How Do Your Employment Products Compare?

Article by Dr. John Sullivan & Master Burnett

In the high stakes game of procuring the world’s best talent, organizations are increasingly realizing that positioning one’s self correctly in the labor market is essential to even being considered as a viable employer.

While 10 years ago candidates may have trusted what employers had to say, today top talent is presented with a bevy of options that enable them to “get the skinny” on what it is really like to work for an organization from nearly every perspective. The Internet has not only radically changed how people communicate and associate with one another, but it has opened the global labor markets directly to employers and made organizations transparent.

Gone are the days of trade secrets, stealth mode operations, and organizations that could mask bad management with right-time, right-place business results. Today, top talent in the labor market is educated, connected, discerning, and has access to information that can either validate or refute a companies employment value proposition in a heart beat.

While talent has become much savvier, many organizations continue to rely on talent acquisition processes architected in the stone age. These organizations operate as if the jobs they offer are prized awards, and not the commodity that so many are in reality. Today job opportunities are not scarce; it is talent that is scarce, yet how organizations approach talent hasn’t changed. Granted, a few organizations have embraced the concept of employment branding to distinguish themselves in the labor markets, but in reality, most of them have simply put a new title on employment communications.

The Role of Employment Branding

Much has already been written about what is and is not employment branding, so we will not rehash that discussion here. What should be clarified is the role of employment branding. Brands emerged decades ago when product manufacturers uncovered new methods of selling their goods to consumers outside their original market.

Because many local markets already had a local supplier, it became necessary for outside manufacturers to distinguish their goods and services from other suppliers going after the same consumers. Market expansion flipped the circumstances, making consumers the cherished commodity. As labor markets have expanded and demand for skilled labor has reached an all time high, the same transition has transpired in the labor market. Today organizations need a differentiated employment opportunity, one that exceeds the expectations of the target labor pool and that can be packaged in a clear, concise, and compelling way.

Employment branding is not an art; it is the science of creating a predictable response from targeted talent based on manipulation of the collective snippets of information amassed about an employer from a multitude of sources by the targeted talent. While communications play a role, managing the experience of the target talent and those individuals who influence the target talent with the organization is key to building lasting employment brand value and true market differentiation. This last part is where most organizations really go wrong with employment branding.

Your Jobs as Products — A Critical Change in Mindset

Like it or not, talent acquisition is truly a sales function. Recruiters market and sell complex products to a target audience who uses their time and application of skills and knowledge as currency to buy employment. This perspective radically changes how we view the organization and makes positioning the employer much easier. For years organizations have tried to market themselves as one entity defined by “organizational culture.”

In reality, few organizations present a work environment that is consistent across the enterprise, because work environment is influenced by a multitude of factors, many of which are difficult to homogenize. Because of this, organizations do not have one employment value proposition. They have hundreds or even thousands, some of which are very similar and others of which are radically different.

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Unfortunately few organizations manage the employment products they produce to make sure they are in alignment with the labor market’s expectations. This reality is akin to a car manufacturer taking whatever cars could come off an ad hoc assembly line and trying to find a consumer willing to buy them. In reality, we all know that the best products and services are subject to extensive product management to ensure that the experience they deliver is capable of reinforcing the target brand communicated.

It’s Time to Create an Employment Product Management Role

Successful organizations have long used product managers to ensure that products produced meet the needs and expectations of the consumers for which the product or service was designed. These highly visible, extremely strategic roles oversee and manage the entire life-cycle of producing a product. In short, product managers unite all of the operations of the enterprise around the notion of exceeding the market’s expectations.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • Specifying market requirements for current and future products by conducting market research supported by on-going visits to customers and non-customers.
  • Working with marketing to define the go-to-market strategy including target consumer segmentation, value proposition, and competitive positioning.
  • Working with all departments to execute product development, delivery, and service to specifications.
  • Developing in-depth understanding of the product space, and how products are being packaged and priced.
  • Forecasting consumer acquisition and loyalty so that adequate sales and service strategies can be architected.

When executed correctly, product management can be the sole differentiator between products that explode with market value like the iPod and products that disappear quickly like the beta max video cassette recorder.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that many of the key responsibilities of product management could be easily applied to managing a portfolio of employment opportunities, if only the concept were politically accepted. Much like an automobile, stereo system, or box of cereal, employment opportunities have features. Some features are easy to define and compare across manufacturers, others not so easy. For centuries organizations have relied primarily on three features to market employment opportunities: nature of work, compensation, and benefits of employment. Unfortunately, two out of the three are easy for competitors to mimic, and the remaining element, nature of work, can be boring for all but the best mission-critical jobs. We also know from extensive research that when it comes to communicating about employment, talent talk to a lot of issues the typical talent acquisition function is incapable of addressing.

Managing the Feature Set of Employment Products

We realize that it would be nearly impossible for an organization to manage thousands of employment products as if each were unique, but products could be easily lumped into families, each specifically targeted, packaged, positioned, and marketed to a target audience. To enable true differentiation the feature set definition could be expanded to include fact based characterizations of:

  • Management quality: Communicate employee engagement/satisfaction scores by manager/department/business unit.
  • Leadership quality: Communicate strategic performance to plan and industry recognitions received.
  • Peer quality: Communicate employee engagement and peer group characteristics such as educational affiliations, awards received, performance to plan.
  • Nature of work: Communicate position of work in the industry, design awards received, equipment/methodologies used to produce it
  • Development opportunity: Communicate past development trends, i.e. what is the typical tenure, percentage of the workforce promoted annually, etc.
  • Project responsibility: Communicate scope of influence, what percentage of the final deliverable will be influenced by the efforts of the role being offered.
  • Performance-based compensation: How will world-class performance be compensated apart from average and below-average performance.
  • Standard benefits of employment: Enumerate not what benefits the company will offer, but how the benefits will enable/empower a lifestyle.
  • Work-life balance: Communicate how work-life balance is manifested in the organization, i.e. what percentage of employees telecommute, how many use a flexible schedule, etc.
  • Company reputation: Communicate where independent studies position the employer, how many economic cycles have they retained dominance, what awards has the company received, etc.
  • Innovativeness/progressiveness: Communicate facts about the progressiveness or innovativeness of the organization. How many patents are filed and converted into commercially viable and successful products/services?
  • Market position: Communicate honestly about where the company sits, not every company can be the leader! Truth in communications can go a long way when it comes to building brand loyalty.


Employment opportunities are products, complex products, but products none the less. If your organization truly values top talent, then managing your employment products to ensure acceptance by savvy consumers as viable opportunities is a no-brainer. Is this work easy? No, but few things in life worth it are! If talent acquisition is going to be held accountable for procuring top talent, then HR must be afforded an opportunity to manage what opportunities are being sold so that they can be reasonably assured adequate labor market share. To support the evolution of the talent acquisition function into a truly strategic entity, in weeks to come we’ll look at the ideal job description for an employment product manager, discuss how to develop an employment product specification, and review leading best practices already in place within progressive organizations that demonstrate a true understanding of the value of top talent.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



2 Comments on “How Do Your Employment Products Compare?

  1. It?s a really interesting and forward concept ? actually, when someone ?buys a business? what they?re really buying is a job, isn?t it? Businesses get marketed with their best feet forward. But here?s the rub, and I may not have thought this out enough; so few people actually have ?what it takes? in this country to respond to an employment ?opportunity?. Until the masses stop the ?soup to nuts? expectations they have of employers and begin to think entrepreneurially I don?t know they will respond to the ?product? marketing you are suggesting nor do I know if they will view a job as an ?opportunity?. In my estimation, less than ? of 1% (maybe less!) are of the entrepreneur mindset in this country. You may be expecting more of the talented workforce than they?re willing (or able) to deliver. I?m afraid for most people it?s still ?about the money? and will remain so for some time to come.

    Hope lies, though, in the ?educated, connected, discerning, and [those who have] access to information that can either validate or refute a company?s employment value proposition in a heart beat?. The time may come and I think your suggestion is an excellent step in the process! Here?s an interesting question: Do you think the time will come when employees will ever be willing to ?pay? for the opportunity to work for a specific company? Or are they doing ?that? already?


  2. This is an extension of the Employer of Choice mentality. This is a paradigm shift for today’s leading organizations. The company that is able to ‘sell’ a vision to their employees, bench mark top performers, and then get out of the way will go further faster. The top performers always find a way.

    Top performers are top performers, not because they ‘bought’ the ‘product.’ They are top performers because they ‘match’ the job. They think, behave, and are interested in the acivities that are neccessary to peform at top levels.

    The goal is to find more people like them, and keep them happy, while constantly connecting activities toward company vision, and mission.

    This becomes a ‘win-win’ for everyone. As an employer of choice turnover is reduced; recruiting costs go down; productivity and morale improve; and the customer has a better experience.

    Today more than 50% of the American workforce is not satisfied with their job and/or employer. Clearly, the companies that make this shift will blow away the competition.

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