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I have a confession to make: I’m over “the funnel.” (Shhh, don’t tell the Marketing Gods.)

I’ll level set with you: this ubiquitous funnel has some value. It’s generally helped marketers map the buyer’s journey to our most esteemed action: purchase. And now, as talent acquisition tiptoes into the realm of marketing and branding, the funnel is helping recruitment marketers map the candidate’s journey to their most esteemed action: hire.


Our Decision-Making Process Has Changed

This funnel is linear (as are most funnels), and people do follow stages of interaction accordingly – for instance, you can’t be interested unless you’re first aware of the brand or job. And you likely won’t apply for a job unless you’ve considered the company, benefits, projects, location, etc.


The stages of decision-making might be linear, but the journeys – whether buyer or candidate – are all sorts of crazy today. They’re unique to each individual. They’re not singular. They’re sometimes over minutes, sometimes hours and sometimes years. And they’re definitely not linear. 

With smartphones now essentially an extension of our limbs, we touch our phones on average 2,617 times a day. Apple found that its users unlock their phones 80 times a day. And Americans spend up to 5 hours a day on their mobile devices. Awareness, interest and conversion could all happen at the same time in our digital world: we could first see a product on Instagram, become immensely in love with it and impulsively buy it all in 20 minutes. We could also spend weeks checking Amazon, Yelp, Consumer Reports for reviews, researching different brands and asking around on social media networks for opinions before we even make a shortlist. It’s the same with a job – one bad day or change in leadership could push someone to apply with that company they’ve been eyeing.


The Journey First, Funnel Second

The timing, the channels, the messaging … they’re all so specific to the person and his or her situation and need. So really, the candidate journey looks more like this:


A little harder to follow, right? And the highlighted blue touchpoints are just one path: here, the career site is a starting point, likely from a Google search, and the next is an event where she learns much more about the company and meets a few employees. It’s an initial touchpoint that moves her from awareness to interest, but isn’t yet the right timing to apply, so she joins the talent network and so on.

In an entirely different path, say for a veteran, social media and Glassdoor might be the point of awareness in initial research of best employer for veterans. He might then go to the career site, view some of their job reqs and see if he has any mutual connections to employees on LinkedIn. A veteran career fair might be the final point of interest to apply after meeting the hiring manager who also served in the military. 

In two scenarios, the channels drive very different actions and reactions from potential candidates. An event might bring awareness to companies someone would never initially think about for a certain role or skill, while in another journey, it could be the final selling point of application when meeting employees in person.


Crafting Messaging Accordingly

When mapping content and messaging to the buyer’s journey, I realized I was always being pushed to map channels to that journey as well, boxing social media into awareness or videos into consideration. And this just isn’t practical. It’s not reality.

When it comes to crafting a better experience and journey to your brand, talent acquisition has to change the notion that people use channels the same way in every stage of their research and decision-making:

The funnel dictates the message: The stages of the funnel can help you decide how you provide value to candidates from awareness to hire, what questions you can answer for them, and what you want to reveal about your brand as they become more familiar with you. 

The journey dictates the channels: Awareness messaging can funnel through Google, events, the career site or a blog, depending on the person and how they begin their search. Consideration or interest can funnel through those same channels depending on each individual person’s journey.

What does this mean for talent acquisition leaders trying to execute a brand-driven recruitment marketing strategy? I can tell you from experience in content marketing that trying to box channels into certain stages doesn’t work. One size fits all is more like one size fits none.

To really improve the candidate experience and be useful in the career search, talent acquisition leaders need to craft messaging across stages and channels to reach the right people with the right message. Don’t forget about the funnel entirely, but focus on finding the reality of our candidate journeys.

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