Mass Personalized Recruiting: A Powerful Approach for High-Value Candidates

Personalized marketing and mass customized manufacturing are powerful concepts that when adapted to recruiting can provide a strategic opportunity to successfully recruit even the most difficult candidates.

While personalizing the recruiting approach to fit every candidate is nearly impossible, the growth of social networks has made it significantly easier to “mass-customize” recruiting approaches to fit high-value recruiting targets.

Personalized Approaches Are Always More Powerful

Mass customization became much more common nearly two decades ago when companies like Dell and Levi’s started providing consumers an opportunity to order products configured to their specifications. With the ability to mass-customize products came the ability to service an ever wider array of consumers, and so marketing also went the way of mass customization to attract customers who would not have been drawn to the companies previously. Mass customization enables those that embrace it to capture significant market share from organizations that continue to leverage a one-size-fits-all approach.

While one-to-one marketing is still rare outside of industries selling premium goods and services, segmentation, which enables one-to-few marketing, has become increasingly common. Mass personalized marketing uses demographically tied market research to quickly and economically tailor an engagement approach that is designed to attract and sell specific high-value individuals. Today many recruiting functions already employ segmented recruitment advertising in a limited fashion, such as college versus professional, executive, etc. Unfortunately, few recruiting organizations define segments small enough to enable highly refined communications or empower their efforts with market research or segmented recruiting processes that deliver differentiation.

An Illustration of Personalized Recruiting

The first example of personalized recruiting that garnered significant media attention occurred at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania.

The university was attempting to attract top students and their friends. Market research on where potential recruits “hung out” and where recruiting messages would most likely be seen was conducted. The university then filled those communication channels with personalized recruiting messages (including the name of targeted students.) Local billboards, pizza boxes, sign on gas pumps and even a commercial on MTV were employed in hopes of getting these targeted students to enroll.

The campaign created major buzz in the community about the University and what it had to offer. Under the corporate model, the messaging would be more sophisticated and a target’s favored social network channels would be the primary communication channels.

Characteristics of the Mass Personalized Recruiting Model

It is certainly not new for an individual recruiter on their own to personalize their approach in order to successfully recruit a specific candidate (executive recruiters have leveraged this model for years). However mass personalized recruiting at the corporate level involves developing a repeatable process that can be applied across the organization to many high-value candidates. The eight key characteristics that define a mass personalized recruiting model include:

Prioritized — this approach is not for every job. Instead, jobs and targeted individuals are prioritized so that the mass personalized approach is only applied to the most critical hires.

A repeatable process — it is a mass model because the process can be applied to many jobs and many individual candidates. The process tells individual recruiters which approaches will best fit an individual candidate.

Data-driven — instead of using intuition, the mass personalized model is driven by demographic and market research data.

Social-network focused — practical personalized recruiting is only possible using the Internet and social network tools. Social networks initially provide us with the information we need to fully “know” targeted candidates. Social media also provide numerous choices of “channels” to ensure that recruiting messages are positively received.

Candidate-centric — the model is based on the assumption that you will not get candidates who are in high demand using the standard broad recruiting approaches. Instead, you must develop a process for identifying and meeting a candidate’s needs and expectations during every step of the recruiting process.

The sourcing, relationship-building, and selling processes are tailored to fit

  • Where the candidate would likely see a job opening announcement
  • Their relationship and trust-building requirements and expectations (i.e. Microsoft found that learning/talent communities were the best way to build relationships with engineers)
  • Their unique job search process
  • Their preferred messaging channel
  • Their job acceptance criteria and what information they would need to make a positive decision

Search engine optimization — using analytics to increase the chances that these targeted individuals will see your recruiting and branding messages.

Segmented employer branding — employer branding content and placement are segmented to better fit different groups of targeted individuals.

Of Course It’s Difficult … All Competitive Advantages Are Difficult

If your initial response is to stick to your current one-size-fits-all approach because mass customized recruiting seems difficult, you will never be an innovator or leader. If you are a recruiting manager, realize that all major innovations that provide a significant competitive advantage contain major risks and are difficult to implement (otherwise everyone would be doing them already). The very definition of leadership requires that you do new things and take risks. Pioneers do the hard things first but being first means that you reap the largest rewards. Mass customization has been proven in numerous other business functions, so the risks are reduced.

Borrowing from Other Functions Is a Proven Concept in Recruiting

The best recruiters I’ve ever encountered are without exception serial borrowers of process from other successful business functions. I’m probably the profession’s strongest proponent of learning from and adapting the best practices of other high-priority business functions like sales, supply chain, marketing, and manufacturing. Numerous corporations have improved their recruiting processes by directly borrowing from other high business impact functions. A few of the most significant examples in recruiting include:

  • Developing a talent pipeline — based on a supply chain concepts
  • Improving the candidate experience — based on customer service models
  • Building stronger candidate relationships — based on a Customer Relationship Management model
  • Building a stronger employer brand(s) — based on product and organizational brand portfolio management concepts
  • Understanding a candidate’s job acceptance criteria — using tools adapted from marketing research

Final Thoughts

It’s almost impossible to argue against the logic of customizing or personalizing your recruiting approach to fit each target candidate. There are of course credible arguments related to the costs and the time and the resource requirements of customization. However, with the growth of social networks and the Internet in general, the wealth of information that is now available about individuals makes a segmented recruiting approach relatively easy and a mass-customized approach for key jobs something that must be seriously considered. Even if you don’t adopt a comprehensive program, individual recruiters can directly benefit from the individual principles and practices of personalized recruiting.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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