To Find the Right Candidates, Take a Different Approach

Thomas Handcock, Practice Leader, CEB

Most companies that are hiring for sales or customer service roles tend to do so at large volume, attracting thousands of applicants. Yet, despite the multitude of applicants, CEB data show that 72 percent are of average quality at best.

The reason why? Candidates today are far less picky in the early stages of a job search than they were in the past. A quarter of them apply, often online, to at least 10 companies, even applying for jobs they know they have little chance of getting.

At the same time, recruiters have limited time to reduce a long list of applicants to a select few to interview. So it’s no surprise that one in five new hires are regretted, or that 65 percent of hiring managers aren’t satisfied with the work of their recruiter.

The problem is clear. Despite the volume of applicants and the short deadlines, it’s still critically important that the right person is hired for these types of roles – especially as most of them involve direct contact with customers – and recruiters are struggling to deliver.

What should recruiters do?

75 percent of recruitment and HR teams think promoting their company as a “great place to work” will help solve this problem. However, the approach of mass “branding for appeal” only attracts more mediocre candidates. Those candidates only continue to slow down overworked recruitment teams and force them to dismiss more candidates.

Even more importantly, many candidates, and notably the ones companies really want to attract, don’t pay attention to this type of branding. This is because companies are not applicants’ only source of information when they are looking for jobs. In fact, 80 percent of the information that candidates learn about employers comes from sources outside a recruiting department’s control, for example, sites like Glassdoor. And there’s an easy answer as to why – nearly two-thirds of them say they are skeptical about what employers say about themselves, so they find the information they want to know elsewhere.

To win the war for talent, recruiters need to shift their strategy to help candidates decide whether the organization is the right fit for them and if they have the qualities the company is looking for. Rather than branding for appeal, they need to “brand for influence,” and be a consultative partner to candidates.

This shift to branding for influence yields much better results. In fact, this type of strategy results in a 54 percent increase in quality of applicant pools, five percent more high-performing new hires, and a 23 percent decrease in new hire turnover.

How can my organization brand for influence?

  1. Focus branding on critical talent: Instead of branding across a wide range of talent segments, focus your resources on the talent that you really need now and in the future. Make sure you understand what is important to these people and tailor messages accordingly.

  2. Challenge and tell, don’t sell: Think of yourself as a consultant to applicants. Challenge their ideas about your organization and the kind of role they think you offer. Offer realistic previews of the role and the firm’s culture to help them truly understand the culture and what it’s like to work for your organization.

  3. Build a network of brand influencers: Focus on improving the way you manage relationships with the people that influence candidates. These “brand ambassadors,” whether they’re from inside or outside of the company, can have a significant impact on the quality of the applicant pool.

When done properly, a branding for influence approach means better people are hired at lower cost. But not only that, the higher quality of hire that can be realized by this type of approach yields new hires that are higher performers and turn over at a lower rate. And these results don’t come at a high price tag – just about a three percent increase in employment branding costs. Even if your organization doesn’t have the funding to devote additional spend to branding for influence, adopting the strategies suggested above can still go a long way toward improving the quality of the applicant pool and, ultimately, the quality of hire – even in high-volume service roles.

Thomas Handcock is a Practice Leader in CEB’s HR practice. You can connect with him by visiting his LinkedIn profile