The Association for Qualitative Research
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Hiring: the bigger picture

The way a client views a brand can be completely at odds with how a potential employee does, says Sarah Davies

It has always been an uphill struggle in the qualitative research industry to find good people and keep them. So, as the jobless figures continue to rise, it's tempting to think that it might get easier.

Yet work we've carried out recently for Red Bull indicates researchers need to look at the bigger picture. For a start, the role of work within society is changing and employees are evaluating job opportunities very differently. They want to work to live rather than vice versa, they look for intangibles such as "experience" vs salary, and they want to be the ones calling the shots.

Millennial demands

And who are the people at the heart of these changes? Those who are often our candidates of choice: the "Millennials", those born between 1980 and 1995.

Last year's Financial Times Best Workplaces study highlighted six elements as being sought after by employees. These are:

  • Work/life balance
  • Fun and friendly company
  • Welcoming company
  • Collaborative culture
  • Training and development
  • Special and unique benefits

How many of us can offer these, I wonder? And if we do, how many of us manage to communicate this message to potential employees?

Maybe we're experiencing a bit of the "Physician, heal thyself" syndrome. We are experts in helping our clients evaluate and build brands, less so when dealing with our own. We are probably all pretty focused on building the client-facing side of our brands, but neglect to build our "employer" brands effectively.

Why don't we look at what we're advising clients to do, and incorporate the learnings into our own working lives. For instance, it's important to remember that the brand has many touch points for potential employees. Agencies need to be aware of each one, and to build their "employer brand" in the right spaces. It's not rocket science: it can involve word of mouth, consumer brand perception, trade press, blogs, conferences, recruitment consultants, mainstream media, offices, interviews and membership of AQR.

All these are potential spaces in which candidates might interact with your brand. And they will have a huge impact on whether you even enter a candidate's consideration set. Think, too, about the different messages you want to communicate in each space. You may not wish to communicate to clients at a conference that Friday is slippers and wine day, and that you shut at 3.30pm, but for employees this is a key indicator of your company's culture.

Do your homework. Investigate what reputation your organisation has as an employer beforehand, along with its unique personality or ethos. If this is not the impression you want to convey, you'll have to take steps to remedy the situation. You may have built a great reputation with clients, but have you taken any steps to create a strategy for your employer brand?

What am I talking about? Well, say your web site talks about clients expecting "only the highest quality work" from your team. This would boost your ability to attract talented people, since they'd want to feel proud of their employer and work with a winner. If, however, further investigation in the marketplace reveals that your management has a reputation for "not providing adequate support or resources to meet quality standards", this negative perception would counterbalance what's displayed on your web site. It's a case of "walking the talk".

Similarly, you may have a reputation for delivering innovative and creative work to your clients so use your employer brand to bring these values to life from an employee perspective. Tell them about the time the team had to dress up as Elvis lookalikes, get from one end of London to the other using as many forms of public transport as they could, and then turn it all into a short film.

Remember the obvious

So, since we advise brand owners to step into their customers" shoes, why shouldn't we do the same when it comes to potential employees? Caught up in the daily grind, it's all to easy to forget the obvious: Like:

  • The interview is the opportunity to showcase your office space, your work culture and the staff. It's not a good idea to mount a frantic last minute search for somewhere to talk, to avoid introducing them to anyone, or to abandon them to find their own way out.

  • The interview is a two-way process: The employer has as much work to do convincing the employee as the other way round. Keeping people waiting before an interview, for instance, can harm a company's image.

  • The interview process is as important for those you do employ as those you don't. Even if you don't want to hire the person, you don't want them to spread the word about what a nightmare it was and how they thank God they didn't get it.

  • Think beyond the details of the job description and what you, the employer, are looking for. Employees want to know what courses you offer, require proof that you're the entrepreneurial, forward thinking agency you say are, encouraging young blood to drive projects.

Yes, we're experiencing a recession, and that should mean more potential candidates. But the opposite is true, too. In the current climate, when the recruitment sector is at a standstill and researchers are nervous of moving and/or losing their job security, there is arguably a need to work even harder to attract them.

As most of you out there will know, strong brands can do surprisingly well in recessions... so what are you waiting for?

 

Sarah Davies
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2009