Show me the secret hand shake

In your standard career site employer brand offers applicants little more than bland platitudes and empty promises. Open jobs are focused on the minutia of what the job requires, while the employment marketing speak surrounding the jobs emphasizes long-term careers, goals, and identity.

It’s no small wonder that applicants are often confused by the experience and expect very little from employers (that not considering that more of then not the user experience and accessibility of most career microsites is considerably poor). Applicants see differentiation in employer brand, certainly: the marketing speak and graphical style for employers differ wildly. From the complete non existant employer brand in hedge funds, to the visceral sexuality that retail employers often employ, to the vaguely cultist exclusivity of the  top tech firms, at least on the surface, employers appear to offer a very different set of opportunities and challenges to their job applicant

Employer branding is, after all, marketing. Marketing puts not only a  positivity over everything, but rather seeks to address fundamental human desires. You don’t want a job as a software engineer. You want to make an impact, find a home, fit in with your peers, discover the world, etc… Employers then just have to ask themselves about their HR policies, structures and benefits and consider if they can truly leverage on those urges and the promise they make. A recruitment slogan is developed to frame the question and then drive that messaging throughout the site and job descriptions. It is meant to communicate a common dream, the ambition of a team.

If you develop your career site or participate in employer branding, it’s not only your duty to develop impactful recruitment campaigns and branding that convert traffic to applicants, but to develop programs that accurately reflect your company. The whole “truth in advertising” debate is a separate topic, but most can agree that some more truth in emploeyert brand would be appreciated by most applicants. As a matter of fact a false employer brand may attract candidates under the wrong premises and waste a lot of work and resources when causing a large attrition rate.

However, before you develop your branding, copy, and slogans, you have to ask yourself a fundamental question of purpose. Are you talking about yourself or the applicant? If your vision is to address a fundamental human concern of your target talent pool and map it to your company’s career opportunities, should you be describing what makes you different or asking the candidate what makes them different? Should you portray a strong message of corporate unity or play up employee differences?

Two career sites to consider: IBM and Microsoft. Both companies are what you might consider large, rather conservative brands. Both are major employers and in roughly the same industry. But they have, at least at first glance, radically different employment brands. You can notice this instantly in the way recruiters from both of them approach you. Yes, it is like Googl, Facebook, Amazon and LinkedIn. They are all internet and yet they are definitely not the same.

IBM: The employer brand of IBM has somehow transcended description over the years. It’s almost pervaded our popular culture. If someone is carrying a Thinkpad there is a certain message sent across, and working at IBM despite the recent turbulent times the company faces carries with it a large set of inferences and IBM knows it. It is not surprising then, that on their career site their main marketing slogan is “Are you ready for IBM?”

IBM may in fact be taking a somewhat self-referential and tongue in cheek approach to the perception that their company culture promotes conformity. However, their primary question does make a strong assertion. It asks: Are you one of us?

Microsoft: When we think of Microsoft employee’s we also carry a number of preconceptions and stereotypes. We immediately think of their iconic leader, Bill Gates, that has framed their employment culture in much the same way as Steve Jobs has influenced Apple. We think Windows.  Actually meeting former Microsoft employees will give you a big surprise… their loyalty is amazing, to the company and the products.

Microsoft, however, asks a very different question of applicants. They ask “How do you see the future?” and then follow this with a Nirvana lyric: “Come as you are” and “Do what you love.”  It’s a different message at first. Microsoft isn’t asking if applicants are “one of us,” but rather implies: “We think you’re ok as you are.”

Notice, however, that although Microsoft wants you to come as you are, they do imply that they know who you probably are. You can “Do what you love” at Microsoft because Microsoft assumes that you like coding in C# and are an evangelist of Outlook. Their employment brand assumes knowledge of the audience, whereas IBM comes across more like a challenge to your identity. Where IBM checks your ID and sees if you belong, Microsoft lifts the rope and says come on in.

To develop your corporate employer brand and drive the right kind and volume of applicants, some corporate soul searching is required. Very few companies have the type of unified corporate brand and identity that IBM has. If you work at ABC Corp, what does it mean to be an ABCer? If you are like most regular sized employers, it probably means very little. To develop this type of brand unification requires you to come up with a definitive statement of company culture.

To develop the Microsoft employer brand actually requires the same introspection with the addition of some more subtlety. When it comes down to it, you don’t want applicants to come as they are, you want the right kind of applicants to come with the qualifications that you need for your job requirements. But what demographic are they appealing to with a Nirvana lyric? It’s actually pretty specific and pretty smart.

When looking at the two companies, we at first see radically different value propositions and employer brands: conformity versus individuality, exclusivity versus inclusiveness. However, upon closer examination, both ask the same question to applicants: Do you know the secret hand shake?

You can see how complex and thought-out these career sites really are. Unless you’re in the Fortune 50, chances are you haven’t paid as much attention or used the same level of marketing as these companies. However, if you are looking to develop your career site or position careers at your company, it’s good to understand the fundamental question that you want to ask of applicants. You have to ask “Do you know the secret hand shake?” only after answering the prerequisite question “Who are we?”

Disruptive with purpose… this is the one I am working to go very deep into. Exploring all the different ways in which the secret hand shake is presented, and if you know it, please write me a note.

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1 Comment

Filed under Branding, Human Resources, Innovation, Marketing

One response to “Show me the secret hand shake

  1. Very thorough and made me think. Thank you Maria

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