Creating the Recruiting “Experience” Lessons From the World of Retailing

It is increasingly difficult to recruit solely on the basis of salary or benefits or even on the merits of a particular job. With everyone offering almost the same packages, tweaked and customized, as they are, how can an organization gain a competitive advantage in recruiting? What tools or techniques can recruiters use that don’t simply escalate salaries and inflate benefits? Some clues may be found in a recent book called “The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre & Every Business a Stage” (Harvard Business School Press, 1999). It points out that selling products or services on the basis of price and quality (read salary and benefits) alone is not enough to ensure success or profits. What people are willing to pay more for is an “experience” — a series of memorable events that a company stages to engage the customer in a personal way. Starbucks doesn’t sell just coffee; it actually sells an “experience” built around a cup of coffee. A customer is attracted to Starbucks because it has created an environment designed for casual conversation, for quiet reading, or for meeting a friend. You buy a muffin or a roll, a cup of cappuccino or espresso or just plain old coffee. You select a Grande or a Venti, not just a small or a large. And you gladly pay a premium for the coffee. The same applies to Borders or Barnes & Noble who offer much more than books. They offer entertainment and recreation. They create an environment for students to do their homework, for authors to write their books and articles. They offer live music, oral readings, coffee and other foods, and a huge selection of magazines and newspapers (much more readily accessible than those in the public library do — and still free). Nordstrom’s, the famed retailer, offers live music played on grand pianos and features wine and coffee bars for their shoppers. A single clerk, who crosses from department to department with the customer, offers advice, color and style suggestions, and personalizes the shopping trip. The price is at a premium, but so is the experience. There are four experience realms outlined in the book that – with a little imagination – can be used to improve your recruiting success. The first of these realms is that of entertainment. We are all attracted to that which amuses us or that makes us laugh. I have seen some college recruiters who have used humorous elements to attract candidates. They have brought in a comedian or a mime, or they develop a contest that creates excitement and attracts attention. But, professional recruiters can also find ways to create an entertaining event for candidates. You can put together events that bring groups of candidates together and gets them laughing and involved. Southwest Airlines uses humor well and knows how to entertain both passengers on their flights and their prospective employees. Disney is also a master at this. People remember humorous experiences and continue to have positive thoughts about the provider. The second realm is education. By providing learning experiences, free seminars, on-site classes or other events, you create a sense of connection and begin a tie-in to your organization. Candidates absorb information and gain insights into the culture and working environment of the firm simply by attending a class or other on-site activity. This can be an excellent way to show how your company is different than another one in a similar industry. The third is to provide an escapist experience – getting candidates involved in doing something different and totally absorbing. Computer games are a form of escapist experience. Anyone who has played a computer game knows how easy it is to become completely absorbed with the unfolding drama. Recruiters can create an activity that involves candidates intensely in their organization or with people from the organization. Some companies use outdoor team building activities to create an experience such as this, but one could also develop an interactive Internet-based tour of the company that requires candidates to make choices and get involved. Recruiters can gain a much better understanding of what motivates and interests candidates by tracking what choices they make. But, while they are involved in the experience, they are learning about your firm’s culture and people – almost without realizing it. The fourth realm is to provide an esthetic experience – something that appeals to multiple senses. This is the area where Borders and Starbucks are masters. Books, coffee, music, friends, smells, and colors are blended into an esthetic experience that we all find some level of enjoyment in. Recruiters can use the corporate environment as an important recruiting tool. If your firm has nice lawns, modern and spacious buildings, a nice cafeteria, a gym or a day-care center you can tailor a tour that appeals to the aesthetic side of a candidate and showcase the environment. The bottom line is simple. It takes more than a good offer, a good salary and a good job to attract candidates and get them to say yes. Successful recruiters will increasingly need to use the tools of good marketers and learn from the lessons of the business world. Creating experiences is an inexpensive way to differentiate your company and improve your recruiting success.

Article Continues Below

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *