The Critical Question Every Candidate Wants to Answer: Do I Have What It Takes?

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Do you remember the pivotal scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker is the final pilot to have a clear shot on the target to destroy the Death Star?

As his thumb hovers over the firing button, Luke has two different kinds of motivation to hit that tiny target.

His external motivation is to destroy the Death Star and, in turn, save the galaxy from the perils of the Empire. At precisely the same moment, his internal motivation is to prove to himself that he has what it takes to become a Jedi like his father before him.

Most of us aren’t in a position to save the entire galaxy, but like Luke, we are driven by both external and internal motivations.

Most employers leverage external motivations to attract job candidates. They communicate their company’s purpose, and they tout the many benefits and opportunities an employee can expect to encounter at the company. Those external motivations are of course important, but to most effectively capture candidates’ attention, companies must also learn to leverage internal motivations.

That starts with answering the one all-important question on every candidate’s mind: “Do I have what it takes?”

What Does It Take to Succeed at Your Company?

As candidates weigh whether to pursue their next career move with your organization, of course they want to know that there are enough opportunities to progress and that they will be able to do great work with a team they enjoy — that’s a given. But like Luke, they also want to prove to themselves that they have what it takes to succeed. Are they good enough? Can they thrive in your environment?

How can candidates start to imagine whether they have what it takes to succeed if you don’t first show them what it takes to succeed?

If you want to define an authentic employee experience, you need to seek out the adversity within your organization. Specifically, when people are deciding whether to stay or join an organization, there are three main buckets of adversity they’re looking to satisfy: purpose, impact, and belonging.

As a candidate considers your job opportunity, they’re wondering:

  1. How will I be able to fulfill my personal purpose at this organization?
  2. How will I be able to create impact at this organization?
  3. How will I be able to feel like I belong at this organization?

To answer each of these closely clustered questions, a candidate must first gauge how hard it will be to achieve each of these things at your company. Sometimes, a candidate is assessing whether the wall’s too high to scale — but other times, they’re wondering whether the wall is sufficiently high to make their climb meaningful. In both cases, the candidate wants to understand the size of the struggle.

What’s Missing from Most EVPs Today

Almost all the employee value propositions (EVPs) in use today are missing a vital piece of information. The typical EVP is a one-way broadcast of a company’s strengths. What it lacks is any transparency around the harsh realities employees must be prepared to face and overcome on any given day at your organization.

Without understanding the adversity before them and the size of the challenges they will face, candidates are unable to determine whether they have what it takes to succeed at your company. This leads to higher application volumes, driven largely by an abundance of unqualified candidates who will either self-select out of your recruitment process after learning more or, worse, join the organization and leave right away due to a cultural mismatch.

The solution to this problem is to craft a meaningful EVP that offers a mutual value exchange. There’s a simple approach to doing this that we call the “give and get.”

In a “give and get” EVP, you clearly link the “give” (what an employee must be prepared to provide, commit, or sacrifice) with what they “get” (what an employee can expect in return for their give).

Maybe your company requires the ability to manage tight timelines and high expectations. Perhaps employees need to be able to communicate concisely and frequently. Maybe there are crunch times during the year when employees will need to put in long hours without burning out. These are all examples of a give — and rest assured, every organization has a give.

Once you have identified the give, it’s time to identify the get — that is, the reason why employees are willing to make a give in the first place. Why do your employees put up with the less sunny side of your culture? There is always something motivating people to endure, and that’s what you want to capture. Maybe employees receive professional development opportunities faster than anywhere they’ve worked before, or perhaps a strong sense of camaraderie and teamwork fuels a deep sense of belonging.

Let’s look at a few examples of gives and gets to give you a better idea of the relationship between the two:

Figure 1

How many people would come running when they hear these scenarios? Is that a good or bad thing? What do you think?

Now, imagine if every job description had a clear give and get. Does your company become more or less authentic? Does it become more or less polarized?

A Give and Get EVP in Action

Crafting a give and get is not as simple as matching any benefit with any challenge. For instance, “There’s no work/life balance here, but the bagels are great” isn’t going to be effective. The benefits must be enough to make enduring the harsh realities worthwhile

To understand what an effective give and get EVP looks like, let’s consider an example from Ph.Creative, an employer brand and recruitment marketing agency.

Here are some of Ph.Creative’s harsh realities, or gives:

  1. The organization runs lean, and often there’s a lack of resources to get something done comfortably. You must think creatively, work together as a close team, and put in extra hours to get things done.
  2. Our audience can be critical of your work, and the expectations to drive the market forward are strong.
  3. We’re under pressure to maintain an annual software release cadence, which can create pressure that you feel all year round.

With these harsh realities, candidates understand what will be required of them to succeed at Ph.Creative. While applicants will likely appreciate the honesty, right now, working at Ph.Creative does not sound particularly appealing. That’s where the benefits and opportunities come in. Here are some examples from Ph.Creative:

  1. There is a commitment to world-class quality. You will never be asked to cut corners or compromise your work for a deadline.
  2. The diversity of your team means there’s always someone who will look at your challenge from a different perspective, so it’s easy to get creative, think differently, and try new ways to overcome obstacles.
  3. There’s a good chance you will see the product of your own work in our clients’ campaigns that are seen by the masses.
  4. You learn here faster than you would at any other employer brand agency in the world, thanks to the very nature of the environment and client base. It’s fast-paced, and there is excellence and fresh thinking all around you.

Now that they know both the gives and the gets, candidates have a full picture of what it is like to work at Ph.Creative. They know what it takes to succeed, and they also know what they stand to gain.

When you arm your candidates with the knowledge of both the harsh realities and benefits of a job, they can decide for themselves whether they have what it takes and whether the challenges are worth it to them. As a result, you’ll end up with applicants whose internal and external motivations are sufficiently aligned for them to become thriving, productive employees at your company.

Alignment of Internal and External Motivations

In Star Wars, Obi-Wan makes it clear to Luke just how difficult the road ahead will be. It is the very nature of the challenge and adversity that make the purpose so meaningful to Luke.

Luke ultimately decides to embark on his journey not because it’s going to be easy or because he blindly wants to claim Jedi status. He is all-in because of the trials and tribulations he knows he has to face to complete his personal transformation.

The result is that Luke is suitably motivated by the alignment of both external motivations (“Do I want to defeat the Empire and save the universe?”) and internal motivations (“Do I have what it takes to become a Jedi?”).

Similarly, when recruiting, you want candidates’ external motivations (“Is this a company with a purpose I believe in that will provide me with benefits and opportunities?”) to be aligned with their internal motivations (“Do I have what it takes to succeed at this company?”). When you can tap into both external and internal motivations, the result is happier, more fulfilled, and more productive employees.

Bryan Adams is the CEO and founder of Ph.Creative. Charlotte Marshall is the global employer brand lead at Danaher Corporation. They are the coauthors ofGive and Get Employer Branding. 

By Bryan Adams and Charlotte Marshall