Make Your Employer Brand Weird

A strange thing happened to me recently. My husband made me try a new kind of ketchup and I actually liked it. The creative concoction from emerging health brand The New Primal, was actually delicious. Enough so to give me real pause. Why? It’s not Heinz.

70% of Americans (including me) have a bottle of Heinz ketchup in their refrigerators. It’s comforting, it’s a taste we know, and Heinz has done an artful job at marketing to the masses. I’ve been known to scoff at restaurants with other bottles on the table. Why mess with what I’ve always expected? So when I liked this new ketchup, I was not only surprised, I actually reconsidered my accepted alignment all these years.

In Seth Godin’s book, We Are All Weird, he talks about the predictability of Heinz ketchup and the falling tide of mass market appeal. When we’re given a choice between normal and unique, we increasingly almost always choose the latter.

And here’s where ketchup and jobs collide. We’re failing at hiring because we’re catering to the masses. Consider the following:

·       Opportunity for growth

·       Diverse team

·       Make an impact

·       Be innovative

Sound familiar? Pull up any large company careers site and you’ll see these words. Over and over and over again. We’re too scared as organizations to get specific so we appeal to everyone.

Take Apple’s new careers site. The opening video is beautifully creative, presenting an opportunity to join a team of diverse difference makers. The irony? It is another exercise in mass market jobs appeal. There are no examples of those specific differences. No descriptions of the different ways employees make a difference. No stories with specific examples of diversity at work.

Even the most creative of companies is still afraid to steer away from mass marketing career opportunities.

This is where we are failing. Most people don’t want just another job. They want something specific to themselves, a connected reason or purpose aligned with what makes them special. And this isn’t millennials or Gen Z talking. This is the future of careers. From the hourly worker to seasoned executive, we want something special. In our latest research on candidate experience, we heard over and over again that the candidate experience doesn’t end with a job offer. Candidates need to feel a sense of belonging. We all want something that’s uniquely ours to be proud of.

It doesn’t mean these distinctive opportunities don’t exist. They do! But as people leaders, HR executives, and organizations, we’re not selling them, and we should be.

We’re risk-averse, volume-driven, and scared to divert from mass market appeal.

HR marketers and employer brand professionals are asked and encouraged (usually by our executives and leaders) to promote what they think should be shared rather than our distinct realities. So we talk about our jobs the same way everyone else does. We make bold proclamations about being collaborative, diverse, and sincere. Which are really vanilla since everyone else is saying the same thing. But we’re too hesitant to lift the curtain any more on our weirdness because we’re afraid to scare people away. But that’s what you want to do.

No matter how many thousands of job requisitions you have, you should want to repel talent as much as you want to attract it.

Repel candidates who won’t thrive in your culture. Attract the ones who will. And do it by showing all of who you are as an organization. Warts and all. Give employees freedom to talk and share honestly. Don’t just tell stories of inspiration and success. Share failures, what’s not working, and the hard realities of your industry or location.

Share your ingredients, no matter what they are. Pineapple juice in ketchup? You’re either intrigued or turned off. But at least you’re not wasting anyone’s time, especially yours.

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