We have managed, as a service economy, to make everything a brand. Success or failure is based on perception, on value propositions, on connection, on consistent touchstone experiences. And that’s true for hiring, too.
Candidates want to know who you are, what you stand for, and what you can deliver to their career. Explaining those key touchstones in the same ways conventional brands tout their messages (campaigns, word of mouth, marketing materials, copy, design, press releases) can be easier than you think.
Quite simply, you have to
1) Figure out who your company is and tell that story
2) Discern what people think your company is and whether you need to change your story
3) Develop ways to make your story either overcome or bolster the perceptions of your company.
It takes intentional strategic work to figure out whom you’re targeting, what you want to communicate, and how to get the message out.
The overall job of becoming a successful employer brand is rooted in understanding and condensing your employee experience. Employees are the voice of your employer brand. Unhappy employees tell the world (friends, colleagues, family members, and random people on the train) that your company is not a good place to work.
Engaged and challenged employees, on the other hand, evangelize good employer brands. Workers excited about their role, their team, their work carry the excitement of being part of your company into all the corners of their lives, making others want to work for you, too.
So how do you know what your employer brand is? How do you find out whether your core benefits are common knowledge or whether you need to do damage control? Start by checking GlassDoor.
(Yes, I’m linking to a job site. Why? Because I’m not threatened that there are lots of ways for employers and candidates to find each other. I want you to find the right candidates for your jobs. And if you get the best candidate by posting on a site like GlassDoor, or on LinkedIn, or online with your local newspaper, great! I also send my associate candidates to GlassDoor and LinkedIn because they offer good information on employers, salary, and job searches, though with very different slants (GlassDoor has employee reviews of companies and LinkedIn offers the company-generated marketing about their strengths). I have no illusion that refusing to give clients or candidates useful information will get me more business. I want people in jobs that fit them and I want clients to find the right person for the job. If I don’t make a dime from the transaction, that’s fine with me. I’ll save my skills for the really fun jobs where a matchmaker is required.)
Once you find out what people are saying about your company, you can start to work. Take your brand purpose, positioning, tone, and story, and wrap them into hiring materials, job posts, ad campaigns…whatever your internal department, agency, or committee decides will be the most effective channels for getting your message to current and future hires.
Then test with internal stakeholders. Does your story ring true to new hires? To those with you the longest? If your marketing isn’t true to your employees, it won’t work to drive your employer brand; it’ll make people unsure what you really are and whether you can be trusted. Remember that employer brand is based on perception, not on what you say. Your current staff are your bellwether. As them what they think. Does their version of your story resonate with the one you’re written?
Let Guy Kawasaki’s response to a question on Employer Brand be your guide on this one: if the story you tell rings true, it’s a boon for hiring. If it’s just window dressing in a dysfunctional store, you’re wasting your time (and likely doing your company long-term harm).
But your employees are only part of the story. Consider, too, job candidates. What they experience and share can also help or hurt your ability to hire and retain great talent.
Treat candidates respectfully. Send an email saying their resume made it to you. Communicate the what they can expect from the process. Be honest about your expectations and timeline. Answer queries in a timely manner. Follow up whether you decide to hire a particular candidate or not. Nobody likes to be left hanging.
Candidate experience can be as important as employee experience, because when that amazing candidate enters the process, you need to be sure she thinks well enough of you to say yes when you ask her to become your newest great employee.
So there you have your three steps. Express, Listen, Revise. Write your employer story. Get it out to the people who need to hear it. And stay true to the values you set. The whole point of being a brand is letting people know what to expect. And that should be true through the whole employment process.
If you’re reading blog posts from a staffing agency, this won’t surprise you at all: researchers say employees are leaving companies in record numbers, and those who haven’t left are on their way out. Employee engagement is shocking human resources professionals, at a low of 31%. A Gallup poll in 2014 registered that just under half of employees said they were “engaged” and 18% were “actively disengaged.”
Employees aren’t happy, not entirely, we know from the job searching going on from people who have seemingly great jobs. They’re looking for something better. So what does that mean for your hiring and retaining practices? What should you do to keep the employees you have, and to prepare for the great hires that you’ll find?
What anchors employee engagement?
1. Hear their opinions. Nothing drives an employee away faster than being ignored. You may not be able to change a company based on their feedback, but respond to employees who have suggestions and complaints. Explain what change would look like and what steps have to happen before you could accommodate their requests. Even if they’re whining about something unreasonable, you can outline action steps they can take (research the cost of a change, get other employees to sign onto an initiative, offer to lead an exploratory, etc.) so they feel empowered to either move an idea forward or stop being unrealistic.
2. Accommodate their preferences. When an employee want something reasonable, do it. More obviously, if they have a great idea, heed it. Someone wants yoga in the office? So easy to do. Somebody else wants to leave early Fridays and make up the work from home? Talk to their manager about how much more productive a happy employee can be. Have a policy that you’ll try anything reasonable and then make decisions based on results. Office snacks turned out to be way too expensive? Find a few people to rotate purchasing and leave out an honor-system payment jar, just to see if it works. Trying your best makes people more willing to work for you. And this makes sense, of course, because you’re asking them to try their best. Meet them more than halfway whenever you can.
3. Pay them a fair wage. Pay what’s right, based on skills, experience, industry averages, educational level, and worth to the company. Seriously. Don’t cheat an employee out of a few thousand dollars just because you can. It’ll come back to haunt you in reputation, employee loss, and company ill will. Look, you’re making money from these people. They’re giving you something you need. Pay up. And if you don’t know what is right, do the research. It’s worth it.
4. Offer career growth potential. Nobody wants to stay in a dead-end job. Actively scan the roster and see whose been in the same job too long. If they underperform, train them, counsel them, re-home them in another role…do what you need to do to make the right fit. If they’re performing well, show you notice. Offer them mentorship, more projects, more responsibilities, meetings with managers in other departments who have interesting and compelling jobs to offer someone who can stretch and grow…something. Staging in the same job with steady raises for a whole career is a relic of the 1950s. Baby Boomers are retiring, and so is the idea of lifelong employment.
5. Stand for something. Nobody can define this for you, because it’s what makes your company, your culture, your employees special. Maybe you focus on employee giving and make it central to your business. Maybe you celebrate silliness and failure enough that employees regularly invent and spearhead brilliant initiatives. Maybe you give what seems (to outsiders) like untoward attention to community involvement. Maybe your pro bono advertising campaigns drive lasting relationships with creatives and strategists. Maybe company groups focused on hobbies, like a company band or hacker group, just makes you too compelling to leave. Whatever it is, it’s not the quality of your snacks, the size of your gym, or the company policy on casual Friday. Think bigger than that. What would make you stay?
Video interviews are increasingly a part of the hiring process, in part because of time constraints, distance candidates, and the ubiquity of video conferencing.
SEE MORE: Five Tips for Great Video Interviews
A recent article on Mashable argues that employers will use more video technology in the future, and will do so in new ways. The list is written under the guise of predicting the future of video interviews, and it largely misses the mark, despite being posted by the CEO of a video interview company.
The large roles I see for video in the hiring process are threefold:
1. Video resumes. There is no better way to show creativity and personality than through scripting, shooting, and editing video. And though most candidates don’t proofread their resume nearly enough, in the age of selfie sticks and constant avi updates, I’m willing to be that they’ll watch and edit their video resume until it’s flawless.
2. Screen-share interviews. Josh Tolan is quite right to note that assessing a candidate’s skillset is remarkably simple through a video call with screen-sharing, where the hiring manger asks a candidate to perform a task, then watches the screen as the interviewee shows their finesse, skill, and thought process by working on an actual task. It’s like a modern-day typing test for designers, writers, or developers, and I believe it’s an incredible boon to the interview process.
3. HR video company descriptions. Aside from letting someone work in your offices for a fair amount of time, there seems to me no better way to show candidates the culture, priorities, and nuances of your organization than to create a video greeting card. We often try, in the laborious and fraught process of writing job descriptions and job announcements, to convey with voice alone, the culture of the company. We’re after fit, right, so why use just writing to explain the feel of a company? Photos are good, but video is better.
The ways I don’t expect video interviewing to go much further:
1. Video recommendations. No manager wants to put on film a recommendation for a colleague. It just makes no sense to spend the time and effort to make a solid video referral when you can type a letter or email more quickly, with fewer chances of making an fool of yourself.
2. Video job postings. See above. It’s challenging enough to get a team to agree on the basic requirements and ideal qualifications of a candidate, and word them in the company’s brand voice. But producing a video for each job posting? That’s a bit beyond what, in my experience, clients will be willing to do. Consider the time and energy it takes to script, shoot, produce, and edit; then double it to get buy-in from stakeholders. Blah. Just write a job posting. And if you get stuck, read this.
Jacksonville has a fair number of resources for women in business: we can find information, training, and opportunities through the Women Business Owners of Northern Florida and the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center. The Jacksonville Business Journal recently featured a profile of The Mayo Clinic’s former CE, Shirley Weis, that claimed to include nine tips for getting more women in the corner office.
In reality, though, the article featured only three basic principles: learn yourself, learn the game, and maximize opportunities for success.
Ideally, as part of the interview process you will have taken stock of yourself and you know wherein your strengths and passions lie. You know what risks you want to take, and how you define personal and professional success. That knowledge will allow you to direct your efforts toward those projects that further your ideals and vision for the company, your career, and your sense of self. Use your energy for that which makes you grow as a colleague and leader, and ditch that which drains you, including fighting losing battles.
Learn the Game
I agree with Weis that business is a game, and each company has its own team culture, rules, style, and goals. When you first join an organization and after personnel shifts, watch carefully. You’ll see the unspoken rules and where the opportunities lie. There are actually organizations where you can fit in wel land make big, positive waves. More likely, you’ll have to make active decisions about what battles to fight and what cultural legacies to adhere to. Interview well and find the right fit and you won’t have to choose peace versus affect. If you do need to calculate whether to fight or placate, choose wisely. It’s easier to get a new job than a fresh shipment of self worth.
Maximize Opportunities for Success
Studies repeatedly show that grit, the willingness to struggle through a challenge until you’ve succeeded and the perspective that setbacks are learning opportunities, is the single most important predictor of success. Cultivate that mindset and take on challenges as a path toward growth. Try, try, try, until you’re a master. Get better than your nemesis at some quantifiable and valuable skill. Making mistakes is exciting because faltering offers feedback on something that’s not working, and gives you the chance to change and try again.
Cultivating personal and professional grit also means ignoring people who doubt you. Critique from trusted advisors will focus on techniques and won’t feel like attacks. If naysayers tell you what you can’t do, or how your priorities are wrong, avoid these people and discount what they say. Do not let their criticism affect your drive toward mastery. In fact, note their pettiness, their meanness, and their incompetence as fuel toward your own efforts to get better and learn more.
As important as learning the rules of game, learning yourself, and growing toward being an invaluable part of your organization are, I feel Weis’s advice is missing a technique crucial toward getting more women into leadership roles:
Mentor other women
As younger or newer colleagues come into your sphere, see how they can fit into the game. A good coach can see the strength and potential in other people, and helping colleagues cultivate their best selves is part of the long game toward creating better workplaces, professional success, and personal fulfillment. Don’t mentor for you, bur rather foster the growth of your direct reports and interdepartmental colleagues to boost the level of play in your organization and industry.
In honor of the Spring Forward horror of Daylight Savings Time, I offer you tricks to kick your lateness habit and find more time in your day. You’re going to need them, with one fewer hour this week.
Chronic lateness is irritating to clients and colleagues alike. If you’re late to the meeting, your boss and team think less of you. If you’re late to the interview, you lose the job. If you’re late to a business lunch, colleagues are either mad or conducting business without you.
So why are so many people late? An Inc. article claims that humans underestimate how long it takes to do things.
But in my experience, the few who consistently arrive slightly early are freelancers. Without debating which came first—the habit of timeliness or freelance success—I can note that time management is a skill universal to successful freelancers, regardless of industry. This comes from necessity, I’d guess: when they’re late to meetings they lose clients, and when they’re late with deadlines they lose jobs. Take a tip from some of my best contractor affiliates: fight lateness by estimating timing better, and by assuming the inevitable will get in your way every day. This will actually free up more time in your day so you can get more done.
Estimate based on experience. Contractors know how long projects and tasks take because they’re paid based on actual work time. You can build a similar mental database of tasks by paying attention to your day. Are you consistently late to meetings and appointments? Stop thinking you can teleport there; note how many minutes hibernating your computer, pushing away from your desk, making your way downstairs, and getting out the door actually takes. Do this for a week or so and you’ll realize that what your brain says is “two minutes to leave” actually takes seven. That five minutes late habit that irritates your team is now “right on time.”
Use the 20% rule. Add 20% to your estimate for each task, then 20% to the total. Does that sound obscene? As though you’d waste hours of your day just padding your time? You’re wrong. You think it’ll take 10 minutes to get ready. Call it 12. Ten minutes to get there? Call it 12. Add them and tack on 20%. That makes the 20 minute process into a 26-minute task. And what happens if you’re 6 minutes early? You won’t be. The phone rings, you can’t find your keys, the traffic lights are against you, the bus is late, your shoe hurts and you need to adjust it. You might be two minutes early. Then you can check your work, check your email, check your teeth for spinach. The 20% rules will decrease your stress, cut the number of times you’re late, and make you much more sure of what you can fit into a day. And for freelancers, that means more business, not less, because they exceed expectations on projects rather than continually fail.
Have an early list. If you manage your time better, you’ll arrive places a bit early, and you’ll finish projects early. If you keep a list of tasks that you can do easily from your phone or in a notebook, all of which take five minutes or fewer, you can fill that waiting time with productivity. And those annoying little tasks that add up and dominate your to-do list become tasks assigned to the corners of your well-scheduled life. If your calculations are wrong and you show up to a meeting with only one minute to spare? No big deal. The email you’re hoping to send, the article you want to skim, and the recipe you want to find will still be there. There will be plenty of opportunities to fill five-minute windows. So let go of those quick-and-easy tasks, and get to them once you’ve submitted your taxes. Early.
Model on-time arrivals. Nobody likes the airlines that are chronically late. So they started pulling away from the gate earlier, thereby training us to show up 20 minutes early. they’ve all trained us to be 20 minutes early to the gate. If you show up to meetings a few minutes early, tackle your early list, and look ready right on time, the team will notice. Make this a habit and you’ll all be more productive and less likely to avoid meetings.
Good luck filling your days with meaningful work and on-time arrivals!
As marketing communications professionals, we know we have to understand what motivates Millennials so we can communicate our value effectively. Hiring and recruiting face a similar obligation, and we have to figure out Gen Y (and Gen Z, since they’re entering the workforce now, too) in order to fit the right candidate into crucial roles.
As communications become predominantly digital, as some firms resort to algorithms to find candidates, as submissions come via email, and as interviews exist first on the phone, then via video, hiring managers have a lot to learn about accommodating the styles and preferences of four generations.
Below are four ways to focus your approach and offerings to effectively engage with and hire Millennials.
Chief among the aspirations of younger workers is work that makes a difference, for a company that stands for something. Millennials won’t commit to their job unless it has inherent worth and meaning. So talk about your business’s mission, demonstrate your engagement in workplace giving and volunteerism, and tout your pro bono work. Gen Y is drawn to companies that engage in bigger picture and for-good work, so show off whatever you have (or do better in the change-the-world arena, starting now).
2. Opportunity for Growth
Dead-end jobs are pointless to Gen Y, whose entrepreneurial streak runs both wide and deep through their sense of self. Millennials start their own businesses more often than any other generation. If you don’t offer them the opportunity to learn, grow, and advance, they’ll create their own opportunities (likely with a different organization). Map out with candidates and employees where their skills and your organization can grow together. Help them see there’s more than one path, and make clear what kind of work you value enough to reward. Make it clear your company values contributions and focused engagement, and Gen Y candidates and employees will be more willing to choose you over the competition.
3. Health and Wellness
According to a recent Washington Post research summary, Millennials are more keen to cultivate and maintain good health than previous generations. And this shows up in HR departments as requests for strong health care, fitness, and wellness programs at work. As I mentioned in a previous post, offering onsite yoga or offsite gym memberships is a simple, effective way to get younger workers to accept job offers and stay healthy while they work. A Business Journal article noting similarities and differences between Gens Y and Z suggests that health and wellness programs are far more important even than that paragon of Millennial stereotypical desires: work flexibility.
We all know that Gen Y prefers workplace environments and structures that allow flexibility in how, when, and where they work. Beyond a flexible workplace and a malleable work day, though, 20- and 30-somethings want to see that you’re willing to make exceptions when warranted. A new designer who has a gorgeous portfolio but less client experience than you’d like? That leap of faith might be worth the chance. A strategist who shows great thinking but doesn’t have the software skills you require? Show that you’re willing to train when a candidate is worth it. You don’t have to bend over backwards to include someone who isn’t a fit or lacks a significant number of your required skills. But you would be foolish to stick to hard-and-fast rules at the expense of a great hire who is missing a piece (including a degree), the substance of which is easily learned or which doesn’t actually factor into how they can succeed with your organization. In the same way that you should be willing to accommodate older workers with voluminous experience and fabulous people skills even if they need some work on their social media savvy, show that you care more about thinking and effort than resume and you might find a better fit with all your job candidates.
For the data behind these tips, see:
The Washington Post article widely circulated this week
An article from Business News Daily that was picked up by Mashable.
And a Business Journal post on the intersections and divergences between Gens Y and Z
In the process of searching for a job, one of the most important resources available to you is your network. But a network is not just a list of names on LinkedIn or the names that your email autofills when you type a few letters. Your network is the colleagues and friends you talk with often enough that telling them you’re looking for work is information they want, not an inconvenience you thrust upon them.
Consider this: a colleague leaves for another company and you don’t see her or talk with her for several years, and you call to ask if she’s heard of any jobs. Chances that she’ll want to help you are slim.
On the other hand, a colleague leaves for another company and you email each other a couple of times a year to ask about best practices or check in on each others’ lives. She tells you a story about a client, you tell her about an interview you had. She’s a person who would likely be glad to help you in your job search, either by passing along contacts or by keeping you in mind if they see a posting that’s right for you.
Networking is not just calling all the people you know when you need work. Networking, done properly, is keeping in touch with people, knowing what they need, helping when you can, and asking for similar help when you need it.
An article from The Jacksonville Business Journal suggests that scheduling a networking meeting should involve an agenda and a follow-up thank you note. That’s good advice, but it misses the larger picture of cultivating relationships.
Prepare Your Pitch
“I’m looking for a job” isn’t useful. “I’m looking for a PR firm that focuses on global clients because I have experience with many languages” puts into people’s minds that you know languages and PR. Prepare the elevator pitch of your job search in the same way you do a business plan or the interview version of why you’re applying for a job.
Most of life is experience, and people want to hear those stories. When you tell a colleague about a digital advertising project you’ve just started or about a client who seems to fit the same patterns we all know, they feel engaged in your professional life. You connect. And through those connections, they remember you’re skilled in digital advertising and that you handle clients well. That’s the type of networking that will lead you somewhere.
Hear your colleagues and friends. Stay present in conversations. Help them whenever you can. The point of your network is not getting something out of every relationship, it’s interacting with people in your field and your life. Not because they can get you a job, but because you are interested in them as humans with stories and interests.
This Ted Talk playlist is a compelling and interesting series of videos aimed at finding career bliss. And who can argue with that?
It can be challenging to winnow dozens of resumes to just a few strong candidates, but many hiring managers tell me the biggest challenge for them lies in the interview.
They say that sometimes a candidate feels right, but they sometimes regret the choice they make when basing the hiring decision on that feeling. So can you trust your gut or not?
Yes, of course you can trust your gut. If you ask the right questions.
You probably already know, whether you’ve ever hired someone or not, that looking at accomplishments and skills alone don’t give a thorough enough picture to choose amongst several good candidates. Everyone has worked with someone whose resume seemed great but who just didn’t fit with everyone else.
So what options do you have? Ask about strengths and weaknesses, ask about hobbies, ask about successes and failures? Sure. But you can certainly do more to accurately evaluate job applicants.
Some useful ideas come via Mitch Rothschild, who, in an interview with the New York Times, talks about his favorite interview questions. One blunt question I love has him asking candidates what character quirks will make him hate the new candidate after the initial honeymoon phase ends. He also wants to know what will irritate the new hire after they’ve settled in.
When I’m coaching hiring managers on how to find the right fit with job candidates, I often talk about the near-to-middle-term aspect of hiring: how do you want things to look in six months? Most departments know what they need from an employee in the first few months. But what is your vision for them after they’ve settled in and made the job their own? And what styles, types, and tics will make the team work smoothly, and what will drive you absolutely mad?
Fit isn’t about envisioning the perfect candidate. Why? Nobody is perfect. Fit is about knowing what qualities you absolutely have to have, and what the team absolutely can’t abide. Some hiring managers never care how the work gets done as long as the output is superior. They can’t tolerate low quality but will accept those who don’t make strict schedules a priority. But some hiring managers care very much about employees being precisely on time every single day and in every meeting before it begins. In that case, they need to hire for punctuality and fastidious work habits, knowing that compromise in other areas is sometimes okay. Neither approach is wrong, but you need to know what you want and what you don’t want before you interview, because almost everyone’s answers about strengths and weaknesses sound pretty good in an interview. But can you work with this candidate when they’re tired and in a foul mood? Maybe. How will you know? Ask them what they’re like when tired and in a foul mood.
Compatible grouchy-and-tired styles can do impressive work in the hours before a deadline. Incompatible types can make work feel like hell. So you’re trying to get them to drop their “how I work when I’m at my best” facade and to tell you about how they work at their worst.
So ask them about how they work at their worst by being specific about what the worst moments of your business are.
Think about what challenges your team or department faces in any given month. If you have a lot of deadline-focused work, ask about how the interviewee handles time pressures and when they feel deadlines are excessive. If you have a lot of media-buy pressure, ask what the candidate hates about media buying. If you have a wide spectrum of clients, ask which industries your candidate would never want to work for.
Get at their dark side and see what you think. They might fit in just right, or they might have values and expectations that will never work with your company.
But you’ll never know until you ask.
Recall for a moment that I’ve already posted about that whether to categorize a worker as staff or contract is between you, your state department of employment, and your attorney. My posting here about staff vs. contract is not a recommendation or legal evaluation.
That said, I saw this post on the benefits and pitfalls to hiring contract versus staff employees, and wanted to share.
There are quite a few factors to consider when deciding whether your company will be best served by a contractor or a new staff member. What Mark Rosenman and Thomas White call the “employee light” model, in which you maintain only core roles on staff, outsourcing writers, designers, HR, or accounting, has both benefits and drawbacks.
Unexpected or unusual projects. We’ve all know marketing communications projects can swell at the beginning of the year, in the summer, and during September’s rush to prepare for the holiday advertising season. So most of us have been part of the process of hiring experts in specialty fields on a per-project basis. It certainly saves money and later layoff issues to pay contractors to work on seasonal or overflow work.
Culture. But keep in mind that corporate culture suffers if most of your staff are contract workers. I once recruited for a firm who contracted all their PR experts. They had a hard time getting people to sign on for subsequent projects because the core team members to whom the PR team needed to direct legacy questions about voice, process, and next steps literally didn’t exist. Having nobody on staff who could speak to the core of the company meant there was no way to find them employees who fit. There was nothing to fit but a steady stream of temporary staff. Plus, hiring PR contractors means you get access only to their network of media contacts. Having PR on staff usually means the long list of networked media outlets stays with you when a staffer moves on.
Legacy and familiarity. A similar lack of mooring happens with outsourced specialty departments, as well. Without someone who knows how all the gears and cogs of your business fit together, it’s extremely challenging to contract with an HR company to find you what you need in terms of job candidates, benefits packages, and communication tools. And without a large enough staff of IT, it’s very hard to make the right choices about equipment, services, and technological processes.
International considerations. International contracting offers unique problems. Rosenman and White mention a few, but keep in mind that hiring international contract workers involves more than just tax, legal, political, cultural, and training considerations. Sticking to the United States is often your best bet both for your company and customers.
Remember to check with your legal team (or legal consultant) on all hiring issues to make sure you’re using hiring practices that will support your company rather than tear it down.