How to Recruit Walk-ins and Why ‘We’re Hiring’ Banners Don’t Work

We’re hiring.” You can’t miss seeing a banner with this type of message on it, because with a growing economy, they’re simply everywhere. But unfortunately, most of these banners fail to successfully recruit their target “walk-in” applicants, because of the ineffective recruiting messages that they usually contain. In fact, the worst-performing hiring source (out of 11) are “walk-ins,” with only 0.7 percent of all hires. This amount is minuscule compared to nearly 20 percent of hires coming from the No. 1 source, employee referrals (source: CareerXroads).

However, “walk-ins” are desirable recruits for at least three reasons:

  1. They already know your firm — because they are frequently in your proximity, they are likely to already know about your firm, so you have a recruiting advantage over firms that they know little about.
  2. They may be your customers — because your targets must be in the vicinity in order to see your banner, if your firm is open to the public, there is a good chance that those that read your banner are already your customers. And being customers makes them desirable recruits because they probably already know and like your firm and its products.
  3. A lower probability of commute issues — if they managed to read your recruiting banner, it is likely that they already live or work close to your work site. And therefore as employees, they will probably not have commute issues. Incidentally, although most attracted by a “we’re hiring” sign will be active job seekers; some currently employed non-lookers (the so-called passives) may suddenly have an interest in joining your firm because it is closer than their current job and they already know and like your firm.

So, if you want to maximize the number and the quality of walk-in recruits, take proactive steps for improving the most common recruiting tool for attracting them (recruiting banners).

Some Messages Inadvertently Turn Off Recruiting Prospects

The fact that these banners don’t produce great results in recruiting is a bit surprising because point-of-purchase signs and banners that are created by marketing and other business functions traditionally produce significant results. My research has found that recruiting’s banners underperform primarily because the messages that they carry are not focused on selling recruits.

Let’s look at a weak recruiting banner that I saw the other day. The banner in front of this retail establishment read:

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 11.33.34 AM

The chances of the above message producing good recruiting results is extremely low. This is because this type of “hiring for all jobs” message can leave the impression with potential recruits that the organization is in trouble, and thus it is desperate for talent. Having so many openings may make it seem like no one wants to work there. And potential recruits might further think that if they did take a job there, they would probably be overworked, because the organization is likely to be severely understaffed.

The message and the results could be improved if the banner included phrases indicating that the multi-openings were strictly a result of rapid company growth e.g. “because of rapid company growth, we now have openings in all positions.” Or alternatively if the banner included the phrase “After a hiring freeze, we’re finally hiring again,” indicating a past hiring freeze is finally over and that freeze is the primary reason why so many jobs are now open all at once.

Part of the Message Must Sell Your Opportunity

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 11.31.30 AM

This type of short and simple “Help Wanted” or “We’re Hiring” message has a limited impact because it does nothing more than notify people that you are hiring. Notification messages will attract unemployed people. However, you simply can’t expect to attract people who already have a job or “in-demand” prospects who have multiple job choices unless you effectively sell them on the opportunity. And because these “Help Wanted” type messages are so short, there is no selling component that covers the opportunity, the company or the great reasons (or benefits/perks) to work there.

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Ways to Improve Your “Walk-in” Recruiting Results

In addition to the two problems cited above, there are many additional problems associated with the traditional content and the location of these recruiting banners. Fortunately, all of these problems can be overcome. You can at least double your walk-in recruiting results by adding some of the features highlighted in the next section.

  • Include a message that makes the company sound like a great place to work — if you want to attract the best performers, go beyond notifying them that you have openings and to clearly reveal why a desired prospect would want to work at your firm. You can make your company appear to be exciting by including phrases like “Work at the industry leader,” “Work at an award-winning firm,” “Help us build the future” or “Grow along with us.” Some additional phrases to consider include “The best in our industry start their career here,” “We are rated as a top place to work,” If you are passionate about customer service, you will love it here” or “We carry the hottest/latest products.” Incidentally, also avoid putting up a cheap looking sign or banner, because that might cause potential applicants to consider your firm to be cheap.
  • Also make the work itself sound compelling — top performers care a great deal about the work that they’ll be doing. So beyond showing them that your firm is great, you also need to show top performers why the work is compelling. You can make the work sound compelling by including phrases like “Work with the latest technology,” “We offer a chance to make a difference,” “Are you ready for a job you’ll love?”, “Enjoy our freedom to innovate and create,” “Come join the fun” or “An opportunity to do the best work of your life.”
  • Let prospects know that they will have a chance to work with the best people — you can further get the attention of potential recruits by exciting them about the team members who they will get to work with. To do that, consider including phrases like “Join our tight-knit team of winners,” “Work alongside and learn from the best” or “Work alongside our inspirational managers.” You may even be able to impress your customers and increase your sales at the same time by adding a phrase like “an opportunity to serve the world’s best customers.” Incidentally, because your firm’s customers know and like your products, the data indicates that they often make great employees. A banner or sign containing a message like “If you love our product and our environment, why not join our team” can be highly effective for recruiting your customers.
  • Make it clear who you are targeting — a “Need work?” sign will generally encourage the unemployed to apply, but ironically, it can also discourage those who already have a job. A generic “Help Wanted” sign will encourage everyone to inquire, even those who you are not targeting. So if you are trying to focus your recruiting on attracting currently employed individuals who are either top performers or individuals with special skills, include a description of your specific recruiting target in your banner message. You can help to limit those who apply by including phrases like “Only the experience should apply,” “We are seeking seasoned employees with advanced skills in …” or “Only exceptional talent need apply.” In addition, if you have a specific need in certain job areas, mention the positions or the job family that you are targeting as part of your banner message.
  • Make your targets feel wanted — it never hurts to include phrases that make your targets feel important and wanted. One of the best ways to do that is to include what I call “welcoming phrases.” Some possibilities include “We want you!”, “We need your passion,” “We’re almost there, we need you to complete our team” or “Please accept our invitation to join our team.”
  • Rotate your banners and your message — if you leave the same banner up for a long period of time, it may send an unintended message that something bad is keeping you from filling your positions. And if an unchanged banner gets weather worn, it may further reinforce the message that something is wrong. The most effective approach is to keep your banner and its message fresh by periodically rotating them as often as each week. Yes, creating multiple banners or signs is expensive, but after a while the same old banner simply will no longer be noticed. And if you can afford it, a rented electronic sign will allow you to continually change your message.
  • Make the banner visually appealing — if your work involves creativity, avoid a dull or uncreative looking sign or banner because that might cause the most creative potential recruits to reject your firm. And if you want your banner to be easily noticed by all of your targets, use multiple colors and easy-to-read fonts. Include your logo or pictures, because they will usually cause your targets to spend more time looking at your banner or sign. On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want your banner or sign to be “too busy” because too much information may take more time to read than your target has available.
  • The location of the banner/sign matters — any banner should be pretested to ensure that it can be seen and read by targets who are driving by (if that is your goal) and by those walking in the vicinity. Obviously you want your banner to be seen, but if it’s too large and prominent, some may view it as an indication of desperation at your firm. Rather than just having an on-site banner, another advertising option that has been successfully used by many firms is a billboard. You can improve the impact of a billboard if it is placed prominently on a commuter route close to your facility or near a competitor’s site. If you recruit for a retail establishment, many firms have found a sign or banner inside the facility can also be effective. In the retail environment, having your employees where T-shirts with recruiting slogans or “ask me about working here” pins can also be an effective supplement to your banner. Some firms have printed “we are hiring” messages on their receipts and others have placed recruiting messages in the large packages that their product comes in.
  • Reveal an opportunity to have great benefits — you have to be careful about including specific information about your hourly pay rates on a banner, because you might end up attracting recruits who only care about the money. However, if you already offer above average benefits, phrases like “full health benefits” or “paid vacation” might excite potential recruits who don’t currently have them.
  • Entice your targets to take the time to apply — creating a sense of urgency can motivate your targets to actually complete an application for a job and to do it right away. As a result, add phrases that encourage them to act immediately, like “Join us today,” “Don’t hesitate, apply immediately” or “Come in and apply today.” Because some potential recruits simply won’t be able to come in immediately, don’t forget to list on your banner a link to your application website, the name of your mobile app, a link to your social media page, and/or the phone number of a recruiter. If you are also offering immediate on-site interviews, be sure and specify the times where they can walk in for an interview. Your recruiting targets may hesitate to take action if they think that the application process will be time consuming. You can make the application process appear painless by including sub-messages like “Applying takes less than five minutes,” “You can apply directly using your smart phone,” or “We won’t keep you hanging, we’ll let you know the same day.” If you operate a retail establishment, avoid providing paper applications to walk-ins because few that are picked up are ever returned. Instead consider a standalone application kiosk. Another new but exciting option is to place a “Apply on the go” dispenser in your high-traffic areas. This dispenser easily releases a credit card sized “application card” that includes a QR code, which allows anyone with a smart phone to immediately visit your mobile job application site.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, weak recruiting banners are hardly unusual. I normally attribute the kindergarten-ish quality of most “help-wanted” banners to corporate recruiting functions and small business owners who are not data-driven. However, despite their many shortcomings, my conclusion is that they should be improved, not dropped. So create and manage recruitment banners in a more scientific and data-driven way, so that they produce both a greater volume and a higher quality of new hires.

Dr. John Sullivan

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," Staffing.org 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 www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.