The Branded Hiring Process

In my last article, I discussed how technology plays an important role in how your organization is perceived by candidates. An equally important component of building a great employer brand is your hiring process. In today’s employer’s market, this may in fact be the easiest place to gain a competitive advantage. How do you brand an experience? Companies have long been branding experiences and processes to gain competitive advantages. A few notable examples:

  • Nordstrom. When you think Nordstrom, you think of the customer experience the company delivers. It’s the kind of customer experience that follows you around the store and makes sure you find exactly what you’re looking for in the right color and size ó the kind that will take a return even if your cat relieved itself all over your new shirt (trust me on that one!).
  • Google. The Google brand is built entirely on its site visitors’ experience online. Google does no advertising whatsoever, but it does make things so easy to use from page to page that your experience is bound to be positive. Boring? Maybe. But focusing on an experience is the foundation for Google’s competitive advantage in an industry that relies on customers with short attention spans. They know their customers and deliver the exact experience their customers want.
  • Amazon.com. Amazon goes beyond a website interface into actual delivery of goods and services. When it comes to the delivery experience, Amazon destroys its competition like they’re lost in a jungle and fighting for a last morsel of food. I remember ordering a CD from a (dot-gone) competitor in the beginning of the e-commerce craze. The website looked great and it was easy to use, but after I bought the CD, they said they didn’t have it in stock ó three weeks after I ordered it. I had no way to talk to a real person. So I went to Amazon and ordered the same CD. Within a week and a half, I received three notifications detailing where my order was in the process, when they estimated it would be delivered, when it had been successfully delivered, and how to email or call them if I hadn’t gotten it. No wonder they’re actually making a profit ó on the Internet!
  • Southwest Airlines. You know you’re just going to get peanuts when you fly this airline, no fancy meals. You’ll also wait in line to get a seat, which may ultimately land you 15 rows away from your nearest loved one and sandwiched between two pro wrestlers. So why does Southwest succeed when many other airlines fail? Because they’ve built a branded experience that starts with the hiring process. If you don’t have a sense of humor, your chances of getting hired at this airline are as good as getting a window seat in the first row if you show up right before takeoff. Their people enjoy what they do in a way that makes many of us enjoy flying with them, despite the lack of perks like lunch or dinner.
  • Enterprise Rent-a-Car. If you’ve ever rented from Enterprise before, it may have surprised you how professional and courteous its employees are. And they pick you up! Why is it that no other major rental car agency has caught on that customers will pay a premium for a better experience? Once again, this all starts with Enterprise’s ability to recruit “enterprising people.”

Is it an accident that Southwest’s employees know that humor is not only acceptable but encouraged at 30,000 feet? At most other airlines that’s cause for termination ó so I would guess not! Do Amazon’s customer service and technology departments know that the company can get a competitive advantage by providing highly proactive customer service? Does Google know that its brand is defined almost entirely by the experience it delivers? Do Nordstrom employees know that fawning over customers drives repeat business? You can bet on it. So what do these companies have in common? All of them have clearly communicated the brand positioning they wish to convey to their employees, who in turn understand it and know how to communicate it to their customers. Many of them reward their employees for activities that support their desired brand positioning. Creating a Branded Process Your advertising and your employment website make several promises (or statements that are perceived as promises) about who you are as an employer. “We’re caring. We’re friendly. Our employees are our most important asset. You can succeed here.” Then what happens? Most candidates get a machine-generated auto-reply (they know you didn’t send it to them personally). They may never hear back from you when you fill the position for which they applied. If a job is on hold, they don’t hear about it. When and if your resume is rejected, they’re the last to know if they ever find out. If they do get hired, the employer brand message you’ve spent so much on communicating to them completely disappears! For employers taking a brand-based approach to becoming an employer of choice, this represents a huge opportunity. A big part of your competitive advantage can be the respectful, proactive way you treat candidates, regardless of your budget. Nordstrom’s competitors didn’t know that exceeding expectations was a way to build brand loyalty and a competitive advantage until it was too late. Word spread quickly that Google was the best search experience online, and they did it without the big advertising budgets of their competitors. Amazon and Enterprise Rent-a-Car’s willingness to go beyond their competition in how they service their customers are big reasons they’re where they are today. Some direct touch points with your employer brand during the hiring process include:

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  • Point-of-sale recruitment displays and kiosks
  • Sourcers building long-term relationships with top candidates
  • Employees referring their friends, relatives, and acquaintances, or telling them about your workplace
  • Hiring managers interacting with candidates during the interview process
  • Recruiters pre-screening qualified candidates, including inviting them to take online assessment tests
  • Recruiters sending out rejection letters

Indirect, and often unrecognized, touch points that also reflect on you as an employer include:

  • Retail experiences (if they had a bad experience with a sales rep, would they want to work with them?)
  • Product purchases (if they had a bad product experience, would they want to work on building it?)
  • Customer service or technical support calls (if a company doesn’t care about its customers, will it care about its employees?)

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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