Your best recruitment strategy? Don’t be someone you’re not.

In January, the state of Wisconsin launched a $7 million ad campaign, part of which was specifically aimed at luring young workers from Chicago to leave the frenzy and expense of city life and find all the wonder and opportunity that could lie before them in the Wisconsin job market. It’s an attempt to attack the state’s existing talent shortage, a gap that’s expected to widen in the future.

Now, I’ve got opinions on whether those ads are any good (not particularly) or will work (meh?), but I’ll get back to that. For now, let’s assume they do. Because these aren’t the only messages out there trying to convince people to come to Wisconsin for jobs. And they’re definitely not the only efforts to recruit talent when you get specific to manufacturing. So, my question is, when ads or recruitment strategies get people looking at manufacturing careers in Wisconsin, what are they going to find?

Is this your careers page?

From a random search for Wisconsin manufacturers, here’s one example of the kind of careers page jobseekers may find:

Example of a careers page in manufacturing. Not all are this sparse, but this is pretty common.

It’s pretty obvious what’s missing. Mostly everything. There’s nothing here to help me decide whether or not this is somewhere I want to work. Just the possibility that jobs exist, but nothing further.

Now, to be fair, there’s other content on the site that might give jobseekers an idea of what the company stands for or what they believe in. But if this is you, you’re not making it easy to fall in love with you. And that’s really the goal, isn’t it?

The problem is, Wisconsin’s manufacturers aren’t living up to the promises the state is making. Advertising can say all it wants to about job opportunities, high pay, or lower cost of living. It can spend all the time it wants extolling the wonderful qualities and exciting opportunities Wisconsin has to offer. But even if that gets a young workforce interested enough to check out career options, they may not find much to get excited about when they start looking at Wisconsin manufacturers.

So, what can you do? You can find some good ideas on building your recruiting pipeline in this article from Milwaukee Business News, but for our purposes, let’s dig into the very first one on their list:

Build your employer brand.

The article says it this way:

Focus on marketing your company as an “employer of choice” in a crowded marketplace. Does your website engage young and diverse audiences? Is the careers page on your website easy to find? Are job postings written to attract candidates?

I’d expand on that a little. Because building your employer brand is one of the critical pieces of any recruitment strategy. Your employer brand is about more than simply engaging “young and diverse audiences.” Really, it’s about knowing who you are, who you’re trying to attract, and why they should care. It’s about making a deep, meaningful connection with prospects that gets them excited about why you do what you do.

And that brings me to a crucial point in building your employer brand to attract and retain the right kind of talent …

Don’t be someone you’re not.

Here’s where it comes back to where we started. I said earlier I don’t think the Wisconsin ad campaign is very good. I’ll tell you one reason why, because it illustrates a couple of points. For me, maybe the big issue with the state’s advertising strategy is a lack of believability.

Sad Chicago millennial vs. Wisconsin counterpart tearing it up on the slopes. Is this real life? No. No, it is not.

I happen to know Chicago isn’t as soul-crushing a place as the train rider in this ad wants me to believe (full disclosure, I’m from the Chicago area, and it’s still my favorite city on the planet). I also don’t believe Wisconsin is as pristine and idyllic and amazing as the snowboarder wants me to believe. Honestly, this ad is laughably unrealistic. It’s inauthentic.

Another ad compares a disillusioned Chicago couple cooking ramen day after day against their happy Milwaukee alter egos enjoying a night out for upscale ramen. Again, I don’t believe it. Because it’s not about the ramen. The ad leaves me feeling that Wisconsin doesn’t really understand what this audience wants. So, lesson #1:

Recruit the right people by knowing your audience.

Don’t make the same mistake. Don’t guess at what your audience wants and then try to be that for them. For example, don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “We need millennials. Millennials like art and culture. Therefore, we must appeal to them by portraying our small town as a cultural center on par with large metro areas.” Or “Chicago is expensive. We are less expensive. Therefore millennials will want to move here.” That’s not what anyone is thinking. The “We’re just like Chicago, only cheaper!” argument just doesn’t hold water.

It goes hand in hand with lesson #2 …

When you really know your audience, be straight with them.

If you’re based in a rural area or one of the roughly 745 towns in Wisconsin with populations less than 25,000, you’re going to have a tough time attracting the city-seeking millennials those state ads are trying to target.

So don’t pretend. Instead, embrace who you are. Mine for insights into who your employees are and why they choose to work for you (and if you don’t like what you hear, figure out how to earn the reputation you aspire to). Dig until you understand what values you’re built upon and how they intersect with the people you want to hire. Understand your own culture and your own vision of who you want to be as a company, then connect with the people who believe what you believe. Who are passionate about what you’re passionate about. Offer purpose and meaning and a future, because that’s what jobseekers are really looking for.

“Authentic” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the marketing world. It’s unfortunate that it’s become such a buzzword. Because when we talk about authenticity, what we really mean (at least, we do—can’t speak for everyone else) is speaking the truth about who you are and what you stand for. When marketing is authentic, what someone hears about you should line up with their actual experience of you. In other words, don’t say one thing to get people in the door, then show them the real you once they’re in the door.

When you really understand what’s important to your audience, and you really understand what you already have that can meet them there, tell that story. Tell it honestly.

Doing the soul-searching to find that authentic story is powerful. Because that’s the stuff that really hits people where it counts. Which brings me to one last thought I’ll leave you with …

Emotional connection is the key to attracting and retaining the right talent.

There’s one more issue I have with those state ads—or maybe it’s with the portrayal of what Wisconsin has to offer in general. It comes across as so … rational.

In that Wisconsin Public Television Here & Now segment from the very beginning of this post, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce workforce policy specialist Chris Reader had this to say about how well Wisconsin competes with a place like Chicago:

… we have a very low cost of living compared to Chicago or compared to some other communities throughout the country. So when you take our cost of living and you take our wages, we really have a great story to tell. I think we have a place that workers, if they do all that calculation, should want to come to Wisconsin.

I think Wisconsin does have a great story to tell. But stories are about characters, with wants and needs and deep desires—not cost-of-living comparisons. Make sure you, the individual manufacturer with a history and people, with a vision and a purpose, are telling your story the best way you can. Tell your story so that it speaks to the emotions that really drive our choices.

Because when you can connect with people who identify with what you believe—who love you for who you are—they’ll be more engaged, easier to retain, and they’ll deliver a better experience to your customers. And that will, in turn, attract more people seeking fulfilling careers to you.

What does that look like? There are plenty of great examples. Take Airbnb’s careers page:

Airbnb’s careers page does a great job of telling their story. Something to aspire to.

From the very first headline, down to the inspiring video content featuring their own employees, Airbnb tells a powerful story about what it really means to work there. You understand what they stand for. You feel it. You can’t help but identify with it.

Of course, you don’t have to be Airbnb to have a great employer brand. And that’s the point. You don’t have to be anyone other than yourself—but you do have to be intentional about defining and living out the best version of yourself.

That’s the best advice I can give.

See more posts about Employer Recruiting/Retention​ Communications​

About the author:

John Behrens

John Behrens is associate creative director/lead copywriter at Imaginasium. He’s an idea-generator and problem-solver who crafts words and concepts into memorable experiences that build brand engagement for our clients. Follow him on Twitter at @johncbehrens.