Innovation and recruitment marketing

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At the TAtech conference in Denver, I had a brief conversation with Joel Cheesman about innovation. He challenged me to come up with any job boards or companies in recruitment marketing that were ‘innovative’. I fumbled for an answer (as is typical for me), and then we were interrupted. But afterwards, I kept thinking about it. What companies really are innovative? Indeed? Google? StackOverflow? More importantly, how do we define innovation – or, as the VCs like to say, ‘disruption’?

Think about Indeed. On the one hand, you can say they were innovative by taking content from others, repackaging and marketing it, and then selling access to the resultant audience. But on the other hand, you can say they just copied Google.

Think about StackOverflow. On the one hand, you can say they were innovative by creating a Q&A platform that became essential reading for millions of developers – and then monetized it via their job board. On the other hand, you can say they just copied Quora. Correction: Stack preceded Quora. So let’s call that an ‘oops’.

Think about Jobr. On the one hand, you can say they were innovative because they brought a ‘swipe and hire’ model to recruiting. On the other hand, you can say they just copied Tindr.

Think about Appcast. On the one hand, you can say they were innovative because they brought programmatic to recruiting. On the other hand, well, programmatic has been around a while – it just wasn’t in recruiting.

I could go on. But I think you probably get the picture. A lot of what passes for innovation in recruitment marketing is simply the application of models from outside the industry to the specifics of attracting and hiring candidates.

So what is innovation? Merriam-Webster says “a new idea, method, or device”. Thus, bringing an existing idea, method, or device from elsewhere and applying it to recruiting might not be considered innovation. But…Merriam-Webster also tells us that to innovate is to “do something in a new way” – which you can argue that all of the companies above did.

I can honestly say that in my decades (!) working in this industry, I can count the number of truly new and never-bef0re-seen technologies or approaches or businesses on the fingers of both hands. The truly new is actually quite rare. I can also say that there’s nothing wrong (and in fact, quite a bit right) in simply taking an existing good idea and improving on it. For example, I would argue that Indeed looked at job search methodologies from the candidate’s perspective and said, ‘hey, we can improve this’. And they did. Their search engine is (in my eyes, at least) a model of efficiency and usefulness.

As you can probably tell by now, I think focusing on innovation (or its new, cool incarnation, ‘disruption’) is fun for conversation but not that useful if you’re running a business. Instead, focus on good ideas, executed impeccably.  Don’t get distracted by shiny, ostensibly new things. Focus instead on results.

(And thanks, Joel! A few seconds of conversation with you yielded a blog post!)

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Joel Cheesman

    Always happy to help get those neurons poppin’.

  2. Chad

    Usually people scream and run when Joel approaches.

  3. Christy Moon

    Great article Doc~

  4. Jeff Perry

    I see a lot of parallels to music here. Great musicians/composers all are influenced by what came before and there are few true innovators if that’s defined as doing something not previously done. Occasionally someone will discover, or take to an “extreme”, new techniques (Eddie Van Halen’s tapping, Hendrix’s use of tremolo arm), or mix different genres (jazz, a coming together of European, American and African traditions, is a rare example of an entire new music genre being created), or mix instruments/timbres in a novel way (Beatle’s use of sitar in rock), but the true creation of something new is rare. Most musicians, as you say, take existing ideas and find new ways to apply them in their own original way.

  5. JobBoardDoctor

    A correction to the above: apparently StackOverflow preceded Quora by a year. So I guess the ‘copying’ is reversed! Thanks for the correction, Stack!

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