Yes, we'll explain why there's a burger photo. Pic by Elli O.

“We do things a little differently here” says the waiter of a trendy new eatery, before serving up a deconstructed burger and charging you $23 for the pleasure of making it yourself.

One of the first acts of any new business is defining its unique selling proposition (USP). But in an effort to define their version of ‘unique’ many will wander down the wrong path. Unique, after all, is simply a synonym for different, not necessarily good.

And so we come to recruiting and staffing, an industry that asks its players to form two separate sets of USPs; one for the clients who will provide the job orders, and one for the candidates who will fill them.

There’s no point in building relationships with candidates if you don’t have any positions for them to fill, so today we’ll look at how a recruiting firm might set itself apart when attracting new clients. Are you offering potential customers something truly unique, enticing and ultimately beneficial? Or are you offering the recruiting equivalent of a $23 deconstructed burger?

To find out, we’ll begin with a simple question.

What does a client want from a recruiting firm?

Put yourself in a potential client’s shoes. They’re in the market for recruiting services, and are being bombarded by firm after firm yelling ‘LOOK AT ME’ and ‘I’M THE BEST.’ They don’t know your firm or sales reps from the next, or whether your value proposition is better than the others. They don’t even know if you’re telling the truth about what you can offer. You’re just one of many options, all of which, from an outsider’s view, don’t differ that much at all.

So, will this potential client find your proposition exciting? Can they tell it apart from those of your competitors? And, critically, is it true? Can you unfailingly deliver what you’re promising?

It’s time to differentiate; to float above the shouting masses, and calmly state your persuasive case. Let’s take a look at how.

1. Understand your customer DNA

Who are you selling to? Who should you be selling to? Every firm will have their strengths, and recognizing what you’re good at will allow you to identify the DNA of your ideal customer – the one who your firm is best positioned to help.

Does your firm have extensive experience in a particular industry? Do you have a surplus of a certain candidate demographic in your ATS? Can you source back-end developers, chief operating officers or deconstructed burger chefs at the drop of a hat?

Your ideal customer will be one the one who benefits most from your firm’s inherent strengths.

2. Target your ideal customer with specific, engaging content

While you may well be the ideal recruiting choice for a potential customer, how are they to know that? You need to prove it to them, and specific, engaging content is the simplest and most effective way of doing so.

Send industry-specific content that is entertaining, educational, or a delicious mix of the two. It could take the form of a blog post, core site content, video, slides, a survey, a research paper; the definition of content can really be as broad as you want it to be.

Keep the potential customer up to date with industry goings-on. Educate them on the state of the talent market. Address the customer’s interests, and connect your brand’s expertise with those interests.

3. Leverage automation to be professionally persistent

Creating and distributing engaging content is a terrific idea in theory, but difficult and laborious in practice, or so the thinking goes. Welcome to the future, Marty McFly. The truth is that modern tech can automate much of the content delivery process – and indeed the general communication process – for clients both prospective and current.

It’s vital that you leverage automation to keep your firm’s name up in lights. Consistent content establishes your firm as a thought leader and enhances your reputation within the industry, while regular communication, even if it simply says ‘hey there,’ will keep your firm front of mind, ready for when a client needs to fill a position.

If you aren’t comfortable laying your systems and procedures bare, that’s as good a sign as any that they need work.

4. Demonstrate expertise in the client’s fields

Give your clients confidence in your ability by demonstrating your knowledge of their industry. The industry-specific content mentioned above will do just that, as will case studies of your successes with similar clients.

It’s important to understand that every organization is different. While your industry knowledge might be extensive, your knowledge of a new client’s operations will be limited, and at times non-existent. Rising above the noise of your competitors so often rests on going silent– closing your mouth, opening your ears, and learning exactly what this client needs from a recruiter. Only after gaining this deep understanding of the client can you show off your deep understanding of the industry they’re in, hopefully in a far more relevant and meaningful way than anyone of your competitors.

5. Develop and share your recruitment process

Typing ‘recruiters are’ into Google and letting autofill do the rest is a harrowing experience for a professional in the industry. If nothing else, it shows that there’s a lot to be said for transparency. If a client understands your processes, and sees that you’re providing real value, they’ll be far less likely to attach the suffixes ‘scumbag’, ‘useless’ or ‘the worst’ to your name.

Break down the fourth wall, and show clients exactly how you recruit; give them insight into your process. If you’re doing your job properly, you’ll be proud to show any client the nuts and bolts of your operation. If you aren’t comfortable laying your systems and procedures bare, that’s as good a sign as any that they need work.

6. Solidify your employment brand

How do people outside of your recruiting firm perceive the experience of working with your firm? This, in essence, is your employment brand – the opinion that outsiders, be they candidates, clients or prospects, hold regarding the quality of your recruiting services.

While many a paparazzi-stalked celebrity will tell you that public perception can often be rather removed from reality (I get the feeling Morgan Freeman is sick of reading his own obituary), quality will inevitably shine through. Recruiting firms who focus on their employment brand will tell you that the process is more important than the outcome; do the fundamentals well and the rewards will eventually follow. If the five points outlined above are done well, then number six will take care of itself.

What kind of ‘different’ do you want to be?

The focus on establishing a unique selling proposition, of standing out from the crowd, can be overstated in modern organizations. If you put too much onus on unique, the fundamentals of good business – providing a quality product or service at a competitive price – begin to get lost. Before you know it you’ve placed a beef patty, a leaf of lettuce and an uncut bun on a chopping board and have asked for $23 bucks.

In recruiting, being unique can be as simple as finding your niche, and servicing it really, really well. In fact, in this industry at least, that’s the best USP there is.