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May 5, 2021
This article is part of a series called Strategy Safari.

There’s nothing like a little scandal to suddenly turn candidates into investigative journalists.

When the news broke about Basecamp this week, I immediately thought about the recruiters who would be asked to backfill the 33% of staff who took buyouts in the aftermath. Regardless of how you view the (tone-deaf, privileged, dumbass) decisions made by leadership at the company, the reality is that candidates are going to ask about it, and given how mishandled the whole thing appears to have been, I have concerns about how well recruiters and hiring managers are going to answer questions.

Basecamp isn’t the first company to court controversy, and it certainly won’t be the last. Candidates pay attention to what’s happening, especially when what’s happening makes the headlines. Anything from sexual harassment, pay inequity, racism, or a mixture of issues will make a candidate think twice about accepting an offer — even if the event in question happened years ago. And don’t think you’re off the hook if your organization’s “only” issue is high turnover or a reputation as a tough place to work. Everything is fair game, and your hiring team is on the frontline of sharing the message.

Rather than waiting until an emergency forces you to come up with a plan, the savvy talent acquisition leader knows to get out ahead of it. 

Ideally, the first step would be to work to eliminate the root cause of the issues that are driving the negative stories; however, that’s not always something you can control or solve in a timely fashion. So what is a leader to do? 

Here are some suggestions on how you can prepare your team, your hiring managers, and your message for candidates:

Be Honest in Assessing Your Org — Warts and All 

You know what your organization is like. I mean, you work there. And you’re in recruiting, which is either part of HR or works closely with HR — so you see how the sausage is made. This puts you in a unique position to anticipate the concerns your candidates will have about accepting a role with the company.

Public Relations/Corporate Communication Is Your Best Friend

If the scandal is big enough, the “official” story from the company will come from this group. It’s important to remain aligned with this story, without sounding too much like a scripted actor. Work with your communications team to find out what’s in scope and what’s out of bounds when it comes to the topic. The goal is not to lie. The goal is to find a way to talk about it honestly without violating trust — on both sides.

Keep Recruiters and Hiring Managers in the Loop

Share talking points with anyone who may be talking to a candidate — recruiters, hiring managers, security, receptionists, the person who will be walking the candidate from room to room. Anyone. Savvy candidates will ask similar questions to everyone they encounter on interview day. It’s important that messaging is consistent.

Balance Selling With Honesty

Yeah, I know, most recruiters have a touch of con artist in them, and sometimes you have to put lipstick on a pig. But make sure your recruiters don’t go too far. Encourage everyone to find the right balance. You can acknowledge the bad while sharing the good. What has the organization done to address the issues? Why do you like working there? 

I once worked for a company that “won” worst place to work in America —  twice in a row. (I know.) And I still had to hire people to be on my team. I got through it by being truthful: Here’s what’s challenging about our culture; here’s why I’m still working within that culture. And it’s OK to say no job is forever. I sold the fact they’d gain experience. I told them I would help them grow their careers. And if it got to a point where they wanted to move on, I said I would help them do that. 

Quit and Go Work Somewhere Else

Seriously, some turds just can’t be polished. 

Hopefully, you never have to navigate the landmine of a company that implodes in public. But even if your company only implodes discreetly behind closed doors, you need to ensure everyone involved is prepared to talk about it. 

I guarantee that your candidates will. 

This article is part of a series called Strategy Safari.
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