How to Avoid the Generic Candidate

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The Generic Candidate
By Peter Weddle for

The latest “big idea” in recruiting is to optimize the candidate experience. Pundits everywhere have leaped on the bandwagon to offer this strategy or that technique to make job seekers feel better as they pass through the recruiting process. No doubt, it’s all helpful advice. But, sadly, it also ignores the one element that most sours the outlook and interest of potential new hires: our demeaning habit of treating every individual as a generic candidate.

Let’s start by taking a secret shopper visit to virtually any employer site on the Web today. As the first page opens, what do we see? There are tabs leading to a description of the organization and its culture, its benefits, and, of course, its jobs. Occasionally, there might be a tab for recent graduates or diversity candidates, but other than that, it’s all mayonnaise.

Just as bad, that indifference to individual differences also a very transactional feel. It’s as if the visitor has landed in a store, and the employer is politely but insistently pushing them to make a purchase. “Buy our employer; a job here will look great on your resume.”

Active job seekers may have to tolerate such an experience, but for everybody else, it’s an engraved invitation to leave the site. And, everybody else a very big group. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, at any point in time (including during a recession and tepid recovery), only 16 percent of the workforce is actively in transition. In other words, the candidate experience on most corporate career sites is driving away more than four-fifths of the candidate population.

The Better Experience

What’s a better experience? Make the visitor feel as if they’ve entered a farm, and your sole goal is to nurture a relationship with them. Relationships, however, are built with individuals, and individuals – especially those who are top performers – have this funny habit of seeing themselves as people with distinct identities.

Now, when you think about it, that’s not so unusual. For example, how do you now expect to be treated as an online consumer? Whether you’re visiting the site of your favorite bookstore or shoe boutique, the state-of-the-art in consumer technology has conditioned you to believe that the site should recognize and acknowledge your unique preferences.

The bar is a little lower for employer sites, but not much. The best candidates don’t (yet) expect you to recognize and acknowledge their unique employment background and objectives, but they do want you to treat them as differentiated people of talent. They’ve worked hard to establish themselves as finance, sales, nursing, information technology, human resource and other kinds of professionals. They don’t think it’s asking too much, therefore, for you to respect that effort by NOT treating them as generic candidates.

Getting Past Generic

There are many steps you can take to avoid a generic candidate experience on your employer’s Web-site. Among the most important, however, are two that will signal your respect for the key differences among persons of talent. They acknowledge each individual’s acquisition of expertise in a particular occupation and their experience applying that knowledge at work.

Step 1. Set up separate channels or areas on your career site for each of the major occupational fields for which you recruit. Instead of providing an experience where they are directed to visit the department or divisions of your company – distinctions that mean nothing to them – organize your site to give each visitor an area that’s been set aside just for them and their peers. Make them feel as if they have a “career home” on your site.

Step 2. Tailor the content in each occupation’s channel to the unique aspirations, values and vocabulary of its members. Describe its unique career path options, work style (e.g., team-based or individual initiative), and rewards. Then, support those claims with peer testimonials that are written by your employer’s current workers in each field and which describe their actual day-to-day work experience.

No one likes to be treated as one of the herd. To make sure your employer’s career area doesn’t inadvertently give candidates exactly that kind of experience, transform your site from a store to a farm and shift its content from generic to occupation specific information.

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Peter Weddle is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including WEDDLE’s 2011/12 Guide to Employment Sites on the Internet, The Career Activist Republic, Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System and Recognizing Richard Rabbit. Get them at and today.

© Copyright 2012 WEDDLE’s LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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