekeepers and if they feel threatened in any way, they can cutoff communication. I’d love for HR and outside recruiters to recognize their partnership and truly collaborate, but I’m not sure we’re there as an industry quite yet.

      1. I’ve been in both agency and HR settings. The problem with third party agency and HR relationships isn’t that HR feel their jobs threatened, it’s that the third party agencies often have zero respect for any internal processes in place, and sometimes so do hiring managers. So, the recruiter contacts a manager directly, that manager decides he wants to hire their Perfect! Candidate!, and then the CFO or whoever holds the purse strings comes in screaming at HR demanding to know why they gave the HM permission to interview and spend 30K on a new hire for a position that isn’t even open, and they may not even know what the CFO is talking about. Companies have controls for a reason, third party agencies would do well to work in corporate and have a higher-up come down on their heads when someone breaks a process that’s there for a reason, like stopping someone from spending tens of thousands of dollars without permission, or even just wasting time interviewing which would have been better spent on other projects since no one is going to approve a hire anyway.

        That was the problem I always had with third party agencies. I never gave a damn if I couldn’t source someone myself. Corporate recruiters and agency recruiters both have their places, strengths and weaknesses, and those strengths and weaknesses are usually not inherent to the people but the limitations of the roles they find themselves in. A corporate recruiter who hires one person every ten years for position X isn’t going to develop a pipeline for that position regardless of how high value/impact it is, because it’s an insane investment of resources ‘just in case.’ Much better to rely on a recruiter who specializes in X, and has every incentive to develop that pipeline. Some HR people can be officious control freaks, and not all agency recruiters have no respect for processes, but I’ve been on both sides and when I respected HR processes as an agency recruiter, I never had a problem. Likewise when I was in corporate, so long as they respected the internal process I couldn’t care less who the HMs used.

        1. I greatly respect your insight on this subject. I can only speak to my personal experience, and what I outlined above is the issue we most commonly encounter in our environment. That’s not to say that there isn’t truth to what you’ve described that we simply don’t see on our end.

          Here at Avenues, we truly do go out of our way to ensure we are following proper procedure and everyone involved is happy and excited about working with us. Our relationships are very important to us and we do what we can to avoid any burned bridges wherever possible, including with our HR contacts.

          Thank you once again for your input on this.

          1. The question is, how would you know what’s causing the roadblock? I’m sure there was plenty a third party agency recruiter who thought I was just being a typical HR dork by brushing them off, when in fact there were any number of reasons they shouldn’t have been wasting their time on a particular requisition, even if it was technically open. There were agency people I trusted and I’d tell them all the inside news I could to keep them informed, but a lot I couldn’t, and as much as I wanted to tell them, “listen, this HM is a putz who I need to routinely pull back, and he’s on a fishing expedition and doesn’t mind wasting your time because you’re working on contingency,” I couldn’t just say that off the bat if this was my first contact with them.

            I think the key is to get the relationships to the point where you can get the inside news so you know why this or that req isn’t worth pursuing, and having been on both sides when I found an agency recruiter who I could trust, I let them in on everything I could. The agency world, though it does have some very good and reputable people in it, also has a problem in that it refuses to police itself, and there’s a metric ton of charlatans and hucksters out there. Cruise LinkedIn any time of day to see the complaints about horrific recruiters piling up, it doesn’t stop. The industry has a problem it isn’t addressing, and it’s not surprising internal HR departments aren’t quick to trust such an industry, even if the particular firm they’re dealing with at any given time is pure gold.

          2. In many cases we don’t know, you’re right. I’m simply relaying an issue we are aware of; the one we hear from HR contacts and hiring managers directly.

          3. Which is fair enough, we’ve all got our own experiences to work with. But having worked both sides of the fence, I’m inclined to side with HR until they’ve proven themselves to be officious fearful dolts, which can certainly be a problem. It’s just not been my experience that this was the majority case, when I was an agency recruiter or in HR.

          4. I should also add, I agree that if recruiting has a parallel function, it’s marketing. In fact, the “Recruiting is Sales!” people have been getting on my nerves for the last decade or so, to be honest, because they are the ones who have driven most if not all the negative trends in this industry, I feel. It’s people who have come from other disciplines who, in my experience at least, have looked at the processes set up by the sales types and tried to reign in some of the insanity driven by sales people who seem only focused on closing! at any and all costs.

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