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I grew up in a small town carved out of cornfields in Nebraska. It wasn’t one of those “one stoplight and a gas station” kind of places, but it wasn’t Chicago or Boston, either. It was the type of place where pragmatism trumped idealism, and loyalty was a form of social currency.

That’s great, Scott. But what does this have to do with Google Hire?

I promise this is heading somewhere.

My Dad recently retired in that small town and I credit my street smarts today (notice I didn’t say book smarts) to watching him work all those years ago. He was practical, but he also saw things his peers would miss. He was observant and responsive to change. And he viewed competition as an oddly positive thing — a form of endorsement for his line of work and an opportunity to make himself and his business better.

Which leads me to Google Hire.

If you missed it earlier this month, news leaked that Google is quietly introducing a new product it’s calling Google Hire. This follows Facebook’s creation of a workplace collaboration app and Microsoft’s launch of Microsoft Teams (and its acquisition of LinkedIn).

The natural reaction to this news is to assume it means death for certain companies and categories — legacy ATS systems and job aggregators, in particular. But I think it’s a little more complicated and wide-reaching than that. And, like my Dad, I also think there’s a lot of good that can come from Google’s entry into this space.

Google Hire: The Optimist’s Take

Look, I’ve been around the block a few times in this industry.

I have some scratches and scars, and I’ve seen a lot of change — from the birth of the ATS with Taleo to the emergence of video interviewing with HireVue, and now to the maturation of recruitment marketing with SmashFly. If there’s one thing I’ve learned across that experience, it’s this: When a player like Google comes into our market, it tends to spawn a lot of good things.

Let’s consider some possibilities:

  • Google Hire will force other technology companies to up their game: Let’s face it — for all the innovation in our industry (intelligent automation, AI, etc.), there are a lot of stale technologies. The ATS is a classic example, and Google’s entry will undoubtedly force some players to evolve or be displaced. Same goes for job boards. And this will be a very good thing for the actual customers of these technologies.
  • Google Hire legitimizes and shines light on our industry: I’ve spent the better part of my career trying to champion transformational ideas. It’s often a slow slog that sucks up a lot of time, energy, and resources, but it’s worth it when a customer starts to see the vision you believe so deeply in. Google jumping into talent acquisition and HR technology legitimizes the ideas we’ve all been trying to champion and it shines a big spotlight on the opportunity for brands.
  • M&A activity will spike as Google’s competitors scramble to respond: Google’s move follows the lead of Microsoft (with its purchase of LinkedIn) and Facebook, all of which brings credibility to this industry and raises the stakes for large companies that lack human capital and recruitment marketing offerings. Given market conditions and the strength of the economy, my hunch is that this will spark a spending spree for big brands that don’t have the time (or expertise) to build their own platforms.

Very simply: I view market entries like this one as a sign of healthy maturation.

Google doesn’t take blind stabs unless it sees opportunity — and there’s very clearly an opportunity in the talent acquisition and HR tech industry. For certain types of technology vendors, that should inspire hope for their future. And for actual users of these products, it should signal innovation that will only make their lives easier.

Google Hire: The Doom, Gloom and Potential Downfall

Now, let me throw a wet blanket on all this optimism for a second. Because, honestly, Google Hire won’t be all good news for every company — and that applies to both technology vendors and users of that technology.

Let’s start with the vendors.

There’s no doubt that Google Hire will force legacy ATS vendors, job boards and aggregators, and platforms like LinkedIn to adapt. If you believe early reports on what Google Hire will be like, the product will fundamentally disrupt how jobs are discovered and how candidates interact with employers. Vendors that fail to evolve to whatever new reality this creates will flounder or perish. It’s that simple.

For users — the employers who rely on these technologies to drive their hiring strategies — the consequences could be similarly severe.

The unfortunate reality is that far too many companies today are still reliant on an advertising-first, outbound-driven recruiting model. They create new reqs, blast those reqs out to job boards, and wait for candidates to flow into their ATS (via application). It’s a reactive, wishful thinking strategy that puts a lot of faith in assuming candidates will find you and/or be compelled enough by your job description to apply.

With all of that said, what happens if Google Hire blows up the standard job distribution playbook? What if it kills the traditional job advertising and SEO model? Google’s Jobs API is already starting to do this by providing personalization in job search listings — eliminating the need for middlemen when someone searches for a job.

And, finally, what does all of this mean for candidate data — that treasure trove of information that helps you optimize your strategy to deliver personalized candidate experiences? If Google or LinkedIn or someone else controls or owns that data, where does that leave you if those platforms decide to go in a direction you don’t want to — or can’t — go?

The Solution: Take Control or Be Controlled 

Maybe I’m being too simplistic, but I think there’s a pretty easy solution to this problem: Don’t put yourself in a position to have your strategy dictated by Google or any other company .

For vendors, that means pushing yourself to innovate before the market demands it. It means seeing the bigger picture. It means acknowledging the inevitable future. And it means leading change, rather than waiting to be disrupted by it.

For employers, it means taking control of your future by:

  •  Cultivating and nurturing your own database of contacts, instead of relying on a pay-to-play strategy that borrows leads from job boards. When you “lease” leads through paid acquisition, you’re at the mercy of each channel’s strategy and you never really own the relationship with your candidates.
  •  Investing in your unique brand. Why would someone want to work with you? What do they — and you — stand to gain from that relationship? What’s the story you can tell that no one else can — and how should you be telling it? At a time when the ATS and job boards revolve around process and quantity, telling your brand’s story consistently across the channels your candidates interact with is the key to unlocking quality.
  •  Focusing on the fight for fit, not the war for talent. I’m so sick of “the war for talent.” That ship has sailed. It’s trite and overused. It’s vague. And, frankly, effective hiring has never been about waging some generic war to put butts in seats.

The real battle today is to proactively build relationships with people who uniquely align with your company’s needs, opportunities, and purpose. It’s impossible to win that battle with an advertising and ATS-driven strategy. The better approach is to embrace intelligent automation that draws the right candidates in, nurtures relationships with them over time, and leverages full-journey analytics to make sense of the digital breadcrumbs they leave behind.

At this point, that advice shouldn’t sound like crazy futurism. It’s happening. Look at what companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific and GE are doing with their employer brands. They aren’t waiting for candidates to figure out who the company is, what it stands for, and how they fit in — they’re taking control of that narrative.

Google Hire won’t change that trend. It just might make all of us more aware of the need to think a little bit differently.

And if that happens, I’m pretty darn excited about the future of human-capital based technologies and recruitment marketing.

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