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Paving a Two-Way Street

With job applicants seeking employer input on corporate review websites, companies are doing more to engage in give-and-take discussions with candidates online.

Monday, June 8, 2015
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Five years ago, Ford Motor Co. was just dipping its toes into the social-media-recruiting waters.

"We started small, using Facebook to connect with potential summer interns," says Laura Kurtz, the manager of U.S. recruiting at the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker.

"And we quickly realized that we absolutely had to be in social media for recruiting."

Most organizations have learned that same lesson, of course. But, for Kurtz, the real epiphany was the recognition that simply being present, but passive, on social media wasn't going to be nearly enough.

"It has to be a two-way dialogue," she says. "It can't just be us putting a job listing out there."

With that in mind, Ford has since taken a more hands-on approach to its social-media-recruiting efforts, interacting with candidates via omnipresent socially-oriented sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And, in the last year, Ford's recruiting and communications teams have "really increased [Ford's] presence on Glassdoor.com."

In an arrangement with Glassdoor, Ford now has greater control over its page on the employee-review website, which -- in the past -- could include job openings from other organizations.

"Now we have [only] Ford jobs listed on the Ford page," says Kurtz. Listing other employers' jobs, she adds, "wasn't a good arrangement."

"It would be up to either Glassdoor or employees to populate information on our page if we didn't do it," Kurtz continues. "So we think it's really important that we put that information out there."

In addition to job postings, Ford's page also boasts a variety of content ranging from employee videos to photos commemorating the 50th anniversary celebration of the Ford Mustang.

And, importantly, Ford is now able to respond to the employee reviews and other comments left on the company's page. In fact, two Ford communications specialists now take the time to address comments posted on the Ford page, "usually within 24 hours," says Kurtz.

"Sometimes people are seeking information on how to apply to Ford," she says. "Other times, they may have a specific inquiry about a job opportunity. In any case, we try to be very responsive, and it shows we're sincere in our commitment to really connect with candidates through social media."

For Kurtz, the fruits of Ford's efforts became clear during a new-hire welcome session she led about six months ago.

Standing in front of more than 50 new employees, Kurtz greeted the group and asked a few questions to get the dialogue going. One of those questions had to do with why these new employees selected Ford.

One -- a new addition to Ford's information-technology department -- raised his hand and said he was drawn to the company by the glowing reviews posted by some of its employees on Glassdoor.com.

"He said that seeing all these great reviews and positive comments made him want to work for us," says Kurtz. "So it's pretty powerful that a social-media site can shape a person's decision on where they're going to work, where they're going to start a career."

Employee-review websites and similar forums certainly aren't new. Current and former employees have long turned to these sites to share their employment experiences -- for better or worse. Job seekers, meanwhile, seek such information to get a better sense of the employee experience at a company they're considering.

While employee-review sites offer companies the chance to weigh in and respond to employee comments, many employers haven't always taken advantage of that opportunity. But, with job candidates placing more value on companies' input on employee-review websites and social networks, experts say this trend may be changing, as more organizations expand the roles they play in these types of forums.

Shaping Perceptions

Recent data suggests employers would be well-served to engage in more give and take with job candidates on employee-review websites and similar online arenas.

Consider a poll recently conducted by Glassdoor, which found 69 percent of 1,000 employees and job seekers saying their perception of an employer improved when they saw that an executive or other company representative responded to online employee reviews.

The same poll found 94 percent of respondents indicating they are likely to apply for a job if they can tell that an organization actively manages its employment brand online, including sharing updates about its culture and work environment, updating employer profiles and, of course, publicly responding to company reviews.

There's further evidence to suggest that social media's role in shaping job seekers' perceptions shouldn't be downplayed. A 2014 Spherion Staffing Services survey, for example, found 47 percent of 2,035 employed adults saying they "strongly agree" or "agree" that, when considering new employment, a firm's online reputation is as important as the offer they're given.

Posting comments on sites that encourage user-generated content and reviews is "only natural" for a company that considers its online reputation -- and its employment brand -- to be a priority, says Kathy Kalstrup, senior vice president and global RPO leader at Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Aon Hewitt.

"Employers should want to participate in these conversations," says Kalstrup. "Otherwise, they're not really shaping the dialogue.

"You can let [perceptions of your company] take shape or you can be part of shaping them," she says. "The organizations that aren't as savvy at getting out there and making this a two-way conversation . . . I don't think it's going to work out for the best for them."

Finding a Niche

For SWC Technology Partners Inc., sites such as Glassdoor.com are more about "brand building" than seeking out job candidates, says Fran Peters, human resources manager at the Oak Brook, Ill.-based information-technology consulting firm.

In its effort to personally connect with would-be employees and generate interest in opportunities at SWC, the company relies more on niche sites aimed at tech-industry professionals, says Peters, who oversees SWC's participation in social media.

Stackoverflow.com, for instance, is a free, question-and-answer-oriented website predominantly used by technology programmers and developers, and "a site where we've had some success" in terms of finding talented, often-passive candidates for positions within SWC, says Peters.

(Indeed, since first becoming active on stackoverflow.com in February of this year, SWC has already filled one technical position with a candidate whom the company connected with through the site, according to Peters.)

"[Stackoverflow.com] users sign up and take part in this Q&A community. And the more questions they ask, the more involved they are, the more badges they get," says Peters. "And for us, through getting involved in this online community, we see people emerging who are really into technology, just like we are."

Peters chuckles when asked how she learned about the site as a potential tool to reach tech industry professionals and introduce them to SWC.

"I just went to our software team and said, 'Where do you guys go to talk to other developers?' And everyone kept talking about stackoverflow.com," says Peters. "So I wanted to tap into that, and find people who live and breathe technology, like we do."

Initially, SWC did some advertising on the site, and  hosted a company-sponsored page. "But we also knew we wanted to get involved in discussions with users on the site," says Peters. 

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From an HR perspective, Peters acts "mostly as a facilitator," she says, helping to identify the best internal candidates to represent SWC in the stackoverflow.com community. "I know more about technology than I ever thought I would," she says. "But I'm not the technology expert here. So, for me, it's more about getting our subject-matter experts involved in the conversation."

SWC employees weighing in on stackoverflow.com include team leaders, software developers and consultants, including a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional -- a title typically given to those in the industry who actively share technical expertise with technology communities related directly or indirectly to Microsoft.

These representatives speak with other members of the community, and even share videos outlining the SWC employee experience. But the dialogue doesn't necessarily have to be always centered around SWC, says Peters.

"It's more of a [broad] conversation about challenges professionals in the industry face," she says. "But we do ask questions: 'Do you like what you're currently doing?' 'What are you looking for in terms of career opportunities?' 'If you're not happy in your current job, what would make you happy?' "

Such questions are designed -- at least in part -- to subtly steer the conversation toward opportunities at SWC, which is the end goal, after all.

"A lot of times you're communicating via web chat or email," says Peters. "But, ultimately, what we're trying to do is get them on the phone. Then we can talk about their interests and career goals, and then we can really see if there's an alignment with our business."

Going Global

While many companies may hold off on devoting significant time and resources to responding to online reviews, there's a good chance more organizations will eventually take this route as part of a broader social-media strategy, says Joe Dettmann, a Chicago-based director of talent and rewards at New York-based Towers Watson.

"Most companies . . . have an intentional social-media strategy. That strategy might reside with the CIO or CMO, but increasingly involves HR," says Dettmann.

"Leaders are starting to think beyond product, service and company brand positioning in social media, to building their public employment brand and managing social media's impact on their ability to attract, retain and engage the talent they need."

Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott International Inc. relies on a global team of HR professionals to serve as the organization's voice on various social-media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and the mobile-messaging application WeChat, says Francisca Martinez, global head of talent acquisition at Marriott.

Known internally as the "Talent Community Crew," the worldwide team enables Marriott to essentially be "on call" around the clock, providing a local voice in every region where the hotel chain operates, and "continually posting engaging content and answering questions our community members may have."

As is the case at SWC, the conversations can cover a wide range of topics beyond job openings at Marriott, she says.

"Through these channels, job seekers can talk with us, ask questions, learn more about our business and discover what's happening at our hotels and business locations around the globe," says Martinez.

From a recruiting standpoint, these discussions help Martinez and her team gain a better understanding of Marriott's employment audiences, including what motivates job seekers to apply for a particular job or decide to make a career change, for instance.

"We learn as much from our community as they may learn from us," she says.

"We learn about perceptions of the latest trends and technologies in the recruiting space and we learn about how we're doing as we strive to make the search-and-apply process as efficient as possible. Without these two-way conversations, we would essentially be operating in the dark."

 

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