Neuroscience and Biometrics Can Dramatically Improve Your Recruitment Messaging

Use cross-pollination to bring proven tools like biometrics into recruiting

You probably don’t know it, but most of your recruiting messaging and marketing goes unread, and what is viewed actually has little measurable impact on attracting prospects. If you don’t believe that this is true at your firm, realize that biometric tools (the subject of this article) can reveal precisely what channels, what message formats, and what content will actually attract top talent.

You, of course, would probably not be aware of the term biometrics, unless you are the sole neuroscientist in recruiting, or if you have used an approach known as “cross-pollination.” When I am asked to identify the origin of the “innovative” ideas that I have contributed to recruiting, I reveal that most are adaptations of processes that already successfully operate in other business functions.

Borrowing and adapting already successful business approaches from other functions and industries is known as “cross-pollination” or alternatively as “parallel benchmarking.” And using cross- pollination can reveal high impact approaches from seemingly unrelated disciplines, like biometrics, that have yet to be used in recruiting.

“Innovation in any one knowledge area tends to originate outside the area itself,”… “innovations now tend to arise outside the industry or process itself” (Peter Drucker).

Biometric Tools Have a Proven Track Record

It’s hard to argue against the wisdom of a management expert like Peter Drucker. Unfortunately, I have found that because recruiting and talent management are so inwardly focused, that they lag behind almost all business functions in consciously seeking out cross-pollination opportunities.

It might come as a shock to recruitment leaders when I recommend that they follow the lead of firms like Facebook, Time Warner, Yahoo, Twitter, and P&G and to begin to use biometrics (a field within neuroscience) to determine how to scientifically maximize the impact of your messaging. Google even included biometric signal measurement capability in its Google glass. In the consumer space, it has already become mainstream to use biometric technologies to literally “read the minds” of target viewers to ensure that TV, the web, print, and social media messages actually drive consumer action.

Most Recruitment Messaging Goes Untested

After you stop shaking your head in disbelief, take a step back and think about it. More than half of what we do in recruitment involves messaging. Large firms spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours developing and spreading employer brand messages, corporate career page content, social media messages, recruitment ads, and of course job postings. And despite all that time, effort, and money, recruiting has no systematic approach for determining the highest impact channels and the most effective message content.

In reality, not knowing can be a disaster. For example, biometric research reveals that most people who click on a website read very little on it. In fact, “a stunning 55 percent spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page” (Chartbeat). And my revelation is that by adapting the biometric approaches that are now used in consumer marketing, I estimate that recruiting can improve the impact of its messages by a minimum of 25 percent.

A Quick Overview of the Biometric Approach

In case you are not familiar with biometrics, it uses hard science to measure precisely what a target’s eyes see, read, and what they skip in a message. Its technology can also measure the impact of a message on a target’s conscious and unconscious brain activity, including its emotional relevance, sensory integration, and memory formation. Biometric equipment can also track physical reactions, including changes in the target’s heart rate, their perspiration, and it can even detect the tiniest change in a target’s facial expression.

Taken together, these tools can help you fully understand which parts of your message are actually seen and read and then which aspects of the message create an emotional response and actually drive action. And don’t worry about having to become a neuroscientist in order to take advantage of this technology, because most of the work in this field is done by consulting firms that already have measurement tools such as eye trackers, brain scanning caps, EKGs, facial expression cameras, as well as heart rate and skin perspiration monitors.

These neuroscientific methods are much more precise than the message assessment tools that are only occasionally used in recruiting. For example, the reactions of individuals participating in focus groups are impacted by others in the group and surveys only reveal an individual’s conscious reactions (unfortunately more than half of the target’s reaction may be unconscious).

“Those things that people don’t know how to put into words, we can measure.” (Heather Andrew).

The Uses of Biometrics in Recruiting

Biometrics consultants can help you improve your recruitment messaging in many ways, including:

  • Which platform to use? — biometrics can determine which channel or platform is best for each message and target (i.e. Website narrative, video, social media messaging, TV, print, and the mobile phone).
  • Increasing the visibility of your message — these metrics can reveal exactly where on the platform you should place your message so that it will be seen and read by your targets.
  • Maximizing emotional responses — these metrics can help you understand what aspects of your message create an emotional response, which aspects are committed to memory, and most importantly, which aspects drive the desired action.
  • Understanding what aspects of a job excites — job descriptions and position postings somehow get created devoid of any marketing or sales influences. Fortunately using biometrics, you can identify specifically what aspects of a job or company excite and convince a targeted prospect to apply. With that data, the job elements, the wording, and the order in which these elements are presented can be managed to the point where the impact of job postings can be increased by up to 50 percent.
  • Understanding how different segments respond — biometrics can reveal how different segments of your recruiting target population (i.e. top performers, technologists, creatives, salespeople, leaders, etc.) will react differently to the same message. Biometrics tools allow you to tailor or customize your messages to your different target segments, so that they have the maximum impact on each segment.
  • Cost-effectiveness — you can save significant recruitment marketing dollars by eliminating ineffective messaging and by comparing the cost of a channel or platform to its impact on attracting the most desirable recruits.

Transferable Lessons From Consumer Neuroscience

Although recruiting is at least five years behind the rest of the business, there are still some immediate lessons that recruiting can learn from biometric consumer research. They include:

  • Emotional connections impact memory and decision-making — data reveals that creating emotional connections activates areas of the brain connected to memory and decision-making.
  • Revealing the subconscious — biometrics tools can reveal the nonconscious reactions in the body and the brain.
  • Identifying even subtle reactions — biometrics can reveal emotional impact signals like facial frowns or snickers that are undetectable with the human eye.
  • Attention spans impact viewing time — the trend in the population towards shorter attention spans is causing viewers to skip online ads and speed through most social media sites.
  • The mobile phone can be superior — one study revealed that people get more actionable information out of the mobile phone than a TV, in part because of its physical closeness of the screen to our face. It forces us to be to be “more attentive and feel more positive about the content.” Screen size plays a major role in the effectiveness of a video.
  • Increasing the impact of logos and icons — the impact of logos and icons varies a great deal, and biometrics can reveal the most effective icon design. One study revealed that boldly colored and simple icons seem to have the most impact.
  • Some channels have higher engagement levels — you can identify which communications channels have the highest engagement rates. Consumer research has revealed decreasing engagement rates among the different channels, starting with social media timelines, physical mail, reading websites, and finally watching video. One study revealed that ads on Facebook were ignored at double the rate and were four times less engaging than TV ads.

Final Thoughts

Whenever you are considering any innovative approach to recruiting, remind yourself of what I call “The snicker rule.” This is when you present any idea that is truly innovative, nearly half of the room will internally or externally snicker (or even laugh), and that’s how you know it’s truly an innovative idea.

I guarantee you that suggesting that recruiting should use something as exotic as biometrics to improve your recruitment messaging will at least initially garner more than its fair share of audience snickers and chuckles. But at the same time, outside of recruiting and talent management, biometrics is an important and rapidly growing field with proven business impacts. So ignore it at your peril! And for those that think that using biometrics will be too expensive, work with your CFO to first estimate the tremendous waste inherent in your current unmeasured approach. More than one third of your messages are probably never actually read and half of your viewed messages actually have literally no impact on attracting recruits. Using biometrics is just one more area where recruiting needs to transition away from emotional decision-making and into the new world of data-based decision-making.

As seen on ERE Media on JULY 13, 2015

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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