A Conversation about the Conversation about the Conversation

September 26

I bet you are having an ongoing conversation about the ongoing conversation. Tired of the conversation yet? You know, the conversation about the conversation that former employees, prospective candidates and other interested parties are having about YOU as an employer. That conversation. Are you listening to the conversation? Joining the conversation? Guiding the conversation? Without a doubt, there are many ongoing conversations about the conversation and differing opinions as to how employers should/can/must engage in the conversation. There is certainly insight to be had, when viewed in perspective, by at least being aware of the conversation. These conversations have been going on for hundreds of years. The Internet, social media and other tools are just exponentially connecting, categorizing and amplifying the conversation. When I interviewed for my position at TMP almost 14 years ago, I really knew nothing about the company besides the fairly sparse content on their website (but no longer, check out the NEW!!). Had I been privy to the TMP work experience conversation, I might have injected some of those nuggets and questions into the interview conversation. Without those gems I was relegated to closing the interview with “I really believe I can make an impact at TPM.” Thankfully, I still got the job. We had a good conversation despite my verbal typo.

(For those of you who have lost count, I’ve used the word “conversation” 21 times already)

There are definitely valid reasons for an employer to be aware of the conversation. Some employers take it to the level of obsessively monitoring what is said about them online from an employment perspective and reacting as quickly as they can to quash what they perceive as negative, whether it’s a countering and “timely” employee testimonial or a cease and desist. Is that the right way to do it … maybe for that employer. There’s not a finite right or wrong way to determine when and how to engage and guide the conversation, but there are some common sense ideas to be considered.

First of all, think about the conversation from this perspective: anyone can quickly and easily find opinions about the workplace of most employers via search engines, message boards, blogs, social media, employee testimonial sites, etc. That’s a given and we should all stipulate that. Now think about this fact—the passive jobseeker that you’d love to hire but you’re not aware of—because they have not applied yet, or the candidate you just interviewed and want to extend an offer to, if they are considering working for you they’re likely going to or have already done a quick search on “Working at INSERT YOUR COMPANY NAME.” For many employers, much of the online conversation about their workplace isn’t very positive. In some cases that may be warranted, but in more cases, it’s merely a disproportionate sliver of the real experience. I believe the adage about treating me well and I may tell one person vs. treating me poorly and I may tell 10, is definitely what’s behind this. But we cannot assume that jobseekers know that to be the case. So what can employers do at a minimum when faced with a preponderance of negative feedback about their workplace on the Internet? We need to ensure that your recruiters, hiring managers and other candidate facing employees—which definitely is a lovely segue to a diatribe about how all your employees should be employer brand broadcasters—are aware of key trends in the conversation. At least to the extent of being able to anticipate what a candidate might say or ask about and have thoughts about how they should respond. Or, take it a step further and proactively address selected items/misperceptions within your recruitment story, as warranted—and as ideally told by your employees in an authentic manner.

If a relatively small number of people are citing the same negative item about you online as an employer, note it. If it’s a large number relative to the size of the conversation who are saying the same thing, listen and consider the right next steps—which may consist of engaging in the conversation and offering a different and true perspective; being aware and consciously choosing to do nothing but note it; and looking inward to validate or disprove or even building a communication action plan as appropriate. The key is to be thoughtful in your approach and resist the impulse to react quickly unless absolutely warranted.

In closing, I do need to point out one enormous drawback of the pervasive conversation … a faux verb that I thought we’d laid to rest has returned … yes, I mean “conversate.” It’s re-entered the lexicon, perhaps it never left, but twice in the last month I’ve been privileged enough to hear references to the need for employers to conversate with their target audiences.

Best of luck conversing and please let us know if we can help.

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