Taken out of context, some of what Ed Nathanson says to me during our phone conversation could come from a self-help book or the mouth of a parent counselling their anxious teenage about the first day of high school: “You have to embrace who you are. The key is to be genuine about who you are, understanding that not everyone is going to like it.”
But Nathanson, a 20-year veteran of the talent acquisition industry and the founder of Red Pill Talent, is not talking to people; he’s talking to companies.
Specifically, he’s talking to companies about their “talent brands” — his modified take on the employer brand: “It’s really a promise – or, at least a notice from the employer to potential candidates – that this is what its like to work here.”
According to Nathanson, talent brands are more important for companies today than ever before because competition for talent is at its fiercest.
“It’s not enough to have a great product, or to have great leadership or great funding. People want to know what its like to work there,” Nathanson says. “That’s the differentiator for companies that attract talent.”
Companies can be as proactive as they’d like, but no matter how actively they seek out talent, they’ll need a strong talent brand to back up their efforts — or else its all for naught. Nathanson compares it to the concept of stickiness on a website: “People can come, and they might get there, but if they don’t do anything when they get there, then it’s useless.”
Recruiters have to take a page from marketing, but they have to remember that they’re recruiting human beings – hence Nathanson’s very personified approach to talent branding. “To separate yourself as an employer in the market, you need a compelling reason as to why you should want to work at a company and a promise of what the experience will be,” he says. “You need to define what it is, own it, and put it out there for people to consume and digest.”
A Peaceable Stance in the War for Talent
What’s most refreshing about Nathanson’s talent brand is the way it eschews the increasingly militarized and/or gamified language of talent acquisition — e.g., phrases like “the war for talent” and buzzwords like “competitiveness.” He also humanizes candidates themselves, referring them as “customers” — vastly different from the abstracted ways employers often talk about candidates as “talent” or “labor.” Perhaps this is why he consistently shifts focus away from the inorganic aspects of the recruitment process, in favor of a humane warmth.
“Companies now are spending money hand over fist [on] all these different functions and tools to attract talent,” he says. “At the end of the day, they have to start thinking like marketers. When they think like marketers, then they start to separate themselves and attract the right people. That’s really what the endgame is.”
Of course talent is the endgame — and how easily we forget that simple fact.
In place of high-tech ATSs, Nathanson suggests that companies attract candidates by appealing to their human pleasures through images, videos, gamification, and other participatory means. “These are the things the companies that are attracting talent and standing out in the market are doing,” he says.
These sort of tactics create talent communities, which creates pipelines for employers, making their recruiting efforts easier and more efficient. “If you don’t do branding, you’re always going to be reactive,” Nathanson says.
A company that doesn’t do branding is like a drive-through window, according to Nathanson: someone drives up and says “I need an engineer,” and recruiters go scrambling to find one as quickly as possible.
“With brand, you’re building fans of your company,” Nathanson says. “With fans of your company, the pipeline gets bigger.”
Nathanson’s advice on building talent brands may sound similar to much of what has already been said about employment brands, but the real difference lies in his ability to humanize the relationship between employer and candidate, simultaneously giving both parties more power and dignity.
“You can’t fake [your talent brand], because that’s a broken promise to potential candidates. They’ll find out anyway, and you’ll have retention problems,” he says. “If you’re true and genuine and forthright about who you are and what your company is like and what the culture is like, the people who appreciate that will love it. The people who you don’t want will self-select out — and that’s an effective employment brand campaign.