By Christopher Hosford
The job market is heating up, and promotional products can be a powerful tool to attract qualified candidates to your company. Here’s how to use them effectively at job fairs and other recruiting events.
If you’ve got a job opening on your team, you’re not alone. After a relatively soft job market the past few years, the war for talent is again heating up, especially for entry-level employees. A new survey by Monster, the online job board, reveals that the demand for entry-level workers is continuing to grow. According to the survey of more than 820 large employers and 6,000 soon-to-be college graduates, 72% of employers plan to hire college graduates this year, compared to 64% last year. And college graduates are feeling confident about their prospects: 82% expect to receive at least one job offer by the time they graduate. The job market for workers at other levels is becoming more competitive as well.
One way to catch the eye of new recruits is by using promotional products, says Tom Darrow, principal with Talent Connections, a recruiting firm in Atlanta, and president of the Atlanta chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). That’s the case especially if a candidate is not aggressively pursuing employment with your company, he says.
“With a passive candidate,” Darrow says, “you have to go the extra step in getting his or her attention. That’s when a promotional product really can be helpful.”
Read on for three situations in which promotional products can play an effective role in snaring the right employees: Career shows and job fairs, recruitment efforts aimed at key prospects, and onsite job interviews.
A Tee or a Tumbler?
One of the main functions of promotional gifts in the employee-recruitment game is to lure candidates to job fairs and to help them remember you after they leave.
“Military recruiters in particular are very big users of promotional products at fairs.” But such products must be appropriate for the audience.
"You’re sending a message,” Darrow warns. “If you’re at a job fair where the attendees are smart, senior-level people, you don’t want to give away cheap personalized pens. You’ll want leather portfolios or steel mugs.”
Another compelling idea: Instead of regular business cards, have your personal contact information imprinted on card-size magnets.
Many companies offer items that relate to a candidate’s job search. For example, since attendees come to job fairs equipped with their résumés, you might give out pad holders to help them better manage their bundle.
Personalized Pens and imprinted calculators also are appreciated, as are custom posters that advertise your company or the jobs available. After all, something has to adorn those dorm-room walls, and what better than your message? (Suggestion: Add your bold signature with a bold, black marker for more impact.) Another popular item is bottled water (customized with your company’s logo), which thirsty show-goers will appreciate.
As with any trade show, Barry Siskind, president of trade show consultancy International Training and Management, in Toronto, recommends keeping products hidden until the goodbye. Then, less-expensive items can be given to so-so candidates, while more expensive items can be given to your best prospects.
Show Your Best Face
Products or gifts in the recruitment phase often can be seen as a prelude to employee engagement once the candidate joins the company. Note that the products in this sense aren’t viewed as gifts per se; rather, they can be viewed as symbolic of the company’s commitment to an engaged workforce.
In a 2004 study conducted by Northwestern University’s Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement, in Evanston, IL, together with the National Association for Employee Recognition (NAER), the connection was made strongly between employee and customer satisfaction.
Significantly, the study also powerfully linked employee satisfaction to employee engagement – that is, the worker’s commitment to his job. Surprisingly, employee satisfaction results in engagement to an even greater extent than do such variables as the effectiveness of managers and the design of one’s job.
All of this might well be predicted by the job candidate, well in advance of his hiring. The prospect may well think, “If I join this company – which thought enough of me to give me product X, Y or Z when I was a recruit, – they’ll think enough of me as an employee as well.”
“A promotional product used as a recruiting tool illustrates the environment of recognition at an organization,” says Karen Renk, executive director of the Incentive Marketing Association, based in Naperville, IL. “It says to the job prospect, ‘If you come to work here, look at the type of environment we have. We respect employees and their contributions to the organization.’ ”
Lisa Massiello, vice president, operations, technology and e-commerce for employee engagement and recognition with Wachovia Bank, in Charlotte, NC, says that the “reaching out” to employee prospects is a continuous process, via interviews, callbacks and products.
“I use a lot of promotional products for employee engagement, and so does the recruiting group whom we partner with,” says Massiello. “We know that, in this world, people are accepting jobs, but they’re still looking at other jobs the day they walk in your door as new employees.
“We work in the second-largest banking city in the nation, with banks on every corner,” she adds. “A recruit may accept a job and two days later accept a higher- paying job, or one with better benefits. So we remind HR managers to reach out, stay connected and indicate we’re looking forward to them starting here.”
Clearly, follow-up gifts have a huge role in this continued pursuit of top talent.
A promotional products distributor based in Oshkosh, WI, offers the following promotional product idea to reinforce the reputation of your company among recruits when they first come into the office: Hand out to all current employees mugs or tumblers imprinted with the words “I work at the best place!” (or a similar phrase that reflects pride and engagement). Then, when the interviewees come in, they’ll see, graphically and immediately, the kind of place – and corporate attitude – they’re considering being a part of.
Tricks of the Recruiters’ Trade
The use of promotional products isn’t just the purview of in-house HR departments or job fairs. Their value also is demonstrated effectively by outside recruiters, whose very existence depends on reeling in those top prospects. If these hired guns are using promotional products as a recruitment tool, you know it’s a good idea.
“ A lot of companies are trying to go after the top 1% of the most employable people on the planet,” asserts headhunter Eric Jaquith, owner of Recruiting Choices, based in Atlanta, who has undertaken recruitment tasks for the likes of Microsoft, Google, Coca-Cola and Dell Computer.
"These potential candidates already have a good job, they like their bosses, they’re paid well, they have tenure and a track they’re moving along quite nicely. So, when they’re approached by someone like me, anything you can do to make that interaction positive is wonderful.”
Jaquith has the psychological impact of promotional products down pat. He claims, for example, that gifts are essential regardless of the outcome of the recruitment effort. Yes, a gift will be a reminder to a key candidate you want – “You don’t fly in top-tier candidates for a site visit without giving them stuff in a propaganda pack,” Jaquith says – but gifts are just as important for the ones you don’t want.
“Say I spend an hour with someone and I recognize that he or she isn’t the person I want,” he says. “Maybe his experience isn’t what I need, or he didn’t go to the right school, or his business level isn’t appropriate. A parting gift is a wonderful thing to ease the pain of rejection.”
Regardless of the result of the interview, the gift is just the beginning.
“If a candidate turns me down, I never hear ‘no’; I always hear ‘not yet,’ ” says Jaquith. “I’ll keep calling them, and send them a gift, because it’s really part of a valuable relationship.”
Jaquith recommends that, rather than loading down the top-tier candidate with freebies, that the gifts be delivered at home while the prospect is still away. Thus, the spouse will be thrilled with positive vibes toward the prospective new employer by the time the recruit gets home, reinforcing the hoped-for positive decision.
As far as what items to choose, Jaquith likes to present a gift that is a memory of the encounter. This might be an inexpensive wireless mouse, he says, but with a twist. On the bottom, where the user changes the battery, Jaquith will affix a transparent sticker with only his name and number. (He likes to be somewhat surreptitious so that the candidate’s employer won’t be alerted to the fact the candidate has met with a recruiter.)
The key: If he did his pitch correctly, the mouse and Jaquith will be inextricably connected in the prospect’s mind. And importantly, “Nobody would think to look under the mouse and see the phone number of a recruiter,” Jaquith adds, with a chuckle.
The unspoken value-add is that companies generally supply their own employees with generic, cheap, roller-ball mice. Giving out sexy, wireless, optical mice as a thank-you can send a powerful message of the type of company – i.e., hip, with it, and “not cheap” – you’re trying to project.
Gifts Speak Volumes
Ideally, any gift given as a recruiting aid should say something about your company. Starbucks gives every job candidate a pound of coffee, for example. A popular giveaway on behalf of Google is free Gmail accounts, those coveted e-mail accounts that no one can get without an invitation. Another favorite: high – capacity USB flash drives, with logos all over them. For Microsoft, special browser toolbar add-ons often are proffered.
Coca-Cola was a major sponsor of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, in Salt Lake City. Because of that, recruiters for Coke distributed to key prospects Olympic pins (with Coke’s logo, naturally) along with event tickets. Lockheed Martin, the aeronautics firm, gives away airplane models to its college prospects.
One popular giveaway at job fairs – a seemingly generic product but one that speaks volumes about the giver – is ringtone cards. Young adults and college students love music, and equally love to customize their cell phones with unique musical jingles that play when a call comes in. Prepaid, logoed ringtone cards contain access to licensed music content from popular groups that users can download on their cell phones.
Depending on how the music is offered, these ringtone cards also could provide a route through the recruiting company’s own Web site first, where candidates might take a survey, or in other ways indicate future ways they can be contacted. Thus, the company has more information on (and engagement from) a key prospect.
One important thing about promotional gifts and recruiting: You never know when the two will actually reinforce one another. That’s why providing gifts with strong memorability and longtime usefulness is key. The reality is, people move in and out of companies all the time, and when the time comes to move on, the recruiter’s name and phone number (under the mouse?) is always there.
Above all, remember that the gift or product you’re handing out to job prospects isn’t about the gift itself, or even its memorability. It is the embodiment of a significant life investment.
“The job candidate is actually a customer who is buying something from you: his future,” says Siskind. “The candidate wants to spend the next five or 10 or 50 years with you, to learn and grow. Make sure the product you give reinforces this momentous decision.”
Christopher Hosford is a freelance writer based in New York.
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