A few short months ago, many commentators predicted that AI would be a revolutionary force in recruitment marketing that would drive automation, efficiency and engagement. So how does the hype live up to the reality, and what have we learned about how AI and humans need to work together to create effective recruitment marketing?
My guest this week is Kat Kibben, CEO and Founder of Three Ears Media. Kat is a recruitment marketing expert with a focus on job postings. They have some valuable insights and informed opinions on the relationship between recruiters, AI and recruitment marketing.
In the interview, we discuss:
• How has recruitment marketing evolved since the pandemic
• What is holding AI back
• Why marketing and recruitment marketing are not the same jobs
• What happens when everyone has access to the same tools
• Telling the truth, being unique and standing out
• Training recruiters to be consultative.
• Driving a faster hiring process
• What makes a great job posting
• Are mandatory requirements really mandatory?
• Employer branding as an accelerator
• Advice for TA leaders on the future of recruitment marketing
Support for this podcast is provided by Paradox, the Conversational AI company helping global talent acquisition teams at Unilever, McDonald’s, and CVS health get recruiting work done faster. Let’s face it, talent acquisition is full of boring administrative tasks that drag the hiring process down and create frustrating experiences for everyone. Paradox’s AI assistant, Olivia, is shaking up that paradigm, automating things like applicant screening, interview scheduling, and candidate Q&A so recruiters can spend more time with people, not software. Curious how Olivia can work for your team? Then visit paradox.ai to learn more.
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Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 540 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. A few short months ago, many commentators predicted that AI would be a revolutionary force in recruitment marketing that would drive automation efficiency and engagement. How does the hype live up to the reality and what have we learned about how AI and humans need to work together to create effective recruitment marketing? My guest this week is Kat Kibben, CEO and Founder of Three Ears Media. Kat is a recruitment marketing expert with a focus on job postings.
They have some valuable insights and informed opinions on the relationship between recruiters, AI, and recruitment marketing. Hi, Kat, and welcome to the podcast.
Thank you for having me.
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?
Yeah, so my name is Kat Kibben. I’m the Founder and CEO of a company called Three Ears Media. It’s named after two dogs with four ears, and I’ll tell that story some other time. I am a job post writing expert. There aren’t a ton of job post writing experts, but my background built me into this position where I’ve spent a lot of time in the marketing department for HR technology companies understanding both sides of the equation. I was a managing editor for a blog about recruiting for five years. I was a technical copywriter for employer brand teams, and if you add up the skills from all three of those jobs, it adds up to job post writing expert and that’s how I ended up here.
Very keen to talk to you on the show because what an interesting time for recruitment marketing for job advert writing at the moment that we’re living through. Talk us through how you are seeing recruitment marketing evolving since the pandemic.
I think there’s an impression that we can use more AI and systems to speed us up in parallel with the marketing departments of brands. Recruitment marketing has been watching from the sidelines often because they’re usually laid off pretty early in the process if there are changes in an organization and they’ve been watching these marketing organizations take on AI and scale that way, but I always like to remind people when I compare marketing and recruitment marketing that they are not the same job. If recruitment marketing is marketing recruitment, marketing is the hardest job in the whole world, the hardest marketing because marketers can take a message to the whole world and if 1% of people in the world take advantage of that offer, they are the best marketers in the whole world.
We in recruiting take the whole world and boil it down to one. That’s a different process and it has stood in the way of our AI implementation because when those marketers are applying these same systems, they can have a lot more failure. They can have the bias that’s inherent in AI, but we, in hiring, are trying to remove it based on a data set that’s full of bias in the first place. It’s standing between us and what I imagine people are viewing as success, which is automation.
I think that’s really interesting because when the hype or the big narrative about generative AI hit, seems like about two years ago, but it was literally about five months ago, became the biggest thing to talk about. The one thing that appeared on everyone’s commentary, all the presentations I saw, and the endless LinkedIn posts about how this was gonna revolutionize everything we do in about three weeks was we can automate writing of job posting and recruitment marketing. It’s all gonna be automated and it’s gonna be fantastic. Five months, eight, that’s not the case, is it? Talk us through what automation should look like in recruitment marketing and why we’re not there yet.
Yeah, well I think the barrier is the truth. What AI can do for us when it comes to copywriting is make everyone generically good. You were at the same presentations I was in the early 2000s, mid 2000s where everyone was just trying to set a baseline. This is what good looks like in recruitment marketing. You would see all these screenshots of career sites and they would tell you about the headline and what this had to be. Employer brand was all the rage, right? You fast forward and now, we all have access to the same tool to create some baseline of good. We have a better base, like actual line in the sand that says good and bad.
AI can get you to good very quickly. What it can’t make you do is stand out. That was the point of those presentations that we never really talked about is that being generically good is not good enough. The other factor that we really need to think about is the truth. Creating content quickly was actually never our problem. I’m not seeing enough people talking about this and I think this is the sticking point for me. It’s that going faster wasn’t the issue. Telling the truth, being unique, standing out, that was the issue. That’s what we didn’t know how to do and that’s what we didn’t do well. AI can’t do that for us because if you don’t input truth, it can’t spit out the truth.
That goes back to what we were talking about with bias. When you look at your dataset, so let’s use job descriptions. I think as an example, I read a study this week that said 43% of recruiters are looking forward to automating their job descriptions. I was like, “Good luck to you,” because there is no taxonomy of jobs. A marketing director at one company and a marketing director at another company could be completely different roles. You can’t ask generative AI to write you a marketing director job. If you don’t know the truth, you can’t edit it to tell the truth. While it may create the baseline of good, we have to remember that their version of baseline of good is all the job postings that have ever been on the internet before.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t read a lot of great job postings on the internet. It’s why my business is so popular and busy. When I talk about this in a room, I go, “Raise your hand if you ever read five good job postings.” I’ve never seen a hand go up.
I think that’s such an interesting point about speed as well because everyone’s talking about speed, but we got speed with the internet. Well, going back a very long way, my career in recruitment marketing started with a national newspaper in the UK where we were selling job ads going back a quite a long way. You had to be very creative because you had to stand out from that page. There was no search engines, there was none of that stuff. You had to be visually appealing and then drag people in and persuade them to apply for this job, and this space in these newspapers was expensive as well. People had that one chance to do it. Then when the job boss came along, loads of people just putting job descriptions straight on there.
As you say, speed was not the issue, but that standing out and quality, we still did not crack that. Do you think AI could get us there? How is this mix gonna work in the future?
I think it will be more important than ever to train new recruiters on the consultative relationship between their job and the business. We can’t have recruiters functioning as order takers anymore because that’s how we get closer to the whole “AI took my job,” where hiring manager says, “Find me this,” and then the recruiter just goes out and does it without asking questions, having a conversation. I think it really goes back to recruiter training, but it will not be on the things we’ve always trained them on. Some of the common recruiter trainings I’m thinking about are writing better emails, how to have crucial conversations.
Frankly, I think AI can do a lot of first drafts when it comes to that, but where we need to train our recruiters is how to have conversations with the most important inputs and then accurately convey that in this framework that was created by generative AI. To me, it’s this blending of AI meets the best parts of a recruiter and the skills that a recruiter brings to this relationship and figuring out how to really balance the two to take advantage of this opportunity to be faster, which ultimately you can be, but it’s a matter of creating quality in the first place and that the consequence of that is a faster hiring process.
To pick up on that point about quality, from your experience, from the work that you do helping companies really stand out and appeal to that person that they wanna hire, what makes a great job posting?
Well the number one thing, and I’m gonna sound like I’m beating the drum here, but truly, I believe this is telling the truth. Allowing and creating content that allows anyone in the whole world to read this posting and say, “Yes, I wanna do this. No, I don’t. Yes, I can. No, I can’t,” and giving someone enough information to answer those questions because that is truly equity. Equity is someone being able to read the post and make their own decision. Right now, job postings are simply standing between people and work. They’re not facilitating the relationship between people and work and they become barriers to entry when people are highly qualified to do that work.
The perfect example is when a job says no experience required and there are 35 job requirements underneath, you’re like, “What?” That’s my first standard, but that’s something I can’t see if I just scan a job posting. When I look to scan a job posting and understand if it meets my baseline of good, the first thing I’m looking at is the job title. The job title can’t be some wild query because if your job is not found, it doesn’t actually matter how good the rest of the content is. If the right candidate does not type in the word and find your posting, you did not do something right and you will fail right there. Job title is the number one indicator that creates that match in a search algorithm.
It has the most weight as far as job boards go when it comes to what they serve up to you. The next thing I’m looking at is to make sure that it is not too long. The average person’s attention span is about 65 seconds. It is very short and we need to write in a format that helps people actually get through it. If you have a ton of unqualified candidates, it’s because you said too much because they didn’t even read to the bottom. That’s my favorite. When people are like, “I have so many unqualified candidates.” I’m like, “How? You gave them an entire book, right?” No one’s getting paid to read the book and the last is what you convey.
I’m looking for the impact of that person’s work. I’m looking for everyday activities and I’m looking for what we all expect to see, which is mandatory requirements, but let me be very clear with what I mean by mandatory. Mandatory means that without the help of God, Google, or really great mentor, you could not possibly figure this out on your own. That’s what mandatory means. It’s like I wouldn’t take someone who has no management experience and put them in a role where they’re managing 45 people. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s the obvious things that you could not do if you did not do this before.
Describing experiences, not skills, because experiences are universal. If you and I say we both went to the store, we both drove on the highway, I think we both understand what that means broadly, even if the senior is a little bit different. Skills do not have universal meaning in that way. Collaborative. If I asked a room of a hundred HR people to define collaboration for me, every single one would give me something different. We can’t lean into that, especially if you’re looking for that generative AI element where we can use database that someone else created. No, we need to go on experiences because that creates yes-no logic and helps us get where we need to go faster.
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I think that’s really interesting because it sounds really simple but it’s where so many employers fall down both in the way that they think about talent and the way that they talk about their vacancies, because it’s easy to understand that if I’m getting on a plane, I don’t want a pilot who’s never flown a plane before to to be flying, but it’s not always as cut and dry as that is it. I think it’s something that lots of employers struggle with.
They really struggle with it and they also don’t realize the financial impact on the business when they lie or when they exaggerate in those postings. It’s hard for managers and this is where the recruiter collaboration comes in and where I believe we need to do the most training is having a recruiter who can listen to a hiring manager, describe everyday activities impact, and work backwards from that into creating those mandatory requirements. Being able to say, “Okay, if they have to come in here and code with SQL and build a database with thousands of inputs, we probably want someone who knows how to use SQL, right?” That sounds stupid, but that’s the connection we’re not making right now.
A lot of people are doing one thing or another and they’re also, like I said, that financial impact. I just did some research and there’s an emotional impact and the money. The emotional impact is that if someone does not believe that the job they applied to and the job, they get a line about 30% of people quit in the first 60 days for that reason. They report that as the reason why they leave. 30%, okay, but then if you multiply that number as on the financial impact of a business, it gets really wild because if someone quits in the first 60 days, it costs your organization about 20% of their first year salary to refill that role.
If the average salary in the US is about 60K, you’re looking at 20,000, the value of a job posting is in excess of 20,000 US dollars and not even your most senior role.
People just don’t think that through.
No, I think they believe that job postings are just a piece of marketing that you can ignore as much as you ignore the spam texts that you get. As much as we ignore the social media ads that show up, every six posts is trying to convince us to click between a picture of our mom’s puppy and our best friend’s travel. They believe that jobs are just like this artificial thing and that the recruiter, and especially because they’ve been trained to this experience, they just believe the recruiter will likely go out and magically find the person that the best talent won’t apply. I’ve heard that a lot, but why would we go into an opportunity with that mindset?
When I think about hiring, this is a very analytical thought process from a copywriter, but hear me out, to me, hiring is hard just because there are a million variables we don’t control. If you made a math problem out of this, there are a lot of elements that we simply cannot say we control because we work with one of the most unpredictable variables in the whole world – people. We can’t control them, we can’t control their behavior, let alone predict it, even with AI. To me, the job posting is one of the very few variables you can actually control in the whole process. If we tell the truth there, the best person can find it and if the best person finds it, then they apply and we don’t have to go out and source for six weeks to get a short list.
No, absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more. Focusing in for a second on a few things that you’ve said. You’ve talked about the truth, finding the truth, and communicating the truth. You mentioned right at the beginning about recruitment marketing teams being laid off and also, employer brand presentations 10 years ago to pull that all together in one question. Employer branding is an area that has been in many organizations, has been decimated by the economic time that we’ve been going through in the last few months. Now, it seems that many organizations are looking to reverse that and focus on employer branding again.
What do you think is next for employer branding? Where do you think it’s going? What’s the next stage of it?
My guess is that they will require employer brand teams to evolve their recruitment operations skills. That means actually being able to report on campaigns and to start looking at employer brand as an accelerator. I think we’ll see employer brand scale fastest in organizations with a large percentage of roles that are high volume and low retention because there’s a lot of repeatability. This idea that you can create a campaign and iterate because you’re in the same region, you’re looking for the same type of applicant, et cetera. I think on the other extreme, as we’re creating new markets and new spaces get created, I think that employer brand will be more important in supporting the marketing organization on not just how we create market ownership and extend our reach and awareness of our brand, but how do we extend our reach and awareness of our brand to the point where people want to work for us.
I hate to use Tesla as the example, but a few years ago, I think it’s a perfect example of what’s coming for employer brand because not only was everyone dying to get a Tesla, everybody wanted to work there too. If you saw that on someone’s resume, it was like, “Ooh.” The only reason I can say ooh is because you go to the conference agendas, and there’s always someone from Tesla there. That’s your proof of a brand that’s starting to reach that pinnacle of marketing meets recruitment marketing. People wanna work there, people wanna buy their stuff. It’s when you go to a conference and they’re everywhere. It’s like Zappos back in the day.
Yes, that makes perfect sense. Before we started recording, we were talking a little bit about making automation more human. As we move through this, as people start using AI increasingly, using AI in different ways, looking to automate recruitment marketing and recruiting even further than they are at the moment, how do you make automation more human?
I think the first piece is going backwards to understand our relationship with AI and that’s the research I was working on that we were discussing. It’s this idea that we went from Siri to now thinking we can apply to HR, but we forgot one really unique element. There’s a generation of us and I, I’m not gonna call out how old I am, but you and I are the same, we’re older. We grew up in a life where we went to libraries to discover information. We had encyclopedias. We were able to take an idea and go down a wormhole. It’s one of my very favorite things to do. It’s just to find something interesting and learn as much as I can about it because I’m intrigued, versus this next generation, which is now 40% of the market are millennials and Gen X, 40% of the talent market.
To this next generation where there’s a fine line in the nineties of children who really grew up by finding information, by asking Siri, they got their information because they asked Google and Google gave them one answer and they were satisfied with that, which is a control element. You don’t realize that you’re not getting access to more information because we’re taking the prescription. The next experience most of us had with AI was actually being able to get recommendation engines, which sounds really cool on Netflix. I go, I watch a few shows, they know what I like, they give me shows I like, and everybody starts the “Are they listening to me?” You get the ad for something that you were just talking about.
The danger with that when you apply it to HR technology is this idea that can we trust the recommendation? Can we trust the data? We’re not talking enough about that piece before we talk about this humanity. I just wanna remind everyone that when it’s a recommendation engine, when it’s giving you answers, the most important thing as the human component is to question and challenge the answers. I don’t mean by doing what I call crappy feedback, which is like saying, “I don’t like this. This is weird.” It’s asking questions about why we’re trying to do things that way.
It’s asking questions about the data source. Okay, you want your generative AI to write job postings for me? Where’d you get all these job postings? What’s your version of good?” I think that step one is being a critical consumer and just asking a lot of questions. The other part is understanding the limitations, understanding the ethical limitations. I would say building up your knowledge of the pieces that AI doesn’t know. One of the examples is years of experience. Years of experience is a very common way to categorize experience in the space, but what we know as recruiters is years of experience, there’s ageist. It just is because when you say one year of experience, you expect someone young to show up.
When you say 20, you expect someone older to show up. That just is, but what we’re really looking for is do you know how to do this? Again, that’s where the recruiter can add that humanity. Ask contrasting questions to understand the actual scope. For example, what does someone with 20 years of experience know that someone with five does not know? That goes back to what we were talking about earlier where I think there’s a new iteration of training that needs to happen for recruiters and it’s not some on-demand Boolean string generator. It’s actually teaching them how to have better conversations, ask critical questions, and to be critical consumers of any data that is generated by AI.
Summarize this for us a little bit. What specific advice would you give to the TA leaders who are listening when it comes to preparing for the future of recruitment marketing?
Honestly, I would not just be thinking about the training that you’re providing your team and the tools you’re providing your team, but actually how you bring the entire company along that journey. If we truly want to, and I’m air quoting this because I don’t love the phrase, but stick with me here, transform recruiting because we all know that there’s no transforming. It is definitely a mechanical where you take one screw out, put the next one in, and building a Lego set, but hear me out, if we want to shift recruiting, we need to bring hiring managers on board for this process. All of us have to be on board for the shift because hiring managers have an inconsistent relationship with recruiting because recruiting is a little different for all of them.
Some of them have only worked agency, some of them have only worked with in-house recruiters, some have done hybrid. If they’re operating with that expectation, it is very unlikely they’re just gonna be on board with whatever you tell them. I would encourage any TA leader to be thinking about education tracks for hiring managers, not just for recruiters, as you’re really looking to create this relationship, because being more human means involving more humans human.
Final question, how does this all tie together? What does the future of recruiting look like? Where are we gonna be in three to five years time?
I think we’re all making hypotheses on this right now. I think if I’m going based on my last 10 years in this industry because I have been around, I’m going close to 20 now, I would tell you that when I started in this industry, people were making a lot of hypotheses about the future of recruiting and very few things have massively shifted. Frankly, I believe the last major shift was newspaper to digital and I don’t think we’re going to see massive shifts in the next three to five years on what recruiting actually does. I think where we’re gonna see the shift is how we measure success, where recruiting sits inside of organizations and that relationship between the two.
I don’t think we’re gonna see some huge shift in AI and that’s just my POV because right now, I think a lot of people are applying AI and they reach a certain point. It is a very hard wall and they have to walk away because of compliance, because of guidelines in their country, et cetera.
Kat, thank you very much for talking to me.
Thank you for having me.
My thanks to Kat. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.