Print ads, brochures, Facebook, Campus events. Finding the right communication channels has mainly been guesswork. Not so anymore: a new Universum survey shows just what channels grab student attention, and at what stage of the game they are most effective.
by Fred Cohn
Sometimes the medium really is the message. Corporate recruiters can’t help but understand this: any time they devise a communication strategy, they might well contemplate Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum. They have a choice of numerous channels for reaching job prospects: print and television ads, brochures, social networks, career fairs, campus presentations, job boards, and above all, company Web sites. They also know it’s important to choose the right channel. It doesn’t matter how strong the employer branding message is, unless it’s transmitted through the correct carrier it won’t reach its full effect. But until now, there has been very little reliable data to help them choose the proper pipeline.
Now, for the first time, a study looks at how – and when – students turn to different communications channels. Universum’s 2011 Communicating with Talent global survey presents findings culled from the responses of 24,000 students worldwide, who were asked to report on their sources for information about potential employers. Their answers covered the whole range of communications resources: print, in-person and even broadcast advertising. The result: a series of findings that may shatter some misconceptions, but nonetheless provide a brass-tacks view of which channels job seekers actually use – and when.
A key finding of the survey is that when students are checking out potential employers, many different channels will influence their decisions. The clear implication: an effective communications strategy proceeds on multiple fronts. Above all, it needs to focus on the recruiting process as just that: a process, in which candidates are constantly seeking new means of getting information about a potential employer. Addressing the dynamic nature of the process, Communicating with Talent breaks it down into a funnel with five stages: ‘familiarity, ‘consideration,’ ‘desire,’ ‘application’ and ‘acceptance.’ The survey got students to specify which channels they turned to at each juncture, harvesting rich data about which channels become prominent at each step. The findings show that employer brands get transmitted through a kind of ‘ping-pong effect,’ in which a jobseeker careens between different channels, each hitting him/her with a different part of the message. “The way people receive information is not as linear as you think,” explained Sue Kaufman, director of channel planning for Y&R, the global ad firm. “You find out something about a brand in one place, hear somebody talk about it in another, then maybe go to a Web site and find out something else.”
“Let’s say you’re on the subway, and you see an ad for Teach America,” Kaufman said. “You think ‘Wow, it might be cool to be a teacher.’ Then you’re home watching television, and see a news story about how a person changed their life through teaching. You think ‘Interesting, but I don’t know how to do it.’ So you check the Web site and see ‘Oh, I need a teaching degree’ – then you forget about it completely. Then you see an ad in a magazine that said you can get a degree part-time while you’re working. You might get to the point where you go to the Teach America Web site and think about applying. It’s never a straightforward ‘I’m considering this job; now I’m going to apply.’
Even before a candidate googles a corporate name and clicks through to its Web site, he/she first needs to know the company is there. The ‘familiarity’ stage marks the first awareness of the company as a potential employer. Asking students which channels meant most to them at this juncture, the Communicating with Talent survey yielded a surprising result: print isn’t dead. In fact, the four most influential channels at this stage – career magazines, career guides, university publications and brochures – are all in hard copy.
The emphasis on print continues in the ‘consideration’ phase of the process, when students start to make decisions about which employers to pursue. Here, the same four channels land on top, joined by career guidance Web sites.“Before I look more closely at a lot of employers, WetFeet research helps me figure out who’s progressive and who might have available opportunities,” said Heather Merrill, an undergraduate at LaSalle.
Another key channel at this stage is targeted messaging: direct e-mails from a corporation to a targeted audience. It’s an indispensible resource for Rex Trewin, university recruiter for the American brand of the IT company Wipro Technologies. The company is a household name in its native India. But although it employs 10,000 people in the US, it is still little known. In order to induce candidates to consider Wipro, Trewin said, he seeks out targets to “hit them over the head” with email messages.
According to Communicating With Talent, the ‘consideration’ phase is when students are most likely to turn to social networks for information about a company. A jobseeker who considers Wipro, for instance, can go to a Facebook page featuring postings from recent hires, giving on current projects. “It’s a driving force through fall recruitment – a way for potential employees to engage themselves with our people,” Trewin said.
But while the social-network route may be the newest communication tactic, it’s also the most controversial. It evokes reactions amongst jobseekers ranging from avid acceptance to outright scepticism.
“Facebook is good for having a farm, not for a serious employer,”said Wojtek Jurewicz, a jobseeker studying toward his masters in computer science at Warsaw University of Technology. Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, notes that for some young people, direct contact from a company through social media is “akin to a company showing up at somebody’s birthday party – it’s just plain weird. Still, a lot of Millennials may expect a prospective employer to have a social media presence.“The way the world’s working now, everything is an app,” said Merrill. “If they aren’t on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, it’s not a company that I’m going to want to work for – they’re in the Stone Age.”
In order to make effective use of social media as a recruiting tool, a company needs to have a clear strategy – offering information that might be useful to jobseekers, and not just jumping on the bandwagon as a ‘me too’ strategy. “If the company gets on Facebook and doesn’t do it well, it looks like the old guy trying to catch up,” said Mathew Zimmer, an undergraduate at Northeastern University in Boston. “If the posts are highquality and meaningful, it shows that they’re flexible and have the ability to keep up with the times.”
The name of the next phase in the survey’s funnel is ‘desire’. In many ways, it’s like a courtship. And just like in dating, as the relationship between companies and candidates deepens, the messages take different paths. Communicating with Talent shows that the employer Web site becomes the most consulted communications channel at this stage. It remains so in the application phase, when candidates become convinced to throw in their bids for jobs. “The employer Web site gives people a first glance at a company: Who are they? What are they about?” said Joel Quast, a Universum senior consultant. “But they go back at a second key point – when they’re boning up for the interview.”
The messages that candidates receive through personal interactions with company personnel will often carry more weight than those that smack of corporate spin. Y&R’s Kaufman notes that the most influential messages are the ones that are ‘earned’ – that emerge from word of mouth. “The first place many people go when they’re considering a job is LinkedIn,” Kaufman said. “‘Do I know somebody there? Is there a friend of a friend who knows something?’ The most powerful thing is people talking about you.” Rex Trewin points to Wipro’s internship programs as fostering ‘earned’ messaging. It’s one reason the company takes pains to make its internships as rewarding as possible.
“I don’t want to send that ambassador out with a bad experience,” he said. A satisfied intern, according to Trewin, is a “walking billboard” for the company: “I can’t pay for that kind of advertising.” “When a candidate has three to five offers, it’s often a real relationship process that’s effective,” said Universum’s Quast. “When they’ve met a lot of people in the
company, when senior people get involved with the candidate -these are the things that can make the difference.” The survey bears out the point. It shows that while candidates in the ‘application’ phase still turn to the employer Web site, the other channels that now most influence them are all in-person:employer-sponsored events and lectures, on-campus presentations and career fairs. Meanwhile, the print media that held sway toward the beginning of the recruiting process are now all but ignored.
As Communicating with Talent demonstrates, the process from familiarity to application is just that – a process, not an event. Every step is unique and is dependent upon its own factors to be successful. And the Communicating with Talent survey goes a long way toward understanding those factors and assisting those in the EB field with making the whole process as good as it can be.