Inbound vs Outbound Recruiting

Hubspot a while ago applied its inbound marketing methods to its recruiting process. But how does that work? And what does it mean for candidates?

Recruitment is one of the major drivers in job changes. It comes in two forms, namely outbound (where you basically send your job opening out into the world to be filled) and inbound (where people come to you to fill positions you have vacant.

The differences between these two lie in the primary effort of filling that position. In the former the burden lies on recruiters and HR. In the latter, it lies with the company’s branding and employees.

Outbound (traditional) recruitment

The classic model is a somewhat mechanical action, where a position being created or becoming vacant leads to HR publishing a job ad or hiring a recruiter. They’ve defined the aspects of the job they will judge on, qualifications and experience, and decided how much they are willing to pay for it.

These vacancies are then slung out into the market, where people can apply to them or get recruited by the agencies hired for that purpose.

The benefits here are that you can preselect exactly what candidates you are looking for, and everybody knows what to do when they see your job ad. If you’ve got a big brand name, people might already be aware of you and your corporate culture, else they will look you up online before applying. The application process is simple, downselecting on paper before moving on to interviews and finally selecting the lucky candidate to be hired.

The downsides are that this preselection also disqualifies people that might be more beneficial for your company on the long term, by offering additional growth and talent. You get exactly what you ask for, someone who can do that job. You also need to put in money and effort, because you need to spread your vacancy and hire recruiters. If you hire someone who did not really fit with the company, you wasted money and now need to recruit again.

Inbound (social) recruitment

The keywords here are social and culture. The aim of the game is not to externalize your need for a candidate, but to spread your brand, make everyone aware of your corporate culture, and draw potential candidates to your doorstep. By the time the decision comes you need to hire, you should already have potential and talented candidates waiting to be considered by you – and they might offer surprising benefits.

You open the doors to people who already know you and want to work for you, so there is a bigger chance for a corporate culture fit. You engage them before you have the need to hire them.

The benefits here are that you are going to be able to find people who offer a greater range of talent and who are excited to work for you. You’re much less likely to lose people in the onboarding stage because the company didn’t turn out to be as they had hoped. Much of the effort in finding them has coincided with your marketing campaigns, so your money is doing double-duty between marketing and recruitment. You’re also investing in people and their particular talents and needs, not on what they can do in theory.

The downsides here are that your efforts begin much sooner, in establishing your company culture and brand, and you need to make them clear and desirable. You also need to put in more work as HR than in traditional recruitment – you may not have a cookie-cutter job description, but will need to analyze the potential and character of candidates. You also need to cooperate with marketing, communications and management to voice the right messages. It’s also important that employees have the desire and option to vocalize for the company online. This means you have to think long-term as well as short-term, and look beyond the simple needs of the job.

Can’t I use both?

Absolutely, and most companies do. First off, the recruitment and job market is very well established and everybody knows what to do when a job opportunity pops up. Not making use of established channels would be a waste – but you can still benefit from having your brand and culture do the talking. Primarily, to focus on people that fit with your company, rather than people who in theory could do the job.

Inbound recruiting could be a small-scale operation, initially used to select very high-grade job candidates, or when you are looking for internal consultants or change managers. People who are to bring in expertise, a fresh perspective and the weight of experience to make it happen. But over time you can shift more and more roles to the inbound track from the outbound, and if it benefits your company it might eventually completely replace it (although don’t bet on it, the job market is surprisingly resilient and people on it remarkably traditional).

Consider very well if your company is actually capable of it. You need a strong brand, a clear culture and your mission statement needs to be more appealing to the audience than a one-liner explaining what your company does. “Proving green technology is profitable” or “Improving the lives of people, one startup a a time” sounds more engaging than “we are the worlds premier oil transportation company” or “we are a chain of fusion hotel kitchens”.

How to get started?

First off, build your company’s culture and brand. You don’t need to be google, amazon or facebook to have a strong brand, but you need a strong brand to become one of them. Your aim is to create a company that people want to work for.

Engage with people online, answer questions and get your name out there. A brand people don’t know about is not a brand at all. Have a strong elevator pitch. This is where you can describe your company’s work in 2-3 lines, the first of which needs to get people’s attention. For example, in Smörgåsjobb:

“Professional development for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All the advice you can eat on becoming a credible professional, building your career and hiring the right people for your company. I update weekly, but ask me anything you like – anything I don’t know now I’ll be an expert at tomorrow.”

It draws attention, explains the “brand promise” and sounds just a little bit cocky. Someone who reads it might think “I’d love to be able to say that about myself” and this puts them one step closer to recruitment.

Culture and connections

Your company culture is more than the social rules and requirements of people who work for you, it should be the guiding force that dictates how people in your company relate to each other and what goals they strive for.

This goes beyond your company to your customers and suppliers as well. In fact your customers choose your for your brand, and your suppliers comply with your culture because they want to earn your money and be associated with you. Why shouldn’t this extend to your recruitment candidates?

Try and map for your company the following:

  • One (1) driving goal that is the very reason for the company’s existence. This is usually a oneliner such as “All technology green and sustainable”. This is called your “brand promise”.
  • 3-5 guidelines/ideals that support your Brand Promise. Consider for our example “choose green alternatives when you can”, “develop green alternatives when they do not” and “find ways to make green a profitable choice”
  • From this spring the behaviors (the culture) that your company exhibits and which are the things people in your company should be doing. Your suppliers should abide to it, your employees should breathe it, your customers appreciate it.

If all is well, your marketing department already has these things, management pushes the agenda, and all you have to do is find ways to externalize these messages. The bigger and more diverse your company’s market, the more goals, ideas and behaviors you may need to define.

By being clear and consistent in sending out these messages, you will automatically attract more people that agree with your company culture and ideals.

But also remember that these connections can work against you, so be prepared for this. If you are all-green, but your supplier is outed in the media for dumping toxins into the bay, it means you must address it. You have an association with them, and if they break their “promise” to your brand, you have to either correct them or break your association, or else risk tainting your own brand image.

Ironically, this might also mean you limit your client base, as you also don’t want to be associated with customers that do not match your brand image. But all in all, this loss will result in a closer connection with potential customers for whom your corporate values are a critical decision-making hurdle.

A Concerted Effort

These things are too much for one person, or even an entire HR department, to handle. Management and internal communications should be responsible for sharing and enforcing the corporate culture, while HR should extend these values into their recruitment and performance discussions. Marketing should transform the brand values into content to be shared on social media, including ways for employees to engage with potential customers, suppliers and recruits.

After all, the single strongest tool you have to upgrade your inbound recruitment is your network of employees. They will share on social media what kind of a company you really are, despite your branding efforts, on sites like Glassdoor. They are the people who share your job ads on social media or suggest candidates. If you have a referral scheme, they are the people bringing in candidates that have gone under the radar.

I always say that employees are the greatest resource a company has, and nowhere is that more clear than in how they are capable of making or breaking your company’s efforts in recruiting the right people.

A key requirement for all this taking place is that Human Resources is a valued strategic partner to the business’ management. Without considering people a key differentiator in a company’s success, the recruitment style will have next to no influence.

Measuring results

It can be difficult to put numbers on something that is essentially inspired by networking, goodwill and culture. But if you are deciding to focus more on inbound recruiting, then the following metrics are good ones to keep in mind:

  • Differences in recruitment spending between candidates hired via classic versus social recruitment – including
  • Retention between different candidates in the first six months
  • Differences in performance reviews after the first year between the two (after being retained for a year, these differences tend to normalize)


This post mirrors my earlier post on getting recruited by proxy, using your network. This essentially is companies using their networks to hire the right people. It revolves around a strong brand promise informing a company culture which is then announced consistently online by the company as well as its employees. Where my previous post is about challenging the classic method of recruitment, this post hopefully encourages companies to listen to what people have to offer beyond filling in requirement checklists.

By doing so, companies have a funnel of hopeful candidates that already identify with the companies goals and values before recruitment even starts.

In a future post I will delve deeper into HR being a key business partner. More than ever, HR being at the table with (and part of) C-level management is a requirement for companies having the flexibility and voice needed to survive in a world where workplace technology, management ethics and corporate responsibility become more important than the dry value of your business activities.

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