Nobody Likes a Cliché Job Candidate, So Don’t be a Cliché Employer

August 29, 2013

I recently watched the Heineken ad where they took a group of job candidates and interviewed them on hidden camera – essentially putting them in awkward situations to see how they would respond.

Apart from having a giggle at how they reacted and getting that warm fuzzy feeling at the end when the ***spoiler alert*** “good” guy got the job, the thing that struck me most was the intro where they each spoke about their strengths and weaknesses.

“I’m passionate” … “I’m passionate” … “I’m passionate”

“I’m stubborn” … “I’m stubborn” … “I’m stubborn”

The only thing more cringe-worthy than them not realizing that their nonsense answers were the same as everyone else’s, was remembering that those two phrases sounded horrifically similar to the stock answers I had confidently delivered in my past.

It also reminded me of the buzzwords that seem to litter every professional profile in the world.

Hands in the air if you’ve ever seen a LinkedIn profile or a resume, which included the phrase “I’m a great team player.”

Or how about the equally unique “I’m highly motivated.”

And why stop there; “I’m very creative”, “I work well in a team”, “I’m a self starter”, “I love a challenge.”

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So why do people insist on putting these phrases into their online profiles and CVs? Don’t they see that these terms have lost all meaning? Don’t they know that employers have had years of conditioning that makes them breeze over cliches like that?

Whatever the answer, the sad truth is that candidates aren’t the only ones who fall into the trap of representing themselves with wishy-washy statements. COMPANIES do that as well.

In today’s talent market, companies need to figure out

(a) how to find great talent and

(b) how to entice these people to work for them.

Often this process starts with a desire to attract passive talent – those wondrous candidates who aren’t “actively” looking for a new job. The “cream” as many see them.

Now, as I’m sure many of you know, the tricky thing about passive candidates (apart from trying to find them) is that they need to be wooed. They need to feel special, and to feel that you’re special, and ultimately to think that together you and they will live happily ever after. They need to be compelled to want to leave the company they’re currently in and come and work with you. Interestingly it puts many companies into a similar position that candidates have been in for years – trying to stand out.

Sadly, even with the years of looking at the same phrases on every CV, most companies still fall into the same trap. The question, “What does it mean to work in your organization?” always seems to draw the same few responses: “We’re an exciting place to work”, “We’re a family”, “We work hard, but we play hard”, “We like to develop our people internally”.

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And while many of the above may be true for a lot of companies, the reality is that it is not true for all. The above phrases have about as much value as the statement, “I’m a great team player”. In fact in almost three years of asking companies, “What’s it like to work for your organization?”, I have yet to receive the answer, “Actually, we’re a pretty boring place to work”. And after talking to hundreds of companies, I still haven’t heard, “Promote from within? No, no, we like to go outside for our senior roles”. No mention of “Work hard, play hard? Well in this organization, we only work hard”.

And I think I know what’s causing the problem…

When we ask our candidates, “What’s your greatest strength”, we’re not really asking for a strength that we can check on a complete list of all strengths known to man to see how high it ranks. “You said ‘humility’, that’s got you 57 points. You could have said, ‘passion’ – that was worth 72 points and our top answer in that round was ‘courage’ for a whopping 77 points”. What we’re really asking is, “Can you tell me about some of your experiences and how they could benefit us.

Likewise, when we try to tell candidates, or would be candidates, about what it’s like to work for our organization, they’re not really interested in the buzzwords that offer no understanding of what the day to day life in your company is. What they’re really looking for are the stories about how others are succeeding, they want to know why you love working there and ultimately, they want to know – “can I be successful there and if I am, why will I like it?”

Right now, understanding why someone should want to work with you and getting the messaging around that right can put you so far ahead of the curve. It can be the difference between attracting excellence or settling for average.

I’ve seen competitions on the back of my kid’s cereal boxes which tend to start with “In 10 words or less, tell us why you like…” My question for you; “In no less than your talent brand deserves, what’s it like to work in your organization?” Don’t be a cliché employer.

Learn how to boost your employer brand with the Employer Branding Playbook.

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