Outrageous Recruiting Using Avatars and YouTube

Outrageous Recruiting Becomes More Common

In case you haven't heard, some the very best firms in recruiting like Google, Ernst & Young, Microsoft, Bain Consultants, and even the U.S. Army have broken the mold of traditional recruiting.

They have gone beyond traditional sources like job boards, newspaper ads, and career fairs to use "new media" like video games, YouTube videos, online contests, MySpace, TV shows, and virtual reality websites.

You can dismiss these new media recruiting approaches as insignificant, but that would be a mistake. In fact, there are several reasons why your firm needs to be involved in outrageous recruiting.

Instituting outrageous recruiting practices in new media sends a clear message to your internal hiring managers and your employees that your recruiting function leads the way in tactics and strategy.

It also sends a similar message to your prospective candidates, one that your recruiting (and obviously by extrapolation, also your firm) is continually on the "bleeding edge" of most business and technology practices.

In short, being the first to institute a dramatic new business or recruiting practice can have a positive impact on your external and internal employment brand.

Grab Their Attention on Second Life

The "new" recruiting approach that seems to shock conservative recruiters is finding talent on Second Life, the virtual-world website where individuals can live a separate (i.e., second) life with a personalized virtual character (known as an avatar).

Living vicariously within a virtual world and a virtual character might seem like some crazy kid's notion, but in fact, Second Life is a world visited on a regular basis by hundreds of thousands of adults.

If you're wondering how you can recruit in a world that doesn't really exist, the answer is that it's not as difficult as you might suspect. First, you buy land (using real money) and then set up your career fair or information site. Already, top firms like HP, IBM, eBay, Microsoft, Hyro, T-Mobile, Bain, Sodexho, Verizon, as well as forward-looking recruiting agencies like Kelly, TMP, and Semper are planning or have already run virtual job fairs or have instituted efforts to recruit individuals (and their avatars) within Second Life.

Recruiting in Second Life provides firms with the opportunity to demonstrate that they are open to new approaches and ideas. Taking a risk and trying something new makes heavy Internet users aware of the fact that your firm has the understanding and the courage to use "new media" in recruiting.

Unique "first to try" approaches both in products and in recruiting generally garner you significant amounts of free press coverage. For example, Bain's Second Life recruiting efforts got a major write up in the Wall Street Journal and was also featured on the NBC nightly news.

In addition, having the courage to try something outrageous will likely increase the number of times that your firm is mentioned positively in industry PowerPoint presentations and within "viral" emails and text messages that are actively passed between friends and colleagues.

A Moving Picture Might Be Worth 10,000 Words

Everyone has heard the phrase that "a picture is worth a thousand words" and if that's true, then certainly a "moving picture" (a video) is probably equivalent to 10,000 words. What could be a better way to clearly show individuals what it's like to work at your firm than to show them a compelling video on YouTube and on your own corporate careers website?

What makes these short videos so powerful in recruiting is that while viewing them, a potential applicant can actually witness what "real life" is like at your firm. Within the video, outsiders can actually meet and get to know your best employees, view the physical facilities, and feel the energy and passion within your teams.

The U.S. Army is a prime example on how to successfully use videos to spread a message. The Army has placed real-life action videos on YouTube that have demonstrated the excitement of serving in the Army like no brochure or even recruiter possibly could. Other organizations including Deloitte, Cisco, and Google have also used YouTube videos to spread their message (Google has its own video channel). Just as in Second Life, videos send a message to innovators that your firm gets it.

Video Games and Other Outrageous Media Approaches

The recruiting envelope has been stretched into other "new media" areas as well. Recruiting on the popular social network websites like MySpace and Facebook has recently become more acceptable by conservative recruiters.

In contrast, most organizations are still not ready for recruiting within video games. Almost everyone knows that video games are popular among all age groups, but they are particularly popular with young adults.

Since young adults are the target audience for the U.S. Army's recruiting efforts, they have developed a free downloadable video "war game" (America's Army) that contains within the nonstop video action a "virtual reality recruiting station" where you can sign up as an Army recruit. It might be hard to believe, but it works surprisingly well. Other smart recruiters have targeted the other age groups that use video games by recruiting within the numerous online communities of video gamers.

The renewed war for talent has forced firms to try approaches that previously would have been considered outrageous. Some of the boldest recruiting approaches that only a few have been willing to try include:

  • A television show. Southwest Airlines has its own award-winning TV show known as Airline on A&E, which appears to be a drama but in actuality, is a recruiting show. Because the show follows the workday of Southwest Airlines airport personnel, they get the opportunity to expose to millions the excitement and the drama involved in working at Southwest (in addition to any revenue that the show generates). A handful of casinos and hotels have also used television dramas and cooking shows to increase their exposure for recruiting and branding. No discussion of TV recruiting would be complete without the mention of Donald Trump, who routinely got over a million applicants for a single internship opening on The Apprentice.
  • Online contests. Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo!, among others, have used online contests as a recruiting tool. Perhaps the most famous contest holder is Google, with its numerous "code jams" that are offered around the world. Contests are a superior approach because they not only attract individuals who like to compete, but because they allow you to anonymously assess the actual work of the contestants.
  • Blogs. If your employees write these blogs, they can seem more credible than a recruiting brochure. Blogs can provide a non-employee with an insider's perspective, can serve as a forum to ask and answer questions, and in general, make the firm seem more real. Microsoft, Google, and MGM Grand have used blogs as a part of their employment branding and recruiting efforts.
  • Podcasts. If you own an iPod or an MP3 player, firms like BMW will provide you with an audio or video podcast that highlights the features of the firm.
  • Wikipedia. Some firms have made a concerted effort to ensure that listings on Wikipedia.com are positive and have no negative recruiting connotations.
  • Billboards. Many hospitals (especially in the L.A. area) have learned to use highway billboards to recruit nurses during their long commute times. Google, not to be outdone, gained a great deal of notoriety by posting its "mathematical challenge" on highway billboards with the goal of attracting a handful of math geniuses.
  • Recruiting at concerts and on the beach. UPS is a veteran when it comes to outrageous recruiting. They raised the bar to new levels when they decided to recruit at Metallica concerts. IBM also took the lead by pioneering college recruiting "on the beach" during spring breaks.
  • Movie theaters. Southwest Airlines recruits moviegoers by placing ads in between movies and large theater complexes.

Innovations in The Groups That Recruiting Targets

In addition to better uses of new and existing media, some companies have pushed the envelope in recruiting by focusing on previously under-targeted groups of individuals. Some of these approaches that many would consider "outrageous" include:

  • Recruiting retirees. Eli Lilly, P&G, Microsoft, and Home Depot have all received some notoriety by focusing on recruiting retirees from other firms.
  • Recruiting from the military. GE and Home Depot have had success focusing their recruiting on ex-military personnel.
  • Recruiting your own customers. Google leads the way in targeting customers who use its services. The Google ad words program has allowed many other firms to recruit by placing recruitment ads next to certain key word searches (i.e., "jobs in nursing").
  • College referrals. College recruiting certainly isn't new or for the most part, innovative but Intuit has "raised the bar" by implementing a student referral program in order to elicit student help in identifying and hiring top candidates from their campuses.
  • Targeting boomerangs. McKinsey, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Radical Entertainment and Booz Allen have all had great success in first targeting and then convincing former key employees to return to the firm.

Final Thoughts

Do not expect large-scale results immediately after initiating outrageous recruiting efforts because, like all brand-new, leading-edge business practices, it takes time to produce high-volume results.

But one of the immediate impacts that you should expect is an increase in the self-confidence of your recruiters, because they now know that their recruiting function is one of the few that is pushing the envelope.

Expect to attract more innovators, media coverage, and word-of-mouth awareness from potential applicants, since outrageous behavior seems to draw people's attention. That is what outrageous recruiting is all about: drawing attention to your recruiting effort so that those who appreciate innovation the most will take notice.

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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