Believe it or not, experiential recruiting isn’t new; it’s just a term that hasn’t caught on…yet.
Experiential recruiting refers to interactions between recruiters and/or hiring managers and candidates in which there is an element of performance, either professional or social. Some may say it’s just about storytelling and video, but that is one-sided. You may have heard the term “working interview,” but experiential recruiting can go far beyond a working interview (which, by law, do pay.) Hackathons are experiential recruiting. Any event a company has to which candidates would be invited can be considered experiential recruiting.
I held experiential events in 2008-2009. They were called Helping Hands Job Fairs. I paired recruiters up with candidates to do a half-day of community service and then break bread together. At one event, attendees sorted donations at a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store on a Saturday. At another, we had two teams winterizing homes in the community. At yet another, we had a few teams assigned to various projects through United Way’s Day of Caring, including mucking horse stalls, planting flowers, weeding, painting, etc.
For whatever reason, it was challenging at the time getting the employers committed, even though I was offering to recruit, identify, and pre-qualify the candidates. I stopped because I was pregnant; I had one baby, and then another. Organizing events is time-consuming and complex.
And here I am now with two kids in school all day. I’m ready to advise, strategize, plan and organize more events like this, as well as events that are less service-oriented and even more about fun, culture, and adventure – all depending on what you want your company to be to your current and future employees.
There’s a key to success – the events have to attract the talent with the hard skills, soft skills, and values that you want. The great thing about them is that, while events like hackathons can help you determine technical skills, these events help companies better assess someone’s soft skills and values. Also, hackathons sometimes attract top talent, but that talent doesn’t necessarily want to be employed by you or at all.
At the HireOne Task Force meeting I attended last month, the employers in the room all echoed the same complaint – not enough of the candidates with the hard skills they need have the soft skills that they want. So, they have to narrow their pool down in a pool that for some skills is already too small.
Part of the problem is that not everyone can put their best foot forward out of the gate; some people, like many introverts, need time to warm up. An interview, which can seem like a barrage of questions, doesn’t allow these people the time they need to let their true personalities show. They may come off as competent, but not likeable.
Another problem is that soft skills development isn’t taught in school (few do – it was something I taught as part of the Career Management and Professional Development course I taught at Drexel University to business students.) The county that sponsors HireOne offered an 8-week course for struggling job seekers that did also teach people how to shake hands, make eye contact, be courteous, follow etiquette, etc. They reported that still some participants could not put what they learned into practice
Remember when you learned how to drive, though? How much there was to pay attention to – the mirrors, the signals, pedestrians, pedals, steering, etc. It took time for those skills to become automatic, especially when you’re nervous.
Experiential recruiting events offers candidates who have the potential to become strong team members the opportunity to spend a little more quality time with recruiters and more time to come out of their shells and show who they really are.
Soft skills, which at their best can be considered high emotional intelligence, ARE teachable, and I have tricks to accelerate the application and adoption (mindfulness training and hypnosis.) Otherwise, people just need a lot more time and practice.
Time – ah. We have hit upon the major objection of doing these events.
If you have them during work hours, you are excluding those candidates who are working and find it challenging already to sneak away for an hour-long face-to-face interview. Some companies, like Vanguard, are combining community service initiatives with graduate recruitment, which eliminates the problem of time of day. While attracting and recruiting the best new graduates for your company can definitely be aided by events like this, many more companies are in need of better methods of attracting experienced talent. This is where most of a company’s ROI on talent gets generated.
If you have them at night, you are asking your staff to sacrifice their personal time.
This is all the more reason why these events really need to be designed to be time well spent – something you, your staff, and your candidates would want to do anyway.
Back in 2012 when I last spoke at the Greater Valley Forge Human Resources Association HR Summit (I speak there again next month on executive branding), I deconstructed why talent communities haven’t effectively helped companies build talent pipelines. Talent communities were a trend back then proposed as a way for companies to line up people with skill sets that they’ll need on a recurring basis or in the future. Some job boards were trying to transform themselves and take advantage of this. They never took off because job seekers don’t want to be in a community of competitors for jobs they want.
Companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, etc. build talent communities simply because they are who they are. Everyone else would like to think that they’re employment brand game is so strong, but let’s be clear what candidates really want – a fair shot, quality time, and to be recognized as special. They don’t want to wait in line or mingle with people who might get the job over them – that’s like The Bachelor/Bachelorette of recruiting, without the mansion, cocktails, and breathtakingly romantic trips.
Another time constraint is built into recruiting models that don’t allow for recruiters to even have that extra time. When my firm experimented with different reporting models and metrics, we had a certain number of calls and in-person interview we needed to complete each week. This meant the work-hard/play-hard culture I loved became a work-hard/work-long environment. I became disengaged pretty quickly. My wedding was a great distraction. The last thing I wanted to do was spend MORE time at work. In fact, I needed a long break; thank goodness for my honeymoon.
Job fairs do not count as experiential, even though they are face-to-face, and for the reasons stated above about the limited time and nature of an interview. Job fairs barely allow someone to get an impression past the initial first impression, which are NOT always accurate. In fact, recruiters have been evolving in their awareness of biases and ability to dismiss them. They occur automatically – it’s how our brain works. Our conscious mind matches experiences with experiences from the past. So we don’t expect that people can rid themselves of biases, just become more adept at recognizing and dismissing them. However, at a job fair, there is very little time to do this before the next person steps up. Again, like driving a car, you can become faster at this until it becomes more automatic. In the meantime, job fairs offer only a few stand out candidates with charisma to make a lasting impression.
A couple of things along my professional path inspired my interest in these events.
My former boss invited the team to spend a day at his Jersey shore house where he fed us and took us to the beach to play games. We knew he was a 3x Ironman and that he worked out. We could see how the other runner in the office gained his favor. I didn’t realize that beating him at horseshoes would impress him, but it did. He shared that with me. (I’m glad I didn’t know that beforehand or I might have choked.) He appreciated competitiveness as a quality. Then I remembered how me playing on a softball team was one of the things the company shared about me when I was hired. Apparently, that meant that I fit the culture.
However, so many times these things don’t come up in the interview process. They did a good job of uncovering that. Then I thought, what can companies do to identify these types of cultural qualities better? How about a game night?
When my youngest child finally started pre-school and I had mornings all to myself, I started Job Seeker Hikes. I invited job seekers to hike a moderately challenging trail with me while I asked them questions and gave them advice, not dissimilar to my free consultations, only I got to hike, one my favorite things in the world to do. I could coach multiple job seekers simultaneously, allowing them to learn from each other, build trust and rapport, and increase my chances of converting one of those job seekers into a paying client.
I called this experiential business development. And I loved it, and I’ll probably do it again now that both of my kids are in school, pending I can see that fitting into everything else I am excited to do with a full workday.
As I pondered my clients’ and contacts’ recruiting and hiring pains, I often came back to this model as a great replacement for job fairs, which, by everyone’s account, suck. I thought I coined the term “experiential recruiting,” but I looked it up and it was a thing already.
In fact, I identified a company in Milwaukee that was using events like this not only to help employers brand themselves and better assess the soft skills and values of their candidates, but they were also using the events to promote the cultural richness that the city has to offer. It’s called Newaukee. Why isn’t this in every city??? Talk about triple bottom line!
Another potential objection is cost, but the truth is, depending on what you do it may not cost you much more than a job fair. However, you can get more in-depth with a smaller, more targeted candidate pool.
To get ROI you first want to make sure you understand the kinds of candidates that YOU want who ALSO want to work for you. You (or we) build a candidate profile, much like a buyer profile. Find out what segments exist and what they like to do.
You might need two or three different kinds of events. For instance, you might want to have a game night or block party, a community service event, and an art gallery trip.
Need people who can be creative problem solvers? How about an escape room?
What do you think about having family-friendly recruiting events? Does that blow your mind?
Then you also need to get those people there AND use the events to tell a compelling story about your company and its people straight from its people, which may take a bit of training. The other key is LISTENING. Use the events to learn about your prospective candidates, improve candidate experience, and create even better events.
Word of mouth spreads fast about these events. People will get very interested in attending, even if they aren’t very interested in working for you, so you (or we) have to vet them. However, even candidates who may not have thought they wanted a change may find themselves swayed and a bit more invested and enthusiastic about a company after a great event. If they really aren’t going to budge now, they may some day, and they can refer some talent in the meantime. So, the vetting is more about skills, value, and culture fit. A lot of the times the nature of the event and who is interested in it helps assess value and culture right off the bat.
So, in my Epic Careering version of these events we combine employer branding, target candidate identification and buzz-worthy experiences to keep a pipeline of high-quality potential hires pumping in, while the recruiting teams and hiring managers also have worthwhile experiences. I am all about productive play!
Contact me today to learn how your recruitment teams can use events like these to better compete for top talent.
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Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play.
While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.
Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Consultant and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business and recently instructed for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy at Cabrini College, where her students won the national competition and were named America’s Top Young Entrepreneurs.
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