Outrageous Recruiting Using Avatars and YouTube

Most corporate recruiting efforts are painfully conservative. That fact might not seem like something that you should waste a lot of time worrying about, but what if taking a conservative approach contributes significantly to your constant shortage of quality talent?

Most managers and recruiters do not yet realize that a few firms have dramatically changed the game of recruiting and brought it up to a new level, a level that some people would call “outrageous.”

To put it bluntly, your recruiting efforts are probably behind the times if you’re not recruiting with avatars and using videos on YouTube.

Some might argue that these “outrageous” recruiting efforts will not initially produce a high-volume of hires. That is probably true; however, the goal is not to recruit volume but instead, to attract those innovators who can really have a positive impact on a business.

Innovators are quite naturally attracted by others who innovate, so one of the primary goals of outrageous recruiting is to demonstrate to these candidates that your firm is on the leading edge of innovative practices.

Outrageous Recruiting Becomes More Common

In case you haven’t heard, some the very best firms in recruiting like Google, Ernst & Young, Microsoft, Bain Consultants, and even the U.S. Army have broken the mold of traditional recruiting.

They have gone beyond traditional sources like job boards, newspaper ads, and career fairs to use “new media” like video games, YouTube videos, online contests, MySpace, TV shows, and virtual reality websites.

You can dismiss these new media recruiting approaches as insignificant, but that would be a mistake. In fact, there are several reasons why your firm needs to be involved in outrageous recruiting.

Instituting outrageous recruiting practices in new media sends a clear message to your internal hiring managers and your employees that your recruiting function leads the way in tactics and strategy.

It also sends a similar message to your prospective candidates, one that your recruiting (and obviously by extrapolation, also your firm) is continually on the “bleeding edge” of most business and technology practices.

In short, being the first to institute a dramatic new business or recruiting practice can have a positive impact on your external and internal employment brand.

Grab Their Attention on Second Life

The “new” recruiting approach that seems to shock conservative recruiters is finding talent on Second Life, the virtual-world website where individuals can live a separate (i.e., second) life with a personalized virtual character (known as an avatar).

Living vicariously within a virtual world and a virtual character might seem like some crazy kid’s notion, but in fact, Second Life is a world visited on a regular basis by hundreds of thousands of adults.

If you’re wondering how you can recruit in a world that doesn’t really exist, the answer is that it’s not as difficult as you might suspect. First, you buy land (using real money) and then set up your career fair or information site. Already, top firms like HP, IBM, eBay, Microsoft, Hyro, T-Mobile, Bain, Sodexho, Verizon, as well as forward-looking recruiting agencies like Kelly, TMP, and Semper are planning or have already run virtual job fairs or have instituted efforts to recruit individuals (and their avatars) within Second Life.

Recruiting in Second Life provides firms with the opportunity to demonstrate that they are open to new approaches and ideas. Taking a risk and trying something new makes heavy Internet users aware of the fact that your firm has the understanding and the courage to use “new media” in recruiting.

Unique “first to try” approaches both in products and in recruiting generally garner you significant amounts of free press coverage. For example, Bain’s Second Life recruiting efforts got a major write up in the Wall Street Journal and was also featured on the NBC nightly news.

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In addition, having the courage to try something outrageous will likely increase the number of times that your firm is mentioned positively in industry PowerPoint presentations and within “viral” emails and text messages that are actively passed between friends and colleagues.

A Moving Picture Might Be Worth 10,000 Words

Everyone has heard the phrase that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and if that’s true, then certainly a “moving picture” (a video) is probably equivalent to 10,000 words. What could be a better way to clearly show individuals what it’s like to work at your firm than to show them a compelling video on YouTube and on your own corporate careers website?

What makes these short videos so powerful in recruiting is that while viewing them, a potential applicant can actually witness what “real life” is like at your firm. Within the video, outsiders can actually meet and get to know your best employees, view the physical facilities, and feel the energy and passion within your teams.

The U.S. Army is a prime example on how to successfully use videos to spread a message. The Army has placed real-life action videos on YouTube that have demonstrated the excitement of serving in the Army like no brochure or even recruiter possibly could. Other organizations including Deloitte, Cisco, and Google have also used YouTube videos to spread their message (Google has its own video channel). Just as in Second Life, videos send a message to innovators that your firm gets it.

Video Games and Other Outrageous Media Approaches

The recruiting envelope has been stretched into other “new media” areas as well. Recruiting on the popular social network websites like MySpace and Facebook has recently become more acceptable by conservative recruiters.

In contrast, most organizations are still not ready for recruiting within video games. Almost everyone knows that video games are popular among all age groups, but they are particularly popular with young adults.

Since young adults are the target audience for the U.S. Army’s recruiting efforts, they have developed a free downloadable video “war game” (America’s Army) that contains within the nonstop video action a “virtual reality recruiting station” where you can sign up as an Army recruit. It might be hard to believe, but it works surprisingly well. Other smart recruiters have targeted the other age groups that use video games by recruiting within the numerous online communities of video gamers.

The renewed war for talent has forced firms to try approaches that previously would have been considered outrageous. Some of the boldest recruiting approaches that only a few have been willing to try include:

  • A television show. Southwest Airlines has its own award-winning TV show known as Airline on A&E, which appears to be a drama but in actuality, is a recruiting show. Because the show follows the workday of Southwest Airlines airport personnel, they get the opportunity to expose to millions the excitement and the drama involved in working at Southwest (in addition to any revenue that the show generates). A handful of casinos and hotels have also used television dramas and cooking shows to increase their exposure for recruiting and branding. No discussion of TV recruiting would be complete without the mention of Donald Trump, who routinely got over a million applicants for a single internship opening on The Apprentice.
  • Online contests. Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo!, among others, have used online contests as a recruiting tool. Perhaps the most famous contest holder is Google, with its numerous “code jams” that are offered around the world. Contests are a superior approach because they not only attract individuals who like to compete, but because they allow you to anonymously assess the actual work of the contestants.
  • Blogs. If your employees write these blogs, they can seem more credible than a recruiting brochure. Blogs can provide a non-employee with an insider’s perspective, can serve as a forum to ask and answer questions, and in general, make the firm seem more real. Microsoft, Google, and MGM Grand have used blogs as a part of their employment branding and recruiting efforts.
  • Podcasts. If you own an iPod or an MP3 player, firms like BMW will provide you with an audio or video podcast that highlights the features of the firm.
  • Wikipedia. Some firms have made a concerted effort to ensure that listings on Wikipedia.com are positive and have no negative recruiting connotations.
  • Billboards. Many hospitals (especially in the L.A. area) have learned to use highway billboards to recruit nurses during their long commute times. Google, not to be outdone, gained a great deal of notoriety by posting its “mathematical challenge” on highway billboards with the goal of attracting a handful of math geniuses.
  • Recruiting at concerts and on the beach. UPS is a veteran when it comes to outrageous recruiting. They raised the bar to new levels when they decided to recruit at Metallica concerts. IBM also took the lead by pioneering college recruiting “on the beach” during spring breaks.
  • Movie theaters. Southwest Airlines recruits moviegoers by placing ads in between movies and large theater complexes.

Innovations in The Groups That Recruiting Targets

In addition to better uses of new and existing media, some companies have pushed the envelope in recruiting by focusing on previously under-targeted groups of individuals. Some of these approaches that many would consider “outrageous” include:

  • Recruiting retirees. Eli Lilly, P&G, Microsoft, and Home Depot have all received some notoriety by focusing on recruiting retirees from other firms.
  • Recruiting from the military. GE and Home Depot have had success focusing their recruiting on ex-military personnel.
  • Recruiting your own customers. Google leads the way in targeting customers who use its services. The Google ad words program has allowed many other firms to recruit by placing recruitment ads next to certain key word searches (i.e., “jobs in nursing”).
  • College referrals. College recruiting certainly isn’t new or for the most part, innovative but Intuit has “raised the bar” by implementing a student referral program in order to elicit student help in identifying and hiring top candidates from their campuses.
  • Targeting boomerangs. McKinsey, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Radical Entertainment and Booz Allen have all had great success in first targeting and then convincing former key employees to return to the firm.

Final Thoughts

Do not expect large-scale results immediately after initiating outrageous recruiting efforts because, like all brand-new, leading-edge business practices, it takes time to produce high-volume results.

But one of the immediate impacts that you should expect is an increase in the self-confidence of your recruiters, because they now know that their recruiting function is one of the few that is pushing the envelope.

Expect to attract more innovators, media coverage, and word-of-mouth awareness from potential applicants, since outrageous behavior seems to draw people’s attention. That is what outrageous recruiting is all about: drawing attention to your recruiting effort so that those who appreciate innovation the most will take notice.

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," Staffing.org 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 www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



7 Comments on “Outrageous Recruiting Using Avatars and YouTube

  1. ….just like Monster and CB and all of the other Internet technology was going to revolutionize recruiting. There may be value in some of this, but at the end of the day it is still going to come down to being able to build real relationships with real people. I personally don’t see the attraction of recruiting people in a virtual world who have created personas of their ideal self because they don’t like the reality of who they are.

  2. Great article and true to my experiences in Second Life, which is just the 3D web with avatars as your user interface. Since my grad school professor got us into Second Life a year ago (to hold a class session virtually when he was attending a conference in Australia), it has grown from 500,000 to 10 million registrants. The TMP Virtual Job Fairs there have been improving over time. And since my two tween kids were using Club Penguin (the virtual world recently purchased by Disney for $350 million +) long before I ever heard of SL, I’m sure it won’t be long before the use of virtual worlds — for communication, ecommerce, recruiting, and everything else — becomes not ‘outrageous’ but ‘commonplace.’

  3. A thoughtful, well-written article.
    I heartily agree with using outrageous, out-of-the box techniques and practices. Here are a few more:

    1) You will have to recruit everyone you hire- they (anyone you actually hire) will not come to you.
    2) Hiring should be a deliverable of the hiring managers as much as getting out a quality product on time and within budget.
    3) If you can’t afford to pay the best, go after the rest.
    4) If you can afford to pay an agency fee, you can afford 1/3-1/2 of that amount as an employee referral fee- make it an expectation of the employees that they will be referring their friends and colleagues, and be generously paid for it.
    5) If you want to improve your hiring process, ask the people doing the hiring- the sourcers, recruiters, and coordinators.
    6) Let sourcers source, recruiters recruit, and coordinators coordinate- they shouldn’t be spending more than 5% of the time documenting what they do the other 95%.
    7) Keep your hiring process or ATS simple and robust- if it takes a formal half-day orientation to figure out, it’s too complicated.

    There will be more about these and others shortly in my ERE blog, ?The Real World of Recruiting’.

    Thank You,

  4. Dr.Sullivan,Any average person with a bit of common sense would have thought about all these tactics(sorry,I will not call these ‘strategies’ let alone ‘thought leadership’points (that you claim)!!So,what’s new?

    Can small or medium size recruiting outfits afford these?I am referring to media approaches.

    I request that in future whenever you mention names or companies,kindly discose your relationship with the same.You have a habit of responding only to a few ‘replies’ that suit your agenda.In the past I have given facts and authenticated figures that have been ignored by you.



  5. I’m all for innovative tactics, so long as they ultimately prove to be cost effective. I do think YouTube exposure has some merit. However, Second Life is apparently a money pit for marketers, and by extension, presumably for recruiters as well.

    Wired magazine last July revealed that actual US traffic from repeat users on Second Life is extremely small, of whom most are seeking online sex and get rich quick schemes. The outdated technology limits the system to only 70 users to any virtual region at a given time. Most virtual sites for major marketing brands have nearly zero visitors. Hype is all that the millions of marketing dollars have been chasing.

    Undoubtedly, there are other virtual worlds besides Second Life, and at some point within a few years, I do believe it will be cost effective for recruiters to have an online presence with avatars and such. But for now, Second Life does not seem to be worth spending a dime on.

    Here’s the link to the Wired article.

  6. I saw the Wired piece that’s been cited (it was one of a rash of Second Life backlash stories last summer; it was buried and failed to mention Wired’s own deserted SL HQ, which is as much a failure of imagination as anything else). Now SL has been discovered by TV (the crime series and The Office just featured it). And today comes news that CNN is getting in.


    But have no fear, folks, it’s just another tool in the arsenal.

  7. I agree with your opinions quite broadly. Example: Here in Australia, one furniture company needed a regular flow of part time staff (read, young, although not permitted as a tag line) for a locality near the beach. Frustrated with normal processes, they simply wrote on the wall of a local toilet so the surfers and/or others interested in part time local work could check it out… and got a good response apparently! Their culture related to the recruit style also – and this is a vital aspect for viral forums or else you do get lots of time wastage.

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