The Gag on Talent Acquisition

You’d often hear employers emphasise the values of honesty and transparency. They will have mission statements that involve “earning a client’s trust”.
However, as the organisation and its internal talent team grows, so do the rules on what we can and can’t say about the employer. This directly contradicts the company values we are supposed to uphold.

So, with all this talk about having a genuine and authentic voice,
why aren’t internal recruiters allowed to have one?

Internal recruitment managers are especially expected to be the beacon of on point messaging. A few years ago, I discovered I worked for a business that disallowed employees to have a voice, and I found this out the hard way.
You see, I started a blog while on parental leave as I love to write. What better way to stay in touch with the industry? I wrote about tactical HR/recruiting tips and tricks – much like the website I have today.
So one day, whilst in between changing diapers and writing a blog, I received a call from my manager – “Ruby you need to be mindful of what you write about as it may be misconstrued as our (the employer’s) view. Please come in to the office so we can decide what action we need to take”. It would seem that my employer saw my blog as a rebellion against their code of conduct because I spoke from my own personal perspective, not the employer’s.
Each page of my blog had been printed, screen shot and parts of it highlighted. They were desperate to find something that would give them reason to discipline me. They clearly didn’t know me or trust that I would never say anything to damage their employer’s brand. In fact, I was a true advocate of their business and my blog had actually helped them attract more candidates.
After the “chat”, they demanded I remove my blogs and if I’d wanted to continue writing, that I should submit my articles to the PR and marketing teams who would “align” my messaging before it’s published on their website.
What was fundamentally worrying them was the lack of control they had over my voice. What was exciting for me was I finally felt in control of my own brand. I resigned later that week because ultimately, without a voice, I felt caged.
[Tweet “Employee experiences build your brand – help them speak, don’t hinder them”]
Established employers spend so much time refining their brands that internal recruiters are now highly trained PR specialists. We are accustomed to the language of the business, tone of voice and are carefully guided with what we can and can’t say. The pitch we give to candidates are often scripted and approved by higher powers in case we are too honest. And if we want to take the initiative to be creative, whether it be through blogging, videos or podcasts, everything has to be siphoned through management layers and PR teams. A lot of companies are borderline obsessed with portraying an image that is just too far-fetched for my liking.

If the employer brand is all about the employee story and learnings,
why can’t internal recruiters and HR share theirs?

Contrast this with start-ups where the employee’s voice, including the internal recruiter’s voice, is refreshingly conversational. No fancy words, no sign-offs before you can talk – just say it like it is. It was a bit of culture shock for me at first moving from corporate into start up land. At Cogent, we talk quite openly internally and this is allowed to flow over into my role as their Head of Recruitment. For instance, I can talk to candidates about the lack of structure and the opportunities and challenges it brings to the business because of this. I can also talk about how we love having a good brew with the crew and playing dungeons and dragons into the weekend.
Best of all, I can be creative without the fear of being called into the boss’s room for a “chat”. I can draw illustrations for children’s books, run a podcast, teach dance lessons, commentate for pool competitions, even… write a blog.
I have found this level of transparency leads to higher and longer people engagement. When an employee feels they cannot openly talk about their employer externally without sign-off, the side-effect is that they do not feel that they can talk about the employer openly internally either.
It is your interpretation and ability to talk openly about the employer brand that makes the employer’s brand authentic. If there are aspects that could be better, so be it. It is not a taboo subject.
[Tweet “If employees feel they can engage with their employer, they’ll be more engaged, period”]
A peer of mine (who works for a large organisation) and I recently filmed an employment video together talking about a workshop we ran on leadership development. We spoke in depth about the benefits of the workshop and how it made a difference to so many careers within her business. Once the filming wrapped, she pulled me aside and said, “You know, I think I should get the final edit reviewed by our PR team before it goes live. It’ll be fine though because the PR team and I have a great relationship.” You guessed it. The video never went live. Two hours of shooting and then some for editing and it was cut completely because her employers weren’t happy with aspects of the messaging. What a missed opportunity.
I took control of feeling out of control and you can too. In my case I created my own website and I get to blog, shoot YouTube videos, and collaborate on podcasts whenever I want to! I’m also lucky enough to partner with Cogent who not only supports the true employee voice but encourages it. My boss (who also happens to be the Founder) gives me the true freedom to just be me.
The content I create, the very public views and discussions I put out there are all mine, not that of my employers. But the best part is, my employer gets to reap the benefits of that through branding and PR, new business and candidate lead generation.
The future of the workforce is no longer about employers owning your voice, it’s about how they leverage it for the growth of their brands. It’s time for the gag to be removed from Talent Acquisition – who’s in?
Image: Shutterstock

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2 Responses to “The Gag on Talent Acquisition”

  1. Completely agree Ruby, great article. As a previous founder of an industry blogging website that strongly encouraged companies to ‘find their voice’, I knew it would be a challenge – but I didn’t realise just how much. This prompted me to write a similar blog – ‘Do you really think candidates believe that crap on your website?’ ( It’s a direct reflection of whether the organisation has a ‘high trust’ culture. Sadly, most organisations continue to struggle with allowing an authentic and honest voice.

    • Thanks Jody and I’m thrilled it’s resonated with you. My inbox has been filled with individual stories and similar experiences to my own. It’s still a very real issue and perhaps one by one, story by story we’ll start to help coax that authentic voice along. Great blog BTW! Thanks for sharing!


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