How do you attract talent to an organization that everyone thinks they know thanks to Hollywood? Peter Sursi is Senior Executive, Recruitment, and Hiring; Human Resources Division at the FBI and is responsible for everyone coming into the bureau.
The FBI has roughly over 37,000 all around the world. Most of them (about 55%) are in our 56 field offices across the United States, about 33% are in our headquarters in Washington D.C., and 2% are in our overseas offices, mostly co-located with American embassies. The great thing about the FBI is that you don’t have to explain it, as most of the American public know the FBI. On the flip side, we have 700 different jobs, of which special agent is one. So, I’m not trying to hire not just special agents, but also the 699 other positions.
As an example, I started back in 1998 as a Japanese language analyst. I had studied Japanese in college on a total whim because there was a girl in that class that I liked and it was close to the cafeteria. I thought that would be cool, to speak Japanese. But my life went into a totally new direction; I ended up teaching English overseas for a couple of years. Then I applied to be a linguist with the bureau, as we have for example 1400 full-time translators that do language related investigations. So I came in, moved into language operations all over the country and eventually moved over to HR.
What talent challenges are you faced with?
One of the big challenges that we have is letting everybody know that, in addition to agents, we offer other jobs. We have 3,000 intelligence analysts, 1,900 entry-level operation support individuals, linguists, forensic accountants, press officers, and even a gunsmith. You see that in the Hollywood projections, but that’s mostly special agents and intelligence analysts. The FBI has all these fantastic careers to offer, which is exciting, but also our challenge. We have to make sure everybody has a great picture of what they could do at the FBI, and imagine themselves there.
What about FBI clearances?
Everybody at the FBI has to have a top secret clearance to walk into the building and touch a computer. That means our summer interns, contractors, everybody who’s going to work at the FBI. We generally clear all the people, but we have a small number of officers that come from other agencies that work on joint sources. When we make a job offer, we’re saying:
“Hey, we’re offering you this job, but you have to pass a background investigation first, before you can start.”
So regarding our hiring challenge, that is our biggest challenge. Because we lose approximately two-thirds of all candidates in the background investigation process. How long it takes, depends. If you’re an intern, young and boring – in the nicest possible way – then we’re talking maybe three to four months. If you’re a more seasoned, mid-career level employee, with 10 or 15 years of work experience, it could go up to a year. Yes, it’s a challenge to get in, but people who want to work for us, they want to work for the FBI because our mission is so amazing. People come into the organization because they are drawn to the mission. Protecting the American people, serving their country and serving their local communities. It is hard to get in, so we talk to the people that commit to job offers and keep them engaged. But once they’re in, they’re in. Our attrition rate is super low; about 4% overall in the organization, and only 2% among the special agents, which is mainly due to hitting their mandatory retirement age.
How is the work/life balance affecting retention?
That is definitely another big challenge at the FBI. When the operational pace of investigations is taking over, everybody is all-in. That is definitely something that employees struggle with, but it does not really have a big issue on our retention. If I’m being honest, the bigger issue that we see is that they get a little burned out, so they struggle a little bit internally. We have a robust way to move our employees to new vacancies. We have an excellent employee assistance programme for all employees and a lot of systems in place to be on the lookout for burnouts among the employees.
What’s the FBI’s employer brand strategy?
Our big employer brand strategy is to increase a more accurate perception of the FBI in the public eye. Both, what other jobs are available, but also working on expanding the diversity of the special agents. If the FBI special agent population does not represent the American people, that represents operational risks. We want to make sure that the special agent population mirrors the American people. That’s our biggest challenge. We’re driving our marketing and communication towards the idea that the FBI could look like you. It’s that failure of imagination to see themselves in a special agents role. A lot of our communication is focused on that the FBI needs the most excellent people to become a special agent, with whatever background. And if you can’t become a special agent, I have 699 other jobs to offer you, where you could be successful.
The sheer volume of applications that we need to get somebody in a special agent role is staggering, so we try to attract as many people as possible. On average I’m hiring 1,000 special agents per year, which means I need around 16,000 people to hit the “apply” button, just for that special agent position. I’m going to lose so many in the casting, physical fitness, and background investigation. We’re always looking to improve the candidate experience, just because it’s such a long process.
Is there an Employer Value Proposition in place?
Our typical people promise is that the FBI is going to stay ahead of all American threats, through our leadership, agility & integration. We try to be an agile organization, both within as we evolve, but also responding to emerging threats. We are attacking leadership issues in the country and law enforcement arena, but also developing amazing leaders. Integration goes to the fact that we’re a law enforcement agency, as well as an intelligence organization. But even the diversity message, as we’re trying to get a big large group of diverse people in, and integrate that into our FBI mission.
How do you activate the FBI employer brand?
We have a pretty integrated media strategy that we use. We coordinate a lot, as we have recruiters all around the country and our 56 field officers. All field officers have a community outreach programme with local communities, as well as a public affairs officer. We try to work collaboratively as a team within each field office area, to promote our core FBI values; respect, dignity, diversity, accountability. We also talk about what it takes to be an amazing FBI employee. Right now we have three marketing campaigns going on:
A Career Like No Other: There are things that you do at the FBI that you literally cannot do in other places.
#UnexpectedAgent: This campaign is focused on the idea that the Hollywood perception is not always the reality. Special agents can have a non-traditional background, such as an algebra teacher. We’re trying to make the connection with skillsets that people have right now, so they could transfer into a special agent role.
Women Campaign: We’re always trying to recruit more women into the special agent position. We’ve done a lot of marketing studies to attract more women to the FBI.
Our absolute best source of hire is employee referrals. The highest percentage of people that come through employee referrals, and get through the back end. It typically means that our current employees know who to refer. After that, it’s job boards like Indeed. We do a lot of integrated social media across Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook to drive traffic. It’s a huge driver of traffic to the website and ultimately to the application. We do some paid media, like Google Adwords, and this year we’re launching more video ads online. We also use services to email blast job announcements to people who have signed up for it.
What hard lesson can you share with us?
The FBI can accomplish amazing things. The FBI has 37,000 very committed people, but sometimes it’s hard to get everybody along for the ride. It’s more of a big communications challenge. It’s straightforward for a small group of people to decide something, but then the message has to be communicated accurately throughout the organization. Those 37,000 people are our best everyday recruiters. We need to make sure that when they talk about the organization and someone wants to follow-up, they know what to do. For us to get our recruiters over to this idea that they have to “woo” people. Some of the senior executives are still struggling with that.
What’s your employer brand tech stack?
Several years ago we decided to create our in-house platform: FBI jobs. We felt that would give us better control over the look and feel, as well as applicant experience. Right now we have everybody on our in-house website. As a social listening tool, we use Simply Measured, which I think has been taken over by Sprout. And of course some analytics, Google Analytics for instance.
What are your top 3 tips to employer brand managers?
We need to remember that it’s our responsibility to push out our brand, not just external to the organization, but also internal. All of our employees should be aligned and aware of what we’re trying to do, so they take advantage of spontaneous recruiting opportunities. It’s essential not to forget your internal folks.
Make sure that employees knowledgeably understand what to get people to do, when they’re ready to apply. At the FBI, I don’t have trouble keeping people aware. But because of the lengthy background process, people need to stay engaged in your employer brand. It needs to relate to what’s happening in the world around us, how that relates to the FBI and what the implications are for our organization. You need a strategy for that.
You can’t assume that what you’re doing right now is the end goal; you always need to keep changing. How do you think your brand is going to change in the public mindset and how are you going to respond to that. You might want to drive your brand somewhere else, but always be super honest with yourself. Don’t keep your head in the sand, but acknowledge what is happening and address it.
Unilever is a global company selling fast-moving consumer goods, whose purpose it is to make sustainable living commonplace. You will recognize consumer brands such as Axe/Lynx, Ben & Jerry’s, Dermalogica, Dollar Shave Club, Dove, Hellmann’s, Knorr, Lipton, and Magnum. But what about the employer brand?
Anuradha Razdan is Vice President HR, Home Care and Head of Global Talent Attraction and Employer Brand at Unilever. In this interview, she talks us through the culture and purpose of the company, and about how they recently developed and launched a new employer value proposition (EVP).
When I joined Unilever, surprisingly, I didn’t know much about the company. Only that it was the most aspirational employer that came to hire at our campus. It was the company that everyone wanted to be a part of, sure I knew some of the consumer brands but not the intricacies of the business. Anyone who made it through the Unilever interview process felt so thoroughly selected, the interview process was a success in itself.
Why I’ve stayed on is another matter. First and foremost, this is a business that cares about making a difference. Of course, we want to create results and profits, but we also want to create a better world, and we want our employees and stakeholders to be part of this journey. The values and professional ethics that stem from the legacy that Unilever has, and that has kept us with the larger purpose, it spoils you. It’s a culture that makes you want to come in and give your best every day. 20 years down the line, I’ve been through so many experiences and roles, and yet there has been no sense of fatigue & boredom, and that has kept me going.
How is sustainability part of the business strategy?
What is unique with Unilever is that the business strategy has sustainability at its heart. The way we build our brands and the way we craft processes across the business are all sustainable by design. We have a clear roadmap and goals that we have set across the next four or five years. It’s at the heart of everything we do, and everyone who is a part of Unilever is enrolled in this, feels bought into this and feels proud of this.
What talent challenges are you faced with?
Today our attractiveness as an employer is at an all-time high, as we measure it through campus surveys, university scores across the world. We’re the #1 employer of choice in more than 40 markets where we hire.
But even as we raise the bar on our attractiveness, our talent context is being disrupted, just like our customers and channels are being disrupted. The talent canvas is no longer homogenous, and the talent needs in different parts of our business are different, and therefore there is no one-size-fits-all. Hence, there is a need for us to be able to shape and deliver a talent strategy that can be successful in a world of seeming paradoxes. On the one hand, you have surplus talent as technology seeks to replace people. Equally, you have talent shortages in areas where you want to ramp up skills, whether it’s digital or precision marketing – these are where we need to build skills for the future, but yet there are gaps. There is a dichotomy of too little and not enough at the same time.
Tell us about your employer brand strategy?
The employer brand strategy draws from our talent challenges; the need to be attractive in a world that is increasingly disrupted. There is no one employer brand campaign or message. Of course, there is a core EVP but other than that; you can’t have one global employer brand and rest on that. Every employer brand battle, every talent challenge is won in the market, that’s where the moment of truth is. That’s at the heart of our employer brand strategy.
Equally, it’s moving away from a view where you want to win everywhere to winning where it matters. From a consistent approach to a differentiated approach depending on what the specific micro-segments you want to hire are.
It’s no longer about one top-down campaign and attractiveness that is communicated by the company. That is no longer the single source of truth. Talent is everywhere, and there are conversations about you, around you that you don’t control. Therefore the employer brand strategy has to be something which is very consistent with the real employee experience. And thus it’s not an outside-in, but an inside-out employer brand strategy.
How did you develop the new EVP?
Unilever is a company that builds excellent brands; our employer brand has to be a reflection of this. We approached this employer brand development just like we craft any of our product brands. We completed an exhaustive piece of research, covering 300 internal and external voices, we benchmarked our competitors, and other employer brands we think are aspirational. And we extensively tested and validated this with talent internally, externally, marketing leaders, our different target audiences, and in that process, we learned that for an employer brand to make an impact, it has to be credible, relevant, differentiating and aspirational.
What is the new EVP?
Unilever is a business that genuinely cares about making a difference, and this is at the core of our employer brand and EVP. When you join Unilever, it is not just a job; you are joining a movement to create a better business, a better world, and a better you. You are more than your job title because you create a much bigger impact in the world through the work that you do.
At the heart of our value proposition is that we build leaders… we develop leaders for Unilever, and Unilever leaders go on to be leaders elsewhere in the world.
What pillars underpin the EVP?
Purpose Power – sustainability is at the core of everything we do. The power of purpose is at the heart of our employee experience, where we say that you are empowered to make a positive impact on the world and our business, by bringing your purpose into action. This is more than a job; this is an opportunity to make a difference by doing something you’re passionate about.
Be the Catalyst – you can be a catalyst for change in the world, you can unleash your curiosity, you can disrupt processes, you can use your pioneering spirit to make things happen.
Brilliantly Different Together – like our product brands are all different, and yet they come together under one Unilever umbrella. As individuals, we are all different and yet; we can bring our real selves to work. In Unilever, we can combine our differences to achieve greater things.
Go Beyond – this is not just a company, this a place where you can go beyond, with the quality of experiences, the quality of interactions and when you give more, and you get more.
These four pillars make the EVP uniquely Unilever, especially Purpose Power.
How do you communicate and activate this?
It’s very easy to come up with a statement, a few words which we all get excited about. But at the end of the day, it has to be translated and has to help us win the best talent in the various markets where we win the employer brand battles. What’s happening next is that we will deploy a number of global and local channels; digital, face-to-face to give a wider reach to our employee value proposition.
We also created a hero campaign which is designed to boost brand awareness, it’s called “You’re more than your job title,” and it brings out this whole notion of purpose power which is so core to us as a brand. And we believe this will generate a lot of conversations and serve as a vehicle for employee advocacy.
Finally, we’re not the people who build the employer brand. It’s our employees, it’s our employer brand managers in over 50 markets, and they will work with us to tailor strategies and local activation ideas to bring this to life.
What hard lessons can you share with us?
One can take attractiveness of a company, of an employer brand for granted until it goes away. I was part of a business which always enjoyed the position of being very attractive and getting the best of the best talent. We heard conversations in the business along the lines of “is this effort really worth it, why should we put so much budget and resource into employer brand?”.
And that is the point where you’re really at the edge of the cliff, and that’s a real watch out. In that business at that point in time, we took our foot off the pedal, and nothing happened in the first few years because obviously, the power of an employer brand is not something that fades in a year or two. But slowly and slowly we started seeing the impact in the quality of talent that would turn up for interviews, in the number of people who would accept other offers and who would list other competitors as dream employers. We saw rankings beginning to dip, and more important than any ranking is the quality of talent that you hire.
This is not something that shows up immediately, but luckily for us, some of these indicators gave us a real jolt, and we reset and came back with a bang. That was a real moment of humility, and it’s a real lesson I will not forget.
How do you measure ROI on employer brand?
The return on investment of an employer brand is bigger than what one might see through metrics and measurement tools. It’s the intangible impact which is the biggest.
How would I know this? If you want to measure the impact of an initiative you have to look at three things:
What are the conversations in the hallways?
What is the external press saying about this?
What are the metrics saying?
We look at metrics such as the volume of applicants and how many accept offers etc. One very interesting measurement is the Employer Brand Index which listens to social media and conversations taking place online, to come to a compositive view of what the success of the employer brand is, and this is something we can track over time.
What are your top 3 tips to employer brand managers?
Only take this role on if you feel real passion and if you feel it in your bones. Because employer brand is a thing you cannot do as one more thing, it’s not just a job you have to feel true passion for this. Have a clear rationale as to why employer brand makes sense to your business and stick to that no matter what the challenges or questions might be internally.
Learn from the marketers in your business. Use the same techniques and build a science around employer brand, it’s not just a thing that’s fluffy and creative.
The more you enroll employees and business leaders to take ownership of this, the easier your work becomes because then you create a cascading impact which is far greater than the effort you have to put in.
I started Rally last year and the reason why is before I started Rally, I was the CMO at Smashfly, which provides a recruitment marketing platform. When I joined recruitment marketing wasn’t new, but it was well understood. So my team and I set out to help educate the market and why you need technology to help you do recruitment marketing. While I was there, I noticed that it took a while for people to learn about recruitment marketing because they don’t come from a marketing background. So that led to me leave my fabulous team and start this company called Rally to help upskill the people who are in TA and HR with skills in marketing and branding which I believe are required for the future of talent acquisition.
Years ago it was called recruitment advertising, and it mainly involved marketing through advertising. In my view marketing involves many aspects and advertising is just one of those.
It has evolved into encompassing many more things, and the digital nature of marketing has changed recruitment marketing. So it’s not new, but it’s constantly updating.
What’s the difference between recruitment marketing and employer branding?
This is something that many people won’t agree with but the first thing you will find is that the titles are totally different. So in my view, the overarching profession is called recruitment marketing, and I think that recruitment marketing is something that you do and an employer brand is an asset that you have. You need recruitment marketing to market your brand or your employer brand.
What challenges do you see facing recruitment marketing professionals right now?
I talk to two to three recruitment marketers a week, and I hear consistently the same two things:
Nobody understands what they do. Most of them are the first to have this job in their company. By nature their pioneers, go-getter and opportunity seizers.
The next challenge is them helping people in the company understand what they do. So they need a way to demonstrate their value to the organization.
What is the career path for recruitment marketers?
It depends on how you got into the role, some ways are:
But I think that the career path for this folks is to become more comprehensive in their skillset and their approach to recruitment marketing, and then to align what they do to the business goals. That’s something that I do lots of coaching on, with some of the mentors we have in our community as well. As you learn, you can take more and more responsibilities and maybe develop a full team. I think that the person that really understands recruitment marketing is going to become tomorrow’s talent acquisition leader.
How do you measure the effectiveness of recruitment marketing?
It’s a personal question. It has an impact on them and their career. If you can’t demonstrate your value and then people don’t understand why you’re at the company. I think that the best way to do this is by aligning yourself with what your company’s goals are, and what are the TA’s goals and what you can do support the goals. As a recruitment marketer, you have to align yourself with those hiring goals and your TA leadership goals for this year.
This means tracking what you do all the way to your hire. It’s not useful just to focus on impressions and clicks, but you need to understand how your campaigns are translating into the right hires for your organization. There aren’t many ways to do this. It’s a big challenge. One of the things that we suggest is to look for the number of phone screens. This would be an equivalent of a sales-accepted lead in the marketing world. Someone who wants to have a conversation with your recruiting, getting to the screening stage of the application process. So tracking how many of your clicks and impressions lead to real conversations.
Where do you start with recruitment marketing? According to Three Ears Media’s Katrina Kibben, effective recruitment marketing always begins with listening.
In this episode, Katrina shares her take on employer brand vs. recruitment marketing, best practice in recruitment communications, tips & tricks around job descriptions, application processes, understanding what candidates want and much more. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand endemic issues and conceptualize solutions for engaging and (hopefully) hiring better people. Today, she takes all of that listening and creates recruitment marketing strategies that work.
Recruitment marketing is more important than ever. The US unemployment rate is at historic lows, and what that means is that there is more competition than ever. Candidates are more decisive than they have ever been because they can. They can now say no to jobs that don’t suit them.
What is the number one content challenge in the talent space?
Translating your authentic story into the practical application. There was a phase where everyone was talking about their value proposition; everyone was talking about pillars. It’s not to say everyone has figured it out, but the next phase where everyone is struggling is how you take something that captures the essence of your company, and translates that into the practical recruitment marketing application. Learning how to keep the message consistent, no matter the content.
What’s the difference between employer branding and recruitment marketing?
There a lot of different definitions, but for me:
Employer brand is the tone, the story and what it feels like.
Recruitment marketing is how you translate that story. It is the tangible element of employer branding.
Is there a step-by-step guide to recruitment marketing?
So many people are looking for a formula, but unfortunately, I don’t have a full step by step. But your first step should be listening. Start by talking to people in your company, understanding what they love and what motivates them to work. If you start by listening, everything else becomes more natural.
What’s the biggest pitfall you see in recruitment marketing?
Plagiarism. What happens a lot is that people see something cool and replicate every single element and expect it to work out the same. That’s not how recruitment marketing works.
What’s the best way to go about creating job descriptions?
I look at the content the company has already created and try to understand what their tone is. How they communicate internally molds their job descriptions.
I then look at marketing elements. I look at subject lines to gauge the reactionary point. And the formula is something that is built over time.
It’s all about figuring out the positioning and looking at the objections. Understanding what is going to make people say no. I like the element of giving people a ‘No’ at the beginning. Start by telling people why they should opt out.
Do landing pages increase the quality of applicants?
Yes absolutely. We mentioned briefly psychological elements, and the look of your landing page is a psychological element. But at the end of the day, you have to focus on the question ‘Does it work? Is it converting? A landing page is all about conversion. That’s what it’s meant to do. Using a tool like LeadPages as a model because they will show you the highest converting pages across their system and use that as a baseline.
Is it worth investing in a video for each job role?
It depends on who the applicant is. It appeals to:
High volume, low retention roles
People who move from job to job
Millennials because they are a video generation
But when you said the word ‘investment,’ I want people to be wary of how much they invest. I’ve seen companies spend thousands on video, but I would recommend looking for solutions that are quicker. My personal favorite is SkillScout, and the reason I like them because they offer a full DIY guide. All you need is a phone, you do the recording, send the film to them, and within 48 hours you’ll have your video.
For over a decade, Brad Owens helped Fortune 500 companies (including Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Nationwide and many others) attract and hire talent at all levels of their organizations.
In this episode, we’ll learn how Brad Owens uses his experience to make an impact on smaller and medium-sized companies as the “Robin Hood of Hiring.” He coaches leaders and top-level HR professionals to solve problems attracting, hiring and retaining their teams.
Have a listen to the interview below, keep reading for a summary and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.
Maximizing Employer Branding for Small & Medium-sized Companies, with Brad Owens - SoundCloud (1639 secs long)Play in SoundCloud
Why do you work with small and medium-sized businesses?
I have dealt with companies with 0 employees, and I’ve dealt with companies that have had 200 employees. So any company with fewer than 500 employees are the companies I work with, the majority of the time. My goal is to help them develop strategies but in the long run that they would not need me anymore. I empower them to do it themselves.
How do you get qualified applicants for SME’s?
This comes down to employer branding! One of the big things that smaller businesses don’t understand is this concept of employer branding. What I see a lot of them do is that their stuck hiring in the 1920’s. They write job descriptions with the exact specifications you need in a person, and you cant get that job without these. But I’m sorry this is not the case anymore. There are a lot fewer people in the job market, and there are a lot fewer people who are perfect for you. We need to focus on attracting the right people.
Why is employer brand so crucial to SME’s?
If you’re not thinking about culture, you’re not going to get the right people in your business. The more people who know about you and what you care about. The more likely they are going to refer people who they think is the right fit for you.
For example, if we use a business the size of 27 people. That’s already big enough of a company with a culture that’s bigger than you. So I would start going around to people that have high-level roles and start asking them questions like how it feels to work at the company? And what can we be doing better? If your not making every business decision with what they say in mind then your not doing it right.
What do you start with low budget employer branding for SME’s?
I would start with some baseline priorities such as:
Create employer pages on these platforms, and I would challenge everyone when they write job ads on these platforms, in the very first sentence, to include the reason why a candidate should work for. Candidates want to know why they might be the right fit for you.
Whats the number one pitfall to look out for?
Not setting out to listen to your candidates. I say that because most companies will look at a resume and get a picture of who a candidate is without actually meeting them. But I’d love for people to come up with a blind interview process. You don’t know anything about them, and they’ve gone through the pre-screen process, but you interview them without knowing anything about them. So you have to listen to them, and most people go into interviews already with questions to ask and their asking questions that don’t work. So know you’re ‘why’ and be selective with every candidate.
Do have any tech hacks you can recommend?
Here’s one. Standard ATS’s have great features where you can set automated replies to applications, but bigger companies can afford the multiple thousands a year that it costs to run these things. I use an email marketing platform called Convert Kit, and I’ve found that you can use it as an ATS kit for much cheaper. The number one complaint is I’ve applied, but I never heard anything. But with this, you can do that. As long as your using something that helps you keep track of people, stick to the one that works for you.
How do you measure the ROI of your employer branding efforts?
Measuring for me is all about if your happy with what you’re getting. So the percentage of what comes in that’s a good fit for you versus the ratios that are bad. I would look at your rates between good hires and bad hires. If you’re getting 75% bad hires then you need to reevaluate what you’re doing.
What companies do employer brand the right way?
Media Minefield, small company and they have been voted best place to work a few times, and it’s due to their family and team-based culture.
ConvertKit are also doing a great job, they have 34 employees and 20 different cities, and they still have a great and open working culture, and meet up very regularly.
Tons of these tech companies work remotely but still have regular meets and maintain a healthy company culture.
What if your company is not as ‘cool’ as these tech companies?
It all comes down to caring; they can make sure that they care about their people more than anyone else. If you care more, you show more compassion, and you can create a genuine and honest culture that people want to be a part of.
What’s next for employer branding?
We’re going to see a significant shift towards employee-centric website focus. You’re going to be seeing employer branding all over company websites showcasing their people. We’re going to see a lot more companies investing resources into building out their websites as a genuine candidate attraction tool.