There’s a section in The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Al and Laura Reis’s 2002 branding bible, about the importance of “owning” the word or phrase you want customers to associate with your business. They point out how Volvo has sought to own the word “safe,” and FedEx the word “overnight.”
Yet for all their branding acumen, Volvo, FedEx, and the vast majority of employers all describe their work cultures the same way: They’re “fast-paced environments,” of course.
It’s the emptiest and most overused phrase in recruiting–and a lazy way of describing how your operations and culture combine to create a work experience. No job applicant who reads that expression on a job listing gives it a moment’s thought. If “fast-paced environment” appears anywhere in your job descriptions or on the careers section of your website, you need to think a lot harder about what you want to say to future employees. Here’s why–and what to put in its place.
What Really Makes Your Workplace Appealing?
What’s the point of coming down so hard on a throwaway phrase that most regard as banal? Because it’s a missed opportunity at best. At worst, it shows you have a shallow appreciation of what your working environment is actually like–which good candidates will notice. And most of all, because you can do so much better.
Your company’s working environment is the sum of these three parts:
- The character of your employees
- The business’s priorities
- How people actually get work done
In other words, it’s culture, strategy, and operations rolled into one. You should know enough about those things and the ways they intersect in your company to say something that leaves a lasting impression. If you don’t, your first priority should be figuring that out.
Consider how much more meaningful and interesting it might be for a candidate to read something like this in a job description:
Our customers demand results quickly, so our employees have to make complex decisions quickly as a result. To do that, we empower our teams to make big decisions and to be accountable for them. The only way it works is by hiring the very best problem solvers we can find.
Our business and our customer success team are both growing fast. We’re looking for leaders who can make sure customer satisfaction doesn’t slip a single inch as we scale, even while the company evolves in order to accommodate growth.
Crucially, a description in this vein tells a prospective candidate how the role fits into the overall mission. And if your workplace really is “fast-paced,” it explains how it’s fast-paced in a specific way for a specific reason. It also lets applicants picture how they’ll be managed, so they can consider whether that suits them. That’s what you should give people when you describe your work environment.
Fast-Paced Isn’t Always A Selling Point
One summer while I was in college, I was a research intern with the White House Council of Economic Advisers. (Ever been the dumbest person at work? I have.) It was an interesting and challenging experience, but it wasn’t especially fast-paced. And I think everyone was pretty down with that. They all could’ve worked at investment banks or hedge funds if they’d wanted to, but they liked their jobs for many other reasons than the speed at which they were expected to do them.
Moreover, expecting your employees to do good work and deliver on time doesn’t make your environment “fast-paced”–it just makes it a work environment. You don’t need to make it sound like a trading floor at the opening bell. Maybe the best thing about working at your organization is how connected people are to the company’s mission. Or how not-burnt-out they are. Maybe it’s the travel. Or the flexibility. Or the opportunities for advancement.
The bottom line is this: If you’re in a high-octane industry, any half-decent candidate understands of the tempo of the business already. Just tell them why it’s a good place to work.