Aaron Hurst is an expert on the science of purpose at work. He is also the CEO and co-founder of Imperative, a social-learning platform that enables employees to help each other grow and be fulfilled at work. I recently spoke to Aaron about the intersection of recruitment and purpose, how companies sometimes get it wrong — and how you can get it right.
Why do you feel purpose is an important topic?
The role of purpose gets talked about a lot at companies, but we don’t talk enough about the importance of purpose as it relates specifically to recruiters. We don’t talk enough about how connecting with purpose on a daily basis can help cultivate recruiting teams in ways that tie to success. We really need to build practices that build purpose into not only company culture but the fabric of recruiting.
Why do you think purpose is particularly important to how recruiters do their jobs?
Because recruiting is the most social of jobs in an organization. Recruiters spend most of their time connecting with people. Sure, salespeople do that too, but they are selling a product. Recruiters are selling relationships and culture. They have to make people feel like they are going to be part of something bigger than themselves. More than that, recruiters have to first believe that about themselves — they have to be able to get meaning from their own work before they can help candidates find their own meaning in work.
Do many recruiters do a good job of connecting their roles to purpose?
Roughly ⅓ do this well, another ⅓ struggle, and ⅓ are in the middle. A lot of people and companies pay lip service to purpose. Some companies reinforce it. Some don’t. Companies need to create a culture in which colleagues are regularly having conversations reflecting on work and how to maximize impact. Peer-coaching can make a huge difference to make that happen. It’s also about investing time to cultivate storytelling — a lot of good recruitment is about storytelling.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about purpose at work?
That it must be tied to a big cause. That it has to be about the broad impact a company has on the world. But purpose is much more about the day-to-day of work — making meaningful contributions on a daily basis, and having meaningful relationships. A lot of people believe that you can strictly sell purpose through working only at a nonprofit or a social-benefit organization. But you can talk about purpose in any industry, because there’s always an opportunity to build relationships and care for people.
I think many companies expect people to connect with the corporate purpose, but —
But purpose needs to start with yourself. It’s about what brings meaning to you. The organization’s purpose won’t stick and it will seem pretty superficial unless you can first create your own meaning for your work. Then it’s about finding that intersection of your purpose with your company’s. You can’t do that if you don’t know what yours is first. People need to anchor reflection on their company’s purpose in their own sense of self.
Our research with LinkedIn a few years ago found that recruitment more than any other profession is impacted by purpose. Recruiters have a tremendous amount of power as change agents in their companies, so a purpose-driven recruitment department can help create the change that is needed to better attract talent. I also believe in building purpose into the full employee lifecycle. Too often, organizations don’t build it into recruitment and onboarding, but building purpose into these functions can really help employees and organizations better succeed.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited since its original posting.