Authenticity: Assessing Whether Your Recruiting Messages Are Effective (Part 1 of 2)

I’m a major advocate of parallel benchmarking, i.e. learning from the best practices that have been successful in completely different business functions or industries than your own. A key parallel practice from advertising and marketing that recruiting and HR practitioners need to be aware of is “delivering authenticity.”

Being authentic is about much more than simply being accurate. It’s about developing a perception among your target audience that they can trust what you say, that your message is credible, honest, or genuine, and ultimately convincing. There are many times when people are accurate in what they communicate, but not credible or perceived as being genuine.

As a subject, authenticity has received much more attention these days, largely due to the rapid growth of social media, which many perceive as a more authentic communications channel. Peer-to-peer messaging, a tenet of social media, isn’t subject to the layers of bureaucratic editing that render most corporate messages generic and bland.

Compounding the issue today is the fact that many of us communicate with a highly diverse global audience comprised of individuals from different cultures each with established expectations and communication idiosyncrasies.

Most of the discussion about authenticity has been limited to expounding the need for it, with little attention being paid to how to assess or measure the degree to which your messages are in fact perceived as authentic. This article focuses on the approaches that an organization can use to assess the authenticity of recruiting messages.

Most Current Recruiting Messages Aren’t Authentic

Recruiting messages can be presented via a variety of channels, including corporate websites, job postings, print collateral, social media services, and during 1:1 interaction throughout the assessment and hiring process. Unfortunately, regardless of the channel used, most recruiting communications rate low on authenticity. Over the years the language used to “differentiate” an organization has become commonplace and today accomplishes the exact opposite of what it was introduced to do. While an organization may honestly work to enable a family-friendly environment, such generic claims could be discounted or ignored because most organizations make similar claims. Given that candidates today can quickly peer validate corporate communications, organizations must abandon their legacy approach to communication and devise measures to test the authenticity of all messages moving forward.

Seven Factors That Increase Authenticity

There are a variety of factors that increase a message’s probability of being perceived as authentic, including:

  • Support data — the availability of data or specifics about a program that support the subject of the message.
  • Credibility of the source — the credibility of the source based on the accuracy of previous messages.
  • Shared values — the perception of shared values and experiences between the author and the reader.
  • Candidness — the degree to which messages acknowledge imperfection.
  • The degree of professionalism — the extent of professional appearance in the design, editing, and writing, as well as any pictures that are included (too much isn’t a good thing).
  • The degree of filtering — the extent to which messages are scripted, screened, or filtered by corporate executives.
  • Two-way messaging — the extent to which you provide opportunities for questions, feedback, and comments by others.

Checklists for Assessing Your Current Recruiting Messages

Let’s assume that your corporation already has developed a corporate website and a complete set of recruiting communications. Use the following checklists for to determine whether your approaches to communicate via your website, social networking initiatives, and structured interview process rate high on authenticity.

Assessing Your Corporate Website

Examine your current website using the following checklist. Tally your points to determine how authentic your efforts are.

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  1. Overall design (2 points) — does the overall design of the site appear to be overly “corporate,” i.e. generic layout, tightly controlled content spaces, conformity in presentation of content? If no, award yourself two points. (Note: Being overly consistent in messaging can make your organization’s messages seem controlled and perceived as rigid and intolerant of diversity).
  2. Pictures (2 points) — do pictures presented include real employees in unscripted activities? If yes, award yourself two points. (Note: Professionally staged photos where everyone is smiling, photogenic, and every possible demographic group is represented are immediately identifiable as “fake.”)
  3. Videos (2 points) — does your site feature or link to externally hosted employee-produced videos offering non-scripted insight into life inside the organization? If yes, award yourself two points. (Note: Videos that are professionally made or edited are easily dismissed as propaganda.)
  4. Candid information (2 points) — does your site share candid information about current challenges, weaknesses, and past mistakes that demonstrate that you know your organization isn’t perfect, but that you are aware and acknowledge your shortcomings? If yes, award yourself two points. (Note: It’s a lot easier to trust positive information from a source that shares or at least doesn’t try to hide less-than-positive information.)
  5. An opportunity to interact (2 points) — does your site provide visitors with the ability to comment on your content or to ask questions? If yes, award yourself two points. (Note: Even if individuals choose not to take advantage of this option, soliciting feedback, questions, and comments sends a message that you are willing to listen.)
  6. Blogs (2 points) — does your site link to externally hosted blogs written by current employees, alumni, and other relevant stakeholders? If yes, award yourself two points. (Note: Linking to externally hosted content not subject to PR editing sends a message to your audience that you are not afraid of how those who know your organization best will write about it.)
  7. Employee profiles (1 point) — does your site serve up in-depth profiles of employees and their work, excluding executives and managers? If yes, award yourself one point.
  8. Quotes (1 point) — are a majority of the quotes that appear on the site attributed to a named employee in a non-managerial or non-recruiting-related role? If yes, award yourself one point.
  9. Glowing adjectives (1 point) — when presenting something positive, is it presented free of a long list of glowing adjectives such as excellent, great, leading, infinite, etc.? If yes, award yourself one point. (Note: Contrary to what you may have learned in English class, a long list of glowing adjectives in copy doesn’t inspire action. Research shoes it actually turns the audience off!)
  10. Values and culture (1 point) — does the information presented that covers the corporate culture and values provide specific examples of how your organization acts in certain situations that bring the culture and values to life? If yes, award yourself one point.
  11. Podcasts (1 point) — does the site provide access to podcasts made by managers discussing their groups’ work, without an identifiable script? If yes, award yourself one point.
  12. Links to external information (1 point) — does the site provide links to information about the organization developed and maintained by third parties, such as management publications, trade associates, professional groups, etc? If yes, award yourself one point.
  13. Numbers and dollars (1 point) — when specific programs are mentioned in website copy, do you disclose the participation rate by employees in the program, or the level of investment the organization has made to make the program available? If yes, award yourself one point.
  14. Frequently asked questions (1 point) — does your site present frequently asked questions and answers that appear in language a candidate may actually use, versus that of a recruiter, PR representative, or in-house council? If yes, award yourself one point.
  15. Diversity (1 point) — does your website disclose how your organization defines diversity, what percentage of the workforce falls into each diversity classification, and what unique programs exist to support diverse individuals? If yes, award yourself one point.
  16. Benefits (1 point) — if your site discloses information about benefits, is the information detailed enough that potential candidates could compare it to past packages or offerings from other organizations? If yes, award yourself one point.
  17. Regional variations (1 point) — does the information provided vary based on the location of the visitor? If yes, award yourself one point.

Out of the 22 possible points for authenticity on a corporate career website, how do you score? If you scored:

16-22 Your organization excels at being authentic via its corporate career site.

11-15 Your getting there, but a little more work is needed.

0-10 Your organization’s website is in need of a serious overhaul!

In the next installment of this series, I’ll tackle measuring the authenticity of social media initiatives and your interview process.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.