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10 creative candidate-sourcing strategies from IKEA, Spotify, Deloitte and more

For businesses that want to hire world-class candidates, the competition is fierce.

In a hyper-competitive job market, top candidates often have dozens of cold reach-out emails and hundreds of generic job descriptions to wade through. Traditional sourcing strategies—trawling your go-to recruiting sites or peppering social media with catchall ads—are so crowded that it's virtually impossible to be heard over the clamor of a hundred other recruiters. Thankfully, there are other, more creative, sourcing strategies at your disposal, designed not just to stand out from the crowd but also to engage, inspire, and even amuse top talent in the process.

We're sharing 10 creative candidate-sourcing strategies from some of the top companies, ranging from cryptic billboards to custom Spotify playlists.

1. IKEA's self-assembly sourcing strategy

Global furniture brand IKEA is well-known for its DIY products and its famously scant assembly instructions. In 2012, the company's Australian branch turned both into a hugely successful recruiting channel, adding a subtle job advertisement—titled “Cäreer Instructions,” with directions to “assemble your future”—into the packaging of every product.

When customers discovered the advertisement inside their purchases, they shared it with friends and family, creating a viral word-of-mouth effect—and a brand new recruitment channel. All told, the campaign cost $0 in media spend and postage costs, while generating 4,285 new applications and 280 hires for IKEA's Australian megastores.

2. Spotify's recruitment playlist

IKEA isn't the only company to turn their product line into a recruiting tool. In 2016, Spotify recruiter André Hellström garnered attention by approaching software developers with a custom-made playlist (you can listen to it here). When opened, the title of each track formed an invitation to “Join The Band” and apply for an open development role.

It seems the approach proved effective: Just three months ago, another carefully curated recruitment playlist was spotted in the wild, this time congratulating a candidate on successfully securing the role of Product Manager of Personalized Listening Experiences. The company has even been known to send applicants a quick follow-up email containing a link to Spotify's “Have a Great Day” playlist.

3. Mixmax's secret email applications

When hiring a new content marketing manager, email marketing tool Mixmax decided to proactively test the skills of would-be applicants.

The company shared the job description to the usual channels— job boards, social media, the company website—but with a caveat: There was no contact address to actually send in the application. Instead, they asked candidates to scour the web to find the personal email address of their CEO. In doing so, applicants were required to use specialized email marketing tools and techniques, ensuring that every applicant had the skills and knowledge required to thrive in the new role.

4. TripAdvisor's technical sourcing technique

TripAdvisor is another company that encourages applicants to put their practical skills to good use. In this instance, an invitation to apply for the company's latest SEO (search engine optimization) role was hidden somewhere only professional SEO practitioners would ever visit.

The travel booking service leveraged the source page of TripAdvisor.com —a part of the website laden with code and technical information—to pitch potential candidates. Hidden amid the strings of code wass an invitation to “run—don't crawl” (a play on automated website crawling—a common SEO technique) to join the company's SEO team, complete with contact email address and a link to a job posting.

5. Toggl's lighthearted infographic

In the world of tech, few roles are more sought after than back-end developers, so to compete in a hyper-competitive job market, time-tracking tool Toggl announced their latest vacancy with a lighthearted Q&A-style blog post and cartoon infographic.

Instead of churning out a generic and unremarkable job description, the team highlighted their company culture—including their preference for coffee over tea, and ToroDB over MongoDB (two different back-end databases)—and even drew a tongue-in-cheek representation of the ideal back-end developer, complete with“emergency supply of coffee” and a “deep, burning hatred for interruptions.”

Readers who understood the technical references and identified with the company culture were encouraged to put their skills to the test with an interactive assessment.

6. The Deloitte film festival

In 2007, professional-services firm Deloitte made headlines for hosting “The Deloitte Film Festival”—a company-wide short-film competition, designed to showcase the working experiences of its employees.

With a need to fill over 10,000 vacancies a year, the three-minute amateur films were designed to attract Gen Y talent and “re-recruit” the existing workforce, showcasing the company's diverse and vibrant workplace culture.

In total, 5% of the company's entire workforce participated in filmmaking, while 75% participated in viewing and voting on the submissions. The campaign garnered mentions in 31 national news outlets, and, even today, many of the videos are used in the company's recruiting and onboarding processes.

7. McDonald's “snaplications”

As part of a campaign to reach a wider audience of Generation Z candidates, McDonald's experimented with short video advertisements—dubbed “snaplications”—shared through social media platform Snapchat.

Each ad featured a real McDonald's employee sharing their experience of working for the chain. When a would-be candidate interacted with the ad, they were given a custom-made Snapchat lens—a graphic overlay that showed the candidate with a McDonald's hat and name badge—and invited to send a 10-second video introduction to the manager of their nearest restaurant.

Companies as diverse as JPMorgan Chase, AOL, and Taco Bell have used similar strategies, leveraging the platform's popularity with 18 - 24 year olds to recruit younger applicants.

8. Google's cryptic billboards

Back in 2004, Google purchased a handful of advertising billboards in well-known technology hubs, like Silicon Valley and Harvard Square. The billboards contained a single, difficult, math puzzle: Find the “first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e.”

Any passersby capable of solving the cryptic clue (the answer is—apparently—7427466391) were directed to a dedicated website and a second challenging puzzle. Complete that puzzle and successful problem-solvers were asked to submit their resumes to the company's recruiting team, with the confidence-bolstering quote: “What we're looking for are the best engineers in the world. And here you are.”

9. Virgin Rail's prison partnerships

Virgin Trains, one of the UK's largest rail-network operators, operates an ongoing partnership with several prisons. The partnership is designed to find top talent from an overlooked population of ex-offenders—and, in doing so, help reduce recidivism rates.

As of 2017, the train operator had hired 27 employees as a result of the partnership, even altering the company's application process: The “Ban the Box” initiative means that applicants no longer have to declare a criminal conviction.

10. Walmart's interactive recruitment experience

Walmart has acquired a reputation for using cutting-edge technology throughout its business, developing its own specialized technical innovation lab— Walmart Labs —and even implementing virtual reality into its employee onboarding process.

The company applied the same principle to sourcing by developing an interactive microsite, titled Change the Way the World Shops , designed to immerse applicants in the day-to-day lives of the company's employees. Instead of a traditional job description, prospective candidates are guided through the skills, responsibilities and development opportunities available to a Toys, Fashion, or Home specialist, complete with videos and graphics. Complete the experience and you're directed to the careers website to apply.

Recently, the company even brought its interactive experience to university campuses across the US—including dozens of exhibits and VR challenges for soon-to-be graduates to complete.

The power of creative sourcing

As each of these companies have shown, it pays to leverage untapped sourcing channels, turning everything—from your company's workforce to its entire product line—into a powerful recruiting tool. In doing so, it’s possible to climb above the noise of a hypercompetitive job market and engage top talent in a way that inspires.

About Hire by Google

Hire is a recruiting app by Google that uses AI to make the hiring process faster and simpler. Because it is designed specifically for G Suite users, with Gmail, Google Calendar and other G Suite integrations, Hire streamlines administrative tasks so that your team can hire the best people, faster.