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Ensure a Positive Candidate Experience When Hiring Contingent Talent Remotely

As digitization, coupled with the global pandemic, propels contingent hiring online and with more individuals relying on employer reviewer sites to evaluate businesses, delivering a positive[...]

March 10, 2021

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How to Uncover Your Client’s Employment Culture Before Recruiting

Understanding the nuances of a client’s employment culture, both positive and negative, is critical to determining its employment brand and how we match the right candidates to the right contracts. That effort involves more than perusing a client’s career site or marketing materials. Let’s explore some creative discovery techniques that contingent workforce professionals can use to uncover hidden gems – and avoid potential pitfalls.

Employment Culture and Brand: The Audience Is Watching

In this digitally socialized and transparent era, nothing escapes the watchful gaze of phone cameras, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. That’s why it seems absolutely ironic that companies such as United Airlines, Pepsi and others have issued tone-deaf, almost indifferent, responses to highly visible public relations blunders. More than a perceived disregard for customer service, this messaging speaks to the employment brands and business cultures of those organizations.

Now imagine trying to recruit candidates for a company that beats the competition along with its own customers, or an enterprise that thinks a privileged supermodel represents the struggles of diversity in America. Contingent workforce leaders must have their hands full – probably with all the hair they’ve pulled out trying to sell the “employment experience” to candidates who’ve watched these fiascos unfold with dropped jaws.

Saying that social media has a profound impact on business is a bit of an understatement these days. Social networks have become indispensable recruitment tools, sales channels, bastions of professional connectivity and, for better or worse, some of the most influential shapers of reputation. Back in the day, a particularly scathing review by a critic could present obstacles for a business. Conversely, lavishing praise on that same business could pique consumer interest. The reality, though, is that critics were easy to dismiss as individuals with their own confirmation biases.

Peer reviews filling up sites like Yelp and Glassdoor, on the other hand, tend to have a more significant effect -- because we’re reading the opinions of people like us. The patrons of a neighborhood café are not academically trained culinary experts or food scientists; they’re the folks who live in that neighborhood and eat at its restaurants. They’re us. We can relate to their joys and despairs.

Here’s something else to consider. A restaurant knows in advance when a critic is coming to review it. The staff have time to clean, prepare and coordinate an exceptional experience. Does that establishment maintain the same standards on a daily basis? Well, that’s what peer reviews often reveal in a more unvarnished depiction. The same holds true for workers and the companies they’ve supported, as demonstrated in findings by Randstad Sourceright:

  • Half of job seekers will tell a friend about a bad experience, and 64 percent will tell a friend about a good experience.
  • About 96 percent of job seekers are likely to read a company’s reviews before accepting a job offer.

Last March, after reviewing data from LinkedIn, we discussed how an employment brand is two-times more likely to drive a candidate’s job consideration than company brand. A well-defined and compelling brand speaks to reputation and effectively communicates an organization’s values, personality and culture. It infuses every point-of-contact a company will have with its talent, from the job posting to recruitment outreach, training and career development.

If we fail to place candidates in the best suited environments, we risk our reputations, future opportunities and performance. We must grasp a keen sense of the benefits and drawbacks of the client culture so we know how to promote the optimal traits, and overcome challenges, before the assignment begins.

Cultural Fit Should Be a Two-Way Street

We in the staffing industry have spent a fair amount of time analyzing the best approaches to determining a fit between our talent and clients. Matching candidates to employment cultures is an essential technique in modern hiring models. And it requires thoughtful introspection, examination and formulating questions that will enlighten candidates, hiring managers and recruiters in the process.

The best recruitment methods seek to gain an understanding of the candidate’s personality with an open mind, determine his or her integrity, and figure out if the person is disruptive or conducive. We offered some creative examples of culture-based interview questions in an April 2015 article on the subject:

  • What are the characteristics exhibited by the best boss you’ve ever had -- or wished that you have had?
  • What are the positive aspects of your current job and work environment, or the last position you held before coming to this interview?
  • What are three to five expectations you have of senior leaders in a successful and highly engaged organization?
  • When you work with a team, describe the role you are most likely to play on the team.
  • Tell us about an occasion when you delighted a customer, either an internal or an external customer.
  • Describe a situation when you had to work alone and then when you had to work on a team? How did you accomplish your tasks in each situation? Which was easier? Why?

A year later, we suggested even bolder strategies, such as exploring the nature of a candidate’s hobbies, which sparked a healthy and fascinating debate on LinkedIn. Yet, for all the pearls of wisdom and best practices, how deeply do we delve into the client’s culture? Do we conduct the same interviews with client staff, with the same intensity? Or do we merely assume that the burden of successful placements falls on the talent? I believe that the integration between contingent workers and client organizations should be a two-way street. Otherwise, how can we ensure that the assignment will be a mutually rewarding experience – or even completed?

In a recent article for Glassdoor, Emily Moore offered a list of questions that applicants should ask hiring managers to uncover all the attributes of their employment brands and company values. It’s a thoughtful and insightful piece. So why shouldn’t contingent workforce professionals perform the same due diligence to uncover their clients’ cultures before recruiting?

Playing Detective to Crack the Culture Case

Odds are, if we ask client executives about their corporate culture outright, we’re likely to hear a canned answer, excerpts from a mission statement or a recitation of what they think we want to hear. Moore hits the nail on the head when she recommends asking specific questions instead. “There are a number of questions you can ask during an interview that, while seeming fairly straightforward on the surface, can help uncover deeper intel about the inner workings of a company,” she writes. With a little modification, contingent workforce program managers have the same opportunity to “interview” hiring managers and learn much more in the process.

Questions to Ask and What They Reveal

  • How long have you been with the company? For established organizations, high turnover could indicate low pay, long hours, lack of development or advancement opportunities, poor management, hostile working conditions or more. Determining average employee tenure is a great gauge. An even better question could be: “On average, how many contingent workers completed their assignments or received extensions?”
  • What was the last major accomplishment celebrated? The response will provide a glimpse into employee recognition and appreciation. Even in a contingent assignment or contract project, talent want to know that their work is important to the client, and that their contributions will be acknowledged. The answer also indicates the level of team orientation, socialization and shared values. However, the lack of celebration isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. This sort of hands-off, autonomous, low-key culture could be appealing to a different type of worker.
  • What is the dress code? This would constitute a standard logistical question to help prepare candidates for their first day on the job. However, it can tell us a lot more. Really casual cultures may also have some unorthodox perks, such as nap areas, massage rooms, free beer and more. And that sort of office may not appeal to every worker. Some talent prefer a strictly professional and structured setting, in which more formal attire would be the norm.
  • What was the department’s biggest challenge last year, and what lessons were learned? Moore explains that the answer could prove useful in illustrating accountability and politics. Responses will impart a sense of how decisions are made and conflicts resolved. Moore cites career strategist Mary Grace Gardner, who points out that the answers can reveal “whether or not the company blames processes or people when something goes wrong. The former indicates that they are a continuous learning organization and the latter may be a sign of a blame culture. Listen to who or what gets blamed for the failure and if they have taken steps to learn from it.”
  • How much time does the department manager spend with the team? Although contingent talent are employees of their staffing companies, they remain vital contributors to client projects. Actively engaged hiring managers usually embody cultures that seek thought diversity, listen to workers, promote collaboration and support innovation. In these organizations, contingent talent will likely be grouped with internal employees on projects, and have a lot of input. On the flip side, if you learn that client managers work 80-hour weeks and never take days off, the culture will be extremely focused on facetime and long hours.
  • How is success measured? This question is incredibly important for contingent work arrangements. Recruiters must understand the expectations of the role, the metrics used to track performance, how high the bar is set for talent, what skills will be needed upfront, the timeframe for delivery and more.
  • Does the company give back to the community? For Millennials, corporate social responsibility is a huge factor that influences their view of an employment brand. Businesses that practice and endorse sustainability, community activities, volunteering and philanthropy will be most attractive. Other talent view these issues as distractions or irrelevant to work. Regardless, it’s critical for contingent workforce leaders to understand their clients’ values intimately, which increases the likelihood of perfect placements.

Culture is becoming a much bigger concern for talent, contingent workforce program managers and their staffing partners. They must integrate with their clients’ cultures, assimilate others into the shared culture, and promote values that engage the right candidates. The more we know about our workers and our clients, the greater our chances of repeatable, consistent and measurable success.

Casey Enstrom
Casey Enstrom
Casey is one of the staffing industry’s household names, specializing in sales and operations leadership. He brings extensive knowledge of business development and sales strategies, predictive analytics, leadership, and human capital solutions. Prior to Crowdstaffing, Casey served as the Vice President of Technical Sales, North America, for a Fortune 1000 staffing firm.
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