But in the current moment, no one seems to know exactly what’s going on. Are we booming or busting? One national conversation is about stagnating wages and people dropping out of the work force. But at the same time, recruiters are fighting to attract talent, job hopping is the new normal, and in many fields key positions are going unfilled for longer and longer periods of time.
So what’s happening? And what can we do about it?
I believe that we’re seeing no less than a fundamental shift in the relationship between employer and employee, driven by economic, cultural, and generational realities. And that this shift is profoundly changing how most companies need to think about talent acquisition and retention. It’s changing how companies should present themselves, and the tools and techniques they use to do it.
As a professional dedicated to telling corporate
Nearly a decade after the Great Recession of 2008-2009, it has become clear that the recovery we have is the only one we’re going to get. Large parts of the economy are doing well. Others are not – and never will again. The days of hiring any middle manager with a pulse are gone and will never come back.
When it comes to recruitment and retention now, it’s all about talent and productivity. The battle for talent formerly confined to the C-suite has increasingly extended to other positions – to middle management, to engineering, to design, and to other highly skilled technical positions in complex industries like software development, biotech, pharma, and finance. Even at the mid-level, the jobs that matter are not so easy to do – and the difference between filling one of them with the right candidate and one who doesn’t quite fit can be dramatic. Most jobs worth doing today require flexibility, an enhanced level of creative thinking, and the ability to innovate.
Understanding this new reality is the key to understanding how the job market can be simultaneously hot and cold – how important jobs can go unfilled, and even high profile employers can struggle to recruit talent.
Add to this volatile mix one more combustible element: the generation currently entering the workforce – the notorious millennials. Like the economy itself, our popular imagination has painted two contradictory pictures of this group: Are they struggling to make ends meet, crushed by student debt, and facing the reality that they’ll never have the same opportunities their parents had? Or are they self-involved job hoppers, looking for perfection, and unwilling to put in the time and effort to build a long-term career with a single company? Whatever they are, it seems pretty clear that some companies are melting down trying to understand them. Some companies are actually spending up to $20,000 an hour on intergenerational consultants to help decode millennial behavior.
Maybe I can save you some money – because I believe that the key to understanding millennials, and to understanding how to recruit and retain them, is to recognize that both of the above are true.
A friend of mine who works at a top-tier consulting firm recently had a recruiting experience that illustrates what I mean. Last fall he spent several months identifying and recruiting a candidate for one of the firm’s most important junior positions – the kind of position where finding a perfect match is a company imperative. And he did just that – hiring a junior associate away from another top firm. Closing the deal meant bending on salary (the candidate was mired in debt from her elite education), and agreeing to a slightly more flexible work arrangement than the company was used to. Nevertheless, less than five months later she was gone – lured away by another firm in a hipper city on a cooler coast. And less than two months after that, she was back in touch, asking my friend to be a reference for a position she was considering at yet another firm. Was she a self-absorbed flake? No – her work was exceptional, and her commitment to the job was outstanding… for as long as it lasted.
Instead, I think this story suggests an extremely different understanding of the relationship between employee and employer – and one that directly relates to the economic and cultural shifts we’ve already talked about. The young consultant my friend hired has never experienced any environment other than the current one. She has absolutely no reason to expect a job to last years, let alone a lifetime. Add to that the burden of student loan debt and the necessary delay of rites of passage to adulthood, like marriage or buying a home. It’s no wonder millennials are prioritizing a sense of fulfillment, a feeling of being part of something meaningful, creativity, lifestyle, and other intangibles that, while also important to Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers, might have taken a backseat to a steady paycheck and a retirement plan. But for millennials, why prioritize those things when it feels like there’s no guarantee the steady paycheck will last, and the idea of a retirement plan is laughable?
In addition, remember that, increasingly, companies are competing for the best and the brightest – the most talented, the most effective, the most creative candidates. These are the people most likely to want more than a paycheck in the first place. People like our young consultant.
Combine all of these factors together, and you have a very unsettled recruiting environment – with job candidates who are harder to please and demanding positions that are harder to fill. Is the only answer to hire an expensive expert to help translate? That’s your call – but clearly something has to change.
What to Do About It
In this new reality, what’s the most precious lever a company has in the struggle to recruit talent? It’s not a pension plan, or the promise of lifetime employment. Quite simply, it’s the company’s purpose, reflected in its brand. It’s what the company stands for, its mission, its reason for being. And the most crucial thing a company can do in order to recruit successfully is to effectively and honestly communicate those intangibles.
As a professional storyteller working in film and video, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a corporate communications area shift in quite this way. I used to spend a fair amount of time gently guiding HR professionals to the realization that video was sometimes not the best communication tool for them. There’s nothing more boring than a boilerplate recruiting video that recites laundry lists of job perks or salary bands.
But now, all that has changed.
Video – if it’s done right – has an incredible capacity to communicate exactly the spirit that can win the day in this new recruiting world. It’s a medium perfectly suited to capturing authenticity and humanity, to portraying what’s unique about an organization, and what inspires the people who work there.
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for how to better communicate your message, improve your HR efforts, and win the competition for talent.
You’re not “recruiting.”
I think “recruiting” is now a misnomer for the process of identifying and hiring top quality employment candidates. It suggests a transactional relationship in which candidates are persuaded to bind themselves at a specific rank to a highly structured organization – like military recruiting. Even more importantly, it implies that the process stops once the “recruit” has signed on the dotted line.
Many organizations now use the term “talent acquisition,” and I think it more accurately captures the approach I’m advocating – an organic, continuous process of attracting, hiring, onboarding, and retaining amazing people who will make a difference in your organization. Fundamental to this approach is the idea of your purpose – explaining the most powerful ideas and beliefs that drive your company. And you need to do it honestly and consistently.
Ideally, if you make a video designed to engage the interest of potential hires, it should tell a story that only your company or organization can tell. We’ve all seen videos that drop a few buzzwords and employ some slick stock footage of happy faces – but that isn’t going to do the job of attracting the people you want to attract. You need to be honest about your company’s strengths – to understand what you are not as much as what you are. And once you’ve crafted your message and captured your brand, you need communicate it consistently.
There’s no point of feeding potential hires a lot of talk about out-of-the-box, blue sky thinking and creativity, if the next thing you ask them to sit through is a twenty minute onboarding video detailing the 128 regulations they need to memorize. There’s obviously an important place for compliance and training – but everything you communicate should be set in the context of your purpose. Those regulations may be the bedrock underlying your company’s freedom and creativity. They may be an indicator of the vast responsibility and trust you place in new hires. Either way, it’s up to you to craft a resonant, consistent message.
So these are the watchwords for talent acquisition: a powerful purpose, communicated honestly and consistently.
Having a friend on the inside.
One of video’s most powerful qualities as a medium is its ability to capture the character of human beings – our personalities, our quirks, our hopes, our dreams. When it comes to talent acquisition, we can use this quality to convey a lot about a company and its brand.
For example, in a recent series of videos for KPMG, we profiled a number of experienced employees each with their own unique story - in unscripted, real videos that captured the spirit of the company and the people who make it what it is. Watch Sean’s story here.
Our goal was to show a glimpse of what’s it’s really like to work at KPMG, as if the prospective hire has a “friend on the inside,” with the real scoop.
The key, of course, is – as always – to be honest, forthright, and consistent. If you’re too scripted, too heavy handed, or too bland, prospective hires will see right through it – especially those millennials.
Remember – in this area, your brand is expressed by your people. They’re your greatest asset.
Are you talking to me?
I’m sometimes surprised when we begin conversations with executives at Fortune 100 companies about creating video in support of talent acquisition. Sometimes they’ll simply tell us, “We need a recruiting video.” These are companies with thousands of employees in hundreds of roles: engineers, accountants, executives, executive chefs, bus drivers, analysts. And so the question is – with so many roles, so many audiences, and such a diverse set of expectations, how will you reach everyone with one video?
I do believe that there’s an important place for the HR equivalent of a “brand film” – a single, short piece that conveys the high level vision of an organization. Every company ought to have the clarity of purpose to be able to tell its story in 90 seconds. But to me, that’s just the beginning. Once you’ve gotten someone’s attention with a powerful hook like that, where do you go next?
It starts with understanding who you need to attract. Creative designers? Engineers? Tough-driving managers? Are you looking for people at the start of their careers? Or for seasoned hands? Each of these groups is going to be looking for something a little different – and you need to prioritize who you want to reach and how to reach them. It may mean crafting multiple follow-up videos, multiple profiles, in multiple voices.
What all of these potential hires have in common is a desire to understand how their unique skills and perspectives will be valued in your organization – how each of them will fit into the master narrative of the company brand, in service of a powerful idea, a goal, a mission. Each video in your recruiting portfolio should – again – be consistent to your brand, your values, and your vision.
So in the end, it’s pretty simple, right? Know who you are. Be honest, authentic, inspiring. Be a mirror for the kind of people you want to have on your team. Make sure that they see themselves and their amazing qualities when they look at your company. Simple. But not necessarily easy.
Embracing the Challenge
I love a challenge – and this is a big one.
From a communications perspective, I think the most challenging thing about the current moment in talent acquisition is also the most exciting thing: figuring out how to crack the code on the audience you need to reach. They’re sophisticated. They’re smart. They see right through anything that isn’t authentic. They want to be told nothing less than the truth about your company and their possible role in it.
They’re just my kind of people, and I can’t wait to help you go after them.
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