Law enforcement agencies have historically never used stand alone recruiting websites. According to Epic Recruiting’s CEO, Sam Blonder, failing to provide this critical tool to your recruiting team puts your agency at a massive disadvantage. I sat down with Sam and discussed why this tool has been elusive to law enforcement and what Epic sees for the future of law enforcement recruiting.
Q. Is online recruiting where the law enforcement industry as a whole is heading?
There’s no question that online digital is where all of the hiring is happening, so a big part of our push at Epic is making sure that agencies that we work with have a very robust online presence, and this means a recruiting website. A great thing about online recruiting is that it’s way more accountable than other traditional facets of marketing and outreach. So that is always the direction we point our clients to. We know that the law enforcement agency will find success with online recruiting, and specifically with a recruiting website.
Q. Do you have a philosophy regarding website design and layout? Are there rules that agencies should follow?
You know, there’s no steadfast rules, but there are a lot of best practices. We have a mentality at Epic with our design team called KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. Most agencies, especially if they’re tied to complicated city county department sites, they’re just trying way too much on one website. What we tell our clients is there’s really only three functionalities your recruiting website needs to complete in order to be successful. If you look at the recruiting websites we have developed, you’ll see sites that, even though they look dynamic, they’re not really complicated. They’re very simple. These are sales sites, because remember, recruiting is sales, there is no difference. You just happen to be selling a career instead of a car. So what we want to do is make sure that this website is based around the sales best practices when it comes to the website.
There’s only three things the website will do, it will share the brand, right? So when people land on it, the brand will be reinforced, because remember, the traffic on this website will not come from just organic searches, it’s going to come from paid marketing. This means people are seeing this website because they were pushed to an ad based on their internet activity. We want to make sure that the branding on the marketing matches the branding on the website, because that will pull people in deeper and engage them. When you are using any website, think about how quickly it takes for you to decide whether to stay on that website or not. So we only have a few moments to pull people in and make them dig deeper. That’s where the branding comes into place, to reinforce the message.
The second thing your website needs to do is it needs to be really easy to apply. So if you look at the design work that we are doing, every single website is going to have a giant contrasting color button asking the viewer to join today, contact the recruiter, or something like that. Because again, you don’t have much time with people, and you want to make sure that they do the action you want, and for us that’s an application.
The third thing we want to be able to do with the website is pull data from the website and re-target potential applicants online. So pulling data off the website is hyper critical. This website tells you what’s working on your recruiting. Branding, easy link to application, and then access to the data. If you don’t have those things, you are light years behind where you need to be.
What should an agency do if they have been told no by their IT or City/State web team when asking for a stand alone recruiting site?
It is not unusual for an agency that we’re talking to about our services to tell us this. Look, with recruitment it’s all about the website, that’s basically the manifestation of the brand. It’s where everything happens, and it just isn’t practical, having a recruiting page buried inside of a city, state, or county website. What I tell agencies when we have these conversations is to make the discussion with the city around recruiting and how it has changed significantly in the last 10+ years. If you’ve been told no, it’s time to go back and ask again, because what I have seen is very few people today are saying “I want to make it more difficult for agencies to recruit, I don’t care who we’re hiring.” That conversation is not happening anymore. People want a great police department, they want an efficient sheriff’s department, and nobody wants to be a hindrance to that mission. When people realize that this web tool is critical, they’re going to be willing to make this happen, even if they have said no previously. Those doors should be opening now. So if you’ve been told no, go back again. I am telling you, you’re going to see a different perspective.
Q. What data, if any, can law enforcement pull from a stand alone recruiting website?
All the websites we build have Google Analytics built into them. Google Analytics gathers data about who’s on your website. You can imagine just how critical that is for us when we’re running marketing for multiple agencies. It’s important that we know what marketing strategies are working and which strategies are not.
It can be as simple as knowing you go to the same job fair every year. You’ve always gone there and you’ve always sent two deputies. You pull them off the street and send them to this job fair, your department may already be short-handed. You have to pay for the booth and you have to pay to overnight them in some hotel. These are all an expense in time, money and energy. How do you justify doing this year after year? Is it ethical? Do you just ask the deputies when they get back, how did it go? Can you determine this by how many people the deputies spoke to or how many people came to the booth? With a recruitment website you can use analytics to see if the event was successful. With the website you can geotarget the region of the job fair and see how many people from that region visited your website after the event. It was a physical event, but the website is telling you whether or not it was worth it.
The website’s data will tell you where to spend money, what is successful and what is not. The alternative is literally closing your eyes and walking around in the dark, and that’s not where you want to be in the recruiting world right now. It’s just too competitive. Analytics is one of those things that once you have it and you understand it, you wonder how you ever did recruiting without it.
Are there any SEO benefits to separating recruiting from the rest of the Dept or City/State site?
There are massive benefits to extracting your recruiting, messaging, branding and mission from the department’s city or state website. Think about how people are going to see the site long term. Google is not a mystery, the reason why their business model works is because they are matching search terms to search results. Based on historical data that we pull, we know that there are specific terms people are using when they’re searching on Google for law enforcement jobs. Our job is to make sure that this data exists on your recruiting website, because what Google wants to do is match a good data set to a good search term.
We want to make sure that your recruiting website is all about recruiting, everything people look for when looking into hiring information. Physical assessment information, academy information, what does the job pay, what are the benefits and information like that. If you can stack that into your recruiting website, Google will look at that website and every time somebody is looking for a police job, they will find this information here at this recruiting website on Google. Paid traffic is immediate. We pay Google to beat people to the website. Organic traffic, that’s the long game. Eventually, we want to be that popular site. Really successful agencies are playing both those games at the same time
Q: If a law enforcement agency decides to make the move and build a stand alone recruiting site, where do they start?
I think the first thing is to look around and make sure that they are hiring a company that understands law enforcement. Recruiting is a combination of sales and branding. These two things come together, and I really think that’s the strength of Epic. We are so entrenched in law enforcement, because we’ve done this for so long and for so many agencies. We have kind of an understanding with agencies at this point. It helps us understand the brevity of the messaging that we need and then the funnel we need to create within the recruiting websites. So I think that’s what agencies need to do. I think they need to look around and make sure they hire an agency that understands law enforcement, because there’s a lot of web design firms out there. There’s a lot of advertising agencies out there. Very few people understand law enforcement in addition to those other things that surround that recruiting cycle, like branding, production, web design and digital. So really do your homework and find an agency that can understand law enforcement and bring those best practices together.
Q: If a law enforcement agency decides to make the move and build a stand alone recruiting site, where do they start?
I think the first thing is to look around and make sure that they are hiring a company that understands law enforcement. Recruiting is kind of this crazy combination of sales and branding. These two things come together and I really think that’s the strength of Epic. We are so entrenched in law enforcement, because we’ve done this for so long and for so many agencies. We have kind of an understanding with agencies at this point. It helps us understand the brevity of the messaging that we need and then the funnel we need to create within the recruiting websites. So I think that’s what agencies need to do. I think they need to look around and make sure they hire an agency that understands law enforcement, because there’s a lot of web design firms out there. There’s a lot of advertising agencies out there. Very few people understand law enforcement in addition to those other things that surround that recruiting cycle, like branding, production, web design and digital. So really do your homework and find an agency that can understand law enforcement and bring those best practices together.
Q: Do these websites change the demographic of the applicants agencies receive?
Yes. There’s two sides to the coin when it comes to using recruiting to diversify your department. One side of the coin is we have an intentional mission to diversify, meaning we’re a part of national initiatives that aim to diversify law enforcement’s staff. An example would be the 30 by 30 initiative. So at Epic, we’re going to create content as a part of the digital strategy and take this content that appeals to female applicants and speak to them directly. We’re going to make sure that when they come to the website, there is a portion or part of the website that can speak directly to them. We’re creating intentional diversity based on what we’re doing throughout the campaign.
The other side of that coin is, when you do the type of recruiting that Epic is doing, you are basically increasing diversity by default. This means that we’re going to create this brand, we’re going to create this amazing website, it’s going to be designed to attract applicants and we’re going to take this website and push it into every corner the internet has to offer. This is going to expose the website to people that the agency has never been exposed to. So the fact that we’re going to be exposing your brand to new people is going to bring in a more diverse application set.
What if the agency does not have an IT department or an officer that understands websites?
Will they be able to manage the site?
For some reason, historically, recruiting has been one of these things where people just try to figure it out on their own. What we say is that is not good enough anymore. So the recruiting website is probably the most critical tool in an agency’s toolbelt. We build our websites to be that recruiting tool, meaning I want agencies to use it, I want them to own it, I want them to run it, I want them to feel comfortable changing it. We build all of our websites on a content management platform that is super easy to manage, because remember, not every agency has an IT department. Or on the alternative side, some agencies have a large IT department, but it means an email to some third party asking to make a change to their recruiting website.We build our websites with the intention of handing the keys to the agency. The final goal is for the website to be the department’s website, they should own it, they should be able to run it. The website is a tool that anyone is able to use and easily manage. That’s the goal.
Q: How does the recruiting website fit into the larger recruiting efforts or plans a law enforcement agency may have?
So right now law enforcement agencies are looking around the room and wondering how to modernize recruiting. How do we make sure that we’re going to be more competitive tomorrow than we were yesterday? Part of that foundation is the recruiting website. Now are there other things that have to happen? Yes, you’re going to need branding, you’re going to need to create really engaging content, you’re going to need a digital online strategy that puts this great content in front of the right people out there. The website is a combination of these things. The recruiting website is where all marketing will point you, it is where all efforts come from. So it’s really the central hub of your next wave of recruiting. How agencies recruit 10 years from now, it will all emanate from that central hub with the recruiting website. Without it, you’re at a loss. We want to make sure that the agencies that we work with have a very strong online presence that starts with the recruiting website.
Q: How do recruiting websites increase the engagement agencies have with applicants?
I think engagement is really critical. We build that within our recruiting websites by building the website with content that is going to be interesting to the applicants. Remember, the strength of digital recruiting is that it’s not really a mass audience we’re looking for, it’s very targeted audiences, because that’s who we’re going to have a higher conversion metric with.
When you advertise on TV, radio or on a billboard, you’re paying for every eyeball that drives by that billboard, whether they have an intention to apply or not. The type of recruiting we’re doing is very focused, meaning that we’re only paying to advertise to that person who we have specifically selected based on their internet behavior, maybe they’ve passed off our website, and we want to flip them into an applicant. So when they come to the website, I want content that is going to engage them.
For example, maybe they’re a veteran. I would like to show them a part of the website that speaks to how veterans are going to succeed with this agency, and how they come to the table. Maybe share how veterans have skills that may help them promote faster. Those are the type of stories we want to tell and the people we hope to engage with. When you fail to have that type of content, you’re missing a chance to engage with people, you’re missing an engagement opportunity that’s worth thinking about. People are looking around on these websites for something that will specifically apply to them. Why is it there and what is its particular mission? That’s really how we use recruiting websites to engage our audience.