The ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor

Recruiters need to learn how to speak the language of marketing to sell themselves in a tight labour market

Lori Colborne comes to the world of candidate attraction and retention from a marketing perspective. A professional speaker and consultant, she has travelled all over North America to work with senior executive teams on their internal and external marketing strategies.

What she’s seen has amazed her. Companies with elegant waiting areas where clients sit on leather couches and sip fresh Starbucks coffee — while the staff eat lunch in a dingy, windowless room shared with the furnace.

The problem, she says, is that organizations need to realize that their most important “customers” — the ones who are going to win repeat business and amaze clients — are the staff. And to attract the right staff, organizations need to have a marketing mentality.

For those who are just emerging from an extended period of solitary confinement, this is an extremely candidate-short job market. What that means is people are picky, picky, picky. Right now, average “conversion rates” on the major job boards are about two per cent, so for every 100 people who view a company’s ad, two are actually taking the time to apply.

That means a lot of people are probably reading that company’s ad, but they’re not responding to it. So how does the company get the attention of jobseekers? By keeping in mind a single phrase when creating the ad: “What’s in it for me?”

Even in the days when classified ads ruled the job advertising world, they weren’t particularly effective (with big career ads being the exception). They don’t really communicate what the company is or why someone would want to work there.

Consider this ad: “Accountant required. 5+ years of experience. Knowledge of ACCPAC. Pulse. Send resumé to Box 100.”

Now HR professionals should ask themselves: “What on earth would make a jobseeker want to apply for that position?”

Organizations need to look at job postings as a form of marketing. Car makers don’t list the technical specs of their vehicles in magazine ads. Rather, they impart the feeling one gets by driving their cars. The point is that a reader can look at the ad and know the “what’s in it for me” — or WIIFM — factor immediately.

For some reason, HR professionals don’t tend to do that. And they need to. They need to be constantly asking themselves, “Why, as a jobseeker, would someone want to work for my company?” A lot of the work professional recruiters do with clients is taking the time to figure this out so they can “sell” opportunities. But if organizations do everything in-house, their postings are just about the only way they have to get their message across.

Creating effective recruitment ads

Good recruitment ads tell the jobseekers what the organization does and what it’s all about. Big, splashy career ads are so successful because they create an image for the company, giving candidates a clear picture of the organization.

Focus on what makes the company special. Ask the hiring manager what would make a top performer want this job. What is it that people love about working there?

Assume people reading the ad are currently working. Think about why the opportunity is actually better than where they are now. Is there more room to move up? If the employer is a large organization, does it have resources others wouldn’t for in-house training? If it’s smaller, could people have a more direct impact on the company’s business?

Get marketing’s input. If the company has marketing resources, get them on board. Ask what they would do if they were “selling” jobs.

Make the job compelling. Create a vision so candidates can picture themselves being successful in their career with the company. Accurately reflect how they could grow and progress.

Grab them in the first two lines. Focus on the opportunity for them, such as their chance to grow. Talk about goals and challenges, not responsibilities.

Find ways to get the word out. Get postings sent out virally — create ways for people to forward them to colleagues and people in their extended circles.

Keep the WIIFM factor top of mind. Does everything in the ad address this question for a jobseeker who’s already employed? If not, why is it in there?

Be honest. Sell the company, but be accurate too. One of the main reasons top performers don’t make it past the first 90 days is because unrealistic expectations are set during the hiring progress.

Rick Harcourt is an executive recruiter in the technical arena for Harcourt Recruiting Specialists, an Edmonton-based recruiting firm. He may be reached at [email protected].

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