Speed kills but an absence of it will be damaging your employer branding and candidate experience

There’s a tidal wave of sport breaking over us all this summer. Our Lionesses have reached the World Cup semi finals and just came up short against the USA. Their cricketing equivalents are tackling the Australian women with the Ashes at stake. The men’s cricket World Cup continues, Wimbledon has just experienced its first serve and we have world class golf, horse racing and Formula One under starter’s orders.

And what have all these events in common? An increasing fixation with not only technology and metrics but, at their heart, speed. In so many walks of life, the ability to measure both inputs and outputs has never been so tangible – and sport is perhaps the most obvious and high-profile manifestation of this.

It’s not at all without controversy and divided opinions. VAR, Hawkeye and ball tracking both incite and draw a close to myriad sporting arguments.

But whatever the current misgivings, we crave an understanding about who is the fastest bowler, which team changes tyres in the shortest timeframe and who has the fastest serveAnd such focus on time and efficiency is something we all need to take on board within talent acquisition.

Some fascinating research from Realeyes in the consumer branding space highlights a frankly staggering shift around how we process advertising messages as customers.

In the 1970s, a typical ad lasted a duration of 60 seconds and even a decade later, the average ad lasted half a minute.

Fast forward, literally, to today and our tolerance levels are much shorter.

Since 2016, media channels such as Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube have introduced 6 second commercial slots, which Fox Networks also aired for the first time last year.

Realeyes views this as inevitable. Such advertising is increasingly aimed at an audience brought up on digital consumption, who would view minute-long advertising as an irrelevant indulgence. The more time we spend attached to devices, zipping from Twitter to Facebook to Insta to our emails, texts and messages, the less tolerance we have for patience.

This is backed up by research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information which demonstrated that our average attention span is now as low as 8.25s – a big thanks to Matt Alder and his most recent research paper for this nugget – welcome to the goldfish bowl. 

And Martin Dangerfield and myself came away with a very similar conclusion to our recent research study into the candidate experience. Organisations – and particularly those with immediate and sizeable talent competitors – were nearly obsessive about an on-going review of their recruitment processes. They wanted to understand how they could take time out of the process so that candidates would spend less time on their applicant journey with that organisation compared to the competition.

Candidates today do not have time but they have choice.  

And if they encounter a recruitment experience which doesn’t recognise this, then it won’t be long before they come across one that does.

Such an apparent lack of patience touches so many aspects of the candidate journey.

I’ve just been involved in a concept testing project for some potential graduate recruitment collateral. The participant group comprised students who were much in demand. The sorts of subjects they were studying were attractive to any number of different employers and industry sectors. If they weren’t exactly complacent about their ability to secure well paid work after graduation, then it wasn’t something that was apparently keeping them up at night.

Their reflection on the graduate recruitment landscape was that they were being bombarded with emails and competing employer messages on a constant basis. Any such message which took time to decode and work out, which was overly nuanced, complex and lacking in clarity faced the equivalent of being swiped left and not right. If a message didn’t cut to the chase, then there would be plenty of others that contained more clarity and simplicity.

Such a regard for time influences internal communications as much as it does external attraction messages. I’ve just been doing some research around a professional services organisation which wants to ensure its attempts at internal engagement are as effective as possible. Again, through a series of interviews, the challenge is around time. The organisation’s employees are time poor – they receive any number of both internal and external emails and have very little opportunity to sort the wheat from the chaff. Those emails that contain key actionable news, that inform about new joiners, client wins, or those that touch on perhaps less gripping insights. It can be challenging and, ironically, time consuming to decide which is which and, in the absence of real clarity, there is always the delete button.

Our obsession with time is perhaps no great surprise. As organisations seek to become as productive as possible – often without great success – then time taken on an activity is of vital consideration. How much internal time has been consumed and how much external time can we charge?

I drew a similar conclusion from a university I recently worked with. Keen to understand the extent to which its employee base were as knowledgeable as possible about the full range of benefits they could access, a number of focus groups were organised. Again, the inescapable conclusion was that crucial information of this nature was not being processed and understood because it was largely lost alongside a blizzard of competing messaging. The information was not cutting through, not standing out, it was white noise. With all the ensuing lack of engagement and, potentially, tenure that came with it.

Little wonder, then, that we are fixated with the passing of time. That we simply don’t have the bandwidth to filter, with any consideration and thought, the various merits of emails, advertisements and messages we encounter.

There is a clear relationship between retention and recruitment as regards the pressures of time too. And perhaps this is the most telling of all outputs from this blog. Via a recruitment industry focus group, commissioned by Dangerfield last month, one of the key learnings was that the more successful a firm is about retention and tenure, the more time and thought they can devote to recruitment. 

Conversely, organisations operating something of a revolving door tend to ramp up the pressure on the talent acquisition function – regardless of the realities and competitiveness of the prevailing jobs market. If people are leaving an organisation at pace, then they need to be replaced at even faster speeds, appears to be the thinking. If, indeed, much thinking is being demonstrated.

In many cases, talent acquisition is blamed for both premature turnover and ineffective recruitment. Our group reflected that young talent wanted to see near immediate progression on joining an organisation – if this was not forthcoming, then they sought development elsewhere.

All of us are frustrated by delays – whether they relate to transport, food, wifi or an Amazon delivery. We want and expect immediate gratification. And if this isn’t forthcoming, then we want to understand which other supplier can provide this. We shouldn’t be too surprised, then, if talent audiences and particularly those comprising digital natives, want the same form of immediacy from a recruitment experience.

Because it has become so easy to apply online to jobs, there is an assumption that employer responses will echo this pace.

Our graduate focus group bemoaned the fact that advertising should be as clear as that of iPhone communications – a photo of said product and its name. Job done – all very simple, all very clear. No ambiguity, no nuance, no time wasted pondering what was being communicated.

Few organisations and fewer products have such a luxury of profile and understanding as Apple’s iPhone. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t walk in the shoes of our candidate audiences. The process they encounter should be designed with them in mind, rather than expecting them to work around a process that suits an employer.  

News too from the British Chambers of Commerce is not without irony. Their report at the end of June suggested that 20% of businesses were taking six months to fill skilled roles and that half of all UK organisations were taking longer to recruit talent than was the case five years ago.

Businesses that take their time to recruit are losing time. And candidates.

If time to hire is a key criteria for you and your organisation, it’s worth analysing just how timely your own applicant journey is for the sorts of candidates who will make a difference to your business.

Candidate audiences do not have time. They see time as a commodity. They are judged at work on the amount of time taken to do something. It is entirely front of mind for them. Little wonder, then, if they judge your candidate experience on the time it takes to grasp your messaging rather than the innate cleverness of your employer branding.

Your employer branding – it’s about standing out but doing so quickly. It’s about time.

Neil Harrison believes employer brands should be informed by authenticity. It's awfully hard to arrive at such authenticity without having a topical understanding of what your employer brand is challenged with, what it has to offer, how it's perceived and what it's up against.

Neil has been lucky enough to work alongside exceptional brands such as Sainsbury's, Transport for London, Pizza Hut, HS2, The AA, BA, Heathrow, Virgin Media, the University of Sheffield, Telefonica, Santander, Unilever, Prosafe and Subsea7.

Today, he works with both clients direct and via agencies and RPOs. Such work is increasingly used to drive both diversity and internal engagement initiatives. The ability of an organisation not only to retain but to get the most out of its people has never been so important. We are also doing some interesting work in the exit journey of potentially departing employees.

Neil is a key member of the DANGERFIELD team.