There are already thousands of talent acquisition technology startups focusing on reinventing, revolutionizing or reimagining recruiting, with hundreds of new platforms and providers appearing every year. Getting a full view of the market landscape for this dynamic, constantly evolving industry represents a daunting challenge, even for the most seasoned analysts and experts focusing solely on this space.
For the average recruiter or talent acquisition leader, it’s almost impossible to know what’s new and what’s next, given the fact that there’s always something new, and it’s hard to focus on the next when you’re forced to deal with the realities of obsolete software and legacy systems today.
Fortunately, Talent Tech Labs (TTL), a New York City incubator focused on talent acquisition technology, recently released a meaningful map of the market to create a useful taxonomy for figuring out what vendors are out there, what their product focuses on, who it’s designed to serve (e.g. candidate vs. employer) and how each stacks up to the competition across the full spectrum of hiring, from sourcing to onboarding and beyond.
This useful grid provides valuable visibility by enabling anyone to see the talent technology space in a single snapshot, and is constantly being tweaked and iterated to reflect the inevitable evolution of this ecosystem, with new entrants, shuttered shops and the inevitable M&A activity (not to mention updated product roadmaps and market positioning for existing players looking for new niches). I’ll be interested to see how this looks in future releases, but here’s what the TA food chain looks like today:
If you’re thinking that looks pretty crowded and complicated, imagine having to actually figure this out as an end user or stakeholder in the recruiting software or systems selection process.
Talent Trends: The Headlines Aren’t the Whole Story
Anchoring this snapshot of the ecosystem was Talent Tech Lab’s list of “must see” headlines in the HR Technology industry, which, as a pretty avid observer and curator of related content, I found to be both enjoyable and a good reality check and secondary source to make sure I hadn’t missed anything while keeping up to date in this fast moving industry.
Buried among these headlines, however, was one quote that seemed to particularly stand out after I finished reading the report:
“67% of Job seekers said they’d accept a lower salary if the company had exceptionally positive reviews online.”
Really? I’m not sure I buy this somewhat suspect statistic. I mean, sure, people may really love brands to the point of forming an emotional attachment to them, but most of the people I know and interact with daily would really rather get paid. Now I’m not saying that we wouldn’t necessarily rather get paid by the brands that we’re the most attracted or attached to, but if given a choice between brand and bank account, it kind of seems like a no brainer.
Sure, if you’re Rich Uncle Pennybags, have a trust fund or cashed in on an IPO or sold a startup, you might be able to have some flexibility to explore, say, that job with Upper Deck you always dreamed about since opening up that pack of cards in 1989, finding that coveted Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card, and making you the envy of all your friends for the summer. Theoretically, of course – although if you actually have that card, let’s talk.
Speaking of trades, sacrificing income for brand affiliation seems like a dud of a deal. According to Time, nearly half of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. The pressure of keeping food on the table, your kids in braces, and basic necessities suggests that for most of the candidates out there while the brand is a nice perk, maybe it’s not a necessity.
Unless, of course, it’s Google, Facebook or Twitter, but then again, each reports average worker salaries in the six figures, which figures – the best brands, ostensibly, can also afford to pay top dollar for top talent. Having to make a choice between the two seems a little silly, since if a brand has equity, then so too should the people behind it.
Too Big To Fail? Employer Branding Gone Bad
But even at those companies growing their P/L without skimping on salaries are struggling with attrition; in fact, losing key stakeholders actually makes having a household name somewhat of a liability.
For instance, when Tim in accounting turned in his two weeks, CNET probably didn’t cover the story – nor did it send any sort of message to the market about the viability of your business. Not so at the tech companies that seem to top every “Best Places To Work List” and B-School case study.
The reason these companies struggle with employee turnover – Google, the world’s most desirable employer, is also the company with the shortest average employee tenure, with the average employee departing after just around a year on the job, on average.
This is because, I suspect, the real reason people want to work for this and similarly big brands is that any cut in pay they take for a role is a calculated opportunity cost. People put in their time until it’s time to cash in.
Consider that saying “I worked for Twitter” is essentially sending the same message to prospective employers as “I work for Twitter,” at least from a branding standpoint, and the value of that experience (or perceived value, I suppose) won’t diminish even if it isn’t the most recent experience listed on one’s resume.
It’s the same phenomenon as going to an Ivy League school. Sure, it’s way more expensive than say, State U, and you can get the same degree with the same major at any other school, but it’s the name cache that counts. Going to a Harvard or Yale doesn’t only build brand cache, but also an enviable network that opens doors and opportunities. What a blue chip degree doesn’t do, though, is necessarily indicate the quality of work, culture fit, performance or development potential employers actually get when they buy into a brand.
The most successful Silicon Valley firms and the Ivy League grads they’re competing for, however, represent only a tiny slice of the overall talent acquisition picture – the New Yorker to the proverbial New York Post that comprises most of the workforce working at companies you probably haven’t heard of, but represent an overwhelming majority of the total employment picture.
If you’re recruiting for one of these less influential firms and don’t necessarily have a consumer brand strong enough to leverage as part of your talent attraction strategies, then obviously you’ve got to use a little more finesse and flexibility to effectively hire the workers your workforce needs. Nowhere is this more true than in tech.
Sure, everyone wants to work for Facebook or Apple, but what about another household name, Pop Secret? How do you go about getting a great coder to consider making the move to CPG? If you can win over the Java programmers you need to develop your Perfect Pop app over the other opportunities out there for top tech talent, you sir, have some serious recruiting mojo. Hell, closing a req without having a ton of qualified applicants lining up to apply based on brand recognition alone means you’re at least worthy of making it into one of those Bud Light Real Men of Genius commercials.
Candidate Experience & Employer Brand: Two Sides of the Same Coin
In a feature accompanying the Talent Tech Labs quarterly update, Gerry Crispin tells us employer branding is ultimately a numbers game.
“Responding to a comprehensive (Candidate Experience Awards) survey, 60% of the candidates, most of whom are never going to be hired, confirmed that they already knew about and believed they had a relationship with an employer before they even applied,” Crispin points out.
This surfaces a few critical issues that need to be addressed. The first is that if 60% of candidates truly have a preexisting relationship with the brand, than you probably have a pretty good brand, even if you don’t necessarily know it. Second, if you’re not actively managing your employer brand or if your reputation as an employer sucks, then you’re going to face an uphill battle.
No matter what your message is, you’re really only a Google search away from candidates seeing what people are really saying, and there’s almost no chance of successfully making a hire if your credibility as a recruiter or employer are in doubt.
Critical to protecting this brand, of course, is the candidate experience, which is why it’s so important to close the loop, provide feedback or at least acknowledge even the most unqualified applicants. For every hire we make, there are scores we have to turn away, but since data suggests that these rejected candidates are likely current or future customers, you better be damn sure you’re not turning away business, either.
Similarly, we know that statistically, people are more likely to share negative experiences over positive ones in public – which means that a bad experience from a candidate you don’t bother calling back is going to likely to get posted straight to Glassdoor for every other potential hire to see in perpetuity.
That’s why it’s really in every recruiters best interests to own experience from the outset, and ensure communications, even templated ones, are transparent and timely.
Candidate Experience: Why Word of Mouth Matters for Employer Brands
I used to explain to my team that hiring is mostly like turning down someone you’d never be in a relationship with in a million years when they ask you for a date – it’s painful, but you’ve got to do it as diplomatically as possible lest the inner crazy gets unleashed. If your candidate experience policy is more scorched earth than soft touch, then you’re likely the one who’s going to get burned.
Why not let a candidate know through direct, civil and firm feedback that they’re not a good fit instead of just ignoring them entirely? That at least sends a signal that someone’s actually acknowledging them and they’re not disappearing into the black hole, which, trust me, will instantly differentiate your employer brand from everyone else who just hopes these candidates go away on their own – and opens the door to referrals and relationships instead of burning bridges.
It’s called the Golden Rule for a reason – and guess what, a little empathy in recruiting goes a long ways – and there’s nothing bad about goodwill, no matter where it’s coming from.
I definitely think candidate experience is going to remain a critical area of focus for recruiters, no matter what the vendor ecosystem looks like – it transcends tools and technologies and is arguably more important to recruiting success. This is a good thing for everyone involved, because it forces transparency and engagement around employers, and helps us to be be more informed consumers of work, which is what we all are at the end of the day.
I think largely, employer brand efficacy won’t be determined by recruitment marketing or sexy career sites, but rather, by the aggregate experience of candidates and employees, who are increasingly sharing their stories and shining a light on those companies who until now could keep future candidates in the dark about this kind of stuff. But if your company is really a great place to work, then employer branding should take care of itself.
Word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing out there, after all. Because we trust our colleagues, connections, friends and family – and, probably, even complete strangers on social – a hell of a lot more than we trust recruiters. Period.
About the Author: Daniel Fogel serves as the VP of Content and Community for Recruiting Daily, bringing 10+ years of experience in both the HR realm at large and talent acquisition specifically. Previously Director of Digital Content Strategy at HCI, Daniel builds communities and relationships organically through crafting thought-provoking content, networking constantly, and connecting people and groups to common purposes and goals. Don’t be surprised if you see emails from him looking to chat.
A well travelled and culturally savvy foodie, you’re likely to find him on his fourth coffee of the day discussing how candidate and employee engagement go hand in hand or why storytelling needs to be key in your employer branding.
By Daniel Fogel
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