While there may not be an “I” in “Team” (for those of you who ignore cliches or spell check), there is certainly a “me.” And in our constantly connected, socially savvy society, it’s really all about “me” – with an increasing emphasis placed the individual perspective over the interests of the collective. Because, more and more, ‘we’ (second person) put a premium on “me” (first person) – and it looks like there’s no stopping the rise of the cult of personality branding that defines our societal norms today.
A recent longitudinal study by UCLA sociologists traced the entomological evolution of expression by analyzing the text of 1.5 million books, written over a span of two centuries. The results were definitive, if not surprising, showing a shift towards individualism through an exponential increase in the frequency of words like “get,” “choose,” and “feel,” accompanied by a precipitous drop in words like “give,” “authority,” and “act,” among others.
What’s reflected in literature is reinforced by industrial psychology; research by San Diego University professor Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego University supports a similar shift from objective reality to subjective perception, with individualism transforming the de facto currency of the way we communicate about our work – a focus on ourselves that, Dr. Twenge suggests, has led to an unprecedented level of narcissism in the workforce – and there’s nothing borderline about the predominance of this particular personality disorder at employers everywhere.
So, in a world where everyone is spending their time gazing at their own reflection, it’s only natural to reflect on what this psychological and societal shift means for those of us responsible for talent attraction at our respective organizations?
We’ve spent the last decade or so building programs designed to essentially share the story of work through the lens of the company, defining culture through the lens of corporate communications and unified messaging – best practices that are slowly fading into obsolescence as “we” transforms into “me” in the minds of most candidates, clients and coworkers. That’s why creating compelling messages specifically segmented by demographics are necessary for creating a call to action in talent attraction that talent will actually hear.
For the Boomers and Generation X, those drivers include sharing stories of interesting work, insightful experiences and impactful outcomes, all of which more experienced workers place a premium on when adjudicating an employer brand or new opportunity. For the emerging workforce, those notorious Millennials we’ve been talking about for what seems like a millennium, it’s fairly well documented that a focus on extrinsic, instead of intrinsic, values and value propositions serve as the most impactful drivers.
These extrinsic drivers include things like overall brand prestige, professional development opportunities, corporate social responsibility and the life that your work-life balance affords.
Talent Attraction: Sharing the Meaning of Work
While employer-driven messaging of results-driven work resonate more meaningfully with more experienced workers, this doesn’t mean that those stories shouldn’t also be shared with the emerging workforce as well -after all, there’s wisdom in experience, and wisdom in showcasing what that experience looks like at an employer.
It’s essential to demonstrate what success looks like from a development and career path perspective, infusing that focus on work-based activities with glimpses of the off-the-clock or after hours elements that, in tandem, create a holistic talent attraction strategy.
Deloitte has done this particularly well with their “Year One Wisdom” campaign. This series of talent attraction short films was designed around sharing the stories of new hires to their prospective counterparts by focusing on what they learned in their first year at the firm – which is about as far out as most Millennials are looking when considering career opportunities.
For example, Holly shares the benefits of rapid ‘status’ acceleration through Deloitte’s technology consulting practice, allowing for fast tracked growth within the first year of employment – a pretty sweet deal for most Gen Y workers. Mix in that story with shots of her on a yoga mat and the backdrop of a home that looks like it jumped out of an Ikea showroom, and you’ve got a mix of personal and professional that works together to create a compelling talent attraction message for emerging workers.
Similarly, we learn the story of Xenia, whose passion for photography (not to mention expensive, analog equipment) is immediately evident – and her creativity immediately creates dissonance – and affinity – for the kind of creative pursuits not normally associated with Deloitte consultants, a fact that Xenia shares is embraced by the firm; it’s easy for employers to say that they value individual perspectives for delivering value to clients, but much harder to show those stories, something Deloitte deftly achieves.
In this talent attraction campaign, Deloitte doesn’t shy away from the elements of the job that we typically label as “recruitment challenges,” things like long hours, demanding deadlines and grueling expectations for first year associates. Instead of burying or deflecting attention from these inevitable attributes of consulting careers,
Deloitte actually highlights these challenges in employee testimonials like David’s; while he might be spending 11 hours a day at work, as he admits, he’s still able to achieve enough balance to spend time outside the office surfing. That message is not only believable, but also, a great example of turning a challenge into a competitive advantage through talent attraction.
Understanding the psychological drivers and what really motivates the audience your talent attraction campaigns are really looking to attract is essential, particularly when soliciting or creating employee testimonials as part of your employer brand marketing. While it’s tempting to try to either fully script or allow full spontaneity in the interests of authenticity, true transparency can only happen when brands deliver the full story of what work is really like, warts and all – and that’s the kind of message that never misses the mark in talent attraction, no matter what audience you’re trying to attract, engage and select.
The biggest difference in perspective that we see when building these messages for demographics is simple: perspectives change with experience, and people at different points in their careers want different things out of that career – age ain’t nothing but a number, but it also brings a certain level of awareness and wisdom that any talent attraction campaign must respect and represent to successfully convert candidates into hires.
Talent Attraction: Appealing to All Audiences
The key to any talent attraction strategy’s success, no matter the demography, industry or geography, is simple: it should elicit an emotional response that resonates enough with qualified candidates to convert them into interested, engaged applicants (and ultimately, new hires). So while it’s important to show what success looks like at your company, it’s also important to remember that success is defined by the company and collective – not the individual, because success is rarely subjective when it comes to measuring performance and potential.
Take these two talent attraction videos, which, superficially, cover the same subject matter: the “must haves” that so often show up on job descriptions and recruitment marketing content. Beyond the basic theme, however, these stark variations remind us that it’s the style by which we tell our stories, not just the substance, that return improved response rate and better recruiting outcomes.
The Company As Hero: Talent Attraction At the Cosmopolitan
In this recruiting video, the focus of careers at the company is clear: it’s all about the employer – despite the fact that almost every employee (including one who quite obviously reads a cue card to tell us “I’m not scripted,” incidentally) is talking about individuality and being able to be themselves. Look at the language: it’s infused with more “we” language than an Intro to French course. Consider phrases like: “we’re looking for…” “that’s what we want,” and similar talking points peppered liberally throughout their talent attraction content.
Not bad, but “we,” as we’ve seen, is not “me,” even if we’re explicitly being told otherwise by the content – it’s the context that counts. Sure, you can discuss career success, interesting work, and all the other cliched talking points pervasive throughout any talent attraction campaign, but ultimately, the employee is still a supporting actor relegated to a secondary role, and it shows.
The Employee As Hero: Talent Attraction at Ernst & Young
At Ernst and Young on the other hand, we see the employee is the star of the story, a hero who’s the most important protagonist in their own professional development and career growth – which makes sense, considering we’re the ones ultimately in the drivers’ seat when it comes to our careers. The leading lady of this particular EY asset, Maria, tells that story from her perspective, one that’s highlighted “me” centric stories of her colleagues, clients, company needs, career challenges and the ultimate impact that “we” had on the most important person for every employee: “me.”
Viewers not only clearly understand the impact her work has had on her life, but how that hard work has paid dividends on her career – stories echoed by her coworkers, such as the testimonial about the importance of the entrepreneurial spirit at E&Y in business as usual, a focus which led him down the path to building his own business with his own employees – and likely, building a legacy out of what he learned on the EY frontlines. That’s pretty powerful stuff, with a message that’s on point, even without the compelling production values and pitch perfect music that’s compelling enough to not really require so much as a single spoken word. The end product proves the wisdom in showing, not telling, when developing talent attraction campaigns and content.
I know what you’re thinking: these are great examples, but these are big companies with big cash to spend on employer branding and talent attraction. The truth is, though, you don’t need a blockbuster budget to create a talent attraction blockbuster – you just need a compelling story to tell and the right style, voice, tone and characters to tell that story in the most emotionally resonant way possible. And I promise, every company has at least one of those stories worth telling. It’s up to us to find it, but without it, you’re just creating content, not generating candidates – and that’s a waste of everyone’s time.
Talent Attraction: Stop Making Excuses, Start Telling Stories
Technologies like digital filming, advanced editing capabilities and post-production enhancements available at a consumer price point on really any device or operating system have democratized talent attraction by lowering the cost of entry and making authenticity actually easier than the big productions big brands have previously deployed with differing degrees of ROI. But for under $100, you’ll be able to create a feature length film (or snazzy short) that, with the right story and talent attraction message, can make a huge impact on the ultimate success of your talent attraction strategy.
To sum things up, make the employee the hero of your employer branding stories, and let the company play a supporting role – this almost always renders a better response rate, more informed candidates and hires whose values and professional objectives more closely match your company’s culture – even if it is all about them, it’s those individuals, in aggregate, who make up the human capital at every company.
Whether you’re crafting employee storylines like Ernst and Young in high def with high production values, or creating employee testimonials using cinema verite and a cell phone camera, any brand that can shift talent attraction to answer what’s in it for the candidate will quickly find what’s in it for the company: real recruiting ROI, and really effective talent attraction strategies.
If you can’t pivot from “we” to “me,” well, your talent attraction campaigns are likely to end like most films: with a fade out. But in talent attraction, remember: it’s all about the credits. Roll those the right way, and you’ll be well on your way to building a blockbuster employer brand that really resonates with real people. Because, quite literally, “you” rule is the only rule that really matters.
About the Author: Crystal Miller is a Strategist and has over a decade of experience at some of the world’s biggest brands. She has worked with start-ups to Fortune 15 companies to at the intersection of HR & marketing; creating campaigns and strategies that solve business problems, tell compelling corporate stories and share the meaning of work in engaging ways that drive results. In addition, she has led both the internal HR function for a regional $350MM business and the largest real estate recruiting practice for the leading single-site search firm in the United States.
She has been a reliable expert source on the topics of talent attraction, talent acquisition, talent management, and digital strategy for multiple media outlets including CBS, Hanley-Wood, Mashable, and ABC. As an industry leader, she is recognized for expertise in employer branding, recruitment strategy & marketing, social media, community building, digital strategic solutions and speaks globally on the same.