Reverse Marketing Recruiting (Or how to recruit at a mediocre firm located in “Nowheresville”)

Not every firm can offer the glamour of a Cisco, HP, a “dot com” firm nor can they be lucky enough to be located in the Silicon Valley. But the less than glamorous firms in “less desirable locations” still need talent. What is the best strategy to attract them? Why not try “reverse marketing?” Reverse marketing is when you start the recruiting process by identifying “what you have to sell” and then you target the type of people who would be attracted to those features. You start with some basic market research. First, survey (or conduct focus groups) your recent hires and (1) identify why they accepted their job, (2) ask what they now like best about the job the company and the community, (3) next ask what “almost scared them away” in order to identify the perceived barriers to your job/location. Next, identify “counters” to the perceived negatives and show prospective applicants that these “negatives” are not true. The goal is to turn lemons into lemonade! Next, identify how to best sell your firm’s top features. Some non-glamour features include:

  • Stability and security in the job and the firm
  • #1 in your league (Big fish in a small pond)
  • Employees get to see the immediate impact of their work
  • A work/life balance. A job that doesn’t require that I give up my outside life
  • A chance to help people or to make a difference (your product/service impacts the world)
  • Challenge and opportunities not offered to new hires at other firms
  • Great managers and co-workers
  • Flexibility and a chance to learn a new field
  • I’ve always wanted to work in…

These features are also called “non-monetary” offer features. They need to be used in the recruitment materials and in the interviews. The third step is to look at the demographics of the type of candidates that would be attracted to your “best” features. Start by looking at the demographics of your current employees. What type of people love your firm? Are there any common demographic elements you can use in your targeted recruiting? Market research and recruitment advertising firms can assist you in making this match. Possible things to look for include cultures and individuals that like stability, challenge, risk takers, etc. You may also find that people of certain age categories, family status or phases of life have preferences. If you can make a match, you can then target your recruitment ads to those focus areas. Be careful of stereotypes and continue to use other approaches to assure a diverse candidate pool. Examples of possible demographic matches to job features include:

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  • College grads that like skiing might be attracted to jobs in Colorado
  • Recent parents looking for rural areas to raise their kids
  • Companies in areas with great schools can look for workers (parents) in areas with poor schools
  • Laid off workers looking for job security
  • People of certain cultures that are taught to respect stability and hierarchy
  • Members of adventure clubs that would seek out challenging jobs with a high risk factor (Ex. mountain climbers and electric pole maintenance job)

For example a brokerage firm found that they had stable (but relatively dull jobs) and that many people from Asian cultures had a preference for stability and jobs in finance. As a result they increased their recruiting ads in Asian related publications and web sites. The results were dramatic. The next step is to put together a “WOW” job feature offer. This is where you add to the offer your intention to offer projects and job aspects that others are unwilling or are unable to offer. This might include:

  • Your management style & open 2 way communications
  • Challenging projects & opportunities
  • Opportunities to grow and learn
  • How their work will make a difference
  • How performance is recognized & rewarded
  • The degree of control over their job/life
  • A chance to do what you are best at

The final step is to look for people that already know and like you. By looking at retail customers, suppliers and even competitors that look up to your firm. You might find that your firm has people that already admire your features and as a result are more likely to respond to your ads/web site material. Don’t be negative just because people turn you down. Be flexible and match your limited features to those that rank those features at the top of their job wish list.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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