The Talent Crisis: Aspirational vs. Actual

candidate messaging

Last week my friend/colleague Jena Brown and I had a really good discussion about the role (perhaps) that HR, TA and Talent Marketers have played in our current talent crisis. What, we discussed, are some of the reasons that are causing employees to resign in droves? Why are organizations struggling with attracting candidates? Why are we hearing far too many stories of people going through on-boarding and then either pulling out at the last minute or simply no-showing on Day 1?

One aspect that Jena pointed out was that companies have created fluffy marketing and communications that aren’t real or realized throughout the company. She followed up with this example on LinkedIn:

Company says hourly employees are the heroes of everything but continues treating them like replaceable robots – work longer, work harder, and little room for flexibility (oh yeah, those flexibility benefits and messaging only applies to our non-hero employees). Employee sees company messaging vs their reality and is now faced with a value-based decision…. ‘Do I contribute to society like I want by working (like a dog for many) for some generalized praise or can I live off the stimulus check and not have to deal with the crap at work? Either way I have to find a way to regain dignity and sense of value.’”


The discussion moved forward into some other reasons that may be contributing to the current attraction/retention crisis including when one publicly positions their company as committed to an issue while simultaneously doing the opposite and the tendency of far too many organizations to merely copy the marketing/messaging from others (resulting in an overload of sameness).

In my estimation there are two factors at play.

First, as the folks tasked with attracting candidates and retaining employees, we often fail to distinguish between “aspirational” and “actual.” Sometimes it’s because we don’t stop to think about the difference between the two. Sometimes it’s because we know the actual is such crap that the only way we believe we can craft a compelling message is to just focus on the aspirational.

The aspirational world is, for many of us, the fantasy land where (a) people really are the most important asset (b) the workplace does provide flexibility, and (c) ideas are heard and collaboration is a shared value.

Secondly, we (the collective “we” in organizations around the world and in functions that cross ALL department lines) confuse activity with impact.  This is what leads companies to hop on the “performative acts” bandwagon; copying and pasting quotes, messages and graphics that align with whatever-month-we-are-celebrating (but only for that month of course) or deciding it’s time to insert the badge-du-jour because everyone else is doing it.

So what to do?

As Jena pointed out, panic has set in because our predictive models aren’t working, and the current candidate/employee behaviors aren’t what we’ve come to expect. (And thus, predictably, many have moved into reactive mode and tossed out any plans to work on strategy that truly can create more balance for those ‘heroes’ in the workforce).

The first step?  Speak the truth; and companies and HR, TA and Talent Marketing professionals need to be bold enough to do so. (and no; not with one of those bullshit and cruel job adverts that belittle and shame people). It’s perfectly fine to say “our pay is average, our benefits are mediocre, and when you punch in for the day you will work your ass off. But we’ll treat you fairly, work with you on your schedule, always tell you the truth and most importantly we’ll never sugar coat stuff.”

I once worked for a company with high-turnover (industry norm) and thus, obviously, high-volume recruiting. We had strong applicant flow, so we clearly communicated up front with candidates about the pay, the pace, the workplace rules, and the not-particularly-competitive benefits. (Our goal was to get folks to self-select out).  My favorite saying, crafted by one of our recruiters, was one we used across the department when speaking with candidates “we realize this will probably not be your forever job or even your forever company, but it can perhaps be a great job and a great company for you right now.”

The truth. The actual truth.  

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The Dark Web of EMPLOYER References

It goes both ways of course; candidates seek information on a prospective employer AND companies search for nuggets of digestible content on a new hire.

LinkedIn profiles are examined and mined not only for information but also for contacts, connections and leads. Various and assorted chrome extensions are added to the recruiters’ toolkit and every nugget of publicly available information is dissected and served up on the new-hire-prospectus. Facebook? Twitter? Snapchat? Who are the candidate’s friends and what, if anything, can we see about what s/he posted, liked, or retweeted?

Fancy and techy and useful…sure. But sweet baby Moses if we’ve sat through one presentation or demo on this sort of stuff…we’ve sat through 100. We get it; tech is our savior and time saver. We can source and search and seek intel all day long.

Yet…

… now, here’s a guy.

He’s a friend and former co-worker who got recruited for a job. He’s been phone interviewing and in-person interviewing. He’s been researching and calling people. He’s been immersed in the voir dire phase with a bunch of know-nothings as he attempts to find out “who knows who and what and when and how did they know it?” He’s been navigating this discovery for a role, and an industry, where people are not online. Glassdoor and Indeed feedback is minimal. (I know ya’ll find that hard to believe. But it’s true.)

His personal research has revealed data-less LinkedIn profiles (if they have one at all) for all the big players. The gig is in an Amish-style industry (who said incestuous? not me?!) where outsiders are rare. Still, at the same time, previous employees and his own personal industry contacts, once known, have fallen off the grid.

Phone calls? Unanswered.

Google searches? In vain.

How, one asks, can he find any meat about that prospective employer when the only food being served is pablum? There are only slim morsels available; lovingly and expensively regurgitated on the company career page. (#EmployeeBranding!! #JazzHands!!)

“Time,” said I, “to head to the Dark Web.”

And then we giggled. Because neither one of us have any freaking idea how to actually ‘get’ to the Dark Web.

BUT… how cool would that be? A secret bitcoin/botnet place where candidates could find info – the real deal! – about their prospective employer.

Priceless.

(not Collinsworth-less) 

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Branded a Loser: Vintage Candidate Experience?

offending_stewardesses-211x300Ah yes the ’70s.  Post the introduction of the Pill.  Post Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The era of Title IX and the (failed) attempt to get the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratified by the states in order to become part of the US Constitution.  Those pesky second-wave feminists were busy.

And in a decade when air travel was still viewed as a glamorous experience complete with ashtrays, cocktails in stemware and people who dressed up for a trip to the airport (I’m looking at you guy-in-sweat-stained-unbuttoned-shirt with a bag from McDonalds’s that sat next to me on a recent flight) the fine folks at Eastern Airlines apparently settled on a way to make sure their consumer brand (especially for the male business traveler) matched their employer brand.  Their solution? Shame not just their job candidates but all women.

“Presenting the Losers” (picture above)

The copy reads:

“Pretty good, aren’t they?  We admit it.  And they’re probably good enough to get a job practically anywhere they want.

But not as Eastern Airline stewardesses.

We pass up around 19 girls, before we get one that qualifies.  If looks were everything, it wouldn’t be tough.  Sure, we want them to be pretty…don’t you?  That’s why we look at her face, her make-up, her complexion, her figure, her weight, her legs, her grooming, her nails and her hair.

But we don’t stop there.  We talk.  And we listen.  We listen to her voice, her speech.  We judge her personality, her maturity, her intelligence, her intentions, her enthusiasm, her resiliency and her stamina.

We don’t want a stewardess to be impatient with a question you may have, or careless in serving your dinner, or unconcerned about your needs.

So we try to eliminate these problems by taking a lot more time and passing up a lot more girls.

It may make our job a little harder.  But it makes your flying a lot easier.”

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How nice.  They actually ‘talked and listened’ during the selection process rather than just judging hair, nails and bust-waist-hip ratio. And check it out 1970’s job candidates – if you were fortunate enough to pass phase 1 (the ugly screen) Eastern Airlines kindly laid out the job competencies right there in the advertisement: patiencepersonality, maturity, intelligence, intentions, enthusiasm, resiliency and stamina. 

After your trip to the beauty parlor and the make-up counter you might have had enough time to think about answers for the moment you were actually deigned worthy enough to enter into conversation about actual skills and abilities.

Groovy. 

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This post originally ran over at the HR Schoolhouse in 2014. Thanks to my friend Trish McFarlane for reminding me about it yesterday which led to my re-running it from the archives. 

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