6 Recruiting Lessons From Horror Movies That Are Scarily Good

October 27, 2020

Halloween will look a little different year — unless, like me, you usually spend Halloween curled up on your sofa under a cozy blanket eating peanut butter cups and watching horror movies. But while you’re enjoying a little cinematic escapism (and your favorite fun-sized treats), you can also pick up some valuable insights to apply to your work! 

As it turns out, horror movies are full of good lessons that will resonate with talent professionals. So, to help you choose some appropriate and educational Halloween viewing, here are six horror movies every recruiter should add to their watch list. (Some spoilers ahead!)

1. Host: Providing a great candidate experience is just as important in a virtual environment

While some aspects of recruiting have been handled online for years, until recently, most recruiters and hiring managers were used to interviewing candidates in person. Conducting virtual interviews requires a somewhat different skill set, but the fundamentals — like providing a meaningful candidate experience — remain the same.

Rob Savage’s Host (2020) makes an excellent case for being as thoughtful as possible during video calls. Conceived, filmed, and released during the COVID-19 lockdown, the film follows a group of friends who decide to hold a séance over Zoom. After the group invites the spirits to come forth, one of the friends makes a mockery of the proceedings — ignoring the advice of the medium to be respectful. And since a spirit had taken time out of its busy schedule to speak to them, it doesn’t take too kindly to this behavior… 

While you’d never mock candidates, you can take steps to make the virtual interview process more seamless for them. Clearly communicating what the process will look like, silencing your notifications, and testing your tech in advance to avoid delays are a few simple ways to keep things professional and put candidates at ease.

2. The Shining: An inauthentic employer brand will only hurt retention and employee satisfaction

Your employer brand is an invaluable recruiting tool. Every company is different, but there’s one thing all stellar employer brands have in common: authenticity. And few movies portray the perils of an inauthentic employer brand as chillingly as The Shining (1980).

When Jack Torrance accepts the position of winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel, he doesn’t realize what he’s signing up for. The manager is keen to boast about the illustrious history of the hotel and its scenic location, but fails to mention the fact that it’s incredibly haunted — although he does mention that the previous employee couldn’t handle the isolation, which Jack probably should have listened to.

Being upfront about the true nature of the job could potentially have helped Jack to self-select out before this hiring fail truly went off the rails. The lesson: be sure to tell candidates about the downsides to the job during the hiring process in order to help them determine if it’s a good fit. If it’s not, they won’t stick around forever… and ever… and ever.

3. Scream: Staying on top of the latest trends will help you stay agile

The landscape of recruiting has evolved dramatically over the past decade, and recent events have only accelerated the pace of change. Virtual recruiting, remote work, and internal mobility have all come to the forefront this year, and while some of these changes were unpredictable, recruiters who’ve always kept one eye on emerging trends were in a strong position to help their teams adapt. 

Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) demonstrates how important it is to stay on top of the latest trends. When a masked killer starts stalking his friends, Randy Meeks, the franchise’s resident film buff, immediately recognizes what’s going on — namely, that someone is taking their love of horror movies too far. Randy then uses his knowledge of horror film trends to teach his friends the rules that one must abide by to successfully survive, like avoiding alcohol and never saying “I’ll be right back.” 

Of course, nobody really listens to Randy, making them prime targets for a visit from Ghostface. To increase your chances that leaders will recognize your wisdom and view you as a strategic advisor to the business, it helps to back up your recommendations with data. (Hint: The newly released Future of Recruiting report is a great place to start.)

4. American Psycho: Recruiting for emotional intelligence is just as important as hard skills

Even as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation continue to transform the world of work, the demand for distinctly human traits like emotional intelligence (EQ) will never go away.

American Psycho demonstrated the importance of EQ in the workplace way back in 2000. Patrick Bateman cares more about how fancy his business card is than he does about the feelings of others — so much so that he will cheerfully dance to Huey Lewis and the News while he takes an axe to a fellow employee.

The lesson here: don’t place too much emphasis on the hard skills listed on a candidate’s resume (or on the elegant bone-colored business card with the lettering in Silian Rail). Instead, focus on those elusive soft skills like empathy and EQ.

5. The Thing: Don’t hire for culture fit — look for a culture add

Not so long ago, the so-called “beer test” was the go-to method of assessing culture fit. The theory went, if you’d want to grab a beer with a candidate, they were a good fit for the company. Unfortunately, this approach tended to lead to homogenous cultures where everyone looked and thought like everyone else — resulting in innovation-killing groupthink.

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) demonstrated this problem with the beer test perfectly. The titular “Thing” is able to perfectly mimic the behaviors of the Antarctic researchers it assimilates — to the extent that their own coworkers can’t tell the difference. Trouble is, it’s an alien parasite.

The Thing fit in, but didn’t bring anything valuable to the table. That’s why many companies have started looking for a “culture add” — a candidate who brings new skills, experience, or viewpoints. The Thing only added distrust, mayhem, and property damage.

6. Happy Death Day: There’s always time to learn from your mistakes and do better  

Everyone makes mistakes — and recruiters are no exception. Whether it’s using the wrong name or terminology in an email to a candidate or realizing that something you used to believe about the field simply isn’t true, treating your mistakes as learning opportunities can make you better at your job.

Tree, the protagonist of Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day (2017), is the poster child for learning from your mistakes. At the start of the movie, she is not a very nice person, being rude to everyone from the stranger collecting signatures for a petition to the guy who made sure she got home safe from a party. But after a masked figure attacks her with a knife, Tree gets stuck in a Groundhog Day-style time loop, forcing her to relive the same day again and again. Before long, she realizes that she doesn’t like who she’s become, resolving to be kinder if she ever breaks the loop.

The film also provides a good reminder to give others a second chance. A candidate who makes a slip-up during the hiring process may ultimately turn out to be a top-performing employee, so don’t write people off for minor fumbles. 

Final thoughts: All treats, no tricks

If you missed any of these movies when they first came out, now is the perfect time to catch up. Or, if you’re due for a rewatch, maybe now you’ll view them through a different lens.

Whatever you do, turn the lights down low, make sure you’ve stocked up on snacks — and have a safe and spooky Halloween.

*Image from American Pyscho

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