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Unless You Segment Your Recruiting Messaging, You Won’t Attract Top Performers and Techies

by
Dr. John Sullivan
Jan 20, 2014, 5:45 am ET

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 10.35.36 AMUnless you tailor your bait, you’ll never attract the very best prospects

It might sound silly on the surface, but fishing and recruiting have a lot in common. Any seasoned fisherman or woman would tell you without hesitation that the same bait that effectively attracts small fish simply would have no impact on attracting the harder-to-land big fish.

In recruiting, the need to match your “bait” or attraction features to your target is no different. The job and company features that would attract the average Joe to a job (I call them “paycheck jobs”) would barely get the attention of top performers, techies, and innovators. For example, the average Joe might be excited about the fact that you have good benefits while an innovator may be more interested in how often you take risks and fund innovative ideas.

There lies the problem in corporate recruiting. Almost all the information provided by corporate recruiting is designed to be general to meet a larger audience. But unless there is a separate message on your site or external to it that has “bait” that is tailored to attract this more desirable and harder to land target, they will never view your firm as desirable.

Every organization of course needs to do its own market research, but for those that haven’t yet done that, I have provided a list of most powerful attractors both for the high-performer group and for the average worker who is looking for a paycheck job. The top-performer list, which is provided in the next section, starts with doing the best work of your life, having an impact, and having a great manager. But where in the corporate array of recruiting tools including the job posting, the job description, or on the corporate careers webpage is there information or evidence indicating that workers here are doing the best work of their life are having a great impact and have a great manage? In fact, on this last item, you won’t even find the names of key managers or the one who a new hire might work under anywhere on the corporate site, so that you could research them on your own.

Segment Your Recruiting Messages

It’s basic marketing 101. Generic information often fails to attract. You can’t attract currently employed top performers, techies, diverse applicants, and innovators unless they can easily find out that a relevant job contains the unique factors that they care most about. Even if they are convinced that a desirable attraction factor (like new technology) is available at the company, that won’t be enough unless you also provide information indicating that it also exists in this particular team and job.

If you’re a corporate leader, think seriously about it. There is a high probability that every single element of your bait (i.e. written recruiting materials) is extremely general and as a result it might be having a zero impact on top performers and techies who expect unique things in their next job.

How to Identify the Job Excitement Factors of Top Performers

The first rule of market segmentation requires you to realize that those in this highly desirable group (top performers, techies, innovators, and diverse candidates) do not want the same things in a job as average hires or the unemployed. Thus, you must segment your messages so that they fit this target group. The best way to find out what top prospects care about is to interview some of your own top-performing employees and also to ask every top candidate to list their “job-attraction factors” that would cause them to apply for and accept a new job. In my own research, I’ve identified many of the “top-performer job excitement factors”:

A List of the Excitement Factors for Top Performers, Techies, and Innovators

Here’s a list of possible excitement factors for top performers. They are listed in descending order of importance. Your recruitment messaging must highlight the level that each one is present in your jobs that require top performers. The two most critical ones are bolded.

  1. Doing the best work of my life
  2. Doing work that has an impact on the customers and the world
  3. Having a great manager
  4. An opportunity to innovate and take risks
  5. An opportunity to learn rapidly and be challenged
  6. The opportunity to implement their ideas
  7. A choice of projects and assignments
  8. A chance to work with the latest technologies and tools
  9. Input into their schedule/ location
  10. An opportunity to work with top co-workers
  11. The opportunity to make decisions and for fast approvals
  12. Working in a performance-driven meritocracy where rewards are based on performance
  13. A transparent environment where the needed information and access is readily available
  14. Sufficient budget and resources to reach their goals

If you compare this list to what the average worker wants which are listed below (i.e. pay, security, benefits, work-life balance, etc.) it is easy to see why your current recruiting materials and messaging may have zero impact on attracting the interest and applications from top performers. 

The Attraction Elements of a Typical “Paycheck Job”

Do your own market research, but here is the list of attraction factors that I use for the average worker who is satisfied with a “paycheck job.”

  1. Guaranteed pay
  2. Exceptional benefits
  3. Security
  4. Time off with pay
  5. Seniority rights
  6. Equal treatment
  7. Minimal risk and stress
  8. No surprises/predictable
  9. Work/life balance
  10. A good commute

Incidentally now might be a good time to compare the elements of your current job with the two lists to see if your current role really exceeds the elements of a simple paycheck job.

How to Make it Easy for Top Prospects to Find a Job’s Excitement Factors

It’s great that corporations provide general information about what the company has to offer, but top prospects want to know about the excitement factors for the job, manager, and team where they would be working. Not only must these excitement factors be present, but they should be clearly visible in each of the major recruiting information channels that are available to top applicants. Some approaches to consider for making those “excitement factors” more visible include:

  • The job posting – there is not much space, but mentioning one or two of the excitement factors here is a good idea.
  • The job description – although normally written by dull compensation people, this is the best place to detail the excitement factors.
  • Through employee referrals – the most credible and authentic way to spread the excitement message is through messaging from employees who work closely with the person and the job. Obviously employees need to be provided with the key attraction features so that they can spread them when they are looking for referrals. Employees can also spread them and blogs and on comments on websites like glassdoor.com.
  • On social media – exciting features can be mentioned on social media landing pages.
  • Supplemental job information – providing a link to supplemental information that covers the excitement factors can be effective. Providing access via the mobile phone is the most important avenue.
  • Videos – manager and team-created short videos can make it easy for outsiders to feel the excitement in these key factors.
  • Manager and team statements – key member and manager testimonials either in writing or on video can be extremely convincing and powerful.
  • The corporate careers page – almost everything here is too corporate to be credible, but a mention of key excitement factors is still a good idea.

Final Thoughts

The time has come for corporate leaders to realize that generic messaging that covers the factors that average applicants want will never be effective in attracting other highly desirable prospect segments.

Once you realize how poorly most corporations currently provide compelling bait that covers what top performers expect, the next steps are easy to recognize. First, you must realize that the messages must be tailored to top performers and customized to a particular job or job family. Next, you must identify the key attraction factors of top performers. Third, you must use market research to identify where they would likely to see and read those messages, and finally you must polish the actual messages so that they are credible and authentic to the point where they actually cause top performers to apply for the open job.

If you’re currently having difficulty attracting top performers, now you know why. Your bait is generic and it is not designed to attract top performers.

 

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. Ken Forrester

    Thank you Dr. Sullivan and I like your comparison of Top performer (TP) jobs and pay check (PCP) jobs.

    One thing that you failed to mention in attracting these TPs and is probably the most effective method-is the use of niche headhunters! I say this because whenever you are starting any search using job posting/description, you will always run the risk of attracting too many want-to-be top performers.

    The true TPs won’t come to you-you will have to go to them. Peer referrals and personal relationships are the most powerful tools for recruiting these TPs. Who is in a better position to know and have a relationship with the TPs in the Industry than a peer or a niche headhunter?

    Maybe what you are implying is that HR should use in-house resources to attract the PCPs and outsource the heavy lifting to the folks that recruit for a living, if they are serious about recruiting the LeBron James type talent.

    To recruit the premium talent you cannot use cheap recruitment methods. It sends the wrong message to the TPs-that you are cheap.

  2. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Dr. Sullivan. Before a company wastes its time, money, and other resources going after people it can never reasonably expect to get (because it has nothing to offer except the deluded hype and expectations of the founders, CXOs, Sr. Execs, and Marketing people who believe that their company is “special”) it should sit down, take a double shot of reality, and figure out the people it CAN reasonably get (http://www.ere.net/2013/02/15/recruiting-supermodels-and-a-tool-to-help-you-do-it/).

    Cheers,
    Keith

  3. Rob Mallery

    Nice article Dr. Sullivan! I’ll even push things a bit further… If anyone I’m interviewing even asks more than once or twice about any of the things on “Paycheck job” list, the interview is essentially over.

    The funny thing about both of these segments is that they don’t even think about the things on the list that they don’t belong. Top performers don’t need to worry about “steady pay” or “equal treatment” because all of those are an absolute given at a company that employs the top 1-2%.

    Conversely, the “Pay-checkers” don’t need to worry about “doing the best work of their life” or whether the company is “innovative and risk-taking”. They’re too busy wondering whether the company has benefits, makes them work past 5:30, and whether payday is 15th and the 30th or every other Friday.

    Listen to a candidate’s questions, and you’ll usually have the answer to what camp they belong within a few minutes.

  4. Jeremy Russon

    Great article John and an analogy I never thought I would see – but it makes perfect sense and is something I have been touting with my colleageus for some time. I am not sure Ken’s generalised response was wholly in keeping with the theme and shows a lack of understanding of the changing in-house market where companies are investing in the tools and time to allow specialists in-house recruiters (not just Generalist HR collegaues) to deliver top talent through proactive networking…..and this trend will continue to increase (just ask Matthew Jeffery for his views !).

    The response that really resonated was Keith’s. I am involved in the attraction of digital talent to a traditional corporate environment and am constantly being asked by Hring Managers to focus on Google, Facebook, etc – yet our brand speaks of traditional values, corporate strength and the cultural stories are in line with these points. Sure, we have had some directly attracted wins and over time I am sure we will change that image but it does need a more segmented approach and a realisation that in the short-term we may need to pay above our normal market position to attract those 75th percentile perfomers.

    On a separate point related to Keith’s differentiators between paycheck and performer, lets not forget that for all of the innovative, ideas-driven, strategic-thinking “supermodels” we need the doers to implement those ideas, to send out the invoices and to collect the revenue !

  5. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Jeremy. A “devil’s advocate” question: suppose you could get the hires you need through a careful and realistic segmented approach appealing to the people you want, who have different values than the majority of your existing employees. Do you:
    1) Modify your company’s values to be more inclusive to the new people’s values?
    2) Replace your company’s older values with the newer ones, recognizing this may increase discontent and turnover?
    3) Isolate these “young whippersnappers” in some sort of a “skunk works” so as to keep their deleterious influence from corrupting and disturbing others?

    As far as the other point about their being two types of employees: I tend to think that when dealing with people- static, binary (yes/no, either/or) models often tend to be simplistic when they just aren’t completely wrong. I believe that people represent a full and dynamic spectrum- some people may be a given thing at one time and circumstances and something else under different ones. Furthermore, I believe that while some people just aren’t very creative or imaginative, when an organization’s fully committed to a supportive environment where EVERYONE form the new hires to the most senior, and from the janitor to the CEO is encouraged and rewarded for challenging the status quo, a company will do far better than those that say creativity and its rewards are the province of a select, elite few. As I frequently point out: in most cases, after a few weeks the most junior and inexperienced person knows far more how to improve his/her own job than any number of CXOs or thought leaders do.
    Why don’t we encourage them to do that?

    Cheers,

    Keith

  6. Jeremy Russon

    Hi Keith. I often do my best thinking when I am walking my dog…….and whilst I was doing that just now I was thinking about the answer I had written and how the latter response may have come across ! I agree fully that there is no simple black and white view of people – I guess these two examples I used are probably the extremes in the spectrum and a culture should never hold back anyone from being able to say “Couldn’t we do it differently”………however, what I was trying to say was we shouldn’tcriticise people for whom it is just a job and who come to work and just do their job because we don’t know their circumstances. They may just be doing the job to pay the mortgage, etc and not be really career-focussed…….one caveat here that they are doing their job well and delivering their objectives ! There can only be one CEO ultimately and the funnel naturally says we need people who are happy to deliver at all levels of the organisation without feeling they have to be constantly striving to do their managers job.

    Now I’ll answer your Devil’s Advocate question….

    IMHO this is context specific in that it depends on what stage the organisation is in. We are undergoing a fairly radical transformation in our business model and distribution systems and I don’t see how our culture as it stands can fully support that change and thus we may need to bring people in who can drive it…..and they may by necessity need to be different to the values of our existing employees. Indeed, if companies are to survive in the digital age they need to look at the very different values of Gen Y, for example, in terms of what is important to them in the work place, how they want to work, etc – otherwise in ten years time, when a large number of the more traditional and established employees may be no longer with the business, the less agile company will struggle to attract even the lower echelons of the talent market !

    A difficult concept to garner for many is that if managed correctly, turnover is a really effective tool for aiding culture change……..but it is admittedly a difficult and risky game to play !

    On the flip-side, since there always is one, if a company is ready for the future in terms of its culture then it should not vary its culture or values to suit so called talent since talent in one organisation is not necessarily talent in another. I have worked in both very traditional corporate environments and also in large companies which had maintained the innovative and fast-paced culture of their early days…….and there were some of the best sales people in that company who would not have dealt with the massive levels of bureaucracy in a more traditional firm. I have seen this phenomenon in action on more than one occasion.

    As for point 3 above – there is evidence to suggest that at certain points in the innovation process it is good to almost segregate those who are innovating from those who aren’t involved…….but it is not about the whippersnappers (though us older folks can also be innovative) rather than the blockers who should be isolated to keep their delirious influence from corrupting and disturbing others.

  7. Keith Halperin

    Hi Keith. I often do my best thinking when I am walking my dog…….and whilst I was doing that just now I was thinking about the answer I had written and how the latter response may have come across ! I agree fully that there is no simple black and white view of people – I guess these two examples I used are probably the extremes in the spectrum and a culture should never hold back anyone from being able to say “Couldn’t we do it differently”………however, what I was trying to say was we shouldn’t criticise people for whom it is just a job and who come to work and just do their job because we don’t know their circumstances. They may just be doing the job to pay the mortgage, etc and not be really career-focussed…….one caveat here that they are doing their job well and delivering their objectives ! There can only be one CEO ultimately and the funnel naturally says we need people who are happy to deliver at all levels of the organisation without feeling they have to be constantly striving to do their managers job.
    KH: Thanks Jeremy. I wasn’t interpreting that you were advocating the simplistic/wrong model, just that some others do on occasion…I wholeheartedly agree that you shouldn’t criticize people who show up every day and give a hard, full day’s work about something they aren’t inspired or passionate about. In fact I think that’s what you should expect from most people most of the time. What ARROGANCE is there in someone who thinks that what they’re hiring somebody to do is inspirational or something worth being passionate about! It has been my experience that when a company talks about the things mentioned in the ”top-performing” category, these things are:
    1) temporary
    2) aspirational
    3) true but not for what YOU”LL do
    4) occasional/partially true
    5) hypocritical or sincere LIES.
    I’ve been in all of these situations, and have come to believe you should really watch your wallet and hold your nose when companies start mentioning these. Such arguments are often most effective with younger, more naïve, more energetic and enthusiastic folks who haven’t been ****** over very much yet.

    Now I’ll answer your Devil’s Advocate question….
    IMHO this is context specific in that it depends on what stage the organisation is in. We are undergoing a fairly radical transformation in our business model and distribution systems and I don’t see how our culture as it stands can fully support that change and thus we may need to bring people in who can drive it…..and they may by necessity need to be different to the values of our existing employees. Indeed, if companies are to survive in the digital age they need to look at the very different values of Gen Y, for example, in terms of what is important to them in the work place, how they want to work, etc – otherwise in ten years time, when a large number of the more traditional and established employees may be no longer with the business, the less agile company will struggle to attract even the lower echelons of the talent market !
    KH: It sounds as if your company has an interesting time ahead. RE: “the less agile company will struggle to attract even the lower echelons of the talent market !” As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, if a company isn’t going after the “Fab 5%” or some very much in demand skill sets, it can usually get really good people just by offering a FT, benefitted job.

    A difficult concept to garner for many is that if managed correctly, turnover is a really effective tool for aiding culture change……..but it is admittedly a difficult and risky game to play !
    KH: Indeed. As long as a company has money to hire recruiters and doesn’t turn over the recruiters, turnover is job security for us.

    On the flip-side, since there always is one, if a company is ready for the future in terms of its culture then it should not vary its culture or values to suit so called talent since talent in one organisation is not necessarily talent in another. I have worked in both very traditional corporate environments and also in large companies which had maintained the innovative and fast-paced culture of their early days…….and there were some of the best sales people in that company who would not have dealt with the massive levels of bureaucracy in a more traditional firm. I have seen this phenomenon in action on more than one occasion.
    KH: I’d enjoy finding out off-line more about these particular companies…

    As for point 3 above – there is evidence to suggest that at certain points in the innovation process it is good to almost segregate those who are innovating from those who aren’t involved…….but it is not about the whippersnappers (though us older folks can also be innovative) rather than the blockers who should be isolated to keep their delirious influence from corrupting and disturbing others.
    KH: Also very true; it’s just that the blockers tend to be very well-placed and well-heeled (have lots of power and money). However, they tend to disappear over time, to be replaced by a new group of innovative people, who usually become blockers as they become successful and older…Funny how that happens…

    Cheers,

    Keith keithsrj@sbcglobal.net

  8. Eric Putkonen

    Great article, John!

    I have been saying something similar over the past couple years, “typical job posts do not affect a potential candidate’s desire to apply.”

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