Everyone wants to work someplace interesting and exciting, but not everyone would describe every single industry that way. For better or worse, some businesses simply fail to connect with young job seekers' ambitions, dreams, and desires as well as others do. After all, few kids grow up wanting to work in insurance, but many do—and end up liking it.
Certain industries' popularity rise and fall with the times. Many of the kids who grew up during the Space Age rushed into engineering programs and wound up building Silicon Valley. On the flip side, the financial sector's hiring bonanza in the early aughts has cooled off a bit in the era of Bernie Sanders. Other industries just seem to be perennially unpopular.
But all of them still have the opportunity to make smart, passionate hires—if only they know how to seize it.
A measly 4% of millennials surveyed by The Hartford said they were interested in a career in insurance. What little the survey participants knew about the industry sounded boring. As one put it, "My idea of working in the insurance industry is kind of like older men making a lot of money, and there isn't a lot of room for creativity."
This may have no bearing on the reality, of course, but it still represents a genuine recruiting problem—so much so that insurers are collaborating in order to tackle it. The Insure My Path organization, a trade group, is working to educate new graduates about the industry and persuade them to consider working in it. While these efforts may move the needle some, it's far from the only approach that might work.
That's where "employer branding" comes in. The idea is simple: Create advertising that educates your target candidate demographic and attracts them to your job openings. To do that, you need to get your marketing and recruiting teams to play in the same sandbox. Recruiters have the stories, and marketers have the skills to bring them to life. Creating visual content that can be distributed on your social media channels helps job seekers get a better sense of what it’s like to work for you. Not only does it help you get your image out there, it gives candidates a reason to trust you're a good employer.
This is crucial in less-than-popular industries. GE's "What’s the matter with Owen?" campaign last year was geared to luring innovation-minded millennials to look beyond Silicon Valley's startup scene. It was a series of funny videos that were made to be shared on social. Of course, not every company has the ability to launch a national ad campaign, but the good news is that nonfiction storytelling may work just as well and cost a fraction of the resources.
Marketing expert Jay Baer predicts that 2017 will be the year of nonfiction storytelling in the branding world. As he explains in a Medium post:
Millennials abhor falsehoods (not that any generation craves them, but millennials are especially angsty about marketing wolves in sheeps' clothing). And as millennials become the dominant buying cohort for more and more companies, storytelling will become grounded in unvarnished truth.
To be sure, Baer is referring to millennials as consumers, not job seekers, and there's reason to raise an eyebrow or two at the research claiming to uncover traits and characteristics supposedly held by an entire generation. But you don't have to hold out until the definitive, longitudinal data comes in to recognize that job seekers today—no matter their age—are more likely and better equipped to "shop" for an employer than ever before.
Candidates now know they can look up your employees’ profiles on LinkedIn; review ratings about your CEO and interview process on Glassdoor; and check out your company’s reputation with customers on Yelp. In fact, many savvy job seekers—the ones you most want to hire—feel compelled to do so as a matter of course; it's just part of the job-search process now.
They'll follow your company’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and LinkedIn feeds to see if you're a good company to work for. That gives employers a chance to get in front of job seekers in ways they couldn't before, as GE did. But it also comes with a risk: as Baer points out, the type of content you put on those channels needs to pass candidates' bullshit meters, which may be getting more sensitive. Any employer branding effort that sounds inauthentic is likely to be dismissed out of hand.
So here's a solution: Hand over your Snapchat account to current employees. This may be news for those over age 30, but "Snapchat takeovers"—where you give an ordinary employee the username and password for the day and let them document their workday—are the rage for good reason. Cisco recently gave it a try. "Snapchat allows for us to have that social conversation in a very unfiltered (pun intended), authentic, and fun way," the IT company's HR director Macy Andrews tells me, and unlike traditional marketing campaigns, it's clear that that authentic conversation cuts both ways—it's engaging for employees and prospective hires alike. After piloting the program with just a few employees, Cisco now has a waitlist of staff eager to participate.
You'll know it's working when it starts generating real conversation—some of which won't be especially positive. And that's okay. Respond to your haters. Savvy job candidates don’t expect you to be perfect; in fact, they'll trust you less if they can’t find any potential downsides to working for you. Many companies ignore negative reviews on sites like Glassdoor, when in reality they should be jumping to respond to them. Thoughtful, balanced answers show you're listening and willing to take criticism.
It also gives you a chance to explain your side of the story, helping give candidates a wider window onto your workplace. That could hardly be more crucial for employers and industries where job seekers aren't necessarily storming the gates. In fact, one recent Glassdoor survey revealed 62% of job seekers have a more favorable view of an employer after reading their response to an employee's review on the platform.
Ultimately, the best antidote to unpopularity in the job market is simply becoming more present in it. Not only can your current employees help you do that on the cheap, they can keep you honest in the process. Since one of the biggest reasons top talent shirks certain fields is simple ignorance, anything you can do to fill in the gaps in their knowledge—and do it authentically—means winning the hiring battle even if you're losing the popularity contest.