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Recruitment marketing strategy: why it pays to be authentic

Susan's negative work experience at White Lies hurt the company's employer brand in the eyes of aspiring candidates. Here's what you can do differently in your recruitment marketing strategy to avoid the same fate.

Christina Pavlou
Christina Pavlou

An experienced recruiter and HR professional who has transferred her expertise to insightful content to support others in HR.

Meet Susan. Susan is a copywriter and has just found an interesting job ad from the company “White Lies”. The role is what she’s looking for and the company looks like a great place to work at, with employees enjoying their beautiful offices and organizing fun events and trips. Or, at least that’s what it says on White Lies’ careers page.

Fast forward to Susan’s first month at work. Things are slightly different than what she expected. Her job is not copywriting – or, rather, not only copywriting. She also edits images, replies to customers’ emails and assists other departments as needed. Susan is sure that her coworkers are smart and interesting people, but she hasn’t had the chance to actually get to know most of them, as five employees have already quit and left the company.

The only thing that stayed true to her expectations is the office; there are spacious meeting rooms and communal areas, a nice view and a ping pong table for employees who want to unwind. It’s a shame, though, that no one actually enjoys these amenities; they’re all running like crazy to regularly put out fires and to meet deadlines since their teams are woefully understaffed.

Susan wonders what could have gone so badly. Were there any red flags that she didn’t notice during the hiring process? Should she have guessed that all this is too good to be true?

(Marketing) trick or treat

No, it’s not Susan’s fault. Like most job seekers, she did her research before accepting the job offer – even before applying in the first place. She browsed White Lies’ career site and social media pages and read all about the attractive benefits they offer and the values they stand by, e.g. work-life balance. Along with the promises of a challenging career opportunity, Susan was hooked.

So far, so good, right? Similar to how candidates sell their skills during an interview, companies apply a recruitment marketing strategy to talk up their culture and attract future hires. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem begins when companies brand themselves as something different – even slightly – than what they really are.

Picture a company that advertises itself as a great place to grow your career when in reality offers only entry-level roles with little to no room for professional development. Or another company that advocates for diversity when all employees in senior management are white males. In Susan’s case, she thought she had found a workplace with a great work-life balance, but ended up working overtime and getting stressed over tasks she wasn’t familiar with.

And while job seekers like Susan can take branding messages with a pinch of salt, it’s still the company’s responsibility to present a picture that’s not misleading but reflects its culture as accurately as possible. Because candidates will often decide on a job offer based on what they learn about the job and company during the process.

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“What’s so funny ‘bout recruitment marketing?”

The recruiters at White Lies probably thought that if they slightly embellish their company culture, they’ll get to hire great candidates. And they might feel justified in doing so, considering that they got a star employee in Susan. But don’t be so fast to replicate their recruitment marketing strategy in your own organization. Let’s go further down the road to see what happened with Susan:

One month later…

Susan’s first month at work was far from ideal but she decided to give White Lies the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were having a rough month, maybe they lost a stellar employee and got disorganized. In any case, she’ll try to get the job done and make the most out of this job opportunity.

Two months later…

No matter how optimistic and hard-working Susan is, things are getting worse – or at least, not improving. Employees keep quitting and tasks are getting overwhelming. Senior management doesn’t seem to take any actions to improve the work conditions. On top of that, Susan becomes friends with her desk neighbor and, during a lunch break, she learns that this is actually the norm; things have always been that way at White Lies.

Three months later…

Frustrated with the lack of organization, the constant changes and the long hours, Susan decided to look for another job and finds one pretty quickly. She gives her two-week notice.

Four months later…

Susan has started a new job that is nothing like her previous experience at White Lies. Now that she sees what it means to have a truly good company culture, she decides to “save” some fellow candidates and leaves a scathing but fair review on Glassdoor to describe the real work environment of White Lies. She also talks openly about her experience with hundreds of fellow copywriters in her WhatsApp and Slack chat groups. When people in her extended LinkedIn network see that she used to work at White Lies and ask about getting a referral, she’s honest with them.

A year later…

White Lies’ Glassdoor score plummets from a respectable 3.7 to 2.2 within months, as former employees and candidates follow Susan’s example and share their experiences online. The company’s reputation is drowning and that is even reflected in their sales numbers – people don’t trust its brand.

Perhaps all this sounds too dramatic, but it’s not an extreme scenario. Candidates pay attention to a company’s reputation, and a poor employer brand largely impacts their decision to apply for an open role. Based on research, 69% of candidates are not very or not at all likely to accept a job offer from a company with a bad reputation – even if they’re unemployed.

So what should White Lies do? Admit that their work conditions are far from ideal and hope that some candidates will still get interested?

It’s not all fun and games

Now, that’s the real question: would Susan apply knowing all this about White Lies in advance? Probably not. But Jane would. Jane is a copywriter who, unlike Susan, prefers less structure in her work and is always up for a challenge. She is more creative and productive when under pressure, and White Lies offers an environment where she can thrive.

Or, she could thrive, had she applied. But White Lies’ recruitment marketing strategy was targeting Susans, not Janes.

Here’s what you can do to make sure you target the right candidates:

Play to your strengths

Before you market your employer brand, you first need to know what makes you a good employer. Don’t assume that every employee wants a job with increased responsibilities or that everyone would pick a higher salary over a flexible work schedule. You just need to appeal to the right audience.

Do you only offer entry-level positions? Perfect; reach out to recent graduates who wish to gain job experience and be open about how you’ll help them advance their career. Are you a newly formed company that can’t afford to pay above or even at the market rate? No problem; balance it out with remote work options so employees can cut commuting expenses.

For example, look at HireVue, the video interview software. They want to hire talented and ambitious tech candidates. That’s why they’ve added the following section in their job ads, making a point that HireVue could be a stepping stone to even larger companies:

recruitment marketing strategy - HireVue example

BECO., a UK-based soap company, realizes that not everyone wants to do this job for a lifetime. So, they developed an unorthodox recruitment marketing campaign to encourage other companies to steal their staff (while also supporting the employment of people with disabilities):

recruitment marketing strategy - BECO. example

They have a dedicated section on their website where they present their employees and talk about their skills, while also including information on their soap packages:

recruitment marketing strategy - BECO. soap package
Recognize your weaknesses

No one is perfect. While flaws are not something to shout about, it’s not useful to sweep them under the rug, either. Someone will talk about your weaknesses, even if you don’t – it’s no accident that sites like Glassdoor are popular with candidates and employees. Look at these ads from GE from a couple years ago:

With a clever recruitment marketing campaign, GE spreads the message that, contrary to popular belief, it’s more than just a big old-school manufacturing firm. By acknowledging your weaknesses as an employer brand and rebuilding your reputation among job seekers in this way, you’ll come across as genuine and trustworthy.

Get better

At the end of the day, you don’t want to be a good marketer; you want to be a good employer. As Louis Blake, People and Performance Coordinator at Fonda in Australia, puts it:

It’s less about convincing candidates and more about showing them.

He emphasizes on the importance of taking feedback and improving your workplace based on that: “We can bang on all day about our great work environment but, really, it’s our managers on the ground who are the real drivers of the restaurant’s culture. We constantly seek out feedback from our team members and ensure that all levels of the organization are held accountable to that feedback.”

The most powerful trick you can use is to actually build a workplace where employees are productive, engaged, and valued. And then you won’t need any magic spells to make candidates look your way. Good news travels fast; your current employees will naturally become your employer brand ambassadors and even those candidates who got rejected will be happy to apply again at some point in the future.

Honesty is a win-win

In marketing, if you try to be everything for everyone, you’ll likely fail. You need to know who your personas are, what their habits and needs are and how to speak to them. The same applies in recruitment marketing. As Dave Hazlehurst, partner at Ph.Creative and keynote speaker, said; not all candidates will join your company for the same reasons: “So, build your unique personas and, then, differentiate your employer branding tactics based on these personas.”

Being authentic about your employer brand does mean that some candidates won’t even bother applying – but the ones who do apply will be the right ones you want for your organization. You might never meet Susan, but you’ll hire all the Janes who genuinely want to work with you and can add value to your business. And that’s a recipe for success in the long run.

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