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Authenticity: Do You Really Think Applicants Believe That Crap on Your Corporate Site?

by
Dr. John Sullivan
Oct 25, 2010, 6:16 am ET

You may think that the title of this article is a little unprofessional because it includes the word “crap.” If you think an alternate title like “increasing the readability of corporate messaging” would be more appropriate, you probably don’t fully buy into the concept of “authenticity.”

Allowing frank language on your website sends a message to cynical jobseekers that lawyers, PR people, and corporate invertebrates have not been allowed to completely reduce your messaging to 100% corporate blah blah. Messages that contain “authentic factors” are more likely to be read and believed.

Unfortunately, most corporate career websites violate most if not all of the rules of authenticity, an act that encourages job seekers to completely skip past all content and simply apply without regard to their fit.

Corporate Credibility Is at an All-Time Low

Younger readers might not remember it to be any different, but prior to the 1960s, many corporate messages were taken on face value as being true. Following the Vietnam War, Watergate, numerous corporate scandals, mass layoffs, and large corporate bankruptcies, trust in the employer and what employers “say” in particular is all but gone. Prior to the advent of the Internet and social networking tools, finding out what others knew and comparing stories was much more difficult, but today it’s standard practice to trust your network more. Like it or not, if you want to influence talent, you must become an expert in authenticity and you must accept that most see the content on your existing site for exactly what it is … crap.

10 Factors That Make Your Recruiting Content More Authentic and Believable

The best way by far to assess the authenticity of your recruiting messages is to ask your top applicants to rate the believability of each individual content block, published on a 1 to 10 scale. However, if you don’t have the time or resources to conduct an assessment, the following list of factors will significantly add to the credibility, believability, and authenticity of your recruiting messages.

  1. Employee stories — short but powerful stories about the experiences of individual employees that bring to life the possible experiences a new employee might someday encounter. Stories that highlight how the entry-level worker or the powerless become successful within the corporation are especially impactful.
  2. Include data — any time you include real numbers or statistics you open yourself up to challenge, but the possibility of being proved wrong is a positive authenticity factor. Side-by-side firm comparison charts are especially powerful because they will be automatically challenged somewhere online by your competitors.
  3. Show some weakness — after employee stories and data, the most powerful authenticity factor is to be frank about an error or problem. Failing to acknowledge past events, negative circumstances, etc. actually damages your reputation more than being honest and forthright about them. Acknowledging weakness also makes your organization look more real, because as we all know, no one person or company is perfect.
  4. Average employee blogs — candid blogs written by your “average employee” can be a major contributor to authenticity if it is not edited or censored in any way. Blogs that include personal experiences, stories, and negative elements are the most powerful and most likely to be read. (Linking to blogs hosted outside your corporate IT infrastructure indicates that you respect employee rights and are comfortable promoting their unedited perspective.)
  5. Access to employees — nothing says that your employees are loyal to your firm better than putting an employee’s complete name and title (and maybe even an e-mail address) in a profile or picture. Making it easy to contact them and verify their message shows that your firm is comfortable and that your words were not “planted into their mouths.”
  6. A chance to comment or ask questions — providing an opportunity to challenge a message or to ask individualized questions builds authenticity because it adds two-way communications and it demonstrates a firm’s responsiveness. Corporate product sites are good for benchmark learning because they contain many more authenticity factors then corporate career sites.
  7. Outside opinions and links — anytime you provide third-party assessment you automatically increase your credibility because you are providing a second opinion from a neutral party (i.e. ERE Excellence Awards, “Best Place to Work” rankings, etc.) Providing direct links to outside information sites or social network links (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube etc.) can also send a message that you are not afraid of outside opinions or information.
  8. Candid language — even though it will make some HR people nervous, it is OK to occasionally use frank language and blunt words in your messages. Including texting acronyms and references to prominent external events and cultural phenomena can also add authenticity.
  9. Authentic job descriptions — most job descriptions are actually written to satisfy legal standards, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they turn out not to be exciting or to add to your credibility. Job descriptions that show a combination of excitement, challenge, and difficulty will be much more powerful.
  10. Help tips — job searches make everyone nervous, so companies that go out of their way to provide company-specific information on what specifically to expect, what they’re looking for, and frequently asked questions quickly earn authenticity points. Generic information and tips add no value.

10 Factors That Damage the Authenticity of Your Recruiting Content

There are negative elements or errors that by their mere presence take away from the authenticity and the believability of your overall recruiting message. If you don’t want your recruiting message to be classified as sterile, plastic, scripted, or “all hat and no cattle” avoid these negative elements.

  1. Perfect pictures — including even a single picture that is overly “perfect” can tarnish your message. Avoid pictures that appear posed, include people that look like actors, pictures with a perfect diversity profile, and even a single “plastic” smile.
  2. Catchphrases — few things kill the credibility of a message faster than a handful of trite overused phrases that mean little. Phrases like “the experience changed my life,” “our people are our most important asset,” “great benefits,” “we live our values,” and “boundless opportunities” actually hurt your credibility. Omit these phrases and instead provide stories, examples, blogs, videos, or data that more convincingly demonstrate that your words actually translate into actions.
  3. Videos produced by corporate — videos that appear to be professionally made or edited simply come across as propaganda. A selection of jittery employee-made videos that include minor faux pas send a completely different message.
  4. Not being current — nothing says a firm is out of date more effectively than having outdated material on their website or failing to mention current relevant events. In the same light, failing to use technology on the site (i.e. slow loading, broken links, no mobile phone applications etc.) or failing to highlight technology usage at the firm can reduce applications from technology-savvy applicants.
  5. Uniformity and consistency — a long-held law of branding is to remain consistent, but unfortunately being overly uniform can hurt your authenticity. If the design of your different career links are too uniform or consistent, it indirectly sends a message to potential employees that your firm may be overly controlling, rigid, and intolerant of creativity.
  6. Press releases — press or news releases are by definition corporate PR and they are automatically not authentic. Including a link to them as a major source of information on your career site is a mistake of the first-order. Instead, provide links to actual articles and news stories located on neutral sites.
  7. Two-word descriptions — nothing sends a clear message that your HR programs are “ordinary” then a meaningless short description like paid vacation, vision plan, educational benefits, sick leave, etc. Most readers automatically know that when you fail to highlight program details that would allow comparisons between companies, you are not offering anything out of the ordinary. In addition, if you are offering exceptional benefits, you just missed an opportunity to be authentic.
  8. Overdoing history — although it’s important to provide a snapshot of the history of the company, overdoing it can send a message that the company is more focused on the past than the future. As a result, adding future projections or highlighting future directions can add both excitement and authenticity.
  9. Diversity words — if you include a link to diversity and inclusion but that page includes only words and a few pictures of diverse individuals, you have missed opportunity to be believable. Credible diversity includes numbers, ratios, awards, and customized information designed specifically for diverse individuals. Incidentally, the same rules also fit sustainability claims.
  10. Cultural statements — saying that your culture is unique without providing specific details, examples, and comparisons sends a message that you are prone to broad generalizations without backup proof. Providing stories that illustrate how your employees act differently in common situations is a much more powerful approach.

Final Thoughts

If after reading this checklist, you conclude that these might be great authenticity factors but in your experience “no one does it this way,” you would be mistaken. Corporate sites like Microsoft and Google provide excellent examples of how to be more authentic and believable. There is a wide and ever-widening gap between average firms and those rare firms that have learned the difference between posting a corporate message and having that message read and believed. Unfortunately, with the continual decline in corporate image combined with the growth of social networks and independent websites that directly confront and directly counter corporate messages, the believability of corporate blah blah will continue to decline.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Donna Svei

    Beyond your corporate website, also check to see that your company can meet a candidate’s up front and back door checks on you.

    See “10 Answers to Get Before You Say “Yes” to a Job Offer” at http://j.mp/aVNYFR and “9 Signs That Your Next Company Cares About Its Employees” at http://j.mp/a0vn8F” for the types of checks savvy candidates do on you and your company.

    What? You think it’s just companies using the Internet and social media to check up on candidates? No, it goes both ways.

  2. Gerry Crispin

    Amen

  3. Joseph Murphy

    John,
    Excellent challenge to authenticity. Great list of enhancers and disrtractors for the overall career site message. This carries down into the message at the job level as well. As a result of over management of job preview content, talent team have had the power of REALISTIC job previews diluted. Read more here: http://bit.ly/9exymb

  4. Keith Halperin

    IMHM, you should not believe anything but objective, verifiable informaton that appears on the recruiting or marketing-related sections of most corporate websites, and an organization hiring someone gullible or ignorant enough to believe what appears there without checking the organization out on sites like http://www.glassdoor.com is taking a risk.

    Cheers,

    Keith “You Can’t Control Your Branding Anymore Except with Your Actions” Halperin

  5. Paul Basile

    Absolutely right. Stories, data, honesty, accessibility, have always mattered. Fascinating, isn’t it, that many commentators today think that the internet and social media demand new rules? Cool and powerful new media spotlight great ideas and effective interactions, so maybe it’s harder now to hide weak approaches, but the basic standards for being clear and honest and human haven’t changed much.

  6. Heidi Burkley

    Dr. Sullivan:

    I loved your title and I loved the article!

    “Acknowledging weakness also makes your organization look more real, because as we all know, no one person or company is perfect”

    The sentence above jumped out at me because it is okay to be real, authentic and admit that you are not perfect.

    Kind regards,
    Heidi

  7. Arthur Jun

    Coming from a recent college graduate that was on the job hunt, all of these points are very valid. Coming across career sites with generic postings was an everyday occurrence. Genuine and sincere vocabulary definite made a career site more valid in my book.

  8. Brian Kevin Johnston

    Dr. Sullivan-
    TWO THUMBS UP! BRAVO BRAVO BRAVO!! Best to ALL, Brian-

  9. Eric Putkonen

    I very much agree with everything but #3 on damages:

    “Videos produced by corporate — videos that appear to be professionally made or edited simply come across as propaganda. A selection of jittery employee-made videos that include minor faux pas send a completely different message.”

    John, you must have never seen any good videos by corporate. Most are pretty bad…obviously scripted, sterilized and homogenized crap that is approved by executives/marketing/PR/legal.

    But the jittery videos also send a completely different message…unwatchable crap.

    There is a middle ground…where a tripod can be used and suddenly not seem unauthentic.

    Deluxe in Eagan is in and around this area. They have produced very nice “quick interviews” with hiring managers so that you can meet the hiring manager, hear from them exactly what they are looking for, and getting a better feel for the place. They are not scripted…but sometimes edited (for example, cutting out rambling that would bore a viewer – remember, very short attention spans).

    As someone who is passionate about video (I run my own video production business on the side – and I am a recruiter, so I live the idea of recruiting videos)…I see very clearly a way you can have “business quality” video (produced by corporate) and still not loose authenticity. One thing is to definately not script…have authentic conversations and interviews. Much of authenticy comes from how authentically the person is speaking – if they are authentic, then even with better production and some editing – then the overall production will feel authentic.

    John, I hope you get to see what I am talking about.

  10. Darryl Clements

    I’d add to Sullivan’s point something far more instantaneous and obvious – does your site bring speed and ease of use to interested candidates and applicants?

    I’ve not yet come across company recruitment sites that offer the user interface and ease of use as Amazon. I’m amazed that companies don’t make it easy for candidates to apply (most online applications aren’t as easy and quick as claimed) with companies then using applications to effectively source candidate. If Amazon can send out individualized emails suggesting things you might like to buy, why can’t a site send out an email to candidates and applicants that have been previously interviewed or pre-screen to find out if they might be interested?

    Most sites don’t treat open positions and companies as things that people want to consume – and that’s the big miss. Really, just as a test, I tried the online application process as one of the top technology companies here in the U.S. and they actually sent me a notification to check back from time to time on the status of my application.

    I’d suggest companies radically change how they think about then use their employment pages rather than tweaking what’s up there because even a finely tweaked mess is still a mess.

  11. Tim Martinez

    Wonderful points, I think it’s amazing how the employer brand is misused and taken for granted. I suppose companies don’t realize that candidates are probably very bright people who know an idealized and filtered image when they see it. I personally love to see some vulnerability and inconsistency from the employee perspective. The contrived nature of the super clean employee brand really only turns me away.

    Tim
    timm@smashfly.com

  12. Bill Bargas

    Test your site’s search function. If a search for “diversity” or “inclusion” nets either no results or a list of products your company just “doesn’t get it”.

  13. Howard Adamsky

    Honestly John; this is a great article! Wish I wrote it.

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  16. Melanie Villapando

    Well said. I’ve had the privilege of working with a company that embraced this approach and it was amazing. Even the video..can be corporate sponsored/involved, but the end product has to look like you’re witnessing a conversation, not a rehearsal. Great article.

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