Recruiters Are Not Marketers

When the concept of recruiters thinking more like marketers was first thrown around as a concept in the early 00’s, as a recruiter I thought it sounded great. It made recruitment seem sexier, so I thought, “yeah, let’s be marketers!” A lot of recruiters I’ve met didn’t actually plan to be a recruiter as a child, so it’s easy to believe, or at least understand, why the idea that recruiters should be more like marketers appeals to people — just like it did to me.

However, like a lot of concepts that come out of business school theory or HR think tanks, when you just pause for a minute and think about it, it turns out to be quite wide of the mark. So why is it something that’s still talked about frequently?

Maybe it’s something we want to believe, or it’s something we push in an attempt to be more relevant to the board perhaps. Maybe it’s to say, “Hey you know how marketing is really important to sell our products? Well, we are marketing too, which means we’re equally as important too.”

Recruiting has changed dramatically over time. We’ve moved from help-wanted signs, advertisements in the press, job boards, LinkedIn (yeah, that’s getting old now), search engines, broader social media, content strategies, dark social, PPC, SEO, persona mapping, paid social, creative outreach, geo-targeted, geo-fencing, and all sorts of weird and wonderful marketing techniques, using digital tools and software to attract and lure in talent.

So the way we approach candidates has absolutely shifted, and whether you’ve worked alongside your marketing team or built your own sourcing and recruitment marketing function, one thing is for sure: recruiters are still recruiters.

So what do we do differently to marketers? The best of us are focused on relationship building with candidates and hiring managers, and making great quality hires. We’re exceptional at taking a brief, and challenging it, understanding the market they’re operating in, giving advice, and taking pride in hunting down the best person to meet the (revised, realistic) brief. A marketer can’t do that. In fact, I’d go as far to say, when we say we should be more like marketers, we’re greatly undervaluing ourselves.

Recruiters are also adept at juggling conflicting priorities, and managing expectations along the way. We sell when we need to, and listen when it counts.

One big difference is that a good recruiter is in it for the long term, as they know their candidates will be future clients or hiring managers, and they’ll work hard to understand them well, and provide a great service to everyone.

The recruiters I’ve described don’t think they are marketers at all. They’ve adapted their style over the years for sure. They have a social profile, deep networks, and know how to source candidates via the Internet (or they have someone who does that for them if they’re lucky).  These great recruiters are great solution salespeople. This brings me to my main point, which didn’t come out of an HR think tank or consultancy talking about wars and talent.

Recruiters do not have a new job description which makes them a researcher, a copywriter, a sourcing ninja (love those guys), a data analyst, a graphic designer, a UX designer, or lord knows whatever else. Those jobs are for different experts. And we should be making sure we fill our recruitment function with them if we want to be best in class, and can make a case for it by justifying the spend through improvement in service to the business, quality of experience, and quality of hire.

But what we should ensure more than anything else, is that we fill our teams with the best quality recruiters. It’s these guys that make the difference between winning and losing. No matter how bad your technology, processes, or countless other challenges you face, good recruiters always find a way to succeed.

Article Continues Below

One piece of consultancy research I do believe in is the 2014 Deloitte study, High Impact Talent Acquisition. It told me what I’ve known since I started out as a recruiter in ‘02. The relationship between recruiter and hiring manager is the most important predictor of a successful hiring outcome … four times more influential than anything else that impacts successful recruiting (no matter what marketing tactics are in play).

Good recruiters, as Lou Adler points out, perform the most important role in any business. And their weapon of choice is a phone, not a marketing funnel diagram, and definitely not a process map.

Recruiters should be the succession plan for the sales teams in any product business, or hey, vice versa. Get your sales teams to sit with your recruiters and learn a few things. If they don’t, you don’t have the best recruiters in your team that you could have.

About the Author

Graeme Johnson (known as “GJ”) is global head of employer brand & talent acquisition strategy at British Telecom. Former head of TA at Virgin Media, and recruiting leader at Accenture, he most famously developed a pioneering approach to candidate experience at Virgin Media, grounded in Net Promoter Score insight, and highlighted the commercial impact poor recruitment has on subscription and retail businesses in particular. His work was showcased at LinkedIn Talent Connect in 2016, and case study available on #HROS. Connect with him for a chat on Twitter @gjrecruitment.

  • Questions1st

    Great post! I’ve been saying this for years but it seems to be trendy nowadays to make everyone a marketer.

    I believe in inter-disciplinary practice but I think that we should focus on what we do best and not try to be what we’re not.

  • Jeffrey J Perry

    Great perspective! I agree that recruiters aren’t, nor should be, marketers, but the recruiting function absolutely benefits from adopting and “employing” a marketing mindset and marketing practices. Few things help recruiting as much as a good brand and a good story. That story needs to be told to the audience it’s most relevant to and most likely to respond (i.e. apply, or at least be receptive when the recruiter makes contact). Marketing thought and tactics tell and deliver that story.

  • BMac05

    Nice work, GJ. Framing Recruiters as Marketers is short-sighted – these days, almost cliche’. And yes, the best TA pros won’t fail due to inadequate systems and tools, they will succeed despite of them….

  • susan_vitale

    Interesting take. I think the difference is whether we’re asking to recruiters to be marketers instead of or in addition to their previous/existing JD. At their core, regardless of changing dynamics in the TA space, recruiters are still recruiters — I agree. But I firmly believe recruiting functions (functions — not necessarily individual recruiters) need to embrace marketing concepts better than they do today. Too many times I see recruitment hanging onto “we’re in the business of relationships” to avoid conversations about metrics, true customer (candidate AND hiring manager) experience, technology and process.

    Many of the things you shared that make recruiters great are the same concepts marketers use: “…adept at juggling conflicting priorities, and managing expectations along the way.” <– same "We sell when we need to, and listen when it counts." <– same …To me, these are both markers of being strong at any shared service.

    Thanks for an interesting read! I enjoyed it.

  • Jf

    I think the question is, “Do your Recruiters have time to be marketers?”. Serious marketing efforts can be very time consuming. Between managing hiring manager and candidate relationships, sourcing for talent, reviewing resumes, coordinating interviews, participating in interviews, there isn’t a lot of time to spare. A lot of people will say, “There’s always time”, but I say that one of the dangers in Recruiting is burnout. How can a burned out Recruiter be an effective advocate for your company? Work-life balance is important to a Recruiter just like it is for any other employee, even more so considering that they are your company’s representative in the talent marketplace.