Focus on Candidate and Employee Experience: How to Attract and Retain Talent

I really love what I do for a living, if for no other reason than to watch and experience first-hand, the new trends in finding and engaging talent. With the current state of unemployment at less than 3 percent, this has increasingly become the biggest issue employers are facing today.

The new “buzzwords” that people are talking about are “candidate and employee experience”. For firms with big organizational development departments, this new phenomenon has taken on some reality and while not perfect, has created programs that appear to attract the new millennial worker. But for the common masses, candidate and employee experience are not even on their radar.

So, let’s discuss how those of us who run organizations without massive human resource departments can compete. Candidate experience refers to the process of garnering talent from your unique branding message, starting with how you source talent through the interview and offer stages. Employee experience starts pre-on-boarding and runs through the lifecycle of an employee in establishing a strong company culture. To be effective, let’s unpeel this onion one step at a time.

Your unique messaging to finding talent:
Our old messaging to garnering talent was about what motivated the baby boomer worker – ability to earn a good wage (even overtime), clean facilities, steady work.

o Today’s messaging is very different – we must articulate an understanding of the “purpose” or “why” what we produce, or the service we offer, makes a difference in the lives of those impacted by the business. Motivators include: Work/life balance and the ability to really “live” truly exists, while working for your organization. Challenging work – not so much physically but mentally- to keep the new employee from becoming bored quickly and wanting to move on. Empowerment to do things in a new and/or different way than previous, potentially less innovative successors. The reality is, money is no longer a key driver in the decision of where to work.

Candidate experience is not an easy undertaking. Putting together new messaging in some cases can mean a significant cultural shift, one that requires a leader who will be completely aligned and committed to the change. Those leaders that have bought into a “people first” cultural transformation for their workplace are winning the war on talent.

Sourcing for talent
o Finding the people to interview has also changed completely. Gone are the days where you could place an ad on a post in the company yard or on a job board and tons of qualified applicants would apply.

o Passive candidates, which are by far the most attractive candidates to fill an open position, need to be sourced. Communication, in the form of an e-mail, text or social media outreach; with a great message around the company story, written in a way that stirs the emotions in the reader, will help companies to enhance their pipeline with talented passive candidates.

Interviews are also being done in a whole new way. No longer does it make sense to just “drill” the candidate on why they think they are qualified. This information is still important, but the messaging around getting that information is very different.

Values of your organization and behaviors attached should play a key role in the type of questions you are asking potential employees. Because “purpose” and your “why” are of importance to them, your questions should align with getting to your own culture fit and if the candidate can integrate into your culture.

o Mental toughness is important to be successful in our organization. Many times, the simplest of circumstances can derail a project that you have worked tirelessly on. Tell me about a time where you had to demonstrate mental toughness to continue when things got rough.

o While each person in our organization works as a solo producer to hit production metrics and earn compensation, our group either wins or loses as a team. What would you do if you had to make a decision that would impact your own compensation negatively, but ultimate appeared to be the best decision for the team? Explain the steps you would go through to make this decision.

These questions bring out two core values that we talk about when we interview – mental toughness and passion for the company. If either of these do not exist, they culturally are misaligned and will not integrate well into our organization. We have designed questions for all seven of our core values including mental toughness, passion for the company, emotional maturity, energy/drive for achievement, leadership, strategic perspective and desire to serve others. Possession of or willingness to emulate these seven values and their behaviors has transformed our hiring. Remember culture eats strategy for lunch. Hire for attitude, train for skill.

My final note on candidate experience is the actual experience the candidate has pre-interview, during the meeting and post-interview. Those that are doing this well have figured out a way to create an experience that is unique to all the other interviews candidates have been on.

A couple of ideas that we have witnessed are:
o Pre-interview – Firms that do “candidate experience” well, have created material that gets the candidates excited to interview. One of my favorites is the video Oshkosh Defense (a division of Oshkosh Corporation) created called “We are Honored” (on YouTube).

This video begins with the normal viewing of the products they make – which in this case are very large military vehicles, and frankly, not very “sexy” to the average worker. Fast forward, you see several of the employees of Oshkosh Defense talking and working at their jobs. So far, nothing unique – but here is where it turns to magic!

Suddenly, you see these same people holding pictures of loved ones – brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and war buddies and the messages attached to each picture create a strong emotional connection at your core. The one that chokes me up every time is the Mom, who turns her phone to show a picture of her husband in military fatigues with two little girls and it states, “At home we call him Daddy”. When reality sets in, that their work is saving the lives of those they love, you get the “why” they are so passionate to work for Oshkosh Defense. This one video transformed the interest level of candidates who would interview with their firm dramatically.

While this is a great example, sometimes it’s as simple as a nicely worded e-mail from the President telling the candidate how excited they are to meet the candidate and telling a bit about your company’s story is all that is needed. It doesn’t take a lot of money or time to create a pre-interview experience, but the transformation in interest is highly notable.

During the actual interview, it is critically important to put your best foot forward. People always compliment our “Director of First Impressions” for the amazing experience she creates for everyone when they enter our doors. This is “game day” – now the “experience” begins:

o Everyone is greeted by a live person – not a phone with an extension to buzz.
o Everyone is offered a beverage.
o No one waits for more than five minutes in the conference room – even if they are early. Someone goes in and keeps them company.
o We let them know ahead who will be in the room and their positions within the firm.
o We tell them they can ask any questions they would like – we will be completely transparent.
o We learn about them first – this is as much about their decision as ours, and we want to know what it is that brought them to our firm.
o The president, owner or some member of leadership meets with every candidate for at least five minutes, no matter the position. No one can sell a firm better than those who run it day in and day out, and that passion creates the “why” for most candidates. This step is the one most often missed and one of the most important not to miss, because we think other tasks are more important than hiring good people?!
o If we decide to make an offer, we do so within 24 hours – speed to hire is very real in this market!

Once an offer is accepted, the final “candidate experience” piece is to send them a company token with a letter telling them how excited you are that they will be joining you. Can be as simple as a note, but a polo shirt with the company logo or business cards with their name and title go a long way to get the candidate excited and create that feeling of “I am home”.

Whew! Who knew finding and garnering top talent was so difficult! Ah, but it is…talented people have options. It is a lot of work to garner the right folks – but well worth the investment long-term.

The final stage of the employee experience is about integration into your corporate culture. This is quickly being referred to as “employee engagement” and surveys are popping up all over the place to try and determine your firm’s level of employee engagement.

Employee engagement begins with, what is most firms’ weakest link – onboarding. From the first day, employees make decisions on their choice of firms and 1) if they made the right choice and 2) how long they intend to stay. I hate this statistic, but the average Millennial stays in their current job on average 18 months to 3 years. The mentality of, “I owe my soul to the company store” days are long over.

Creating a culture of engagement is probably one of the most difficult tasks for most company leaders today. Understanding what keeps your employees motivated and engaged is certainly an ongoing challenge.

The best we can offer are some trends that seem to be working. Here are a few pages from our clients’ ’employee engagement activities” that seem to be working, demonstrating that engagement scores are rising:

o Fun at work is big. Taking time to play hard after working hard appears to keep company cultures fresh, and builds comradery and teamwork amongst the employees. We implemented Office Olympics once a week where we end at 4:00 on Thursdays to challenge each other to everything from chair races in the parking lot to silly string fights. Large corporations can do this by department but giving people an outlet to be “people” appears to create cohesive cultures.
o Utilizing social media to recognize and reward performance and personal milestones. Birthdays, anniversaries, outstanding sales achievement – everyone loves it when the company recognizes them and letting friends and family share in their successes and celebrations via social media is making big traction.
o Giving everyone a voice. Implementing workshops that mix generations together to understand and come up with creative solutions gives all generations a renewed appreciation for the differences and strengths each bring to the workplace.
o Involve and include families in the employee’s work life. Everything from goal setting to community engagement activities. The more the family buys into their work, the more commitment we see from the employee.
o Flexible work schedules and working from home. Not all roles have this a possibility, but where it can work, it is a huge motivator.

The bottom line is this. The “experience” you create for your team is one of the most critical components to winning the war on talent. It’s the emotional activities, not just the transactions of our work day that create the “whys” that motivate the next generation of workers. The sooner we embrace this change, the sooner we can win. The only thing stopping you from winning is you.