Communicating Culture When Using Third Party Recruiters

Culture Description Challenges

A strong culture is one of the most important weapons in the war for talent.  It’s also hard to communicate when using a third party recruiter.  We talked with Cheryl Krestanowich from Acuity HR Solutions to better understand where culture fits into the overall hiring picture, and how to communicate it when using a third party recruiter.

Why do you think it’s important to share culture with candidates during the hiring process? 

I guess that depends on how you define “culture” in this context. To me, workplace culture is the intangible thing that companies have, but aren’t always good at expressing. It’s more than “we have free food for employees on Fridays” or “we have an employee of the month program.” That’s just stuff you do. Culture is that intangible energy that runs through your organization; it’s the sense of purpose, the ability to determine your fit into the company’s success, the way that managers lead their people, and the way that employees are grown into their next role. Culture is who you are. Or, who you are not.

A good company culture will look like this to most top-performers: I have the opportunity to do the work that I love best every day in an environment that allows me the freedom to make decisions and really own what I am producing. My leader supports me and guides me, but doesn’t micromanage me or tell me how to do my job.

A toxic company culture might look like this: Walking into a new office is it the worst day of everyone’s lives. It feels like the movie Office Space, where there’s a soul-sucking density to the misery that you can feel when you walk through. People work against each other, actively seek to spread misinformation and count down to the end of the day starting at 9 AM.

Culture eats the job-ad for breakfast in recruiting. The job ad gets your attention, but the culture of the company gets the attention of the top performers. I don’t know any top-performer in any industry who isn’t looking to make a career move, and to work somewhere that they can be successful doing what they love. These people have passion, and if you can’t show them why your opportunity is amazing, they move on because they know they are in demand.

That’s the value of culture in recruiting.

The Perfect Fit

What are candidates typically looking for, in terms of information, on a potential employer? 

Top candidates want to know if they belong. They want to know that the work that they do will be important to the organization and that it will help them grow and get where they are going. They also want to know that their supervisor isn’t a micro-managing jerk who will be looking over their shoulder every two minutes for an update, and who will take credit for the work that they do while they wither away in the pit. They want to know what is expected of them, and how they are expected to do it.

I talk a lot about “top candidates” because they’re quite different from the average person applying for a job. Obviously, as Talent Acquisition professionals, we want to attract top talent, since that’s where success lies. For the average Joe, company culture matters but they aren’t as concerned with the fit as they are with the duties and the pay. They come to work, do well enough, and go home. And there’s nothing distinctly wrong with that, but companies pay big bucks to get top performers that will take them to the next level, and that’s a big responsibility.

How is this story usually told? Job descriptions, career sites, something else? 

That depends entirely on the company doing the recruiting. Agencies tend to be good at talking about skills and qualifications on career websites, but not good at talking about culture…often because they don’t know. Companies tend to do a bit better at describing culture when it comes to interviews, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. This story really gets told in a lot of different ways, some intentional and others not.

The savvy job seeker is going to check out somewhere like Glassdoor or Indeed to see how your employees feel about working there.  They might call someone they know, or reach out to a friend of a friend to learn more. That’s part of how they learn about your culture, and connect the dots between the story that you tell them and the reality of being there. There’s a good case for your internal employees telling part of the story for you…it’s worth investing in your leaders to ensure that employees are well cared for, but that’s another set of questions altogether!

Culture also gets shared by the way that an organization communicates information. If you have a really formal company culture, you will use proper language, excellent grammar, and stiffer prose. It’s like starching the collar of your dress-shirt…it is obvious when it has been done. This will attract a more academic candidate, and one who attends to the details and identifies with that style.

A company with a totally laid-back approach might share brightly coloured pictures, or lead off their communications with something that makes you laugh, and shows that they take their work, but not themselves very seriously. This will, again, attract a different candidate. The list could go on and on.

fun work culture

Our job ads are very different at Acuity. We focus on what a candidate might accomplish, and try to communicate culture through these avenues. We also take advantage of social media channels to get our message out with fewer words and a more pointed message that will reach out and grab the person we want. Obviously, given that we are a third-party recruiter, the tone and cultural signals we send out are different each and every time that we post an ad. If our efforts don’t speak to the right people, we’ve just wasted a lot of time.

Social media also plays a huge role in communicating culture. Acuity, for example, has a LinkedIn page where we share business-focused content intended to benefit our readers, and an Instagram and Facebook page to show a bit more of our personality. They are intentionally different to showcase who we are in the appropriate avenues. We’ve also gone through the process of creating a culture deck that speaks to our purpose and what we stand for. It’s another tool that we’ll use in the future to reach out to the world and tell them who we are. Those are valuable tools to have at your disposal, and if a company has a culture-deck, I’m absolutely sharing it with a candidate.

Finally, having an active network is part of that secret sauce that makes a recruitment strategy shine. Like attracts like, so surrounding yourself with people who think, and not just the same but from various angles, and who buy into you is important. My work as a TA professional is to brand myself as someone reliable and who won’t feed you garbage. It’s central to who I am, so everything that I put out into the world is to let people know I’m legit, that I’ll listen to them, and I won’t try and convince them to move ahead with something that is genuinely bad for them. Recruiter branding is important too.

Working Together

How can companies arm third party recruiters with the right information so that their culture is clear to candidates? 

It is so essential that hiring managers be prepared to spend time and energy up front when dealing with recruiters. You must spend time developing that relationship and helping your recruiter understand who you are. If you treat it as a single transaction, you’ll have someone who may be putting effort into getting the wrong candidates, and that can be expensive and have far-reaching consequences for your business.

Talent Acquisition is an important investment in the future of your company, and it’s not just a single transaction that gets you to that place. If you’re working with a third party, and they ask for an in-person meeting, that’s the culture card right there…being in your office, seeing the people who work there and how they behave, checking out body language, and being able to describe the physical work space is the thing that helps your recruiter succeed or fail.

You can also ask the recruiter to describe your culture to see if they get it. Evaluate what the key things that matter to the job are. It allows your recruiter to know they have it right if you spend the time investing in their knowledge of the company.

The worst thing that you can do if you engage a third-party recruiter is to be passive in the process. Overall it will save you more time and effort to spend a bit of time up-front and reap the rewards when they come knocking with the exact person that you needed.

What is the advantage to interviewing candidates that already know about your company’s culture?

Recruiting is a two-way street. Hiring Managers tend to forget that and assume that candidates are just jumping for joy to get an interview with you. Sometimes that is true, but other times – particularly with top candidates who know they can afford to be choosy – they are interviewing you just as much as you’re interviewing them. I’ve convinced them that there is enough evidence of a fit to have a meeting and find out the rest, but they still need to be convinced. I give them permission to back out at any time if something doesn’t feel right.

When a candidate comes in and understands as much as possible about your company’s culture, they have the opportunity ahead of time to imagine themselves in that role, in that company, and sitting in their office working for you. They’ve taken the mental leap to have considered their fit and have decided that, in theory at least, your company is suitable. At that point, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to convince them that it’s worth it because they’ve already started to buy in.

Recruiting isn’t about finding a square peg for a square hole. It’s about finding the fit between qualifications, knowledge, passion and purpose that will make an employee successful and engaged. Culture is a major component of assessing that fit.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Culture is clearly an important aspect of any talent acquisition strategy.  In fact, we started NextWave Hire first and foremost to promote employee stories as we believe these are many times the best ways to understand culture.  if you’re interested, you can contact NextWave Hire to learn more about how to utilize your employees’ to market your employee brand and find more great culture fits!