Shooting yourself in the foot, the recruiter way

The term, “war for talent” is both divisive and massively open to interpretation. But I can tell you that, if there is one, a lot of recruiters are busy taking aim and shooting themselves in both feet.

Over the ten years I’ve been blogging, I’ve come back to this topic again and again, yet little seems to change. Now that could be a reflection of my lack of influence, or the inherent failings in the recruitment industry.

Most of us have started our working lives doing part time, temporary employment – maybe whilst at school, college or university. It’s our first experience of the world of work and the first experience of recruitment. When I was a teenager that might have been with an independent shop, pub or restaurant but with the changing face of the high street it’s increasingly likely that a young person now will experience this with a chain.

A chain that will hopefully have this young person not just as an employee, but as a consumer. Yet my observation of their collective recruitment practices is one of woeful inadequacies and systemic failure.

Let’s be clear, recruitment is not the same as bidding for an item on eBay, it is a deeply personal transaction. Rejection in recruitment is rejection of a human being, not a bid. It simply isn’t good enough to have an automated acknowledgement and then radio silence. It isn’t good enough to have a line saying, “unless you’ve heard from us within 14 days, assume you’ve been unsuccessful”. And to even think it is, suggests a deeply flawed understanding of the consumer/candidate interface.

Let’s flip it on it’s head. Can you imagine receiving an automated response from a candidate saying, “Thank you for your job offer, if you haven’t heard from me In two weeks assume I’ve rejected the offer.”? What would you make of them? Arrogant?

See where I’m going with this?

That’s before we unpick the detailed connection between the treatment of candidates and their relationship with your brand. You can talk all you like about candidate experience, but unless you define the experience you want to give and transform your processes to deliver it, you might as well be talking about the price of coal.

Recruiters, my ask of you is this. Treat candidates as you’d want a love one to be treated, regardless of their stature and status. Your summer or Christmas temp could one day be your CEO, that is if they haven’t started a new enterprise that will eventually put you and your company out of business.

Rethinking brand

The passing years have seen countless arguments about the distinctions (or lack of them) between consumer, corporate and employer brands. From my early days of working with branding, nearly twenty years ago, to now a lot of the same conversations and debates have persisted.

Are they the same?
Who should own them?
Are marketing and HR broadly the same thing?

I’ve written before about a lot of the differences, but on the question of brand I think there is a really interesting development;

Particularly that consumer brands are becoming more like employer brands.

It is a curious thing, because over the last couple of decades, the mantra has been that employer brands couldn’t exist on their own and they needed to instead be incorporated in to the consumer offering. Marketing teams swept down to envelop all before them and to start to focus on how they could sell jobs – in the same way that they wanted to sell toasters.

But, of course, what those of us knew who had spent time working in employer branding, was that you weren’t trying to persuade, you were trying to explain. You were aiming to build trust, mutuality of respect and joint exploration of value.

In other words, you weren’t interested directly in the sale, but the relationship.

As trust in companies has fallen, as advertising has become less about show and more about connect – marketing departments have had to realign their approach to their brand be more individually focused. You can see the plethora of articles on the topic.

Which of course is the heart of good talent management and good talent acquisition.

But like some weird 80s hangover from drinking the marketing Kool Aid, too many HR people are professing alignment without really understanding the what, the how and the why. I suspect it goes back to the deep hearted roots of wanting to appear commercial, simply by agreeing.

We shouldn’t be afraid of what we know, we shouldn’t be afraid of what we can contribute and bring. What makes any company a good employer will be different to what makes it a good commercial “partner”. There will be overlap, sure, but to conflate the two is dangerous for both.

There are countless examples of amazing consumer brands that are horrible employers and “challenged” consumer brands that are great employers (I’ve worked for some of them!). Put simply, the motivations, aspirations and expectations that we have as consumers are different to those that we have as employees.

That’s why they are, and never will, be the same.