Recruiting the Real Atmospherians

“Some world views are spacious, and some are merely spaced.” —Rush, Grand Designs

Scene 1: Pacific Avenue was closed for Halloween. Throngs of families dressed up for the holiday, passed one another while children chased each other in circles, their bags of candy swinging round and round. As we trick-or-treated from merchant to merchant, homeless panhandlers hit us up for money, while some staggered among us like the living dead.

Scene 2: The banner hung askew along the chain-link fence. It read “The Home Depot Is Hiring – Inquire Within.” As we drove into The Home Depot parking lot, day laborers eyed us eagerly, hoping for work. Some stood in small groups while a few others hung out alone waiting to be approached. When we left, an older white male was in the process of hiring three of them for a local job.

Scene 3: Like an end-of-days story, the motorhome is parked on on the side of the highway, not too far from where we live. Makeshift sections of plywood where aluminum siding used to be cover one side of the motorhome and it looks like most of the motorhome’s contents have been moved outside. Right behind the motorhome construction workers put the finishing touches on a new hotel.

If these were movie or TV sets, the extras would be straight out of Central Casting. I had heard the expression before, but I didn’t know that it referenced a real casting agency called Central Casting located in Burbank, CA, not until I listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts 99% Invisible. These extras are stereotypical to the context required for any given scene, to convince us they’re real, or as close to it as possible for us to buy in to the staged reality.

The podcast referred to the term “The Atmospherians,” something Theodore Dreiser, American novelist and journalist from the 20th century, had coined nearly 100 years ago. These are the backgrounders, those who give a scene its subtle yet visceral breadth and depth that helps tell a story.

But in the scenes above, real-life scenes that I experienced of late, these were real and contain the people companies don’t to be seen as the company backgrounders. They just don’t want that much reality associated with their employment brands. In a world gone bedazzled with authenticity and transparency, they still double-down on some form of compromised storytelling because of their inherent biases and need to control the marketplace message. They want to make recruiting movies to inspire and believe in, and they believe this is how they compete for the hearts and minds of candidates and customers alike.

So it’s no surprise that most high-performing companies invest in marketing their messages of community, values, diversity and culture – all of which make up the most of the top recruitment marketing messages of the winners and survey participants of Talent Board’s Candidates Experience Awards research five years running now.

I’ve been in marketing a long time, and I know the compromise is real, has to be. It includes a combination of living and breathing all the messages above, positioning one’s strengths as consistently and continuously as possible while allowing for some of the real stuff to be seen, like the Halloween community scene above (which the candidates/customers are going to see regardless).

This is a good thing, something we’ve discussed time and time again on the TalentCulture #TChat Show, and something I’ve lived again and again. Businesses who risk process exposure in order to improve candidate-as-customer experience are personified stories of decent places to work. Here are three examples from the Talent Board Story Teller recipients, all winners of this year’s Candidate Experience Awards:

  1. Cumming: Transparency is the key to their success with Candidate Experience by requesting a Glassdoor review from candidates, their commitment to a 5-day turnaround on decisions on resumes, exposing their process and even how their ATS rates and ranks candidates on their career site. In addition, they understand the business impact of a bad experience.
  2. Enterprise Holdings: Recruiter contact information is made available to candidates, including photos and social links and they pledge to get back to candidates within 5 days. Enterprise also measures the candidate’s’ time in each step in the process. In addition, they treat their internal candidates equally well and show the rate of promotions within the company in real time.
  3. Spectrum Health: Hiring managers and recruiter are partners in the candidate experience at Spectrum Health. They both commit to follow-up with candidates – for recruiters, within 3 days upon receiving a resume and for managers within 7 days of receiving candidates from the recruiting team. Disposition emails include the recruiter’s name and phone number if the candidate needs more information.

However, no matter what they risk, employers big and small still have to differentiate and market and sell their products and services in order to have a viable business. One that sustains itself by reinventing and reinvesting, and one that aspires to hire the most qualified people in a consistent and sometimes transparent process. I’d rather recruit and hire with the real Atmospherians anyway. Wouldn’t you?