“Willing To Risk Death Daily:” What a Help Wanted Ad Says About a Company

ponyexpIt’s the end of the year and thus, ’tis the season for the annual avalanche of help wanted ads — though the avalanche certainly isn’t what it used to be.

Oftentimes, a help wanted ad will be the first impression a prospect will have of a potential employer. Professional recruiters and expert networkers typically steer job searchers away from applying for positions at companies they’re unfamiliar with and/or at companies where they don’t have any inside contacts. But the fact is, given the continued weakness in the employment market, lots of job seekers believe they have little choice but to cast a wide net.

And that’s why a well-written, transparent, enthusiastic but honest help wanted ad can give the uninitiated candidate a positive first impression. Or reinforce the positive reputation the company has already earned in the mind of the candidate previously acquainted with the hiring entity.

On the other hand, a poorly written help wanted ad, e.g., one that is too vague (what are they hiding?), one where the responsibilities are too broad (unrealistic) or one that over uses phrases like “rock star” and “super star” run the risk of turning off qualified candidates.

I wonder how many corporate HR departments consult with their corporate communications team before publishing a help wanted ad.  It’s clear to me that not enough do.  After all, a help wanted ad is no less a public disclosure of a company’s organizational and investment priorities, or needs, than is a news release.   It gets posted on the company website, makes it way to online job sites like Indeed.com and gets shared from friend-to-friend and from one networking group to the next.  A help wanted ad is visible to investors, business partners and the media.

Two companies, HubSpot, and Vistaprint, really get it.

“We’re trying to build a culture specifically to attract and retain Gen Y’ers,” said Brian Halligan, CEO of marketing software company HubSpot in a recent New York Times interview.

It doesn’t get any more transparent than that.  Halligan’s comment may have turned off a few Gen X’ers and lots of Baby Boomers for sure, though his intent wasn’t to offend.  It was simply to be transparent and honest – better than leading people on.

Halligan is a rarity in the corporate world. Much of the time, organizations leave it up to candidates to wade through job descriptions and a company’s website to hunt for clues they hope will help them determine if they’d be a good fit or not.

Another great example of communications transparency is this job description from Vistaprint, an online supplier of printed promotional material and marketing services to small businesses:

Far from someone who has found a mid-level corporate hiding place, you will be someone ready to lead delivery and take an opportunity to step out of the ‘big company shadow’. … You should have a real or virtual portfolio of examples of work that are away from the norm of ‘managed a newsletter’, or ‘was responsible for the company intranet’.

Vistaprint’s message to candidates is loud and clear: if you looking for the back nine, you won’t find it here.

2014 is on top of us, and that means more help wanted ads will be posted in the next few weeks than any other time of the year.  Companies should borrow a page from HubSpot and Vistaprint’s recruiting handbook and communicate honestly about who they are and who they are trying to attract.  An employer and its reputation, as well as the job candidate, are sure to benefit in the end.


What CEOs Can Learn From AOL’s Tim Armstrong’s Awful Week

iStock_000000713960SmallAs you’re reading this several hundred AOL Patch employees are walking around with bullseyes on their backs.  They know they’re a target because their boss — AOL CEO and Chairman Tim Armstrong — told them so last week during a highly publicized “all hands” meeting during which he very publicly fired another executive for videotaping the meeting.

The firing has been covered ad nauseam but if you haven’t seen the leaked audio catching Armstrong in the act, you can watch it here.

Armstrong, who co-founded Patch.com, a network of 900 local news websites that has come under much criticism for its content and working conditions, informed his employees on August 9 (a summer Friday no less) that Patch would shrink by 300 sites.

Since then Armstrong has apologized for the way he fired Abel Lenz, Patch’s ex-creative director who is now looking for a new gig.  But otherwise, employees are saying the CEO has been largely invisible.

Not sure what he thought he was going to accomplish on that call on Friday but I can assure you all he did was create resentment and kill morale.  Everyone is just sitting around waiting for the bad news,”  an employee said.

Armstrong handled the employee meeting, and firing, wrong on so many levels that one doesn’t know where to begin.

But for starters…

  • his tone was punitive from the outset and not in the least bit encouraging.  He missed a huge opportunity to showcase his human side.  A more sensitive communications approach would have resulted in at least a neutral tone in the ensuing media coverage vs. the bashing he’s endured.
  • there was no exchange of information…just Armstrong telling, telling, and telling some more.  I’m not suggesting he run AOL by committee, but inviting suggestions from his employees to help stave off a Patch implosion gives his employees “skin in the game” and a sense of ownership, collaboration and hope.
  • he was ambiguous.  He implied to analysts on the preceding day that the shrinking of the Patch network would mean employee layoffs.  But 24 hours later he was telling employees that layoffs could perhaps be avoided (by selling some of the Patch sites). When there’s a lack of clarity and direction, imaginations run wild and it’s human nature, in such situations, to think the worst.  His lack of clarity means that even Patch’s best employees are concerned about their livelihoods and are updating their resumes too.
  • since then, Armstrong has largely been invisible, further heightening anxiety among his employees.

CEO.com reports that

  • up to 50 percent of a company’s reputation comes down to its leadership.  How are you feeling about AOL today?
  • the reputation of a company’s CEO has a marked impact on customer purchasing decisions and investors’ investing decisions.  Are you buying from or investing in AOL today?
  • there’s an 80% chance a company’s stock will drop 20% in a single month during a CEO’s administration and a good reputation speeds the way to recovery.

What CEO reputational qualities have the greatest impact on the overall reputation of the organizations they serve?  All Mr. Armstrong had to do was ask and listen:

  • Honesty – A CEO must view business ethics as key to overall success.
  • Respect – People are not objects a CEO owns.  CEOs who respect others are usually shown the same level of respect.
  • Care – People (a.k.a. employees) are guided by feelings.  The best CEOs work to understand the feelings, values and beliefs of their employees.  A CEO and caring person can be one in the same.
  • Integrity – the integrity of any organization starts with strong leadership; strong ethical leadership.
  • Humility – legendary business consultant Jim Collins said that among other things, the best CEOs “display a remarkable humility about themselves, ascribing much of their own success to luck, discipline and preparation rather than personal genius.”

What would you add to the list?

Happy Birthday Serenade Costly To J-LO’s Reputation

ImageBeing a public figure — leader of a profitable and growing organization, entertainer, politician, professional athlete — can have many rewards.  Financial freedom.  Notoriety.  Red carpet treatment.  The satisfaction that goes along with providing a great product that solves a problem or fulfills a need.

But the public recognition and the associated rewards also come with great responsibility and accountability — whether it be to fans or customers, shareholders, employees, business partners, the media and other key stakeholders.  After all, it’s these stakeholders, and their opinions, that ultimately form the reputation of these entities.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffet once said:  It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.

The problem is, so many public figures do not think about that often enough.  And when lapses happen, the results can be disastrous.  Just ask celebrity chef Paula Deen whose reputation has imploded ever since her recent admission of using the N-word.

Or this week, you can ask pop diva Jennifer Lopez.  Over the weekend, Lopez sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to the leader of Turkmenistan, recently cited by Human Rights Watch as “among the most repressive (countries) in the world”, ranking it alongside Syria, Cuba and Sudan.

The mega-star’s publicist told reporters that Lopez never would have accepted the invitation to serenade Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov if they were aware of his and his country’s reputation. “…had there been any knowledge of human rights issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended,” read a statement.  In another statement, her publicist actually said:  “We had no idea he was so evil.”

The publicist tried (but failed) to quiet the uproar by explaining that Lopez was in the former Soviet-bloc country for a paid performance at an event for the China National Petroleum Corporation CNPC), and not there on behalf of Turkmenistan, and that it was that organization who made the request for her to sing to Berdymukhamedov.

Yeah no.  CNPC does business with this highly repressive regime and Lopez tarnished her reputation simply by being there for what was surely a $1M+ appearance fee.  Lopez needs better advisers.

Said Human Rights First President Thor Halvorssen: “…her actions utterly destroy the carefully crafted message she has cultivated with her prior involvement with Amnesty International’s programs in Mexico aimed at curbing violence against women.”

Perhaps it’s the right time for Jennifer Lopez and her organization to go through a reputation assessment.  A simple and straightforward reputation assessment would help the Lopez organization — and most any organization — answer how well her organization manages her reputation, how important reputation is to her key stakeholders and what areas she can improve to advance her reputation.

I have always advised my clients that reputation is their company’s most valuable asset, but it’s an asset that isn’t owned by them.

Dave Logan, a USC faculty member and author of Tribal Leadership, said it best:  “Remember that your reputation is about you, but it isn’t your property.  It’s owned by the tribe around you. So when you ask about your reputation … you’re asking about something that isn’t yours.