Any executive knows that recruiting the right people is always a challenging task.

In 2016, that task has become considerably more challenging than it was even a few years ago, given that the official unemployment rate has dipped below 5 percent for the first time in about eight years; that translates into a smaller pool of highly qualified candidates for any given position.

And while the traditional requirements that recruiters would hope to find in any good candidate remain unchanged, no matter the unemployment rate, one of the often overlooked qualifications that should be considered during the hiring process is how well the potential hire would fit into the company’s ‘corporate culture.’

Business people understand that one of the largest—and most important—investments that any company makes is in the individuals it hires; labor is, historically, the largest cost of doing business, and therefore it’s only natural that business owners would want to maximize their return-on-investments (ROI) in their employees.

The Diminishing ROI of Chinese Labor

In recent years, perhaps no country in the world has been more reliant on maximized ROI of its labor costs than China.

However in 2016, China is now dealing with the issue of rapidly rising labor costs that threaten the country’s economic health, and its position as a major world exporter.

For the past few decades, the Chinese economy was built upon the basis of “cheap labor”, which allowed China to undercut Western nations in the global market.

But between 2000 and 2013, the average cost of labor in China rose at an annual rate of 13.9 percent, about six times the annual inflation rate. By comparison, the average manufacturing wage in America during that period increased at an annual rate of about 2.9 percent. Over time, those differences are having a dramatic impact: it’s expected that US wages—which as recently as 2008 were about 20 times higher than China’s—would only be about four times as high by the year 2020. The implication of that reality for world trade could well be immense.

China serves as a ‘macro-example’ of just how critically important the role of labor is in the success of both individual businesses–as well as a nation’s economy.

But another key ingredient in which labor affects a business’ bottom line is the collective role that employees play in developing a company’s brand, and the image it hopes to achieve among current and potential customers.

In order for employees to make positive contributions to those corporate branding efforts—and thereby help maximize the ROI of a business’ labor costs—it’s imperative that recruiters hire qualified candidates who have what it takes to serve as solid ‘brand ambassadors’ for their business. After all, the first line of interaction that most people have with any business—other than perhaps reading about it online—is with the ‘front-line’ employees who directly interact with their customers.

Those employees—and their interactions with customers—are what will help delineate your business from your competitors and, ultimately, contribute to or diminish your organization’s bottom line.

Recruiting Better Talent — Where HR Meets Marketing

Given the pressures involved in filling open positions within an organization, it’s understandable that all too often recruiters and HR professionals focus solely on the education and professional qualifications of candidates.

However, in today’s competitive marketplace where companies have to work harder than ever to delineate themselves from their competitors, recruiters should also be encouraged to seek out candidates who will supplant–and adhere to–the brand image that the company hopes to build.

Many businesses don’t make a natural connection between their recruiting and marketing efforts, but in reality, the two are fundamentally tied.

Given that staff who interact with the customers are the de facto ‘brand ambassadors’, it only makes sense that those same employees should fully understand the branding efforts of the company; in order for that to happen, recruiters have to make an effort to hire individuals who either bring with them the requisite background to fit well with the company’s brand, or at least hire candidates who are malleable and skilled enough to adapt quickly to that same brand.

Perhaps one of the more appropriate metaphors for linking corporate recruiting to a company’s marketing efforts comes from the world of sports.

In football, the quarterback is charged with directing the team’s offensive plays; meanwhile, the running backs’ primary role is to receive handoffs from the quarterback for a rushing play or to catch passes.

In the business world, the metaphoric ‘quarterback’ could be the marketers and sales people who—by their efforts—provide the basic brand ‘strategy’ and plan for moving the corporate ball forward.

The recruiters are, by the very nature of their jobs, the individuals who decide just who will be chosen to carry the proverbial company ‘ball’ forward.

The partnership between marketing and recruiting may not—at first—be as visibly natural as that of the quarterback and his running backs.

But in reality, just as both the quarterback and running back each fulfill essential functions, so too do both marketing and HR each play a symmetrical role in helping to build the company’s brand—and ultimately, its success.

That’s why, whenever possible, recruiting efforts should be fully in sync with the company’s branding efforts; a partnership designed to maximize the considerable labor investments required to carry ‘the corporate ball’ forward in this most competitive age.