Opposition Research Improves Employer Branding, Recruiting And Retention (So that you win more side-by-side employer comparisons)

Firms compare their products to their competitors, so also make it easy to compare jobs side-by-side. 

Win Most Employer Comparisons By Weaponizing Opposition Research

Making stark side-by-side comparisons may be uncommon in recruiting, but they are a standard practice throughout business, especially during these times of fierce business competition. Most companies now show some form of direct side-by-side product comparisons on their website and in their ads. And it has also become a standard practice for Internet websites (that are likely anonymously sponsored by a company). To compare competing products/services from different companies in a single side-by-side list. So at least to me, it’s time for smart recruiting leaders to realize that top candidates will inevitably make a company comparison.

And that comparison will cover what they perceive it will be like to work at your company alongside what it would be like to work at each of your top talent competitors. And because you simply can’t stop these comparisons. It’s in a company’s best interest to make the actual differences more comprehensive and accurate. By adding information that was gained from opposition research. You are likely to make the flaws of working at each competitor much more visible and understandable. In order to eventually proactively shift the comparison balance between all companies in your favor. So now, when a top candidate compares potential employers on their own. Your company will clearly come out on top with the most positive factors and the fewest negative ones. So that over time, you become “the employer of choice” in your industry.

If You Are Unsure About What We Mean By Opposition Research

Opposition research is a widely used information tool. It is most often found in politics. Where its goal is to give a candidate a leg up. By acquiring all of the potentially negative information on an opposing candidate. So this negative information can potentially be used to hurt the opponent’s public image. Opposition research (a.k.a. oppo) is also used by advocate NGOs to hurt the image of major corporations that they are challenging. 

Although opposition research is relatively rare in recruiting, the basic concept is easy to understand. The recruiting function at your company simply conducts a great deal of background research primarily to identify all of the flaws in a competitor’s work environment. Finding this mostly negative information and making it easier for every potential candidate to find makes it less likely that a candidate will seriously consider working there. 

Structurally, oppo research has two components. The first “self oppo research” closely researches your own company in order to identify your most attractive features for recruits. As well as any of your own negatives that you might need to hide or counter. The second component focuses on researching your recruiting competitors with the goal of finding and revealing the flaws that would be faced by a new-hire. Typical oppo information that might be gathered during recruiting’s oppo research might include. Executive departures, layoffs, pay/hiring/promotion freezes, major budget cuts, changes with major customers, possible negative employee experiences, and major ethical/legal issues.

A Recruiting Example – a mega hotel in Las Vegas researched the career progression of entry-level candidates after five years of working either in New York or Las Vegas. Because the Vegas hotel was losing so many candidates to hotels in New York. This oppo research showed how their career outcomes after five years of working in Las Vegas would be superior to candidates that started their career in NYC. Although their initial starting salary would be higher in NYC. After five years of working in Vegas, they would be earning at least 40% higher pay. And on average, they would have had two more promotions under their belt in the faster-growing and more innovative Las Vegas hotel market. That side-by-side comparison solved this hotel’s entry-level recruiting problem.

The Many Ways That Oppo Research Can Benefit Talent Managers

I have found that recruiters, hiring managers, and HR professionals are much less likely to resist the use of oppo research. After they find out the many advantages and benefits that it provides. Those benefits include:

  • During interviews, candidates will better understand a competitor’s negatives – when discussing the various employers in the industry during interviews with a candidate. The interviewer can subtly make the candidate aware of the many negatives that they would encounter if they were to choose the competitor company. In the end, this counter information will make it more likely that a candidate will complete your hiring process.
  • Oppo can make it easier for managers to sell throughout the hiring process – unfortunately, many hiring managers don’t keep up with the latest employment features at both their own and at competitor companies. Unfortunately, this lack of current knowledge will make managers less effective at selling this job to a top candidate that has multiple choices. Fortunately, oppo research can provide the content for a simple “side-by-side sell sheet.” This sheet directly compares what your company offers in each major job attraction area to what each major recruiting competitor offers in the same area. Managers can use this “sell sheet” at any time during their interactions with a candidate. And because it is compact and easy to scan. It will dramatically improve your recruiting results.
  • Your job offers can become more compelling with this research – if your oppo effort includes researching the details of the offers that are coming from your most common talent competitors. Realize that with this information on what the competitor company is likely offering in their “must-have areas.” Your hiring manager can better sculpt their own offers so that they meet or exceed what the competitor is likely to offer.
  • Identify additional top candidates with oppo research – oppo research can help you identify the best future recruiting targets. If, as part of your effort. You make it a standard practice to ask interviewees that now or have recently worked at a key competitor. To show their ability to assess and build relationships with top talent. By listing their top five high-impact contacts at their last two industry companies. Even if you don’t hire this candidate, you will still have some great names as a result of this type of information gathering.
  • Oppo can help improve your recruiting process – most opposition research efforts gather information on the strengths and the weaknesses. Of both your talent competitor’s recruiting processes and their individual recruiters. So after you lose a head-to-head competition over a top candidate. First, you can use this process information to fix underperforming parts of your recruiting process. And then counter the most effective parts of the recruiting process at the winning competitor more effectively. So that you continually increase the odds of winning the next head-to-head competition. 
  • Your employees can better spread impactful recruiting information on social media – because a candidate is much more likely to believe what a fellow employee says versus what a recruiter says. Amazon proactively encouraged and paid its workers to post positive things about their company on social media. So in that light, it makes sense to first make your employees aware of the various negatives at each talent competitor. And then to encourage them to informally spread the word about these negatives throughout the social media that they use. And especially on company review sites like glassdoor.com.

Other uses of oppo research outside of recruiting

  • Improve retention by revealing the negatives at likely next employers – you can reduce the turnover of your top employees. By proactively reminding them of the stability of your company. As well as the questionable work environment that they would encounter at each major talent competitor. Pass along the information during the annual stay interview that you hold with each flight risk employee. 
  • Oppo research can support your reputational needs on the business side – when your company is being attacked by outside advocacy groups. You can often bolster and help to shift public opinion toward your side. By showing the public how your company can’t be all bad because it is a great employer. Build that image of a great contributor by providing examples of how well you treat your employees, your customers, and the environment well.
  • Use your corporate alumni network to provide oppo information – in most cases, you can find out which of your recently departed employees have landed at a talent competitor by accessing their profile on LinkedIn. And then, if you proactively build and maintain a positive relationship with the most loyal of your former employees. Those working at your talent competitors may still be willing to keep you informed about most major employment or business issues at their new employer. And at some point, these “corporate alumni” may even consider an offer to return to your company. And if they do. They will bring a great deal of information covering that talent competitor.

Opposition Research Doesn’t Require You To “Sling Mud”

Before, you mentally reject “opposition research” because you didn’t want to get involved in mudslinging. It’s important to realize that the recruiting variation of this practice does not require any questionable legal or ethical practices (like those that you might have seen on the streaming show House of Cards). Instead, you can purposely limit your use of negatives about a talent competitor. To the instances where the candidate brings up an important employment feature. Because this provides you with the opportunity to mention that you have it. But unfortunately, other competitors don’t.

If you only do one thing – ask one of your new hires from major talent competitors. To update you on some current problems that the employees at that company are currently facing. Next, use some negative information to proactively discourage a candidate you know is still considering this other company. And after the hiring decision has been made, ask the candidate if the negative information, in any way, slowed down their serious consideration of this competitor.

Final Thoughts

The centuries-old adage, “knowledge is power,” is still true today. And anyone who has ever fought an intense “battle” in the military, politics, or an internal corporate struggle. You already know that you dramatically improve your chances of beating your opposition when you have detailed information about what your competitor is currently doing well and what they are struggling with.

This information can only be obtained through oppo research. You can easily highlight your own positive features while only subtly mentioning that you are one of the few in your industry with this feature. And because, for the first time, many companies are experiencing weak recruiting and high turnover at the same time. In my view, the time has come to begin building a competitive advantage by initiating a small initial oppo research effort.

And also, note that if you don’t want to build a capability on your own. There are now public affairs consultancies that help corporations with various kinds of opposition research (e.g., Definers). If you decide to begin an oppo research effort. You can find more details on implementing one here.

Author’s Note

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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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