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What’s the difference between recruitment and HR? It’s true that both are about people. But it’s a bit like the difference between sales and marketing. To be effective, recruitment needs to use marketing strategies.

Recruitment ends with onboarding, which is when HR process takes over. But until then, recruitment is much more in the marketing realm.

To demonstrate, I’ll break down the recruitment process into a couple of key areas:

  • Creating an offer
  • Research and testing
  • Advertising
  • Nurturing leads

Creating an offer

When creating an offer you need to take a marketing lens and ask – what are we offering to the market? How are we attracting candidates? You need to think strategically about this, rather than just going ahead and blithely putting an ad out there or contacting a recruitment agency.

I had a conversation once with a business owner who was hiring an executive assistant. When I asked her, ‘What are the duties of that role?’, she said, ‘I haven’t really decided’. My response was, ‘In that case, what is your recruiter looking for, if you haven’t really decided on the job?’.

It’s not enough to go out to market saying, ‘I want an executive assistant’. That job title can mean many different things to many different people. So you’re not setting up your candidate for success. And you’re definitely not setting up your business for success.

You need to be really clear on the purpose of the role. I spoke in a previous podcast episode on Getting clarity before you start hiring on how to gain clarity before you start hiring. So if you are looking at hiring a role in the future, I recommend going and checking out that episode.

Research and testing

Everyone describes their business in job ads as having a great culture. But how do you prove it? What research and testing have you done with your current employees about what it’s like working in your business? That information will feed into your employer brand. And that’s really important to clarify before you advertise.

I mentioned this in the post that sparked this one so I won’t go into it in detail. But a key marketing process is knowing your brand, and knowing how you show it to the market. In this case, it’s to the recruitment market.

If you go into a job board, for example an executive assistant, you will find hundreds of advertisements for the same role. In the same way that you market a product, you need to find a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Your employer brand, developed via your research and testing, needs to show through so that you’re attracting the right candidates, and also filtering out the wrong ones.


You need to consider the advertising copy that displays your brand, but also the best channels to use to advertise it. I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of different channels here, but each one has its pros and cons. Each role will have different channels that work better for it than others.

Just as you would test channels with a marketing campaign, you can test how job ads work differently on Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, or whatever channel you decide to try. So try and broaden your mindset a little bit and think, where does my ideal candidate go?

This is particularly important for hard-to-find or specialised roles, such as software developers. Ask yourself:

  • where do they hang out?
  • is there a particular chat room on Slack or Discord?
  • where else am I going to find these people?
  • how am I going to get their attention?

You may have noticed that so far in this discussion of recruitment, we haven’t been talking much about HR at all. When you’re creating your employer brand, you may be relying on your HR person to give you research and testing information from your existing employees. But the rest of what we’ve been talking about here is a marketing strategy.

If you do have an HR person in your organisation, you would obviously involve them in the recruitment process, but it does need a marketing lens. Otherwise, your ad will be lost among all the others on the job board and you’ll find that:

  • your ad won’t stick out
  • you won’t be clear about the candidate you’re looking for
  • you won’t be expressing your employer brand
  • you will find it difficult to hire people and difficult to retain people.

Nurturing leads

With this step, you’re transferring into selling. You need to make sure that you’re giving candidates a great first impression, as well as being realistic about the role.

At this point, it’s important not to sell too hard. Offering candidates something that is just not available will lead to high employee turnover. You need to focus on the things that you will seal the deal for candidates, and those things come from your employer brand. Let’s take a closer look at how to do this.

Give a realistic view of the role

If you’ve taken the time in the first step to clarify exactly what you are looking for, you should be able to give candidates a realistic view. The way that you do this is by talking the candidate through a normal day in the position.

You don’t want to sugarcoat it, because that would be setting the person up for failure. Think of it like selling a product and having a discussion with a potential lead. You wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) talk about things your product or service simply can’t deliver. It’s the same when we’re talking about a role with a candidate. You need to give a realistic view of the role.

Solve the candidate’s problems

You also need to think about the reason the candidate is applying for the role, to see if you can solve their problems. Ask yourself:

  • Do they want more challenge in their career?
  • Do they want to work in a different location?
  • Do they want more flexibility?

It’s very important to understand the reasons they’re applying, because then you’ll know whether you can solve that problem for them. If they’re applying because they want more flexibility, and you know that you can’t provide that, just be honest. Say, ‘we just don’t have that level of flexibility here, I don’t know if it’s a good fit’.

The interview process is not a one-way street. Many people think, ‘they need to sell themselves to me’ but it is far from that. You are also selling yourself to them, and gauging whether the role is a good fit for the candidate. You need to consider whether the role will solve the problem they have which has prompted them to look for a new role.

Let them sell themselves

The flipside of that is to ask, ‘how can the candidate solve my problem?’ You need to give them the opportunity to sell themselves. There are two ways to do that.

  • Structured interview questions These are behavioural-based questions where we say, ‘tell me about a time when…’, because this gives people the opportunity to delve deeper into their experience, and express how they can solve your problem.
  • Pre-hire testing These tests ensure that candidates have the right abilities to do the job, but also the right fit in terms of your culture, depending on the testing that you’re doing.

Mind the gap

Bear in mind that if you are only interested in hiring someone who has done the job before, what’s in it for them? What’s going to keep them interested and challenged? In other words, where’s the gap?

You want to look for people who can stretch into the role. You’re looking for a development gap that you can offer a chance to overcome. This will keep them in your business for longer, because they’re learning.

Make the offer

There’s a lot of research going on in the diversity and inclusion space around making a remuneration offer. The problem that comes up is that if we just say to candidates, ‘what are you looking for?’, research shows that women are more likely to give a lower figure, or receive less than they ask for. This contributes to the very large gender pay gap.

So when you’re looking at marketing the offer, consider:

  • What does the market say? What is the market paying for this role?
  • What is the candidate’s value? What can they contribute?
  • What can we afford? What range do we think the role is worth?


After you make an offer and they accept it, we get into the preboarding and onboarding processes. More about this in: Standardise onboarding with these 3 simple tools.

Also, we have a webinar coming up, which will be hosted by my podcast cohost Lachy Gray from the Make it Work podcast, where we’re just starting Series Three. We’re doing a webinar at the end of March 2022 that is all about the preboarding and onboarding process. So if you’re interested in registering, you can check out the details here. There will also be a recording available for those that can’t attend live.

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