Build a phenomenal candidate experience

Build a phenomenal candidate experience

Steve Fogarty adidas Group

Steve Fogarty, Recruitment Innovation & Strategy, adidas Group

Well-spoken, relaxed, genuine, and generally funny, Steve grabbed the audience’s attention at the Universum Awards in Sweden. Steve Fogarty, responsible for recruitment innovation and strategy at the adidas Group, presented: “Shaping the Future of Sport”. He began with a quiz: what three brands form part of the adidas Group, who founded the company and where are the headquarters located?
For the lucky winners in the audience, those who answered correctly, he threw across the amphitheatre, like a true American football player, free adidas giveaways – the session began with fantastic energy.
Presenting his session from an adidas Group perspective, Steve spoke about the importance of delivering a phenomenal candidate experience and explained the purpose of the group’s employer branding manifesto, a document that guides and gives purpose to their work. Having a one-on-one session later on with Steve, I picked his brain on how a company, which receives over 300,000 applications per year, works with community management – did they have a crisis management plan in place and how exactly did that work?
But first, let’s see what the adidas Group stands for.

Affinity to the brand

The adidas Group employer brand idea is centered on passion for sport, connection to your favorite athletes and your ability to shape sport. Unlike their competitors that turn athletes into demigods, adidas Group is more about the love of the game. The employees the adidas Group want to attract, aside from being top industry talent, are those that are passionate about sport and sport style – that is the common thread that holds everyone together in the group. Steve explained that if you are at the Reebok headquarters you will see employees participating in Cross Fit. For Reebok employees the Sport of Fitness runs through their veins. At adidas you will find people playing football, volleyball, running, biking and more at lunch time. At TaylorMade adidas Golf don’t be surprised if you’re asked what your golfing handicap is during your interview. If you happened to be one of those people that isn’t attracted by this lifestyle and still want to work for the Group, the question would be why – why do you really want to join a company that sole reason of being is to be a part of the world of sports on every level. Your answer would be – probably not! Steve told me a story of one the company leaders making an analogy to someone working for a pet food company, but hating animals – that person is most likely not a good fit. The same applies to your company: does the potential hire have an affinity to your industry and line of business? Do they show passion and interest in what the company stands for? If not, they are probably not right for you.

3 rules for candidate experience

“The war for talent is getting fiercer”, said Steve. From now to 2050, some analysts say that the population explosion is over and that population growth is expected to decline as further industrialization of the world occurs. Competition for talent is no longer in just one industry but across sectors making it harder to get the right people. Working on developing an excellent candidate experience is one important factor to counter competition – but how many companies work on this?
Due to the current economic times with businesses doing “more with less”, employee engagement is critical. According to Steve, if leaders wish to run lean, efficient and productive businesses, it’s extremely important that employees are highly engaged and act as brand ambassadors. It’s also essential that companies handle applicants correctly.
“It’s better for a candidate to receive one rejection than nothing at all. An auto-reply doesn’t count as a response. The adidas Group has a policy to reply to all candidates within two weeks. It’s important that everyone walks away feeling respected”, he emphasized.
The three principles guiding the candidate experience at the adidas Group are:
1. Response time: get back to a candidate quickly regarding their job application
2. Simplify to the max: make the hiring process as easy as possible, getting rid of unnecessary obstacles
3. Engage on mutual terms: make sure you have a common agreement or understanding of the hiring process and what expectations need to be met on both parts

Managing your community

The adidas Group Talent Acquisition Team identified twenty-three people around the globe that are strong communicators, know social media and how to engage with people. They trained them and set certain expectations. Steve and his team did extensive research on what are the best practices in community management and talked a great deal to their internal stakeholders who manage their brand sites with large followings. They built a deck and invited staff from around the globe to a special training via webex.
“I have a general rule that you can’t be a community manager until you receive the special training…some of it is basic but we don’t want to leave anything for granted, in terms of tonality and how we want to come across”, said Steve.
The adidas Group wants its people to have an authentic voice. According to Steve, “employees “don’t need to green-wash, or have a marketing tone. If somebody says ‘hey, I was interviewed and didn’t hear back’ ….be honest with them and say that is actually not part of our policy, it’s our mistake and this is what you should of got”. The adidas Group expects its employees to be really honest with their candidates and this forms part of their community management training.

Do we have to communicate?

Before setting up a talent community on Facebook www.facebook.com/futuretalents, Steve and his team did extensive research and what they realized is that having a page about recruitment can only be beneficial. The adidas Group receives around 300,000 applications a year and inviting these candidates to join a community has huge potential in terms of future sourcing needs. The important thing is to monitor every comment. The community management team must read everything.
“If we cannot manage those one-off questions, a candidate will walk away with a negative experience just like a consumer would if they walked in a store and weren’t communicated about the product benefits”, warns Steve.
One doesn’t get a lot of negative comments, fortunately enough, since many people are looking for work and have a positive mindset, confirmed Steve. Does one run the risk of other people from competing companies posting nasty comments? Maybe! Do you get people who don’t like a specific product, writing a bad product review? Probably! However, according to Steve, the overall risk is relatively minimal. If it were to occur, one could say, “The site is about talent acquisitions; it’s about employment at the group, so if you have a comment about a product, you can go to one of our brand sites…”
If it is a crisis, there isn’t a one size fits all model for how the company should respond. There is a clear escalation policy if a crisis should occur and part of their community management training is helping community managers identify a crisis versus just a complaint. If a person is complaining, “it might be an opportunity to address a concern that your broader audience also shares”. If it’s someone that is just ranting with no other purpose but to elicit negativity within the community, “you might want to invite them to have a one-on-one discussion to resolve the problem”. However, if it is a non-recruitment related issue, you should probably refer the problem to the PR department or other experts that are qualified to manage such situations.

The Employer Branding Manifesto

The adidas Group has an internal document that acts as its corporate declaration of its intentions and objectives. Steve presented the group’s manifesto, summarizing the purpose it provides:
1. Singular focus: what is the one thing that differentiates you as an employer?
2. Breakthrough the noise: grab attention first and then explain what your “employer deal” is, the mutual benefits of working together. He stressed that the story you want to tell is more important than an Employer Brand slogan of a company.
3. Create alignment: get everyone in your organization in sync with your Employer Value Proposition.
4. Bring the brand to life: though advertising and design. Companies that excel in design also lead the market place, e.g. Apple and IKEA.

Grab attention first, then explain

In today’s information saturated world, recruiters need to struggle to gain a candidate’s attention first. Once they have achieved that, recruiters then need to explain the “employer deal”, what the organization offers and the mutual benefits or working together, making the whole recruitment process as smooth as possible. In a nutshell, recruiters need to get the right people, to the right information fast.
The adidas Group’s overall goal is to build a “phenomenal candidate experience”, inviting potential hires to exclusive talent communities and to manage them through their own client relationship database. As we’ve seen, their three guiding principles to create a good candidate experience are: response time, simplicity and engage on mutual terms. They’ve also created a document to help guide them in their efforts, what they have dubbed their Employer Branding Manifesto. The corporate culture is extremely strong and is, according to Steve, to “be humble, build well but don’t brag, be honest, and don’t oversell”. In the end, the adidas Group stands for the love of sports and expects all potential hires to share that passion – “Are you all in?”

Steve Fogarty is responsible for Recruitment Innovation & Strategy at the adidas Group. He holds a bachelors degree in Human Resources, International Business & Training & Development from Eastern Washington University.