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Successfully selling your company to prospective employees

By Aaron Green, 8/20/2007

How do you make candidates want to work for your company?

While performing a thorough interview to determine a candidate's suitability is important, if you have not successfully "sold" your company to the candidate it really does not matter if the applicant is suitable or not because the candidate will be making the choice to work for someone else.

Here are four key ways not just to attract candidates to your organization but to make them want to work there, too.

Analyze "The Candidate Experience"

Customer-focused organizations frequently talk about "the customer experience." Think of Starbucks, Dell, or Southwest Airlines. These organizations analyze their customers' experiences and continuously try to improve them.

Employers would benefit from analyzing their applicants' experiences and making adjustments as needed. Look at your process from a candidate's perspective and think about every interaction. Start with the first phone call to the applicant and consider all the interactions that take place all the way through to the presentation of an offer for employment, and even consider beyond the offer to post-acceptance activities.

Challenge yourself with lots of questions. For instance, how many rounds of interviews do we conduct? Are the right managers involved in the hiring process and do they present well? How long does it typically take from the first phone call to an applicant to the presentation of an offer, and is this the right amount of time? What training do hiring managers get regarding how to present the company to candidates? How does communication among the various decision makers take place? Do we always give an office tour? How do we ensure that all key selling points are covered with all candidates, and who is responsible for covering them?

The above list of questions is not comprehensive. Rather, it is meant to be thought provoking so that you can develop your own list. The key is to step back and analyze your process through a prospective candidate's eyes and identify areas of opportunity for improvement.

Good companies need to pay attention to the candidate experience, too. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for a company that is a great place to work to forget to show that to the candidate.

Consider your employment brand

Employment brand management seeks to increase the perceived value of working at your company. While your employment brand and consumer/corporate brand are certainly linked, many organizations are taking steps to specifically enhance their overall image to prospective employees. Progressive companies are focusing on their employment brand and are engaging in advertising, marketing, and public relations activities above and beyond what they do for corporate branding. And clever marketers find ways to inject a subtle employment message in with their corporate branding activities, thereby leveraging their marketing budgets.

Employment branding is not just about your company logo and advertising. A company's image is also related to a wide range of factors that can include community support, office location(s), size of the company, employee turnover, dress code, and employee demographics such as age, race, and alumni.

Consider your company's reputation

Keep in mind your company's reputation and make sure you "play up" positive aspects of your reputation as well as address any negative perceptions.

My philosophy is that while it might be tempting to avoid talking about negatives, it is better to make them part of the conversation than to leave them out. An example will help bring out this point.

Imagine that a large law firm has a positive reputation except that they are having trouble attracting top-tier associates. The firm is known as a place where associates are expected to work mega-hours. While it might be tempting to avoid the whole subject of hours, taking this approach would be a mistake. Better to address the situation and offer an explanation and clarification. Candidates might imagine the situation is worse than it actually is.

The firm should use facts and accurate information to make their point. The recruiter or hiring manager can preempt the hours discussion by saying something like: "I want to provide you with some facts and statistics to help you make your decision about working here. Our associates work 1.25 hours more each week than the industry average. However, our associates are also paid 15% more than the industry average and make partner eight months faster than average."

While it is nice to have a positive reputation, don't assume that all candidates are aware of your company's reputation. Look for opportunities to show candidates how it is that you came to earn this reputation. For example, at my company we say to candidates things such as "our training and mentoring programs are one of the key reasons why we were awarded the Best Place to Work distinction."

Sell one-to-one

Accepting an offer of employment is a highly personal decision. While branding, reputation, and a good candidate hiring experience all contribute to success, they don't replace an effective one-to-one dialogue with a prospective candidate. At the end of the day you need to understand what a particular candidate is looking for in a career and then show that person how your company can help him or her achieve these career goals.

This is a big subject and while I don't have the space to cover it all, here are some areas where there is often room for improvement:

  • Vision - Sell the vision of where your company is going in addition to where it is today. Ditto for the position the candidate is applying for. Talk about what the position will look like in two years and/or promotion opportunities.

  • Money - Too often not enough time is spent discussing money, thereby resulting in lost opportunities. Too often the information gathering around the candidate's compensation requirements involves simply looking at the employment application or asking "What are your salary requirements?" and writing the number down. The best practice is to get a complete understanding of the candidate's views on compensation: understand benefits, commissions, bonuses, options, and anything else the candidate cares about. Understand which parts of the compensation package the candidate values most/least, eg, do they discount the value of commissions because they don't understand the commission plan? Do they not care about health insurance because their spouse has a great plan? Would an extra week of vacation time be worth more than extra money? Etc.

  • Competition - Know your competition. Where else is the candidate interviewing? What do they like about the other company? How far along are they in the job search process? You need to know what you are up against.

  • Follow-through - Stay in touch with your candidates. While this suggestion may seem obvious, it is often overlooked. If a number of hiring managers are involved in the recruiting process then make sure communication between them is good, as there is nothing worse than losing an attractive candidate because one manager thought another manager was calling the candidate. Coaches teach baseball players to "run through first base." Companies should do the same thing when they are hiring. Don't stop communicating when you have an accepted offer. Prepare the candidate for a counteroffer.

As you are screening potential employment candidates, you need to be aware that these potential candidates are also screening your company. Accordingly, set your process and promotion up in such a way to maximize the number of candidates that you not only attract, but also ultimately employ.

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