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Should Companies Market Careers Like Products?.

  • 05.31.2019

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  • John Gardner

Employer Branding was built on the foundations of product marketing, but it might not be the best way forward.

For decades, Human Resources and Talent Acquisition teams have leveraged corporate marketing notions of funnel optimization, which often means large budgets to inform a weary, if not saturated, consuming public. Humor is a very popular way to get attention, likes, and maybe even new customers, but jobs are neither product nor service. It’s not even easy to characterize them as a knowable or consistent experience, even though they are certainly an experience. Imagine a company with strong brand awareness, lots of revenue, and explosive growth. It should be easy to simply carry over the B2C and B2B message platforms to careers. However, more often than not, that’s not the case. The difficulty lies in the fact that careers are uniquely personal and idiosyncratic. They are often an independent experience of the very brand promise that may have grabbed a candidate’s interest in the first place. Take Google as an example. Google gets over two million applications per year but they’re not hiring anywhere close to two million people. To a B2C marketer, that should be a success. Two million people want in! But in recruiting, that’s completely overwhelming to hiring teams because Google is going to say no to over 99.9% of those applicants. In this case, who is really winning? The funnel is far from optimized and Google may be missing out on the best talent available.


In recruiting, a foundational mantra has been “if you build it, they will come,” meaning Employer Brand. In the past, Employer Brand development would start with a product and a service brand marketing playbook. However, recent research says that’s not such a great idea. Candidates don’t choose job opportunities solely because of brand, although that can certainly be a variable. We apply to companies but we’re really applying to further our career. It’s a subtle shift in the way Employer Brand can either be a coach or simply another product marketing experiment. We purchase things because of how we assess their value from a wide range of influences and variables. We choose companies to apply to and accept their offers because of how we assess their value from a wide range of influences and careers. Do you really want to laugh out loud in stitches about a career opportunity? More likely, you want to know as much as you can about the team you’ll work with, the kinds of challenges that might come your way, how benefits and rewards are offered, and what it feels like to go to work every day. By rethinking the paradigm that “if you build it they will come” to “if you be my coach, helping me see value in all it’s glorious ways and shapes and sizes, you’ve created value for me in my search,” you can start to see how comparing product marketing and careers starts to sound like apples and brake pads. “Our Ad agency is one of the world’s best and yet they struggle with our careers marketing. Why?”  We’ve heard these types of questions more than a few times over the years. The issue is not talent, cleverness, great design or even marketing. It’s about being open to a new way of seeing, one where we don’t assume value is easy to see. We start by asking how and why and where and when people assess value in career opportunities. We use the answers to those questions to connect and align. That should sound pretty obvious for anyone who’s ever searched for a job, but it tends not to be common in practice. For one reason, it’s more work. A lot of effort and research often goes into making something simple for a wide audience. For example, a great deal of value proposition research asks questions that people intuitively know and feel after just a few short weeks of working at a company. Yet the process is months long, with beautiful graphs telling us people like our benefits, or think we should offer more. We’re asking the wrong questions, and perhaps not reaching out to external populations as much as we should because it’s costly. When we ask, “How does working here create value for you in your career and your life outside of work?” or “How do you view long term return on your investment in time, elbow grease, late nights, weekends here and there, difficult things to solve, and so on,” we start getting somewhere.  With answers to those kinds of questions, a whole new category of insights is revealed, and ones that really make a difference.  What makes B2C marketing so good in customer acquisition and attention getting is precisely what holds it back when it comes to recruitment marketing.  


Everyone experiences career value a little differently, but by and large, people tend to find value in similar place. Whether someone is looking for work-life balance, challenging technical work, a defined career path, or any number of other value drivers, it’s important to show candidates the places where you align with them on their priorities. Recruiting used to be more of a one-way street where employers explained their needs to candidates and what they were willing to offer to get it. But more and more, recruiting is becoming a two-way street where employers need to listen to candidates and align with them on their values in order to create a connection and lay the foundation for a successful partnership. Making those connections is what truly makes a difference. If a candidate feels understood, the connection is far more valuable than any ‘selling’ tactic can ever hope for. Why? Because deep down, we all want to be understood, welcomed, rewarded, encouraged, and to feel like we’re growing professionally. That’s easy to say but very hard to communicate authentically. Can we change the way we see careers? Rather than seeing them as something to market, can we see them as an opportunity to coach people with real needs, hopes, and aspirations? It may not be easy, but it is well worth the effort.

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