By: Jon Picoult
As you develop your recruitment strategies for the year ahead, consider this idea: give applicants a pleasant surprise.
How can something so simple be effective, you ask?
When you deliver the unexpected in the hiring process, it makes a powerful impression on job applicants. It creates positive memories that set your company apart from competing employers, helping you attract top talent.
Of course, you’ve got to nail some fundamentals in order for this recruitment strategy to work. Even the most delightful surprises can’t make up for basic shortcomings in the career opportunity you’re offering -- for example, a very uncompetitive salary and benefits package or an unsafe work environment.
However, if you’ve got those table stakes covered, then pleasant surprises can give you the edge you need to win the war for talent.
In the context of business interactions, just what is a pleasant surprise? It’s something that you do, say, or deliver that is unexpected, positive and memorable relative to competitors. Often times, it can be a small gesture, but one that speaks volumes about your business values.
Start with Solid Recruiting Practices
Ask job seekers what constitutes a pleasant surprise and they’ll probably cite things like an employment application that’s easy to complete, a job description that’s clear and informative, or a recruiter who returns phone calls.
Those might seem like basics, rather than pleasant surprises. Yet so many businesses disregard the quality of their applicant experience -- when candidates come across a company that consistently delivers on these fundamentals, they take notice.
I’ve addressed this concept in previous recruiting articles and videos. However, without diminishing the importance of those fundamentals, today’s focus is on a powerful complement to traditional recruiting strategies.
Impress Applicants with Pleasant Surprises
That complement is about not just nailing the basics, but delivering something more. So in 2012, when you’re trying to recruit great hires, consider surprising your job applicants by applying these ideas:
Make eye contact and smile -- from 10 feet away. In our smartphone-addicted culture, it’s rare that people make eye contact with one another, let alone do it from a distance. When a job applicant walks into your store or approaches a reception desk, and is greeted by a heads up, smiling face, it’s unusual and striking. It sends a refreshing message that applicants don’t often receive: you’re important to me and you have my attention.
Offer VIP greetings. Many employers may not realize it, but they frequently treat job applicants with discourtesy (e.g., unreturned phone calls). Turn that to your advantage by treating applicants (especially your finalists) like VIPs. When calling them to schedule a final interview, turn the conversation into more than a robotic calendaring exercise. Mention how excited everyone is to meet them, and how glad you are that they’ll be paying you a visit. Apply the same approach when the applicant arrives onsite. Don’t treat them like a number or shuffle them around like a piece of paper -- focus on making them feel welcome.
Anticipate needs. Part of making the applicant feel welcome is anticipating their personal needs. Depending on how long their trip was to your location, they may appreciate a bottle of water or directions to a restroom. If you have a receptionist greeting visitors, have them offer these things to the applicant upon arrival (or, if not, offer them yourself). Even if the candidate declines, they’ll appreciate the offer and view it as a signal that you actually care about the wellbeing of others.
Provide directions on exit. If applicants are local, you likely have their address. If they’re traveling from afar, you probably know if they flew in or took a train. When their onsite session ends, hand them written directions for getting back to the airport, train station, or just driving home. If they’re leaving around a meal time, highlight some local restaurants on the map. All this takes is a simple Google Maps query, but applicants will be amazed by your considerate effort to make their travels a little easier.
Give a “swag” bag. As you whittle down your list of applicants, consider giving them a basket of promotional items from your company (a mug, t-shirt, or small gift card). This gesture would be reserved just for the final few candidates, so it wouldn’t cost much, but is guaranteed to make a memorable impression. After all, how often is it that job applicants go to an interview and leave with a gift?
Offer a shadow session. Applicants may be thrilled with everything they hear about your business and the role, but they may be left wondering -- what’s it really like working there? If you have confidence in the quality of your work environment, consider offering the most promising applicants a “shadow session” with an existing employee who’s already doing the job.
Even if it’s just for one hour, it gives applicants an unvarnished look at the role they’ve applied for, and an opportunity to pepper a future potential colleague with questions. It’s a pleasant surprise for the applicant because it reflects uncommon transparency, and a genuine effort by the employer to ensure a good mutual fit.
Demystify the compensation package. Eventually, you’ll make a job offer to an applicant. But the game’s not over there, because the individual might still be considering competing offers -- the opportunity remains to influence them with a pleasant surprise.
After making a verbal offer, follow-up with a polished information packet that clearly and simply describes all the elements of the package -- such as compensation information, benefits, training programs, and other unique offerings (e.g, employee discounts).
Many businesses view this as an “administrative” communication with a prospective employee. View it instead as a final sales pitch, a platform for making the applicant’s decision easy and straightforward.
Incorporating pleasant surprises into your recruitment strategy -- particularly those that make the candidate feel good or special in some way -- create positive, memorable impressions. As such, they can be very powerful sources of differentiation, in any type of business interaction.
Presuming you’ve got the recruiting basics nailed, it’s the pleasant surprises that applicants will remember when they return home and evaluate their employment options.
Jon Picoult is Founder of Watermark Consulting, a firm that helps businesses impress their customers, candidates and employees. Jon is a frequent writer and speaker on workplace issues. Prior to founding Watermark, he held senior executive roles in service, technology, sales and marketing at Fortune 100 companies. Learn more, or read Jon’s blog, at watermarkconsult.net.