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HR Magazine: Truth in Recruitment Branding

HR Magazine, November 2005

Vol. 50, No. 11

The key to success is honestly portraying

your organization’s strengths and culture

When recruiting potential employees, are you putting your company’s real face forward? The image an employer projects for potential hires, also known as its recruitment brand, should, above all, be honest. Painting an unrealistic picture of your company or misrepresenting what employees should expect from your organization can be a huge mistake.

Job interviews can be like first dates where both parties put on an extra layer of sheen, embellishing their love of a certain sport or of foreign-language films. A few months later, after the honeymoon is over, one admits to hating football and the other fesses up to preferring action flicks. Soon, the relationship ends and everyone feels like time has been wasted.

Similarly, when employers and potential candidates aren’t honest with each other, bad decisions result. For example, a recruiter may be so smitten with a highly qualified candidate that he bends the truth about what the organization can provide.

But when a hire is based on that dishonesty, tenure may be short-lived—which can be costly. Replacing an employee, whatever the reason, costs about 25 percent of that employee’s total annual compensation, according to the Employment Policy Foundation, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C. Across industries and compensation levels, the cost ranges, on average, from $6,803 to $19,465 per employee, the foundation reports.

Promoting the wrong image of your organization during the recruitment process also can lead to a significant “human loss,” says Price Woodward, a principal responsible for recruiting at Edward Jones investment firm, based in St. Louis. Woodward says the employee loses the investment he put into taking the job. And the colleagues who worked to hire and train the employee lose the time and effort they have invested as well.

“There really is not a winner at all in trying to under-sell or over-promise or minimize the difficulty of the work,” Woodward says. “There are too many losers, and it’s just not the right thing to do.”

Analyze Your Culture

So, how do you create an honest, successful recruitment brand for your company? Start with an accurate assessment and highlight your strengths, says Elizabeth Amorose, project director at the Carbone Smolan Agency (CSA), a New York-based marketing firm that specializes in recruitment strategies.

To determine your recruitment brand, Amorose encourages clients to develop a list of the top five to 10 messages they feel candidates must know. These should include any special advantages employees might gain by working for your organization, such as opportunities for advancement, the chance to help in an important cause, the opportunity to develop highly prized skills, the respect of working for an industry leader, or the ability to reap generous benefits and perks.

And be aware that aspects of your business that seem like selling points may not be—but they may lead to other selling points.

For example, Amorose recently worked on a recruitment campaign for the New York law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft. The firm contracted with CSA because executives did not believe its recruitment materials were effectively portraying the law firm’s image, says Claudia Freeman, CSA’s director of marketing and communications. Some new hires agreed, saying they could not attain the work/life balance portrayed in Cadwalader’s recruitment materials. Instead, they were greeted with the same long hours and strict deadlines that are common to the legal profession.

But what really sets Cadwalader apart from other law firms is that it offers client contact early in attorneys’ tenure, which can help attorneys reach the next level in their careers, says Freeman. In a campaign called “The Real Deal,” Amorose highlighted this advantage to Cadwalader’s recruits, while being honest about the firm’s expectations regarding the number of work hours per week.

Cadwalader’s experience with CSA was made easier because the firm had already gone through a “culture identification process”—a task Freeman says is “easier said than done.” The process included management meetings where employees at all levels were asked to identify trends and themes and say what they think about the firm.

After much analysis, Cadwalader executives discovered that commitment to client service emerged as the prevailing theme. Knowing that the firm’s ability to do business was dependent on being available whenever the client requested, the hiring campaign was adjusted to more fully reveal the demands on staff. Freeman cautions that this is a new approach and though Cadwalader has not had an opportunity to gauge the overall results of The Real Deal strategy, it is confident the campaign will prove beneficial.

A Broader Shift

The recruitment branding approach taken by Cadwalader fits with a broader movement to more open and honest business dealings. Trends in recruitment branding often follow trends in society, and the new zeal for honesty is no exception, says Amorose. She points out that during the dot-com era, companies tried to communicate their technological savvy because they were losing recruits to the dot-coms. Following the dot-com bust and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, there was a shift toward “a more emotional and warm style of recruiting,” she says.

Now in the post-Enron era, the shift toward honesty is inevitable, Amorose says. “There is so much more attention placed on what a company really stands for,” she says.

But the shift still isn’t complete.

“I don’t think we are totally there yet,” says Maureen Henson, SPHR, director of recruitment and employment strategies for the Henry Ford Health System in Gross Isle, Mich. “However, there is more of a trend in industry today toward transparency and for leadership at all levels to be more genuine and authentic,” Henson says.

Inevitably, there will be companies that struggle to re-establish their credibility after a difficult time. They may experience difficult financial times, a reduction in workforce or a corporate scandal. Any of these setbacks can make recruiting more challenging—but not impossible.

“Companies can be honest about what they are doing to mitigate their unfavorable circumstances,” Henson says. This approach offers hope and optimism to candidates who may embrace the opportunity as a chance to offer a solid contribution toward turning the organization around.

On the other hand, not being fully honest with a recruit can impact an employee’s entire tenure with your company. “Recruitment drives retention,” says Henson. “Everything from the first point of contact through the new hire orientation and beyond drives the entire relationship.”

To make sure things start off on the right foot, begin by giving a realistic job preview, Henson recommends. “The toughest thing is [giving] that realistic job preview because so often people want to hear it through their own filters,” she says. To deliver the clearest possible job preview and accurately convey it to candidates, you have to think about culture, or “the way we do things around here.”

Henson suggests companies define their culture by considering things like how decisions are made, how much authority employees have and how people are held accountable within the organization.

“Relationships are a big part of culture,” Henson says. “How do individuals interact? How well do they play in the sandbox together?”

Sending the Right Message

Once you’ve assessed the culture, delivering the message to prospective employees can be done in a variety of ways. Most organizations have a statement of their vision, mission and values. If an organization is following the standards it has set for itself, it will have a useful template for recruiters to use when speaking with candidates.

It’s also good to show simple, real-life examples of the culture, Henson says. She encourages letting candidates meet their peers and co-workers on all levels. Management candidates should meet with their direct reports and peers, as well as upper management.

“Even if an employee involved in the selection process has a less-than-positive attitude or you fear they may say something unfavorable, this should not always deter you from involving them,” says Henson. She points this out as a way to let a candidate know exactly what to expect.

She also notes that current employees are best able to predict whether the candidate is a good fit for the environment because they are the ones living and working there day to day. This will help to favorably influence their relationships going forward, Henson says.

A New Era

More than ever, companies have a strong demand for assessments and getting more data regarding a candidate’s strengths and opportunities for development, Henson says. (For information on how companies are using personality tests to better hire, manage and develop employees throughout their tenure, see this month’s cover story.)

“Recruitment needs to be more of a dialogue,” she says. Just as the company is choosing, so is the prospective employee.

“Find out what that employee’s sweet spot is, or what levers you need to push to cultivate that relationship,” Henson advises. Failure to find out what the candidate wants can doom the working relationship. Assessments, good face-to-face dialogue and actually exploring the candidate’s needs are all essential components, she says.

“We are moving away from the get-them-in-the-door-and-get-them-in-the-seat philosophy,” Henson says. “A lot more attention is being given to selecting employees for that ‘good fit,’ and achieving that comes with forthright dialogue.”

Experts agree that being comfortable in a culture is ultimately an individual decision. But being open with applicants can help them make informed decisions about whether to accept a position and where they feel they fit in.

As an analyst for the federal government, Chmonica Peoples knows just how valuable honesty can be. After working in the private sector a few years ago for a government services consulting firm, Peoples accepted a position as an employment services specialist.

“The company was just not clear with me about the day-to-day operations, as they seemed to not have defined it for themselves,” Peoples says. Working relationships among the staff were tense, and the communication between her project office and the corporate headquarters was unclear and inconsistent. As a result, she left the job after about six months. But Peoples learned a lot from the experience. Her current job is a good fit, she says, because her employer “offered real answers to my questions about how they really did things around here.”

The face of recruitment is evolving with today’s changing employment needs. Companies that want to attract and retain great employees who will fit in well with their current company culture must evolve or risk lower employee retention rates, excessive recruitment costs and the danger of coming across to clients or shareholders as disingenuous.

Gone are the days when the hiring manager pretended all was well within the company and sold applicants strictly on salary and benefits. Successful employees demand more, and employers that are truthful on the front end may attain greater retention of satisfied employees and lowered cost in the long run.

Carolyn Brandon is a freelance writer based in Bowie, Md., who has worked as a human resource specialist.


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