the last twelve
months of TRU
events to bring you
the best future-
looking ideas in the
field of recruiting.
attendees Big ideas
A guide to rethinking
blowing up your
culture branding /03
To hire the very
best, you’ll have
to recruit fewer
Invariably when pundits talk about brand culture, companies
like Google and Apple come up. There’s chatter about oddball
perks employees enjoy (e.g. foosball, sleeping pods) and the
quirky things these companies do to identify prospective
employees who will fit in.
Most of us can’t relate to Apple and Google. And that’s just fine.
Every other company in aggressive pursuit of top talent must find ways to attract the most sought-
after knowledge workers on their own terms. How should they woo the very best if they’re not a
mega-hot Silicon Valley tech company?
What we’re going to discuss here is an idea that should make your head hurt and stomach churn.
If you’re a recruiter, HR executive, or anyone responsible for talent attraction, the following pages
will cause you to rethink how you acquire talent—and whether you’re going about it all wrong.
[Spoiler alert: You probably are.]
The crux of the problem is this: Your recruiting program is currently designed to net the
largest number of potential candidates possible, and then disappoint all but one. And you’re
disappointing people who are potential customers and future job candidates. It’s simply a
wrongheaded approach … and we’re going to point out a much better way.
culture branding /04
Let’s talk about why companies need to be faster and wilier than
their peers when it comes to identifying, attracting and retaining
top talent. It barely requires mentioning, but …
• In today’s economy, talent (not capital) is the basis of global competitive advantage. Talent
fuels innovation. Your roster of engineers, designers, developers, analysts, forecasters,
attorneys, digital marketers, and data jocks (among many others knowledge workers) are
pushing your organizations to outmaneuver the competition.
• The best in each of these fields is sought out by dozens of companies at once. (The UX
designer who made your last project succeed beyond expectations fielded three recruiting
calls last week.)
• These individuals have strong opinions about where and how they want to work. While the
size of the paycheck matters, other intangibles are equally important. They want a sense of
belonging with their employer … a feeling they work for an organization with values that
overlap their own. They prefer certain locations over others (e.g. hip urban centers over
suburban office parks), specific work styles (e.g. mobility, flexible schedules, etc…), and non-
financial benefits such as skills training and credentials.
culture branding /05
First, the required
Attracting and retaining these knowledge workers isn’t as simple as offering a job description
that matches their qualifications. They will want to know whether the entire package—including
your company’s culture—is attractive. Knowledge workers are in such high demand they have the
luxury of considering these non-financial rewards … and companies hoping to retain them must
adapt to recruit them successfully.
Let’s get one classic mistake out of the way: If your company
is a traditional, buttoned up financial services firm, don’t
try to pretend otherwise.
Your job is to:
(a) Identify the actual culture of your organization, and find reflect a true picture of what it’s like
to work for your organization. Have an entrepreneurial culture? Show it off. A culture that
encourages head-down work over long hours? Be clear about that too.
(b) Find ways to enhance what you already do. For example, if your organization supports
an entrepreneurial culture, think about creating internal idea hatcheries to encourage
new thinking. Or for the head-down company with long work hours, you may offer
on-site massages to ease the pressure. The idea is to do more and better what you
are already good at.
Ultimately you’re looking to define what your company and its employees stand for, what
potential employees in high-demand fields are hunting for, and figuring out the happy overlap
between the two.
Google: A culture of experimentation. Google’s famous fail fast philosophy asks
employees to take risks and try out new ideas. Ever heard of Google Buzz? Google Wave? Both
are failed experiments. In another organization employees leading those projects would have
been fired. At Google, those detours are just “research.”
Zappos: Empowering employees. The online shoe company rocketed to success
by giving customer service reps broad leeway in how they satisfy customers. Zappos has won
massive social media attention from customer anecdotes about Zappos’ employee awesomeness
(such as the Zappos employee who sent flowers to a customer who mentioned her mom passed
). And the company practically begs employees to leave the company if they don’t fit in; at
the end of the first week of new employee training, everyone is offered $2,000 to quit.2
let’s consider some
GE: Celebrating hobbies. Due to GE’s work in aviation, energy, transportation, mining
and industrials, the company is hyper-focused on attracting top talent in the STEM fields. GE
found that both customers and employees identified strongly with the maker community—
hobbyist designers, builders and tinkerers of all kinds. To enchant makers, GE created a moveable
show called GE Garages where visitors can experiment with technologies like 3D printers, laser
cutters and injection molders. Rather than tell potential employees how interesting work at GE
can be, Garages gives them a hands-on experience unlike any other.
The Nerdery: Work as play. This US-based interactive production shop that provides
digital and interactive know-how to big agencies. In other words, they are the developer/
tech savants that make the most interesting, novel projects work. The Nerdery needs to recruit
top developer talent to St. Paul, Minnesota (not the typical tech urban center). The company
celebrates a nerd culture and ensures employees balance hard work and long hours with humor
and playfulness. Says one employee, “Work never feels like work and my co-workers are all just
friends. We get work done but we have a lot of fun in doing so.”
The important thing in each of these examples is that not everyone will fit in. While The Nerdery
sounds like a fun place, some employees simply want to show up, put in the hours and go
home … and for them The Nerdery sounds too cultish. Some won’t be attracted to the constant
camaraderie and informal work style.
For that reason, it’s critical you don’t hype your company or oversell it. Your recruiting efforts must
communicate what it’s really like to work in their organization, day in and day out—as if you’re
holding up a mirror to daily life. The American Red Cross, for example, must recruit lab employees
who can follow directions repeatedly, without straying from strict instructions. Employees must
follow the same 48-step process each day, without deviation. Creatives and independent
problem-solvers need not apply.
Ultimately you don’t want hundreds of people to apply for open positions. You really only want
the perfect one.
Currently when a recruiter opens a new job, they may receive
hundreds of applicants for each role. Multiply that by the number
of requisitions a single recruiter manages, and it all adds up to an
unmanageable morass of applicants.
It’s no wonder job applicants complain they feel pressing “send” on an application is like
pressing “shred.” One applicant on Reddit recently complained, “The biggest frustration about
[applying for jobs] is completing the long-ass form for a job you are definitely qualified for, if not
overqualified, and then never hearing back.”3
Mystery Applicant, a company that helps companies assess candidate experience by polling
applicants at each step of the process, released a survey that found 46 percent of applicants rated
their experience as “poor” or “very poor.” And only 37 percent would recommend the company
based on their experience.4
Shocking? Not really. That’s because companies still treat job candidates as applicants for a single
job at a single point in time. If Susan Brown applies for the role of chemical engineer and isn’t
offered the position, we aren’t going to sweat about whether Susan’s happy. Are we?
Nonsense. In a climate in which knowledge workers are (a) in high demand, (b) a source of
competitive strength, (c) have historically high rates of turnover, and (d) are socially connected to
share information freely and easily … your recruiting efforts should focus on courting Susan Brown
throughout her career, not just at this single moment in time.
Technology now makes it possible to ensure Susan Brown has the
right qualifications to meet your needs before she applies.
The recruiting process will be less about verifying her skills and expertise, and more about
ensuring a cultural and personality fit between employer and applicant. Why do we say this?
• Sourcing technologies can scan vast databases of talent data, including social network data,
to cull a highly relevant list of possible candidates, filtered by how ready they may be to
• Assessment tools can weed out candidates who simply don’t have the technical chops,
intellectual rigor, or even cultural fit to meet your needs.
• On-demand video interviewing can automate a large part of the recruiting process so less time
is spent sorting and disqualifying and more time concentrating on high-value finalists.
In other words, technology will transform the hiring process from one spent figuring out how to
eliminate applicants to one focused on wooing the most attractive and qualified candidates. And
to do so, employers will need to spend a lot more time thinking about, defining and enhancing
their culture brand.
Don’t be an idealist, be
a realist. Survey your
employees and ask them
what it’s like to work at
your organization. What do
they enjoy most? What is
particularly challenging? What
would they want to relay to a
Even more … of those
employees who are
and productive at your
organization, what do they
have in common?
Only then are you prepared
to begin defining your
employee culture. Capture
both the good and the not-so-
good. Find a way to celebrate
your unique, even quirky,
Look at each aspect of your
recruiting efforts and study
how you can attract fewer of
the wrong candidates, and
zero in on the right ones. In
your studies, consider:
How well do your current
tools scour available talent
and recommend the
The initial interview.
Can you eliminate the poor-fit
candidates more efficiently …
before you’ve invited them
too deep into your hiring
process? Consider video
recruiting tools to improve
Improve your talent network.
Rather than “start cold” for
each new search, invest in
your existing talent network.
How can you capitalize on the
contacts you have amassed
from previous searches?
How can you ensure the
contacts are kept up to date
and, even more, can you keep
these relationships warm for
culture branding /16
I first discovered the Unconference concept when I led a track at #Recruitfest in Toronto
in 1999. I was taken back by the way discussion flowed and the difference to a traditional
conference format. I led a track all day under a tree and learnt far more than I gave.
Two months later and back in the UK, we ran the first #truLondon at Canary Wharf in November
2009. Today, we’re running dozens of #tru events a year across Europe, North America, Africa
and the Asia-Pacific. Thousands of recruiters, HR leaders and providers coming together in an
informal spirit of information sharing and networking.
#tru is based on the BarCamp principle, which means that everybody can be an active
participant instead of listening to speakers and watching presentations all day. The emphasis is
on communication and the free exchange of ideas and experiences where the participants fuel
thE #tru story