Still, culture is a tricky thing to advertise, especially when you aren't the sort of company that can pour buckets of money into flashy perks and quirks that people outside your company know you for. For that matter, even the much-touted paid leave policies that some of the hottest tech companies have lately rolled out are beyond the reach of most employers.
So the question becomes not just how to stand out in the market for top talent, but how to accurately communicate aspects of your culture that matter to those within your business but may not immediately strike a nerve outside it.
76% of job seekers in a recent Glassdoor survey said they want to hear details on what makes a company "an attractive place to work." That actually beat out demand for information about compensation and benefits—and it hints at a strategic advantage: Your company culture may not need to be eye-poppingly unique, but if you can conjure it with enough precision, you'll stand out from the pack.
It goes without saying that clarity here is key. Culture comes down to the lived experiences of front-line employees, but it's top-level leaders who often set the tone for everyone. It's important for leaders to understand that their choices about work culture don't just impact current employees, they affect prospective ones, too.
So before you start working on a recruitment campaign, take an assessment; find out first whether your culture needs some renovating. What do current employees think about working with you? If certain criticisms come up a lot, set about righting them. How you work to improve your culture just so happens to reflect it—and job seekers will take note if you tell them about how you're making it better all the time.
Every company has one immensely valuable resource for recruiting staring them in the face, but most don’t even know it. Simply by sharing their experiences, current employees can help give voice to an employer brand—one that's genuine and personal. One company that gets this is the facilities management company Sodexo. "We have a long-standing commitment to making the hiring process as easy as possible for job seekers," Arie Ball, vice president of talent acquisition, recently told me.
Sodexo has built a career portal offering more than just the usual search box for open positions. As Ball explains, a combination of "web pages, videos, podcasts, and social media" helps Sodexo convey its culture and hiring priorities, which include an emphasis on long-term commitment to its employees: "Within the portal, we are able to showcase not only our job opportunities, but also our commitment to advancing our employees’ careers through training and development that support both personal and professional growth."
Of course, there are analog ways to get across a personal message about your company culture. Bring in a high-performing employee—someone who has no say whatsoever over a candidate's prospects—to chat with candidates and show them around during the interview process. That way, candidates can gain an individualized, frank view of what it's like to work for the company.
Honesty is just as important for recruitment teams as it is for job seekers. Say you're considering a strong candidate for an IT job but realize over the course of conversation that they're passionate about product development. You have that IT position open and know they've got what it takes to excel there, but you also have a strong, well-founded suspicion that they may not be happy over the long haul.
As a hiring manager or recruiter, you don't need to be someone's career counselor and directly suggest that they may want to consider applying for different types of roles. On the other hand, it is your job to make the right hire for your company, and if that's the reason you suspect this person isn't the best fit, it's not a bad idea to tell them. That can say a lot about your company's consideration for employees' needs and career goals, not just its own—word of which can get around.
You may not be able to offer unlimited vacation or a Netflix-level parental leave policy, but chances are you do have work-life perks and benefits—from flexible schedules to skills training—that make you competitive. So talk about them!
Job seekers in today's market are arguably more keen on weighing those factors alongside compensation packages than they used to be. And all of them reflect your company's culture. Hiring managers don't often think that all of the many ways their companies function day-to-day—even the most seemingly insignificant from the inside—illustrate some dimension or other of its culture. As a result, you can use those features to accurately advertise your brand to candidates who will fit in better than if you don't.
Finally, sometimes one or two major initiatives can speak volumes about your culture in ways that the daily experience of working within it can't. The outdoor retailer REI scored a slew of national headlines last year by announcing it would pay its 12,000 employees to go outside rather than work on Black Friday.
Sure, it had the wherewithal to launch a top-notch viral marketing campaign called #OptOutside in order to share that with the world—customers and job seekers alike. But you can send more modest signals on a tighter budget and still make an impact on how you hire. Simply put, if candidates aren't aware of your employer brand, you might as well not have one.
Susan Vitale is chief marketing officer at iCIMS, where she's responsible for the brand across prospective and existing customers, industry influencers, candidates, and employees. Follow her on Twitter at @susan_vitale.