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To Recruit Better Candidates, Stop Talking About Company Values

In a UK survey, 77% of retail employees admitted they were not engaged with their company’s brand values. I’m convinced the remaining 23% were lying. Company values are often at best vague, and at worst, patronizing. They scream “we’re just like everyone else” and do nothing to help your retention or recruitment efforts.

Take PriceWaterhouseCooper as an example. Their company values are “Excellence, Teamwork and Leadership.”

Has anyone ever decided to apply for a job because they are driven by excellence, teamwork and leadership? Unlikely. And the minute an employee sees those corporate values in a Death By Powerpoint session, they’ll probably close their eyes and imagine they were somewhere else. (On a beach, probably.)

But there’s a “but.” There’s always a “but.” Company values are not engaging for many reasons. Imagine if they were, though. Imagine the pulling power of company values that actually mean something, that differentiate your company from your competition—so you can recruit the best possible candidates.

Here’s how to recruit new employees who really care about your values:

Start with one defining word that represents your company

Think of Apple—what’s the one thing they’re known for? Innovation. Everything at Apple starts with innovation, then goes from there. That one word attracts people to buy Apple products, and the same word attracts candidates to work for Apple.

If you can sum your organization up in one word, what would it be? For PriceWaterhouseCooper, it could be something like “rigor.” Excellence and teamwork are not particularly interesting, because these are givens in any successful organization.

You can start with something like excellence, but then you need to hone your focus and ask “Excellence in what?” Forget vanilla values everyone else can lay claim to. Find one word that really defines your organization, and use it as the cornerstone of your company values. That word should speak to both candidates who are a good fit for your organization and your best-performing employees.

Strive to be a company that can grow potential employees’ careers

No one accepts a job because they believe in the company’s “excellence.” So why did they join?

Among the many reasons, you’d find job satisfaction, career progression opportunities, pay and benefits – all of them entirely self-serving. Nobody joins a company solely to help the company grow—that might be part of their motivations, but people also join for their own professional benefit.

It’s important that, as a recruiter, you aspire to represent your organization as a place people want to be a part of. You aspire to go somewhere, and you aspire to grow. The implication is that your aspiration will rub off on your candidates—you can give them the opportunity to not just pay the rent, but to develop either internally or eventually with another business. You’re a stepping stone (everyone is; get over it), so be a good one. Discuss career paths openly, even if those paths lead out of your business.

Build your recruiting practices around your true values

Rather than hoping your values might engage employees or encourage someone to come and work for you, use them as the basis for recruiting. Anyone can say they believe in your brand values, but do they actively live and breathe them? I work for a digital marketing agency, and if candidates aren’t blogging or tweeting, they aren’t a good fit for us. They can have all the skills in the world, but if they don’t live and breathe digital, they won’t fit in.

If you’re going to build an organization that’s true to its values, then recruitment is at the very core of that approach. Marissa Mayer knows this, which is why she insists on interviewing every candidate at Yahoo herself. Her aim is to overhaul Yahoo’s working culture, and that starts with its people and their own values.

Remember: it’s not all about you; it’s about them

I believe we have to turn the company-focused approach on its head. Companies are stepping stones along the way to someone’s retirement. People move on all the time; teams change, merge and float off into separate entities. Leaders change, even visions and values change. So instead of “cascading down” values and objectives, think of “radiating out” values.

Think back to Apple and innovation. Recruit people who match your vision, not those who tick the skills boxes. Because nobody cares about your company values…they care about their own!

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