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The Tipping Point in Recruitment

If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, you know that in certain human endeavors there comes a point when the future course of events is decided. That point occurs when a critical mass of influential factors is reached, and the ensuing events are tipped in one virtually unstoppable direction. While Gladwell focused his book on product marketing, I think it holds an important message for recruitment, as well.


The typical recruitment ad includes a range of information that describes the responsibilities of a particular position and the capabilities required of a person in order to be able to perform it. It includes such facts as:

  • the type of work that will be performed
  • what is expected of the person in performing the job
  • the skills and competencies necessary for successful job performance
  • the type of person the organization wants to hire.


All of that information is vital in describing the employment opportunity to candidates. It does not, however, reach the tipping point for selling them on taking it. It informs them, but does not persuade them. It doesn’t induce them to make a change. And that’s precisely what an ad must do in order to recruit the best talent.


There are two truisms about the "A" level performers that we most want to recruit for our organizations. They are almost always employed, and they are passive shoppers for new employment opportunities. Therefore, a recruitment ad can only be successful if it convinces them to do the one thing that humans most hate to do: change. It must activate them to go from the devil they know—their current employer, boss and commute—to the devil they don’t know—your employer and a new boss and commute.


How can we reach that tipping point in our ads? A 2003 study by the Recruiting Roundtable points the way. It determined the percentage impact various factors would have on changing the behavior of employment prospects. In other words, it found which factors would most likely influence passive shoppers to become active consumers of an organization’s employment value proposition. Here are the results:

  • the type of work that will be performed—4.5%
  • what is expected of the person in performing the job—12.4%
  • the skills and competencies necessary for successful job performance—2.5%
  • the type of person the organization wants to hire—13.0%, and
  • the day-to-day experiences a person will have as an employee—19.1%.


In other words, describing what it will be like to work in your organization is 4 times as powerful in inducing a change among employment prospects as describing the type of work to be done. Does that mean that information about the job is unimportant in recruitment advertising? Of course not. It means, instead, that an "A" level prospect looks first at the whole of the employment value proposition. Why? Because they are (and will be) offered lots of great jobs during their career. The tipping point for them, therefore, is a two-fer: a great job with a great employer.


Equally as important, the study also determined that this one factor—the employment experience—was especially important for "A" level performers. While "C’ level performers required a persuasion level equal to just 9.9% to accept a new position, "A" level performers were unlikely to move until a persuasion level of 20% had been reached. That’s why a traditional "responsibilities and requirements ad" (i.e., one that details "the type of work to be performed" and "the skills and competencies required for successful job performance" will work for mediocre talent, but doesn’t have sufficient selling power for the best and brightest.


So, how do you incorporate the employment experience into your recruitment advertising?


The following suggestions will get you started:

  • Make culture a central element of your advertising message. The average commercial employment site will accept job postings as long as 1,400 words or more. Use that space to describe the work environment and values of your organization as well as the specific opening you are trying to fill.
  • Provide employee testimonials on your organizational Web-site. These testimonials should cover a cross-section of occupations, levels of experience, ethnicity and age. They should include both a picture of the person as well as a description of their workday in their own words. And, the testimonials should change every year to reflect the diversity of perspectives and talent available in your organization.
  • Make "A" level performers the public face of your organization. Videotape top workers talking about the experience of working for your organization—what they get to do, what they get to achieve, what they get to learn, whom they get to work with. Then, bring those vignettes to career fairs and on campus recruiting trips, and play them constantly.
  • Provide a "What it’s like to work here" chat or blog on your organizational Web-site. While this feature can be implemented by a recruiter or a member of the HR Department, it’s likely to have greater impact—at least on "A" level prospects—if the author is their peer. Its purpose is not to present the party line or the organization’s compensation and benefits policies, but rather to paint a picture of the workday—its challenges, opportunities, camaraderie and even its imperfections.
  • Create a brochure illustrating a "Day in the Life of …." For those that don’t have a Career area on their organizational site (or can’t easily add interactive features to a site controlled by the IT Department), this publication can be the next best thing. Make sure that it’s written in colloquial English and not organizational jargon and that it provides an honest and candid picture of a "typical" employee’s workday. Include the brochure in all of your application materials and recruiting packets and make it available for select employees to hand out as they interact with peers at professional and business meetings.
  • Winning the War for the Best Talent requires that we reach the tipping point for "A" level performers. We have to provide the information and insight that will overcome their passivity and activate their conviction to work for our organizations. The single factor that reaches that high bar of influence is the nature of the experience they can expect to have on-the-job. Make that irresistible, and you’ll recruit more than your organization’s fair share of the best talent. 


Peter Weddle is a recruiter, HR consultant and business CEO turned author and commentator. Described by The Washington Post as "... a man filled with ingenious ideas," he has earned an international reputation, pioneering such concepts as Human Capital, Career Fitness and the Internet as a resource for recruiting and HR management. He has authored seven books, edited six others and published dozens of articles in professional and trade magazines. He writes a weekly column about online recruiting for from The Wall Street Journal and a monthly newsletter that is distributed worldwide.