Make your Employer Brand weird

A strange thing happened to me recently. My husband made me try a new kind of ketchup and I actually liked it. The creative concoction from emerging health brand The New Primal, was actually delicious. Enough so to give me real pause. Why? It is not Heinz.

70 percent of Americans (including me) have a bottle of Heinz ketchup in their refrigerators. It is comforting, it is a taste we know, and Heinz has done an artful job at marketing to the masses. I have been known to scoff at restaurants with other bottles on the table. Why mess with what I have always expected? So when I liked this new ketchup, I was not only surprised, I actually reconsidered my accepted alignment all these years.

In Seth Godin’s book, We Are All Weird, he talks about the predictability of Heinz ketchup and the falling tide of mass market appeal. When we are given a choice between normal and unique, we increasingly almost always choose the latter.

And here is where ketchup and jobs collide. We are failing at hiring because we are catering to the masses. Consider the following:

  • Opportunity for growth!
  • Diverse teams!
  • Make an impact!
  • Be innovative!

Sound familiar? Pull up any large company careers site and you will see these words. Over and over and over again. We are too scared as organisations to get specific so we appeal to everyone.

Take Apple’s new careers site. The opening video is beautifully creative, presenting an opportunity to join a team of diverse difference makers. The irony? It is another exercise in mass market jobs appeal. There are no examples of those specific differences. No descriptions of the different ways employees make an impact. No stories with specific examples of the challenge of diversity at work and how employees overcame them.

Even the most creative of companies are still afraid to steer away from mass marketing career opportunities.

This is where we are failing. Most people don’t want just another job. They want something specific to themselves, a connected reason or purpose aligned with what makes them special. And this isn’t millennials or Gen Z talking. This is the future of careers. From the hourly worker to seasoned executive, we want something special. In our latest research on candidate experience, we heard over and over again that the candidate experience doesn’t end with a job offer. Candidates need to feel a sense of belonging. We all want something that’s uniquely ours to be proud of.

It doesn’t mean these distinctive opportunities don’t exist. They do! But as people leaders, HR executives, and organisations, we are not selling them, and we should be.

We are risk-averse, volume-driven, and scared to divert from mass market appeal.

HR marketers and employer brand professionals are asked and encouraged (usually by our executives and leaders) to promote what they think should be shared rather than our distinct realities. So we talk about our jobs the same way everyone else does. We make bold proclamations about being collaborative, diverse, and sincere. Which are really vanilla since everyone else is saying the same thing. But we are too hesitant to lift the curtain any more on our weirdness because we’re afraid to scare people away. But that’s what you want to do.

No matter how many thousands of job requisitions you have, you should want to repel Talent as much as you want to attract it.

Repel candidates who won’t thrive in your culture. Attract the ones who will. And do it by showing all of who you are as an organisation. Warts and all. Give employees freedom and encouragement to talk and share honestly. Don’t just tell stories of inspiration and success. Share failures, what is not working, and the hard realities of your industry or location.

Share your ingredients, no matter what they are. Pineapple juice in ketchup? You are either intrigued or turned off. But at least you are not wasting anyone’s time, especially yours.

Cover image: Shutterstock

This article first appeared on LinkedIn on 27 February 2020.

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