July 7, 2005   view past issues

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Feature: Know Thy (Irrational) Customers

As many of you know, I’ve long advocated that we recruiters think more like our colleagues in sales and marketing. Now, in a perfect world, that means we would go out and survey a group of top performers representing each of the fields in which we recruit and ask them a very simple question:

What do you want in an employer?

Armed with that knowledge, we could then design and create the perfect employer. We would deliver exactly what our top prospects want. After that, selling our employer to those prospects-what we call recruiting-would be a simple matter of letting people know what we had wrought, and they would knock down the doors trying to buy in.

It’s a wonderfully simple and logical paradigm … if you live in a perfect world. Unfortunately, most of us don’t. Indeed, most of us struggle with employers that are far from perfect. They don’t pay enough. They are run by leaders with the human relations skills of a brick. They are located in places only a cockroach would enjoy. And, they create jobs that are more like nightmares than dreams.

So, what’s to be done? I think we have to figure out what constitutes the perfectly imperfect employer for the select group of candidates you need to recruit. In other words, we have to determine which “A” level performers will kiss a frog. Because they’re out there, and we can recruit them.

How do I know that? Look around you. If your organization isn’t a complete financial disaster (i.e., it’s a viable, going concern), then undoubtedly there are at least some of your coworkers who are among the top performers in their field. A normal distribution would mean that one-in-five fit that definition. It might be a few less; it might even be a few more. But they’re there, sitting all around you. They may (or may not) be imperfect in other ways-they may not have the best personality or be the most socially adept or the most attractive-but they know their stuff, and they deliver it on-the-job every day.

Your success as a recruiter, therefore, depends upon your knowing them. They bought your employer, despite all its imperfections, and if you can figure out why and then replicate that formula, you’re in the money. Marketers call this the “wallet test.” Basically, you have to determine what it was that induced these candidates to make what even you might consider an irrational choice. They bought an imperfect employer.

How do you do that? Well, certainly not by taking to hiring managers. They don’t have a clue. No, the only way to get the information you need is to ask the satisfied customer, him or herself. Conduct a focus group with the “irrational” candidates who have the skills and knowledge you want to recruit. Now, don’t be put off by that term “focus group.” It’s simply marketing talk for a small group survey that is conducted face-to-face.

For example, if you’re recruiting a pediatric nurse for a hospital that is located in a run down area of town and offers below market salaries, then:

  • identify who among the pediatric nurses now on staff are considered the “A” level performers; while the head of the Nursing Department will have her view and you should take it into account, also check with other members of the staff who regularly work with nurses on the floor.
  • invite these top performers to meet with you over lunch (or at some other convenient time) for an informal brainstorming session; keep it light and explain that you simply want their counsel in figuring out how to recruit other elite nurses just like them to join the hospital staff.
  • open the session by restating the goal: to give them more co-workers who can perform as their peers; more often than not, top performers want to work with other top performers so they are likely to be both flattered that you asked and motivated to help you out.
  • then ask them a simple question: “What induced them-great performers who presumably had other options-to say “yes,” to accept the hospital’s offer; while there will undoubtedly be idiosyncratic factors (e.g., a person wants to live near their elderly parent), look for common themes and ideas and determine the priority among them.
  • The top two or three of these common themes are your “wallet factors.” They are the motivators that transform your best prospects into customers. They induce your perfect candidates to buy your imperfect employer.

    Use them everywhere you can. Build them into your employment brand and promote that brand wherever your target talent population is likely to see it, highlight them in your job postings on those sites where your top performers hang out, and emphasize them on your corporate career site and in your e-mail communications with prospects. Make them the sales proposition you offer to the labor market or at least to that special subset of the labor market that is willing to kiss a frog.

    Of course, the best way to recruit the best talent is to transform your frog into a prince or princess. For many of us, however, that’s as likely to happen as a fairy tale. We live in the real world, and to recruit successfully there, we need to know what will make our imperfect employer look like a prince or princess, at least to some perfect candidates.

    Thanks for reading,


    P.S. July is Pitch In and Help Out Month. Tell your colleagues about WEDDLE’s newsletter. They’ll appreciate your interest in them and how the newsletter fills out their skills and knowledge.

    This Issue’s Sponsor: Yahoo! HotJobs

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    Section Two: Site News You Can Use released the results of its survey of “upward communication,” the propensity of an organization’s leaders to solicit and listen to feedback from employees. It found that 80% of the HR professionals who responded to the survey felt that their organizations were open to suggestions from employees, yet fewer than half (46%) said their organizations even bothered to collect employee opinions. Not surprisingly, four-in-ten of the employees who were surveyed said they didn’t think their employers listened to them. Does that matter? Probably not for mediocre employees; to them, a job is a job is a job. For top performers, however, a job is a career advancement opportunity; it is the sum total of the employment experience: the challenge of the work, the support of the employer, and the collegiality of the workforce. Each of those factors has to be optimized or the top performer will move to another organization where they are. No less important, the definition of “optimized” is determined by the employee. The only way to get it right, therefore, is to ask for their opinion and listen (and react) to what they have to say.

    The Conference Board reported that job ads in print newspapers dipped 5% in May while Corzen, a New York-based research firm, reported that job postings at the three largest job, and Yahoo! HotJobs-increased. Is this yet more evidence that newspapers are on their way to joining the dinosaurs? I don’t think so. Top performers still read newspapers, and most newspaper readers still prefer print. Indeed, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, 72% of regular newspaper readers rely primarily on the paper medium. That’s why I think an integrated multimedia ad is the best way to reach top talent. Use the old fashioned print newspaper as a gateway to attract and direct talent to an online job posting with the format and content of an electronic sales brochure; this approach gives you two important advantages: you tap the visibility and trust that newspapers have established within their communities, and you create a consumer experience that even the most passive prospect will find compelling.

    The Media Audit found an interesting shift in its recent survey of the college educated population under the age of 45 in the U.S. According to its researchers, the majority (50.6%) of this group were women, whereas in 2004, the majority (51.3%) were men. What does that mean for recruiters? If you’re trying to fill a position that requires a college degree and where the majority of candidates are likely to be under the age of 45, you should tailor your sourcing strategy, at least in part, to the habits of college-educated women. Not only are they now the majority of your target population, but they have very distinct preferences. For example, 56.3% of women listen to country music on the radio, but just 26.6% of those who do have a college degree.

    Mercer Human Resource Consulting released its National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans 2004, and it had both bad and good news. The bad news was that average per-employee costs rose 7.5%, more than double the rate of inflation last year. The good news, however, was that this was the lowest rate of increase since 1999 and a significant improvement from the 10.1% jump in 2003. Ironically, cost increases were greater for companies with 500 or more employees than they were for companies with 10-499 employees. Whatever your organization’s size, however, one of the keys to containing cost increases is family health and wellness information. Create a family health and wellness center on your company’s intranet and promote it aggressively to the family members of employees as well as to employees, themselves. You might even consider opening it up to the public in the Careers area on your organizational Web-site; if it’s good enough, it will attract stay-at-home moms and dads looking for help, and open the door for you to connect with their stuck-in-the-office spouses.

    The Society for Human Resource Management announced that organizations can now apply for .jobs Web addresses. To register, visit the Employ Media site. I suppose you’ll have to do it, if only to ensure that some other organization doesn’t claim the extension with your organization’s name (despite claims by SHRM and Employ Media that they will prevent such behavior). From my perspective, however, this move is a perfect example of Ready-Fire-Aim. It very carefully addresses the wrong issue. The problem isn’t that job seekers can’t find the Careers area on an organization’s Web-site, it’s that what they find in the Careers area has all the appeal of a computer manual. It’s so tedious and uninspiring that the only time you use it is when you’re desperate-like out of a job. That’s why organizational Career sites have dropped from the #1 destination to #4 in WEDDLE’s on-going survey of job seekers. The only people who visit are active job seekers who have no choice. Fix that problem, and there’ll be no need for a .jobs domain. Passive as well as active job seekers will wear a rut in cyberspace as they crowd through the door.

    Section Three: Site Profiles

    Site Insite … how well do you know the Web’s 40,000+ job boards?

    1. Your hospital has just lost its admitting/intake supervisor, and you need to find a replacement fast. Which of the following sites would be a prescription for success?

  • 2. Your company is expanding, and you need a new district sales manager for Atlanta, GA. Which of the following sites would be a hot source of candidates?

  • 3. With business growing rapidly, your company is looking for recent college graduates to enroll in its management training program. Which of the following sites would lead to just the right prospects?

  • (answers below)

    Site Spotlite … from the pages of WEDDLE’s 2005/6 Guides and Directories


    Post full time jobs: Yes

    Post part time, contract or consulting jobs: Yes – Contract, Consulting

    Distribution of jobs: National – USA

    Fee to post a job: Less than $100/posting

    Posting period: 7 days+

    Can posting be linked to your site: Yes

    Resume database: Yes

    Number of resumes: 12,000+

    Source of resumes: Direct from individuals

    Top occupations among resumes: Engineer, Programmer, Designer

    Other services for employers: Listserv for networking, Automated resume agent, Banner advertising

    Answers to Site Insite

    1. All but, a site operated by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

    2. Only; the site offers franchises for @work, is an adult site, and is the site of Great American Talent, a booking service for entertainers.

    3. All of them.

    Support Our Sponsor: Yahoo! HotJobs

    This issue of WEDDLE’s newsletter is brought to you through the generous support of Yahoo! HotJobs.

    Local Candidates. Attractive Local Prices. Post a Job on Yahoo! HotJobs!

    Place your job ads on Yahoo! HotJobs in minutes to start receiving resumes. It’s fast, flexible and easy – with the ability to reach candidates beyond your local newspaper.

    Where do you want to post jobs?.