At long last, revamp recruiting

Guest columnist Sjoerd Gehring from Johnson & Johnson argues that corporate recruiting should switch to a more consumer-centric approach.

Sjoerd Gehring is the global vice president of talent acquisition for Johnson & Johnson.

Almost every CEO claims that attracting—and retaining—the best talent to their organization is a top priority and is one of the few competitive advantages they can grab in the marketplace.

Yet an average of 20% of hiring managers wish they’d never extended an offer to 20% of their team members, according to CEB. Another study, by Harvard University, says 80% of employee turnover can be attributed to mistakes made in the hiring process. Candidates are often underwhelmed by the lack of speed, transparency, and digital enablement of their recruiting interactions with most organizations.

Why? Because we haven’t seriously reevaluated the fundamentals of recruiting in decades.

Take job descriptions, for example. They’re dry, contain jargon, and tend to focus on the “years” of a certain skill required. Yet what someone does with their skills is a better measure of ability than the time they’ve been doing it. Résumés, meanwhile, don’t accurately represent actual potential, careers sites aren’t personalized, and most assessment methods focus on past performance rather than future potential—with little to no emphasis on crucial 21st-century workplace skills like learning agility and innovative thinking.

Recruiting is behind in so many areas, technologically most of all. We underleverage data in crucial hiring decisions. We largely ignore societal changes in the way people work, from the corporate lifers of yesteryear to the liquid workforce of the next generations. And too often there’s a lack of transparency that gives the recruitment process a (well-deserved) bad name.¬

At the same time, candidates are having the opposite experience in their lives as consumers. Brands are finding new and innovative ways to put power in their hands, making it easy to order a car, pay for a coffee, share an idea, or track a shipment from halfway across the world. Everyone today is used to—and expects—a more holistic, intuitive, digital experience.

If we’re serious about competing for top talent, we need to reimagine recruiting from the ground up. There are several ways to do that, but it all begins with a fundamental shift in mindset: from “you need our job” to “we need your skills and experience.” It’s time for a consumer-centric approach to recruiting.

Successful brands have been doing it for years. Product developers, designers, marketers: they all develop experiences with the user at the center. Powered by technology, this approach has disrupted market after market. Now it’s our turn to show candidates the same attention we show our customers. Here are four behaviors from consumer brands that we can emulate:

Be obsessed with your customer (the candidate).

Throw out the rulebook and rebuild the entire recruiting experience with the candidate at the center. How can we make the whole process more intuitive, more transparent, more digital? How can we best use technology to simplify the experience, or augment it?

Look at the world through the lens of a candidate, whose expectations are defined by platforms they interface with as a consumer. Be obsessed with collecting feedback, with a method to measure and record their experience, and use it to refine that experience over time.

Build differentiated capabilities with differentiated skills.

If it’s hard to disrupt recruiting with recruiters and HR people, maybe it’s time to empower talent acquisition teams to drive the change that’s needed.

Imagine the impact of adding an expert in UX, UI, or service design. What if you hired the customer experience lead from Disney, or a design thinker from IDEO? What new perspectives and opportunities could present themselves with a more diversified recruiting team? One new ingredient can completely alter your chemistry.

Use storytelling to inspire and build engagement.

The typical Fortune 500 organization touches hundreds of thousands of candidates on an annual basis, yet recruiting gets only a sliver of the total marketing dollars. We can, however, still take our cue from marketing. Marketers use stories to create emotion and build a personal connection with consumers. We can (and should) do the same.

Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes. What’s more compelling? A job description with the usual company boilerplate? Or a story straight from the mouth of an employee?
And there’s a bigger picture here. We need to help candidates relate to and understand our purpose and culture. Show them how it fits their personal and professional ambitions and you’ll hold their attention.

Company culture has power, and it’s a real differentiator for today’s candidates. Let’s make sure we’re communicating it.

Develop a holistic technology ecosystem that works for you.

Technology has the potential to make recruiting more intuitive, compelling, and transparent. But for many companies, technology has actually made their recruiting process more disjointed, more complex. Recruiting applications that aren’t integrated often make for a horrible user experience. And the industry isn’t always helping here. The large technology players often don’t play well with the hundreds of VC-funded start-ups that go after individual-use cases.

Start with defining what you want your candidate experience to be and what uniquely ownable details there are for your organization. Then build a holistic technology ecosystem around it that will help achieve your vision.

Let’s shift our mindset.

Treating our candidates like our customers shouldn’t be difficult, but it does require a 180-degree pivot in the way we think.

If we do, I believe that consumer marketing organizations can soon borrow a page from the recruiting handbook on how to best build relationships that span someone’s multidecade career, how to build real intimacy with your customers (like recruiters do with their candidates), and how good recruiting can actually positively impact the bottom line.