Avoiding the Overdone

Recruitment advertising can often be characterized as the inability to distinguish one employer from another. Despite research that has shown us that employees are as attracted to strong brands as consumers are in their product purchases, many employers are still in “Help Wanted” mode when it comes to their advertising and employment website content. In other words, employers are using their advertising solely as a way to generate immediate applications instead of using it to build a strong employer brand that brings them more applications over time or makes their offers more likely to be accepted. (For a more detailed overview of your employer brand, please see my previous article, Building a Winning Employer Brand.) Let’s start by taking a walk through the history of recruitment advertising. The Golden Age: “Help Wanted” In the good old days, the extent of recruitment advertising was putting up a sign that said “Help Wanted” in your lobby or storefront. Candidates ó who were limited in their job search to those companies within a five square mile radius of their home ó filled out paper applications in droves. At some point, however, an employer or their marketing department said, “We need a call to action!” This became the impetus for a new tagline, “Help Wanted, Inquire Within.” Candidates, inspired by this dramatic call to action, began to inquire within and fill out even more paper applications in droves. At first, the novelty of this approach was appealing to candidates. Instead of having to walk in and see if a company was hiring, they could easily identify those companies that needed employees from those who did not. But as “Help Wanted, Inquire Within” signs became more common, candidates were incapable of distinguishing one opportunity from another. They began to make often inaccurate correlations between the companies’ consumer brands and their employer brands. Turnover increased as a result. A revolution in recruitment advertising was about to occur. The Age of Collaboration: “Join Our Team” When it became clear to employers that “Help Wanted, Inquire Within” was losing its effectiveness as a recruiting tool, a new way of thinking emerged. Corporations grew larger, markets became more competitive, and a large portion of the economy had become service-driven. Knowledge capital became the foundation for competitive advantages, and thus, a hot commodity. Employers, in their pursuit of top talent, began to position themselves as more attractive places to work by using terms like “collaborative, team environment,” “open door policy,” and “empowerment.” They showered their employees with such perks as casual dress, ping pong tables, basketball courts, onsite child care, workout rooms, VW Bugs, and stock options to reduce turnover and gain competitive advantages for new talent. Employees, seeing new, feel-good headlines like “Join Our Team” and “Come Grow With Us,” felt compelled to apply, whether in person, by mail, or even via a new form of communication, email. A new breed of job seeker ó the “passive job seeker” ó began to apply for opportunities while already employed (especially those with autocratic bosses who didn’t make them feel part of a team). The overuse of these themes, however, has reduced them to nothing more than lip service to the team concept. They end up being nothing more than a touchy-feely, politically correct version of “Help Wanted.” Employers can no longer use them to establish competitive advantages, reach out to passive job seekers, or build winning employer brands. Good advertising is about establishing a personal connection, and this connection has been lost in the vortex of employers saying the exact same things in the exact same ways. Evidence of this can be found by doing a simple search on Monster for “Join Our Team,” which yields over 3,800 jobs. In the last month and a half alone, over 5,000 postings have gone up that mention “team environment.” And “Come grow with a leader!” is being marketed to everyone from housekeepers to Research Managers to Loan Officers. Employer Branding: The Age of Enlightenment? In product advertising, there is a parallel to be drawn. While there are many “immediate action” advertisements with large pictures of products and phone numbers to purchase them through, the best and most memorable advertising inspires, informs, and amuses to the point that we will take repeated action. Furthermore, this advertising must be connected to a real value proposition that is supported once you purchase the product. As a result, you are typically more likely to buy a product from and refer your friends to that vendor over longer periods of time. Although the messages are vastly different, these same subtle forces are at play in employer branding. Many employers have begun to see advertising ó whether online, on the air, or in print ó as more than just a way to collect resumes. They are turning their advertising and websites into branding tools designed to influence perceptions, build relationships, reach out to in-demand passive job seekers, raise the quality of their workforce, and ensure a solid, sustainable competitive advantage in their recruiting/retention efforts and in their overall business strategies. They don’t just pay lip service to the fact that “people are our most important asset,” they back it up to current employees and candidates alike with employee-focused actions and innovative, inspiring advertising messages. They articulate audience-targeted messages based on real value propositions, and make measurable improvements to their perceived value as an employer over time. These employers act as true recruitment marketers, concerned with raising the talent bars in their organizations and becoming strategic business partners who add value rather than incur costs and process paperwork. By taking a marketing and technology-driven approach to recruitment ó using the principles of branding, a little creativity, the right mix of media, and implementing the technology to support all of these efforts ó you can position your company as more than just a “Help Wanted” sign in the window!

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Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (www.talentsparkconsulting.com), a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.

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