14 Minute Read

Inbound versus Outbound Recruiting: The Binary Choice That Isn’t


Inbound versus Outbound Recruiting: The Binary Choice That Isn’t

At least not anymore. 

Recently, I was invited to the hireEZ rebrand (formerly Hiretual if you live under a rock), and the big reveal (aside from the new name and massive $$$$) was the all-in focus on outbound recruiting. It reminded me of when Hubspot announced “Inbound Marketing” and went, erm, to the wall with that concept as well, even going so far as to call their annual conference (oh please, can we have conferences back now Covid gods?) Inbound. 

It’s the definition of a category, a bold move, and I said as much to Steven and Shannon during our conversations at the event. This is not an easy play, but as I listened to other influencers (nail painting emoji) at the event, I realized it’s not one taken lightly. 

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk inbound versus outbound recruiting, and why I think the issues with both can be solved by applying what we know about skills gaps to the recruitment process

Marketing Maven @MarenHogan shares her takeaways from the hireEZ's Outbound Recruitcon. Can @hireEZ define outbound recruiting? Check it out here: Share on X

Inbound Recruiting: Just Glorified Advertising?

I may shoot myself in the foot saying this, but the answer is kinda? 

Employer branding, reputation management, cultural fit, recruitment marketing, customized candidate journeys, the lot, are all created to draw the candidate to us, ever so slowly, until they are all but compelled to work at our organizations. 

And that was all fine and dandy…until the world realized they can work how they want to, where they want to, and for the most part, employers at the top of the pyramid (the ones we’re all trying to hire for) can’t do diddly-spit without them. Now many sourcing and recruiting professionals are scrambling to fill roles quickly vacated when virtually everyone gets poached…usually by someone using outbound tactics.

While all of the employer branding/recruitment marketing/inbound recruiting tactics listed above are no less valuable (or difficult to learn mind you, there are some killer pros out there doing these things VERY right) right now, they are not probably going to get the job done in this market. Why?

Candidates aren’t looking. They don’t HAVE TO. 

So all the marketing in the world isn’t gonna sway them because they know damn good and well, they can find a job in ten seconds if their current gig isn’t working out. 

“Coocoocoo, so I should stop advertising then, Maren?”

Well, actually, no. You still need to maintain the brand. Fact of the matter is, outbound needs to be added to your current strategy. And that’s gonna be tough to sell to employers already tightening their fists around recruitment budget dollars

But in case you hadn’t noticed, companies that spent a pretty penny on EB in 2021 have absolutely NO issue turning around and laying off a whole host of employees in the last few tumultuous months. This only makes their recruitment and sourcing teams’ lives much harder when they need to “staff up” again…but I digress.

Candidates aren’t looking. They don’t HAVE TO. How has that turned recruiting on its head? Fresh out of the latest @hireEZ Outbound Recruitcon, @MarenHogan has a few thoughts: Share on X

Outbound Recruiting: Do We Love This?

Look, I’m just going to say it. Outbound anything is harder than inbound anything, except for like maybe trains. So it might be a pretty tough sell to create a whole category around it. First, let’s define it. 

Content Marketing Cold Outreach (call, email, SMS)
Job Posting Direct to Candidate (via portfolio v resume)
Career Site Focus Talent Pipelining (reach out proactively)
Review Campaigns (Glassdoor, etc) Passive Candidate Nurturing 
SEO Headhunting/Poaching
Social Media inc. LinkedIn Customized Approaches
Employee Referrals

Outbound recruiting is going to candidates instead of expecting them to come to you. Cold outreach, proactive approaches…it’s more like headhunting than what many TA pros are used to over the last few years. Outbound recruiting is “not a new concept” as Shannon likes to point out. In fact, we used to call this approach ‘recruiting’, and it was why folks got paid the big bucks. Smiling and dialing aren’t easy, and there’s a lot of rejection that goes with that line of work. 

Many folks just didn’t want to do it. And those who did had a luxury we don’t currently have, that of time. You could spend a day locating a single candidate because it took everyone else that long too. 

So what changed? 

LinkedIn came along and gave access to millions of people who could be plucked from obscurity for your role in a heartbeat. Inbound recruiting, heretofore unheard of, became the term du jour. Finally, we could be proactive, strategic…finally, we could relax just a little. 

Unfortunately, the most fished ponds often run out of stock, and that’s kinda what happened here. Overfished, undernourished, LinkedIn has been claimed by some to be a sales pitch hub, where most only connect to sell or hawk their wares, leaving little space for true professionals seeking their next role, or anyone but the most intrepid (or well-funded) recruiters to find talent. 

Outbound Recruiting Redux

So here we go again. But there is just one issue…we still need to do ALLLLLLLLLL the inbound stuff. Which to be honest, seems a little unfair. 

Most recruiters have a bevy of tools and skills around inbound recruitment and maaaaaybe a CRM to manage outbound approach. All the education and focus has been around a specific skillset for a long time, and I imagine that was on the hireEZ team’s minds when they decided to define, or redefine the category. 

Many recruiters are being asked to “do more with less” (groan marketing speak but really, they are) and that could be why the hireEZ team decided to make it a little easier. Features like automated outreach sequences, seamless integration with other platforms, insights based on demographics tracking, and instant messaging (SMS) coming in mid-May are making it at least possible for recruiters to embrace outbound recruiting as a skillset.

And that’s where I may differ with the hireEZ crew just slightly. There was a lot of talk of “outbound recruiters,” and I am not sure I believe this is a new JOB or career choice per se. I think of it more as a set of skills that many will have to:

  • Add to their team (enterprise, RPO)
  • Add to their skillset (Startup)
  • Brush up on (seasoned recruiters)
  • Build into their processes/pipeline (SMB)

I am not sure if the distinction is so wildly important but for me, I believe it so mirrors the journey of Hubspot to define inbound marketing that I think the parallels are important. And while you can find “inbound marketers”, you are far more likely to find “marketers with certification in inbound” as part of a broader skillset (usually delineated similarly to the above, startups have a few people that do all things, and the expertise gets more siloed and sharper the larger the company.)

So Can hireEZ Define Outbound?

I am super glad you asked. I think so, actually. Here’s why:

They “baked in” tools that allow recruiters to easily begin practicing outbound recruiting, even if they’ve never done it before. It might shock some, but many recruiters have never dabbled in outbound follow-up sequences or diversity filters. According to Shannon, ​​they’ve seen the email sequence increase response rate 2.7x.

They’re committed to an ethical movement and learning as they go. I have to say the commitment to diversity and LGBTQIA+ inclusion, complete with both internal and external auditing committees in order to ensure a diverse slate, is admirable. And while there are a LOT of rules about self-identification, privacy, and other considerations, hireEZ seems to be doing as much as possible to navigate it as they build the product instead of waiting for someone else to define the rules. The platform even includes something called a “bias override,” which sounds cool and futuristic but, in reality, just suggests new candidates that may not have surfaced based on previous filters that may be biased in nature.

They seem to understand what is next in outbound recruiting. hireEZ acknowledges that outbound recruitment is nothing new. In fact, it’s an older skill set that is in dire need of being revamped. I won’t say it (but it rhymes with FLREAT MESIGNATION) has left us in well, a bit of a pickle. And I don’t want to call anyone out, but the lack of talent and time to hire is an issue GLOBALLY. Instead of saying here is a new issue, our software solves it, everyone buy this (which I am sure they wouldn’t MIND someone saying) they know what needs to CONTINUE to happen. For example, it’s plain as day that recruiting has been mirroring marketing for some time when it comes to tactics, strategy, even some processes. 

What hireEZ understands that few platforms seem to, is this now needs to extend to team makeup. When Shannon spoke at the event, and again to Tim Sackett on the HR Famous podcast, they acknowledged the need for both internal and external focused teams, just like sales and marketing. Before, there was perhaps a false analogy to marketing = sourcing and sales = recruiting, but I think that falls a bit short. I am looking forward to seeing how they affect change through the product, perhaps a certification process?

In the end, I’ve always been an advocate for finding the parallels between marketing and recruiting; my very job depends on it. I am thrilled to watch the idea continue to gain traction and really get cemented into technology that hopefully makes lives easier. After all, that’s what technology ought to do, right?

Inbound versus outbound recruiting is not a binary decision. Outbound recruiting is not pitched by hireEZ (or anyone I can think of for that matter) to the exclusion of inbound recruiting or any of the disciplines that feed into that part of Talent Attraction. Instead, we see a new area of recruiting skills being opened up to the next generation of TA pros, while many of the old-school recruiters are watching with delight as skills they long ago perfected become not just “hip” again (#outisin) but far easier to manage alongside the inbound tactics we’ve all come to know and love.