Hiring in a bad economy

A friend of mine was president and ceo of a small company that was part of a large conglomerate. Each year, HR shuffled talented new MBA grads through the halls so that graduates could decide which of the companies they wanted to work for.

While my friend’s corporate peers managed sexy software companies, dot coms, and international manufacturing and marketing opportunities, all she made was picture frames (actual product has been changed to protect the innocent).

Desperate, she was willing to try anything. A few weeks after the yearly round of interviews, the HR person stepped into her office. “This is really weird,” said HR. “I don’t know what you said, but they all want to come work for you.”

What did she say?

While her peers discussed international scope, ROI and quizzed prospects on their career goals, she zagged. She used the basics of Primal Branding and persuasive storytelling.

She started by telling each recruit how her company got started. She told them how she believed their product was different and what the company values were. She showed them her product and unique ways they could be used and interacted with. She talked about what pictures (especially family photos and family history) mean to people. She talked about what her company was not. And she gave a run-through of her own values, goals and thoughts about taking the company forward.

Despite the jobless rate, employers from burger flippers to dotcoms want talented people who believe in what they’re doing.

All over the world, people are working days, nights, weekends, losing sleep, losing spouses, sometimes even losing their health as they work toward the next great computer chip, the next great Superbowl commercial, the next DNA splice, the next big deal, the next breakthrough.

Why do they do this? Because they are driven by a higher ideal–something that goes beyond just a weekly paycheck. (Or year-end bonus.) They are on a mission.

Here are some ways to help ensure that people are inspired to work for you instead of your competitor.

Tell potential hires how the company got started. Almost all companies were started by someone with nothing more than some thoughts scratched on a notepad. And a dream. Make people feel they are a part of the continuation of that corporate legacy.

Tell people what the company stands for. Invent. Think different. The juice guys. Engineered like no other car in the world. We make the world’s best mattress. The tightest ship in the shipping business. These creeds for HP, Apple, Nantucket Nectars, Mercedes Benz, Serta, and UPS helps the people who work for those companies know why they come to work in the morning.

Set expectations. Every company has its own set of rules, words, and ways of doing things. Help prospective employees understand what these are up front, what success looks like, what kind of people don’t work out there.

Share company success stories. Dramatic moments when everything hung on the line. People who made it big—either inside the company, or those who moved on elsewhere.

Tell people what you’re not.

And make sure potential hires know who works for whom. There’s nothing worse than showing up for work on your first day and discovering the person you thought was your new boss…isn’t.

This series of points should lead you to a narrative can help excite and motivate.

Try it, it works.