Bad Brands Can’t Recruit, Good Brands Can

Last week, I interviewed Larry Hernandez – no ordinary recruiter. Larry has worked at some amazing brands that anyone would want to recruit for (regardless of whether you work there): Zappos, USAA and now Rackspace. I wanted to get his thoughts on brandful recruiting. Below is part of our conversation. It was too long to include everything, but here is one of my favorite quotes from Larry:

When you are in the business of recruiting great people and you don’t have a positive brand you are left with a purely transactional relationship.

Conversation:

Julia: Larry, you’ve recruited for some top brands, describe your experience as a recruiter for each company, including the similarities and differences.

Larry: All three do a really good job of indoctrinating employees with a strong orientation program (1 -4 weeks) before reporting to your team. Getting a strong foundation in core values, company history, basic company org chart, along with leaders/founders making an appearance is a great way to start with a new employer. This may not sound like a big deal but you would be surprised how many employers just drop new employees into teams on day one. (Julia as an aside: Any of you do this?)

USAA – When I think of USAA a couple of things come to mind. Slow and deliberate. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but when you combine military traditions with insurance and banking you get a very conservative culture that is about as averse to risk and change as they come. .

Because USAA must comply with OFCCP guidelines, recruiting is very cumbersome and process oriented. There are a lot of hard working and amazing people in the talent acquisition team but jumping through the OFCCP’s hoops is not easy on any process. That being said, no other organization takes their members (customers) to heart more than USAA.

Zappos – Now take everything I said about USAA and turn it upside down. Zappos has what I call a “West Coast” feel to it. “Zappos is that crazy Aunt you have that let’s you stay up late and eat cake for dinner.”

Core Values are engrained into every employee in the four-week new hire orientation/training program. Volumes have been written about their commitment to customer service and culture so I won’t go in depth. I will say that Zappos is the only company I know that makes every employee learn, train, and actually work as a customer service rep with live customers for one to two weeks out of the initial 4 week training.

The company and employees have a very warm heart. I’m not trying to get mushy but people at Zappos really care about you as a person. Zappos is a “touchy feely” kind of place where people of all walks of life can just be themselves.

With that being said, everything comes at a price. Getting things done sometimes comes second to a myriad of events, parties, and miscelaneous madness, which can make professional development a challenge.

Rackspace – I see Rackspace as the middle child of these three. From the outside Rackspace and Zappos look a lot alike but they function differently. Rackspace has a strong sales culture and what I mean is that they are results oriented. “Play hard as soon as your work is done” is how I see it at Rackspace.

2) Does a great brand help you recruit? If so, how?

Oh yes, a strong brand goes a long way. From a recruiting standpoint, all three companies are flooded with applications and all three hire about 1-3% of the people that apply.

3) Why did you choose to become a recruiter at each one of these companies?

Everyone gets to a point when they want to be a part of something bigger and better. If you are good at what you do, you might as well do it some place that is known for an amazing culture (brand).

4) Do you believe it’s important to hire folks that are behind the brand? Why or why not?

It is the most important thing! It is hard to get consistent engagement from people if they are not behind the brand.

5) Should every company do it? Why or why not?

Every company has a brand. Some just decide to own it. What’s left when you have a bad brand? When you are in the business of recruiting great people and you don’t have a positive brand you are left with a purely transactional relationship.

In every industry there is a food chain for talent. It is very hard to get into these three companies (USAA, Zappos, & Rackspace) so people hone their skills and start building a solid reputation at other companies with weaker brands and work there way up the food chain.

Unfortunately, the way the majority of employers build their compensation models, the only way for “A” players to get market value is to move up that food chain of employers.

6) How do you think companies can identify folks that are behind the brand?

First and foremost it is important to close the gap between your external brand and internal brand. Since brand and culture are living things that are always changing, knowing and communicating the current state of your internal brand to potential employees is key. It doesn’t do any good to recruit and hire people under a false pretense.

Referrals from existing employee is nice since people who know the internal brand tend to filter out any mismatches before refering them.

We (recruiters) listen for traces of brand and culture matches through the recruiting process.

7) What are some of the positive outcomes of hiring brandful candidates?

If someone you are trying to recruit already respects and admires the brand you represent, half the battle is won.

Any downside?

It’s funny you asked. We use words like Brand (to be stamped or branded) and Culture (shares same Latin root as cult – cultus) to describe what we associate and experience with these companies. http://brandfulworkforce.com/brands-recruit-good/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/brands-recruit-good/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/brands-recruit-good/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/brands-recruit-good/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/brands-recruit-good/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/brands-recruit-good/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/brands-recruit-good/All three of these amazing organizations get criticized for being “cultish” and that can turn people off.

8) What do you think the future holds for recruitment as it pertains to a brandful company?

If your organization doesn’t already have dedicated resources to communicate the employer brand as we speak, they are behind in the war for talent. The real question is what do companies with bad brands do?

Check out Larry’s blog and more about brandful recruiting in my book, The Brandful Workforce: How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand. Read more Brandful posts.

Brandful Recruiting

I just got back from Miami where I spoke to a great group of recruiters at TMA’s Strategic Recruiting Summit. There were some fantastic companies represented like USAA, Kellogg’s (who both recruit their customers as potential employees), Hilton Grand Vacations, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Gate Gourmet, AbbVie, McKesson and Kaiser Permanente. I was glad to see that many of the organizations are focusing on recruiting as part of their overall brand strategy (their candidate experience reflects on their brand- especially when the folks don’t get the job- they can continue to like the products and services and remain a customer), however I did see some unfair challenges that recruiters face – because some of the c-suite still don’t get it. Why should recruiters be boxed into an “employer brand?” Aren’t they, along with every single employee, part of the larger brand?  (Side note:  a brand is simply what folks say about you behind closed doors. It can pertain to an organization as a whole, a specific product, a person or a group of people.)  In our transparent world, can you really separate the employer brand from the consumer brand anymore? Should it be up to the recruiter to figure out the workforce brand and recruit toward that? Why are organizations asking their employees to describe their work environment and help the company figure out their employer brand? I don’t get it.

I’d like to see the c-suite take more of a lead in not just figuring out the employer brand, but shaping it into what it should be. And what it should be, is aligned with the business model and customer promise. They need to ask themselves: “What kind of employee do we need working here that can delight our customers and fulfill our business model?” Once they figure that out, then the recruiters can more successfully find the right kind of folks to charge the company forward.

But don’t forget about the brand. I asked the audience how many of them were looking for a “brand match” while recruiting. (That is- someone who, in addition to having the right skill set and experience, is also passionate about the particular services or products that they offer.) Many recruiters raised their hands. I didn’t get the chance to find out how they were doing it, but I did hear a great story from Tomya at Sloan-Kettering.  She explained that they ask every single candidate whether they’d feel comfortable being in the hospital setting around cancer patients. If not, they don’t get hired. Being one of the best (if not the best) cancer centers in the world, they are ensuring that all of their employees care about their cause. Tomya suggested an accountant could choose to be an accountant at any type of organization. If she wants to be an accountant at Sloan-Kettering, she needed to care about the services they deliver and want to be a part of it. No wonder, employee engagement is at the top of the charts at Sloan-Kettering.

During my presentation, I suggested the following steps to implement a brandful recruiting strategy:

  • hire from your customer base
  • hire folks with a demonstrated passion for your product or service
  • hire folks with a passion for your mission or cause (could come from nonprofits)
  • hire folks who are excited to use your brand perks (ie. discounts)

I mentioned a comment made to me while I was shopping at Trader Joe’s. The store clerk said to me: “I spend my entire paycheck here!”  That’s when you know you have a brandful employee.

Thanks for reading my blog. If this is your first time on my site, please look around at my other posts and events, and join in the discussion. Catch you later!