S4 E6: Authentic Recruiting


Podcast November 7, 2023

Why is recruiting the right candidates becoming an uphill battle for many companies today? This week, Pete Wright sits down with Jen Moff and Terry Cook to unpack the intricacies of modern recruitment. Together, we delve into the power of a purpose-driven mission and the importance of authentic branding.
With their combined expertise and insights from AIM HR, this episode is a must-listen for HR professionals seeking to navigate the challenges of today’s talent landscape and align candidates with their company’s vision.
Links & Notes

Transcript:

Pete Wright:
Welcome to Human Solutions, Simplifying HR for People who Love HR from AIM HR Solutions on True Story FM. I’m Pete Wright. Why is recruiting the right candidates such an uphill battle for many companies today? To say the job market is complicated is a bit of an understatement. So this week we’re unpacking the intricacies of modern recruitment. Jen Moff and Terry Cook join me to delve into the power of a purpose-driven mission and the importance of authentic branding to help you navigate the challenges of today’s talent landscape and align candidates with your company’s vision. Terry, Jen, hello. Welcome back to the show. So good to see you both as always.

Jen Moff:
Greetings.

Terry Cook:
Hello.

Pete Wright:
We’re talking about recruiting. I just got to thinking about, you hear the headlines, you hear the news. I hear that the job market is great and everything’s fine, and why does everybody not understand that things are fine? And so I go over to ZipRecruiter. They just had their second quarter job seeker confidence survey, and all the job seeker confidence is plummeting through the floor compared to last quarter. People seem really down on confidence about getting future jobs, on their company’s ability to hold their jobs. It seems like the relationship between employee and company is struggling for we’ll just say complicated reasons. Now seems to be the right time to help organizations figure out how to build stronger relationships from the jump. And that I think is what we’re here to talk about today. How would you like to begin when you are thinking about this idea of attracting the right kind of candidate in a job market that is complicated today? Jen, do you want to kick that one off?

Jen Moff:
I thought you were going to go with Terry. I’m honored to kick it off. I obviously think very highly of Terry. She has a wealth of knowledge and expertise. The starting place that I would speak about is related to what you said initially, the brand, what a company wants to be known for, and communicating that with clarity and confidence so that you can attract job seekers and retain those who work with and for you because you believe the same things, because you share the same values, because the purpose of the organization aligns with an individual’s personal priorities and things that they care about. That’s what I see more and more in companies like Deloitte find in their research that younger generations want from an organization. I think we’re at this major transition in business in this country and in Massachusetts specifically to move towards that direction of being more overt in how we talk about things aside from, yes, I make a widget and that’s what I’m seeing.

Pete Wright:
I want to jump on that a little bit because I wonder just how much brand, internal and external representations of brand, are front of mind for HR right now, or why are we having this conversation? What is it that HR is expected to do to massage and shift and communicate and present brand, and how does it impact a recruiting context?

Jen Moff:
One of the things that we do in one of the trainings is to help educate even frontline employees, supervisors, about what responsibilities HR has because sometimes there’s a bit of a learning curve for a supervisor on what is their responsibility and what is HR’s responsibility. So helping them understand the full breadth and scope of what falls under an HR employee’s responsibilities. And there’s a lot that they have to juggle between taking care of employees but taking care of the company. I’d love to hear what Terry’s thoughts are related to this specifically.

Pete Wright:
That was a good toss, Jen, by the way. Very nice toss. That was a very professional toss to Terry.

Terry Cook:
Look at you. So I appreciate that, and I think everything that Jen said is absolutely true. I think when you look at studies, you look at any research out there, the candidates of today, whether they specifically, of course, in the younger generation, but I find many candidates of any age range that I’ve been interviewing recently, they’re differently prepared for the discussion. They have done their research. They’re looking at social media. They’re looking at company’s websites. They are, to Jen’s point, looking at the mission and the values and making sure that it aligns with their values as well. So they’re really looking for much more than the job description match. They’re looking for the company match. I think that’s definitely different, and as I speak to social media and websites, that is one of the things that we actually counsel our clients on when we’re helping with recruiting is looking at that to show people that you are living the talk, you’re living your vision, you’re living your mission, you’re living your values, and you’re showing everybody their opportunities that they have to move up and to work in your company culture.

Pete Wright:
How effective is that? Do you have data that says when people come into the recruiting cycle, they tell us that the way we communicated, the experience of existing employees, showcasing profiles, living the mission, that’s the stuff that caused them to build a higher affinity with us and continue their job seeking with us?

Terry Cook:
I verbally have heard it, Pete, from candidates. They will say, “Listen, I researched your website during my conversations with you or somebody else on the team. This is what I’m seeing. I’m feeling like there is an alignment between what the company says they do and what they really do.” So I think you’re hearing it verbally. I recently completed a certificate program in diversity as far as hiring and onboarding, and that was one of the things that their studies that they had done showed is that applicants are looking for that. They’re looking for that information before they jump in. They really want to see themselves progressing in a company. They want to see almost pictures of themselves and the stories and the social media and the website to really know that that’s what’s going to happen when they join.

Jen Moff:
I think a shift from the job seekers’ perspective over the last 10, 20 years is this passive interaction where, “Oh, I need a job. I’ve got to make money. I’m just going to go out and apply for stuff, and I know what my skillset is. I know what that is.” And just trying to get into a company where they can see that they’ll stay for X amount of time versus now they’re taking a much more active approach to saying, “You know what? I get to interview them too. I get to look at their website. I get to check out their social media. I get to see if this is a place I like, not just will they like me to hire me.”

Pete Wright:
This is, I think, the secret sauce in the middle because anecdote, I have a dear friend who wrote me with a screenshot of a website, and I won’t name the employer, but it had a tool on their recruiting website, and the tagline was, “Can you see yourself at company name?” And you upload your own profile picture and they literally Photoshop, insert your picture into the team photo on the website just for you. Apparently it’s not being uploaded or saved, whatever, but the point is, the nature of the request that I got or the comment that I got from my friend was I could not be more cynical about the job hunt right now. I could not be more cynical. I think that’s part of the question right now. When you talk about employees who are doing the kind of research on websites, how do you balance the need to be truthful, authentic and showcase the good that you are and balance that with not going overboard to the point where you’re actually fostering the kind of cynicism that causes people not to trust brands?

Terry Cook:
Yeah, I think you’re exactly right. What you’re saying is that people are seeing that the interview it’s a two-way street. They are interviewing you, and you are interviewing them because they are looking for the fit. Like Jen mentioned earlier, people aren’t just looking at, okay, here’s my skillset, this is a match. They’re looking for the total match. They don’t want just the job match. They want to know that the company’s a match, and to your point, they look for that, they crave it, and that’s what they’re going to get because right now the job market is in their hands, so they know that they can decide where they fit best.

Pete Wright:
In terms of activating the organization to be able to supplement or augment this message of authenticity in recruiting, what are some best practices that you’re seeing of HR going beyond just the HR recruiting team, but offering interviews with current team members outside of divisions, that sort of a thing? What are you seeing in terms of activating the organization?

Terry Cook:
I do think that they’re involving more people because they want the employee or the applicant that’s become an employee. So you’re right, they have other people on the team. They’re starting off though by educating, because that’s the first step you have to do in HR. You need to educate anybody that will be talking to an applicant because there are a lot of legal aspects to what people can and can’t say in an interview. And if you’re just letting anybody and everybody talk to these applicants without having conversations in advance, you’re not able to control that to make sure that the company is protected. Like Jen said, part of the HR person’s job is to protect the company. I think it’s the education of those people, but I do think having other people on the team is a good approach because they’re living that, they can share their experiences with the applicant, so the applicant knows, “Oh, these people aren’t just the HR and the management telling me this, but this is somebody showing me that this is actually real and this is what their experiences are.”

Jen Moff:
I think companies that do this really well don’t have a tight hold on the communication that their employees have outside of the office meaning they want to talk about the experience that they had at work that day, they post on social media, they’re encouraged to be social in the format that is so widely used. So you get the company tagged in a personal post about how they went on this professional development day or this philanthropy day. And so when you can see that the people are organically talking about these things in a positive light, it’s far more effective than if the company has this strategic plan to try and force feed a message.

Pete Wright:
That does seem to get to the point of authenticity of being able to really talk about what the company is and not just what the company does, not just company line stuff. Let’s talk then about some of the finer points that come up in the recruiting process. How do you communicate authentically about things like, Terry, I’ll turn to you, diversity, equality pay, equity, the kinds of issues that are hot button right now in terms of what recruitees, people who are looking for jobs are looking for?

Terry Cook:
I do think it starts with making sure that everybody that’s involved in the process understands what people are looking for, but it also goes back to working with your marketing team, understanding the social media and the website approaches so that people can, again, see that they have a diverse community already working there. So if you join, you’re part of a group of people that’s already here and already enjoying what they’re doing. Again, when you’re looking at a diverse workforce, one thing that I also tell people is diversity is a big definition. Not everybody understands agendas, not everybody understands the full definition of diversity. They may see it in one specific niche area of diversity, but to really broadly view the definition of diversity and really look to welcome those people, and part of the welcoming is certainly as you mentioned in the interview process, but, again, not to keep hammering on the social media and the web, but it’s part of that.
In one of the classes I took, they said, “If you’re trying to attract a diverse candidate, you’re not showcasing any of those diverse people in their success stories on your website or social media, how is that diverse candidate supposed to really see themselves in your company?” But, again, diversity is a lot. There’s not just one little piece to diversity. It’s a very big definition, and there’s a lot of people involved in diversity, so making sure of all that. So I know, Jen, you probably have more to add on that.

Jen Moff:
I think it’s something that we’ve even focused on internally, making sure that the instructors that we have who are facilitating our DEI sessions are diverse, do touch on various things. And to Terry’s point, diversity means differences, but focusing on them from a place of otherness is not what we’re looking to do, but just recognizing that between race is one thing, and that’s oftentimes what gets focused on a lot. But also gender, sexuality, heritage, ethnicity, all of those things are different. Cognitive abilities and strengths, there’s so much that we could dive into all the different classifications and recognizing that that’s got to be showcased. And if you don’t have a culture already established where people are comfortable owning their unique identities from that diversity place, it doesn’t matter how much you post somebody online if they’re not actively able to talk about it.
If we have somebody who identifies as trans, but they are not comfortable talking about those things or being open or if you have somebody who is a lesbian, but they may present in a way that you would assume that they are not, it’s not going to help your diversity initiatives if you’re actively promoting images that aren’t going to convey the right message.

Pete Wright:
Everything you both are talking about here seem to illustrate the biases that we may not be aware of. And so I want to talk about what you both recommend at the hotline call comes in and you’re saying, “Look, we know, we’re aware that something’s wrong and we’re aware that our message is we’re not diverse, but you could be the first.” That’s not the way to really establish and present our culture, but how do we do it? What do we do first to better understand what we’re communicating that we might not be seeing?

Terry Cook:
It all goes to Jen with training and education. That’s what I recommend. I really do when somebody calls us with a question and says I’m fearful that people aren’t understanding diversity and it’s not going to help us in our environment, I will often say, you need to educate. You need to train. Otherwise, people don’t understand Jen’s point, and she can speak better about this. They don’t understand their biases. As, Jen, you say all the time, “Everybody has them.” So for people to say they don’t, that’s a starting point where they’re not going to be successful. So I’ll let you talk more about that.

Jen Moff:
What we’re talking about is transformation is change, and it has to start with some specific tangible place like Terry said education. Now, training has an important place in the transformative change process when you want to see behaviors change, when you want to see the culture change, when you want to influence something. And the big piece of the picture that we speak to within training is you cannot assume that attending a class is going to be a magic bullet, a magic pill, and everything is going to be better. It’s the seed that gets planted. You must have the seed to grow whatever plant you’re trying to grow, but after the seed gets planted, it’s the company’s responsibility to continue additional trainings, to continue with coaching, continue with consultative services to infuse the entire message that that seed is meant to grow throughout the organization. So it’s a very large strategy that begins with training, and change management plans frankly is really a big piece of it too.

Pete Wright:
One of the things that we talk about from time to time is the culture audit. How does that play into the recruiting process?

Terry Cook:
I think you have to understand what your goals are for your company culture, make sure that everybody is aligned with those goals internally before you can communicate it externally. So it’s really talking about auditing inside what your company culture is, and it’s more than the words on the paper. It’s about what you want to create as your mission, vision, and values, but how you live it, how you’re walking the talk. So I think all of those things are part of that.

Jen Moff:
Yeah, I’ve had people that I’ve worked with in years past that it was very clear that they didn’t have their own set of personal values, and so they would make decisions arbitrarily, and people wouldn’t necessarily know what version of this person they were going to get just depending on their mood, those kinds of things. It’s the same thing with a company. If the company doesn’t know who they are, the values, for example, that Terry said, values are there to help decision-making. Are we moving in this direction or that direction? Let’s look at the values. Does it align with what we believe and what we want? Then we’re going to move in this direction. Then we know what we’re looking for in candidates, people that believe what we believe. The culture is what people will say about the company when the company is not feeding them what to say.

Pete Wright:
On that point, Jen, at guidance toward working with recruiters, I’ve met some incredible recruiters that are just stunning chameleons in their ability to mimic and mirror company culture depending on which company they’re working with. That’s not necessarily the norm. What do you have in terms of guidance for HR pros who just don’t have the bandwidth to do their own recruiting and they rely on the support from outsiders?

Jen Moff:
Oh, totally. I think you want to work with companies that you can trust, that have a good track record, that understand your industry. I did recruiting for about a year for a staffing service, and I was mentored by a woman who was fantastic at teaching me how people are inherently wired. For example, she would teach me that salespeople have certain motivations and customer service people have certain motivations, and so as you’re doing the interview and asking behavioral based questions to find out patterns of how they’ve operated in the past, you’re going to know whether or not that they’re going to be more inclined in the sales direction or the customer service direction. And so it’s about asking really good questions and wanting to get to know people I find.
That was what made it successful for me. That’s one of the things that I think Terry is really fantastic at is she genuinely cares about people. She likes to get to know them, she likes to hear stories, and that’s where we learn who we are and who the other person is. So it doesn’t necessarily mean a recruiter has to be a chameleon, but you just have to really getting to know people and pay attention to what they’re saying.

Terry Cook:
Yeah, and I think you just need to align yourself to Jen’s point with what you’re looking for in the recruiter, because the recruiter is the person that’s representing you to the outside candidate. So if you and the recruiter aren’t aligned with each other and your approach to recruiting, then it wouldn’t be successful. It has to be that good relationship, and like Jen said, a good recruiter you would hope is somebody that wants to get to know the company, but get to know the applicants and also be able to convey the company and the job correctly to the applicant and get them excited.

Pete Wright:
You get somebody in the door, they’re excited, they have bought into the brand that you are communicating externally. Now, again, echoes of our introduction today, we have a complicated job market right now. Now we have to keep them. How do you embrace and expand this uncynical brand that we’ve created to get people in to ensure that it permeates the rest of the internal organization?

Jen Moff:
Terry, I feel like this is something you could speak a ton about. One of the things that I have seen in years past, the recruiter might be fantastic. They’re selling it without selling it. They’re painting this beautiful picture. It’s clear that on paper everything looks great, and then rubber meets the road internally and it’s not quite the way that it was positioned. What do we do?

Terry Cook:
You’re right. I think it goes beyond the hiring. You can’t just get people excited and then drop it, so it’s on the onboarding. The onboarding is a critical starting piece where if people don’t feel like they’re being told about what their position is told about what the company needs, trained fully on the expectations, they don’t feel like they’re built for success by the company. They feel like you sold me something in the recruiting process and then you didn’t live it out by getting me comfortable to start, and then it’s going beyond that too, Pete, as far as retaining people, you have to really show employees that you’re trying to engage with them, actively engage with them. A lot of people are doing stay interviews because you don’t want to get to the exit interview, so you’re trying to figure out why your good employees want to stay with you and making sure that you are focusing on that with the rest of your employees and making sure that everybody understands that that’s your goal as a company.

Pete Wright:
Again, can one of you give me an example of a stay interview. What are the kinds of questions that you’re asking on those interviews?

Terry Cook:
You’re really trying to understand why they’re staying, so you’re talking to them about what do you enjoy about what you do? What is it that makes you want to come to work every day? What is it about your coworkers or the company that you find value in for yourself, and why did you select the company to begin with? Why did you decide to take this position, and why do you get excited about coming to work each day?

Jen Moff:
We’re actually building a conducting stay interview session next year, so that will be something that I think is going to be really intensely valuable, and when I’ve been talking to people internally about that to get the foundation of that session framework, it’s something that we want you to be aware that it’s not, “Oh, we need to do it in reaction.” This is something that should be part of your strategy throughout. You’re having regular conversations. Just like performance evals should not be a surprise of certain messages, you’re having regular conversations, the stay interview doesn’t have to be so formal that you’re putting it on the calendar, “Okay, we’re conducting a stay interview.” But thinking about these questions as part of an ongoing conversation with people so that you’re gathering this information about why people stay, and you can present that to senior leadership so you can present that to the board and create a strategy.
Now, the second thing I would say, if you’re in the middle of changing these things and you want to make your brand more overt in X, Y, or Z, that’s, as I mentioned, part of change management, you’re going to have some transitionary period internally where maybe some people that have been working there are no longer aligned with the direction of the brand where it’s going, and you have to as an HR professional empower your supervisors, your managers, your leadership team to hold the people accountable to the new values because that’s where there’s going to be a disconnect for new hires. If the recruiter is suggesting all of these amazing things about the way the company operates, but then they get in there and there’s no accountability to the ways that these new policies, the new values, the new mission is, and people are still operating from this previous place, that’s going to create a major red flag and a disconnect for job seekers as well.

Pete Wright:
As we get toward wrapping up here, it would be remiss if we did not talk a little bit about the services that AIM HR is able to provide to folks who are embarking on taking on a new recruitment effort or changing their own recruitment efforts. Terry, do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Terry Cook:
Sure. We do offer full recruiting to our clients, and full recruiting is differently defined by each and every client, and so we make ourselves flexible with that. We tell them that we will build this recruiting approach with you that you’re comfortable with, so it doesn’t have to be one way as they’ve seen in the past sometimes, so we work with them. We can do anything from the very beginning where we’re counseling them on what you want to look for before you do the job post, how you want to frame your job post, how you want to do your recruiting process, and then we go through the whole normal recruiting of posting the job, reviewing resumes, doing interviews, and we do everything all the way up through checking manager references afterwards and your follow-up email communication.
So from the actual recruiting standpoint, we do all of that, and we try to customize our approach for our clients so that it’s what they’re looking for. But I think in addition to that, Jen has a lot of examples of the education and training that we can provide overall to some of these people that are doing the interviews too.

Jen Moff:
Yeah, absolutely. We have a couple of different interview related sessions. One is called Soup to Nuts, The Complete Interview Cycle, and that’s really to provide a proper framework of what all should and should not be encompassed in that entire process. And then we also have behavioral based interviewing and introduction too, and that’s really to help you hone your skills for asking the right questions, listening, and why that strategy really gets you the results and the information that you’re looking for. Additionally, as I mentioned, we’re also creating conducting stay interviews next year, and that’s going to be part of a new course called Employee Engagement, which is really going to be essential for maintaining the workforce that you have.

Terry Cook:
And we also have a Hiring for Diversity session, right, Jen?

Jen Moff:
Oh, yes. Excellent. Great point. Thank you, Terry.

Pete Wright:
Well, I have so many notes to put into the show notes. Everybody just swipe up, and you will see so many links, so many links directly to all of these services as they exist today. But make sure to keep checking because this upcoming employee engagement class sounds like just a very timely question on part of yours truly to ask something. I did not know this was coming, and there is actually a class on stay interviews that’s on the way, so very excited about that. I cited the ZipRecruiter current Job Seeker Confidence Survey because this will motivate you, I think, HR Pros to consider your recruiting efforts and to consider the ideology you bring to recruiting and how you represent your brand to outsiders. Lots of really interesting things to think about. Terry, Jen, thank you so much for hanging out with me today. This has been really illuminating.

Jen Moff:
Thank you.

Terry Cook:
Thank you.

Pete Wright:
And thank you everybody for downloading and listening to this show. We sure appreciate your time and your attention. As always, you can find the show in the show notes at aimhrsolutions.com. You can listen to the show anywhere you find great podcasts, and, again, swipe up for those show notes. There’s real, real gold in them, their notes hills. On behalf of Terry Cook and Jen Moff, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll catch you next week right here on Human Solutions, Simplifying HR for People who Love HR.

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