Can you think of anything more boring than a job description? Some things come close, like the title agreement on your house or Major League Baseball’s insistence that you not talk about or share the game in any way. But at least those things, while deeply boring, are discussing important or interesting ideas.
A job description is boring and dull in every conceivable way. It is almost always poorly written in that artless, “translated into legalese, then into Finnish, and then translated back again” way. Half of the copy is stolen from a corporate boilerplate, an EOE document and previous job descriptions.
They aren’t describing anything real. A job? We all know that what we describe in a job description is a loose idea of a sketch of an idea of what that job really is. You might describe a job for a basic rhythm guitarist, but when Jimi Hendrix or Annie Clark show up, the job is nothing like what you described. The job-seeker defines the role as much as, if not more than, the job description.
Can you imagine anything less likely to go viral? It’s like hoping the safety instructions and certification text in an elevator goes viral. And yet, at least once a year, that’s exactly what happens.
The Viral Job Description
Beer Historian and Archivist. Waterslide Tester. Professional Cheese Babysitter. Even stodgy old Amtrak has a Residency for Writers in which people are paid to travel and tell stories about what they see and who they meet. These are just a few of the jobs that have been shared by your friends on your Facebook timeline, often with the comment, “OMG! You HAVE to apply!”
This isn’t a rare event. These kinds of things pop up every three to six months. We have a laugh, maybe even a wistful sigh, and go about our day.
What just happened? How is it that with surprising regularity, the most boring thing in the world goes viral?
Simple. The job they were describing was interesting.
It’s not just that they were (in the parlance of marketing’s Dalai Lama himself, Seth Godin), “remarkable,” though that’s true. These job descriptions were worthy of the huge investment of sharing a link (something most of our jobs can only dream of). But there’s something beyond that idea. A guy in a vampire outfit on a street corner is “remarkable” in that you’d certainly turn to your friend, point and say, “Do you see that?”
There’s a homeless gentleman here in Chicago who carries around a live chicken. I like to think that the chicken isn’t making decisions for him, but is a companion in a big, strange world. Without question, that chicken is also remarkable. It’s just not something you see every day, certainly not downtown.
Once You Have Their Attention
This guy knows that getting people to stop and register the fact that he’s got a live chicken increases the likelihood that that same person will dig into their pocket and find some change. Or even a buck. That’s the power of being remarkable: you are able to grab the rarest of all commodities – attention.
And that’s what marketers live for: to grab your attention. We love the gimmick, the jingle, the “did you see that?” commercial. We build complicated booths at trade shows. We invent crazy giveaways. We beg for photobombs. We bend over backwards to attract attention. But what then?
And around us, new tools designed to help marketers grab attention have flourished. What is Facebook but a tool to find the 20 people on earth who are both pro-NRA and pro-Hillary who live in Brazos County, Texas just so we can send them a message that would only resonate with them?
Differentiation Is a Sucker’s Bet
We are in a world of mass differentiation. Like this tie? They sell the exact same one in 20 colors, two lengths and three widths. Like these shoes? They are an exclusive, which means only 10,000 people have them. Customize your home using these thousand items that you can find in a hundred stores.
Programmatic media and almost-custom product creation has led to a world where robots are pitching products to humans that humans don’t care about, all in the name of differentiation. We as marketers have been trained from birth to know that if your product isn’t different, not only will you lose to the cheaper option every time, chances are no one will even talk to you in the first place.
Differentiation is what separates Corn Flakes from Post Toasties, All from Tide, Crest from Aquafresh, the Cadillac Escalade from the Yukon Denali, right? Except that all that separates these things is the brand and packaging, not the value or the customer’s experience.
But differentiation is a sucker bet. Your tie is a slightly brighter blue than mine? I wouldn’t walk across the room to compare it with mine.
Differentiation is the thinking that led to a pink pen “for ladies.” It’s not that it was designed for slightly thinner fingers or somehow helps you write better when your fingernails are longer than your fingers. The reason it exists is that Bic needed to sell more pens, so they figured making them pink might somehow appeal more to women and thus increase the likelihood that they would get picked up in the store. Rather than define an audience and develop something significantly interesting or different from it, they found a cheap way to make the idea slightly different and found an audience for it. This is differentiation for attention’s sake, and you can see where it gets us.
Don’t Be Different, Be Interesting
Even worse, differentiation is really a battle among peers. The reason you choose a Ford truck over a Chevy truck is because your parents did. Or because your favorite NASCAR driver does. In every respect, these two trucks are 99.9 percent the same. One has slightly more towing capacity, but this one has slightly more torque. This one has slightly better mileage but that one has slightly better handling. But it’s not like swapping every Ford truck with an analog Chevy or Ram truck would mean people wouldn’t get to work or be able to haul a pile of dirt or tow their boat. It’s not like you’re swapping their truck for a stroller or an F-35 fighter. They are pretty much the same trucks.
Have you been watching Apple’s iPhone in the last 10 years? What once was an announcement of revolutionary new ideas, features and uses has become an exercise in, “Google and Samsung did this last year, and we thought it was cool, so here it is.” The most revolutionary thing Apple announced this year was a missing headphone port. That’s not exactly something you’re going to wait in line for, is it?
Think back to eight and 10 years ago, when your friend brought in the new iPhone and the whole office stopped to look at the new amazing trick it could do, the features it had, the quality of the pictures, or how well it took selfies. That’s not differentiation. Differentiation is doing what someone else is doing and making it 1 percent better or 1 percent different. Year after year, the iPhones were delivering a perpetual revolution, one you could hold in your hand and put in your pocket.
They were interesting.
Want to Double Your Rates? Be Interesting
Being interesting puts you in a brand new class. It forces evaluation not in comparison to others, but as a brand new idea on a clean sheet of paper. For people in business, there’s only one upside: With no true competition, you can change whatever you want.
Sounds great, but there’s a very clear downside: There’s no clear ROI on being interesting. You can’t define it, thus you can’t measure it. And if you can’t measure it, you can’t derive an ROI. And while it’s pretty clear to me that we are, in the recruitment marketing community, over-indexed on ROI optimization, it makes it hard to make a case to the boss that being interesting has clear value.
How to Be More Interesting (Recruitment Marketing Edition)
We might assume asking someone to be more interesting is like asking them to be taller, that being interesting is an inherent trait we can’t change. I disagree. I think people are naturally interesting, and a group of them together working on a problem or building and delivering something is interesting. What gets in the way are the facades we naturally put up to appear more “professional” or “polished,” obscuring what’s naturally interesting in our companies.
Without treating this as a comprehensive guide, here are some steps you can take today to encourage the interesting in our people and organizations to be more obvious.
Adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for stock imagery
Your company isn’t stock. You aren’t stock. So stop using pictures of models smiling while pretending to work. Get a real photographer in and let them paint a picture of who you are. Can’t afford a pro? Let your team document who you are with the cameras in their pocket.
Hiring managers must write their own job descriptions
99 percent of job descriptions are copies of a copy of a copy of a job that no longer exists. You can handle the legal requirements, but ask the hiring manager to really explain what the job is, what they are looking for and what kind of person is successful. If they can’t do it, how can you expect them to be able to identify that person when they walk in the door?
Ask co-workers of this role to help define the role, the expectations and the fit
Want to know what the job really is like? Ask the people doing it. Develop a process in which current and former occupants of that role can include notes in the job description to help add color and flavor to what the hiring manager is saying.
Let staff write and share more stories
Every team and company has stories they tell themselves and each other over and over again. They are the tribal knowledge that allows culture and expectations to be passed along to the next cohort of staff. This is what you want candidates to know about you, what makes you more real and authentic, a pillar in being interesting.
Uncertainty is the killer
The No. 1 reason employee engagement projects don’t take off is because of uncertainty: Employees aren’t 100 percent sure why the project is happening or what the expectation of them is. The reason only 40 percent of your staff fills out employee engagement surveys is because 60 percent wonder if the information is truly anonymous or if this is how management tricks people to reveal too much. Make the reasoning and process 100 percent transparent in order to get more people to open up.
Kill your job titles
What do your titles mean, really? You know who cares most about job titles? Future employers, who may not respect the work done by a project manager but are impressed by the same work done by a Director of Project Management. You don’t have to go full 1997 and make up wacky job titles like Chief Cat Herder, but honestly, why wouldn’t you?
What are you working on?
When you hire someone, they shouldn’t be reading their job description. They should be working. So show off what you’re working on right now. Show your teams’ hands getting dirty (even if they are in a clean room), taking pride in their work and creatively solving problems.
Success stories sell
Do you have a VP of whatever who once started in the mail room? Maybe you don’t have a mail room, but these kinds of stories highlight longevity and career growth, things that prospects hold dear. Ask that person what they learned, mistakes they made and why they stay. It doesn’t have to be lyrical, but it will be a story that is uniquely yours, making it interesting.
So maybe this is a call to stop looking at your competition and thinking about best practices and concepts you can imitate. Maybe recruiting and talent acquisition is entering a new period, one where blind adherence to “the way we’ve always done it” comes across as a stodgy strategy of defensiveness. It is time for recruiting to stop being boring. It is time to embrace the things that make your company and team unique and cast a light on it.
It is time to be interesting.