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The New Science of Targeting Job Candidates

The New Science of Targeting Job Candidates


By: Susan M. Cantrell and David Smith

Marketers have been deftly dissecting consumer populations for decades. They’ve pegged us as suburban moms, clothes-conscious teens, techno-geeks -- and then tailor their messages accordingly.

Many companies are now applying this time-tested principle to job candidates with astounding results. Targeting job candidates improves the chances of finding qualified job candidates for the position by applying the same principles as a targeted marketing campaign.

These new rules mean that employers must understand the characteristics of their potential employees -- not just by skill set -- but by key concepts and candidate soft skills that are too often ignored, such as interests, generation, potential value to the business, personality, motivations, work habits, ideal job characteristics, cultural values, willingness to travel, location desires and career aspirations.

Segmenting Early in the Recruitment Cycle
Today, companies can collect a vast and rich array of information about an individual as part of social media recruitment before they’ve ever met the candidate. As we describe in our new book, Workforce of One: Revolutionizing Talent Management through Customization (Harvard Business Press, 2010), organizations can achieve significant business benefits by treating each individual as a “workforce of one”-- in other words, by offering each employee a highly-customized employment experience. 

Research from our book reveals how organizations can segment potential employees on any number of variables. Here are just a few business examples to consider: 

  • Talent source. Just as with product advertising, P&G delivers targeted recruiting messages to potential MBA candidates when they are most receptive -- at Christmas vacation, for instance, when students are less busy with academic work and starting to think about the January intern season.
  • Personality, work habits, or cognitive capabilities. Capital One segments job candidates based on online tests that assess math and verbal reasoning skills, work habits and leadership skills. Results are coupled with interviews and possibly even exercises (such as creating a business case) and then rated as to how well the candidate might perform at Capital One. 
  • Ratings and quality of employee referrals. Other companies are tapping web-based talent profiles of pre-screened people who are available for work. Candidates are segmented based on ratings of their work and quality of referrals from others (à la Amazon and Facebook) as well as their test scores and experience. The data is used to match them with particular job skills.  
  • Life stage or generation. Companies often reach out to different generations (Gen Y employees, Boomers, etc.) in an age-appropriate format. To reach Millenials, for example, they are encouraging job candidates to speak freely with company employees on Facebook. One company went so far as to offer intern-made rap videos about office life. Organizations are also offering everything from customized benefits, performance feedback and more, all tailored to the needs and interests of each generation. 
  • Underutilized talent pools. Companies find bright and able people who are off the beaten track by catering to them in new and innovative ways, providing them with a leg up in a competitive talent market. JetBlue Airways, for example, caters to stay-at-home moms to staff its entire reservations department, enabling them to take reservations while caring for their households. 
  • Cultural values. In a global economy of global recruitment, many organizations are finding they need finely-crafted talent strategies that match company's cultural values. In Ireland, for example, many people enjoy cycling, so Google Ireland targets job candidates by offering them a cycling plan in which the company contributes toward the cost of a bicycle.
  • Interests, motivations, or career aspirations. In an Intel pilot, potential candidates are segmented based on work preferences, creating a better fit between the candidate’s passions and the needs of the company. Similarly, Travelers crafts targeted communications based on an individual’s aspirations and skills.

The Rise of Candidate Relationship Databases
To house all this information, companies are increasingly turning to “candidate relationship databases” that work much like customer relationship databases. This allows companies to gather information on an unlimited number of variables that rarely come to light in interviews or in static resumes. The database can then be mined to create customized and meaningful communications between a corporation and their pool of potential hires. It can also keep track of subsequent interactions that build meaningful relationships with candidates over time.

By using sophisticated segmentation techniques, relationship databases can keep candidates interested and engaged until such time as you need them. 

Author Bios
Susan M. Cantrell is a Research Fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance. David Smith is the Managing Director of the Accenture Talent & Organization Performance practice.