What the #$##@ Is Human-centered Design and Why Should Anyone in Recruiting Care?

Jill inherited a recruiting function in a large company with operations in numerous locations across the world, although her primary concern was for the operations within her country. With more than 10 locations, some in remote areas, recruiting had always been a struggle. Attracting qualified people, especially at the salaries they were able to offer, was a challenge.

The processes and attraction strategies she inherited were old, tired, and not very successful. While they managed to fill most of the position they had, it was always difficult, and frequently managers were forced to choose people who were their second choices because their first choice decided on another opportunity.

So here she was — leading a group of tired and overworked recruiters with an outmoded strategy. Rather than just rearrange the chairs on the Titanic, as the saying goes, Jill decided to do something vastly different — she decided to try out something she had heard about called human-centered design.

She engaged a local expert in the design process, and before she or her team realized it, they were embarking on an exciting journey. This expert guided them through the five basic steps of the human-centered design process.

The first step was to really nail down the problems they were dealing with. This meant expressing those problems in clear terms without any explanations or excuses. They got together with hiring managers and some of the line workers and began a dialogue about the issues they faced, the reality of working at this company, and the challenges employees faced at these remote locations.

Their end statement was simple but direct: Tough working conditions, remote locations, and only average pay made their opportunities unattractive.

They also learned that their application process was too long and difficult and caused slightly over half of those who started to apply to leave before completing the process.

Once this was clear and once management understood the challenges, the second step was to identify the positions that were most critical and important to the company. They kept this list to five key positions that had to be filled with solid performers in order to meet customer needs and output targets.

This list included two types of engineers, an operations leader, a sales manager, and a customer relations expert.

Their third and crucial step was to begin outlining a new approach to attracting these types of people. This took them several weeks of discussions and meeting with focus groups but they eventually landed on an approach that they felt would be successful. They soon realized that one marketing message would not work, nor would their previous career site content. Each of these positions required a different attraction strategy and different messaging. They experimented in focus groups, brainstormed and crowdsourced ideas with employees, and even tried some of the messaging on current candidates. When they had put together some rough concepts, they engaged a marketing person to help shape them into statements and content for their new career site. They decided to create a few targeted videos explaining what these various roles contributed and what those who took the jobs would receive from the company in terms of intangible benefits.

They decided on a candid messaging model with full transparency about the difficulties of these positions and how others had not been successful. They challenged people to step up to the challenges and see if they could thrive. While this was a risky strategy, they felt it would be more effective in the long run than their past feeble efforts at making the positions sound great.

Once they had developed the ideas and messages they felt would work, they put these into a variety of videos, career pages, and emails for their career site and for social media.

They also put together a task force to tackle the application process. This group was empowered to recommend any changes needed to make applying for a job painless and quick.

This team also assembled focus groups and everyone on the team applied for a job using the current system to document personally how difficult it was. They also looked at the application process at many other companies and at their competitors. Finally, they decided to start over and redesign the entire process. They broke applying for a job into three stages — initial interest stage where candidates had only to write a statement about what they were interested in and why and supply an email address so recruiters could initiate a conversation; a second stage where they submitted a CV or a LinkedIn profile; and if the recruiter indicated continued interest, a stage involving a complete and simplified application.

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The fourth step was to try these out in the real world and see what worked well and what did not. By tracking the response rates to each message and by carefully measuring the amount of discussion, engagement, and interest they generated, they soon discovered which ideas worked best and which were less effective.

This testing and experimenting stage is key to getting a final product that is optimized for your needs. Over the course of several more weeks, they developed some final content and messaging that was highly effective. The new application process created some problems, as many candidates did not want to write a statement. This was soon modified into a checklist and interest/experience survey for a candidate to complete. It was simple and even fun to do and gave recruiters enough information to decide whether to go forward or not. Candidates loved it.

Three months after taking over this function, Jill was proud that most positions were being filled within three weeks — 50 percent faster than before. They had a pipeline of candidates and were getting positive remarks from employees and candidates about the candor of their job descriptions.  Applications were up and the candidate quality improved.

This redesign was effective and gave the recruiters a new perspective on what they did and how much it could be improved with very little work. Human-centered design has as long and successful history in developing products and in designing services. It can have a positive impact on your success as a recruiter, and you can gain the fundamental skills through the upcoming workshop (Wednesday, October 26 at the ERE conference in New Orleans).

Kevin Wheeler

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.