As a recruiter or hiring manager, you’re going to feel the sting of rejection throughout your career. A 2017 survey found that over 90% of recruiters had had at least one job offer rejected in the past six months. So when you’ve got a big fish on the line, how do you hook him or her? Do you know how to get someone to accept your offer?
We continue our series on the psychology of recruiting and onboarding with another powerful theory behind what makes people tick. (Learn more about how to recruit using psychology!) Social exchange theory is a collection of philosophies that identify why humans make certain decisions. At its most basic, social exchange theory posits that choices are made by weighing the costs versus the benefits. If the benefits are worth more than the costs, it’s a good choice. If not, logical people will opt for the alternative.
While commonly applied to interpersonal relationships, this theory can easily be expanded to learn more about how to get someone to accept your offer. First, look at the costs the candidate incurs. Then examine the benefits you’re offering. Will it be worth it from the candidate’s perspective?
Any choice one makes immediately excludes other options. When one door opens, several other doors close. If your candidate accepts your job offer, he or she is essentially agreeing to end the job search and devote time and energy into your company. You’ve got to make it worth it!
Remember, every candidate incurs different costs. It’s unique to each person. Consider location. If one candidate lives next door to your office building, relocation won’t be a factor. But if your top choice would need to relocate, that could be a game-changer. Does the candidate have kids who would need to adjust to new schools? The cost is even higher. You’ll need to make sure you’re offering some kind of relocation package or incentive to counteract it.
Every candidate has different priorities (although most will adhere to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.) Some see business travel as an exciting way to see the world on the company dollar – a benefit. Others might not want to leave their homes or families with such frequency, and count travel as a negative. Here are some other costs your potential new hire might be considering:
- Expected workload
- Pay cuts
- Stress level
- Number of hours
- Lack of autonomy
- Limited opportunities for promotion or career advancement, which 15% of employers cite as a reason for job offer rejection.
Want to know how to get someone to accept your offer? Find out what’s important to that person, and make sure your benefits outweigh the costs.
Your rational candidate will weigh the costs of a career move against the potential benefits. Pay is the most obvious benefit, but your company may offer other tangible or intangible perks. If you offer any of the following benefits, stress them to your candidate during the recruiting process. You want this person to have as much information about the benefits you have to offer before he or she makes a decision!
- Retirement plans
- Health, dental, vision, and other insurance benefits
- Corporate culture (if you feel it is well suited to your candidate’s personality and work style)
- Telecommuting options
- Education benefits like tuition reimbursement or continuing education classes
- Bonuses, incentives, and stock options
- Vacation time, sick leave, and paid time off
- Access to cutting-edge technology
- Advancement opportunities
The cost/benefit analysis is unique, and as a potential employer, you aren’t privy to what is going on inside the candidate’s head. What can you do to ensure that your offer comes up positive in the cost-benefit equation?
Talk About It
Find out what is important to your candidate. Ask what kinds of things he or she wants in an employer. It’s entirely possible that something that seems small to you – an extra week of vacation, for example, or the ability to telecommute once a week – could make all the difference. Your goal during the recruitment process shouldn’t be to get the best possible labor at the lowest possible price. That’s a great philosophy for material goods, but it doesn’t apply here. You’re not making a one-time purchase. An employee is an investment. Social exchange theory applies to your end of the bargain, too. Are the benefits you’ll get from hiring this person greater than the costs? Consider all the angles, and both the company and the candidate will win.
In the third article in our series on the psychology of recruiting, we discuss the way in which the recruitment process meets the needs of the candidate. (See the first two articles Types of Unconscious Bias in Hiring and Onboarding New Employees with Social Learning to learn more about how to recruit.)
The ultimate goal of the recruitment process is to extend an offer to the best candidate – and to have that offer accepted. But does your offer meet the candidate’s needs? Have you shown a holistic understanding of the candidate’s life goals throughout the recruitment process? Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which he wrote about in his seminal 1943 paper, outlines a theory behind motivation. Why do people say ‘yes’ to one offer, but ‘no’ to others? In one study, 26% of recruiters reported that over 1 in 10 job offers were rejected. What can you do to ensure your top candidate says yes?
The Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a pyramid with five layers. Need fulfillment starts at the bottom of the pyramid. As the needs for one layer are met, the candidate will seek to meet the needs of the upper layers. The recruitment process and final offer is a chance to demonstrate to the candidate that you understand his or her life and career goals. These days, employees are looking for more than just a high salary or plenty of time off. Glassdoor found that two-thirds of job candidates want diversity in the workplace. A larger study discovered that employees most want flexibility, a commitment to employee health, and a deeper sense of purpose. A quick look at the hierarchy of needs shows why.
Before a person can think about things like friendship or contributing to the community at large, some basic needs must be met. This includes things like clothing, food, water, and shelter. When you’re extending a job offer, this level directly corresponds to pay rate. Are you offering enough money for the candidate to make a living? You need to consider the cost of living in your company’s location as well. An employee working in your Silicon Valley office should be paid more than an employee doing the exact same thing in Biloxi.
Perhaps surprisingly, a massive increase in pay isn’t always the incentive hiring managers think it should be. Remember, this is the lowest level in the hierarchy of needs. Once the basics are met, your candidates are looking for more than money.
What’s the turnover like at your company? Employees don’t want to be cogs in a machine. During your recruitment process, stress the investment you will be making in your new employee. If the new hire feels as though you are committing for the long haul, that will fulfill a sense of job security. After all, you wouldn’t spend time and money educating and training an employee if you didn’t plan to keep that person around.
Health is another aspect of safety needs. Do you care about the health of your employees? Benefits like gym memberships (or an on-site gym!), standing desks, mental health days, and onsite health screenings show that your company emphasizes the physical and mental well-being of its employees. During the recruitment process, offer examples of wellness challenges, lunch and learns, or other opportunities for employees to step back and take a break. Wellness promotion programs are always worth the investment.
Research shows that having friends at work makes employees happier and more productive (although employees may want to refrain from complaining about job woes to their new best friends.) There’s more to the need to belong than friendship, though. Your workplace should have a clear corporate culture – common values and beliefs that bind diverse people together. During the recruitment process, emphasize the opportunities your employees have to socialize. Work friends are crucial to success, and your company should facilitate that as much as possible. Mandatory social activities may become a burden, so instead offer several options both in and out of the workplace for colleagues to get to know your new hire. One good option? Invite a prospective candidate to a social function at the workplace. He or she will be able to mix, mingle, and get a sense as to whether or not the culture would be a good fit.
Everyone wants to feel appreciated. Once a candidate feels confident that his or her basic needs will be met, that safety is a priority, and that there will be a sense of camaraderie, that person begins to look for additional validation. How does your company recognize the contributions of its employees? Throughout the recruitment process, point out ways employees are honored for their achievements. This could include anything from a special bell that’s rung whenever a sale is made to a ‘wall of fame’ to a monthly bonus awarded to the hardest worker on the team. Some companies have programs so colleagues can recognize a special effort made by a coworker. Your new hire doesn’t want to feel like he or she is slaving away at the same tasks without making a difference. Make the candidate feel special during the recruitment process, even before the job offer.
This is the top layer of the hierarchy of need, considered when all other needs are met. It represents your employee reaching his or her full potential. Autonomy, creativity, and a deeper sense of purpose are part of self-actualization. Emphasize the ways in which your company – and your potential new hire specifically – can make a difference internally and externally. You want your new hires (and your veterans) to feel good about coming in to work every day. The exact manifestation of self-actualization depends on the person. As you engage with your prospective candidates, learn about what is important to them. Here are some possibilities:
- Making the world a better place
- Making a difference in people’s lives
- Flexing one’s own creative muscles
- The ability to create organizational change
- Opportunities for education and growth potential
As you discover more about your candidate, you’ll be able to tailor your recruitment process to focus on what he or she finds most important.
Remember, the key to the hierarchy of needs is that it starts at the bottom. You must fulfill the basic needs before you can move onto the psychological needs and the need for self-fulfillment. If your employee isn’t offered a living wage, it won’t matter if he or she is able to affect change in the world or exercise creativity. Work your way up the hierarchy of needs, and you’ll be more likely to hear an enthusiastic affirmative when you extend an offer.
The field of psychology is ripe with revelations for human resources managers. (See our previous post on unconscious bias in hiring to learn more about how to recruit using psychology.) One of the most interesting aspects of psychological influences is that they are constantly affecting us, whether it’s intentional or unintentional. So how can HR representatives mindfully leverage these influences?
Social learning theory, proposed by renowned psychologist Albert Bandura, is the idea that people learn through observation. In his famous Bobo doll experiments, some children observed adults beating and punching a blow-up doll. The children in the control group saw adults playing with other toys and ignoring the doll. When it was time for the kids to play with the toys, 90% of the children who had observed the adults behaving aggressively imitated that behavior. They learned to be abusive towards the doll by seeing and imitating what others had done.
While this is a study on aggression, the principle can be applied to practically any scenario. Even if you’ve never held a football, you could make a reasonable attempt at throwing it because you’ve seen others do it on television. Humans learn through observation, especially in unfamiliar scenarios. And in the workplace, onboarding new employees is one such scenario. To understand how one can apply the theory of social learning to new employee onboarding, we need to understand the basics of the theory.
How Do People Learn?
Bandura posits that behaviors are learned in three ways: verbal instruction, live models, and symbolism. When onboarding new employees, the first two are going to be the only factors you can affect. Here are some ways each might influence the success of your onboarding program.
These are the directions you give when onboarding new employees. Although Bandura limits these instructions to those given verbally, written instructions would likely fall under this umbrella as well. It’s possible, however, that verbal onboarding might be more effective than simply handing your new employee a stack of booklets on corporate culture and expected job duties.
This is the behavior your new employee sees on an everyday basis, both during ‘official’ onboarding and beyond. The way your employees act, the culture they promote, and the attitude and dynamic around the office is self-perpetuating. With reinforcement, your new employees will imitate the behaviors of your veterans, eventually coming to identify with them. Identification, in this case, means that your new employees take on the attitudes, behaviors, values, and even beliefs of those around them.
Of course, we don’t adopt every behavior we see, hear, or read about. What determines which behaviors we imitate, and which we ignore? Two factors especially relevant for new employee onboarding are attention and retention. Ask yourself these questions when planning your new employee onboarding program:
- Is this skill relevant?
- Does this employee already know how to do this?
- How important is this skill for the fulfillment of job duties? Your new employee is not likely to attend to and retain knowledge about the minutiae of, for example, filing, if it isn’t a critical skill.
- How complex is this skill?
- Are there opportunities for the new employee to repeat back or demonstrate what he or she has learned?
Reinforcement also plays a major role. During the new employee onboarding process, stress the consequences of something like harassment. To the extent that you can, use actual examples. Seeing and hearing about someone who was actively reprimanded for a poor choice reiterates the importance of these policies for your new hire.
Positive reinforcement is also a great motivator. Do you have a ‘Wall of Fame’ for your greatest employees? Do you brag about the success stories of others? Motivate new hires to imitate certain behaviors, actions, and attitudes by consistently rewarding those characteristics.
Intrinsic reinforcement includes the pride and sense of accomplishment your new hire gets from seeing his or her own success. By the time you’re in the new employee onboarding phase, you have little control over this type of reinforcement. During the hiring process, though, you can screen candidates to learn more about what makes them tick to seek out new hires who are intrinsically motivated.
How Does This Change New Employee Onboarding?
Awareness of social learning theory broadens the scope of employee onboarding. It doesn’t just take place through the verbal instructions you’ve given a new hire, or through the onboarding software you use. Your new employees – and, in fact, your entire workforce – are immersed in your corporate culture. If the employees at your company aren’t living your values and seeing their efforts rewarded, your new hires will adopt less-than-positive behaviors. Over time, quality and performance go downhill. Counteract this by creating an onboarding program and a culture that teaches and rewards. In this way, you’ve got nowhere to go but up.
Are you creating effective job postings? If you find yourself looking through dozens of unqualified candidates, the problem might be with the way you’re advertising your openings. To understand how to write a listing that will attract the candidates you want, we have to get back to the basics. Just what is a job posting? And what kind of information do you need to include?
What a Job Posting Should NOT Be
A job posting should not be a copied and pasted job description. Most job descriptions are hundreds of words long. Your potential candidates are going to be scrolling through to find the relevant information. If a requirement is buried deep in your job listing, they might not see it. On the other hand, you can’t just snatch a few brief, vague lines from the job summary and expect to get high-quality candidates. Your professional time is limited, but if you don’t “pay now” by writing a great job posting, you’ll pay later when you have to read and respond to those unqualified applicants.
Components of a Job Posting
What is a job posting? Every good job posting contains certain elements. Here’s what you have to include.
This may be one of the trickier parts of creating your job posting. It’s the first thing the job seeker sees, and often what entices him or her to click on your ad. You need to accurately describe the job, using words that someone might type into the job board search engine. Don’t title your job ad, “Chief Happiness Officer,” “Fashion Evangelist,” or one of these other ridiculous job titles. If you’re looking for a marketing manager, the words “marketing manager” should appear at least somewhere in your job title. Your job title should also indicate what level you are looking for — senior, associate, entry level, lead, etc.
But you want to stand out from the thousands of other “marketing manager” postings out there. After all, what is a job posting but an advertisement? Add something special to your job title. What makes this job stand out from its competitors? Think about your USP – unique selling point – and include that in your job title. Here are some examples:
- Entry Level Marketing Manager for a Fortune 100 Company
- Top-Paid Senior Marketing Manager for Century-Old Company
- Entry Level Marketing Manager Position with Advancement Opportunities
- Start-Up Needs a Lead Marketing Manager Ready to Take the Reins
- Want to Work in the Heart of Boston? We Need a Head Marketing Manager!
Each of these job titles incorporates at least one important selling feature, whether it’s prestige, salary, security, career path, autonomy, or location.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of duties your prospective employee is expected to perform. That’s what the job description is for. Instead, choose three to five of the most important and most challenging types of tasks your employee will undertake. Make broad strokes rather than emphasizing specific duties. For example, a receptionist is expected to “act as a professional, friendly representative who serves as the first contact point for our customers, greeting everyone in a friendly manner and ensuring each client is taken care of.” That’s more descriptive (and a much more interesting job!) than “answer the phone and make appointments.”
Remember, you’re selling yourself here. Skip the boring responsibilities and focus on what makes this job special. Think about a real estate advertisement. It doesn’t mention things like “toilet included” or “every room has a floor” or “the front door has a window.” It focuses on the things that will really impress! Everyone knows a receptionist is going to answer the phone and make appointments. When you have limited space and your candidates have a limited attention span, you’ve got to really wow them.
If you have requirements, state them explicitly and without any doubt. Say something like, “In order to be considered for this position, you must meet the following minimum qualifications.” That will be more likely to discourage an unqualified candidate than language like “the ideal candidate will have experience with…” In the latter case, an applicant might think, “Well, I’m not the ideal candidate, but I’m still a good one!”
Clearly delineate your needs versus your desires. Separate the must haves from the nice-to-haves. You need to be very obvious about what will and won’t work for you. Otherwise, you’re going to waste the candidate’s time as well as your own.
Add any extra details that make your job stand apart from others. Today’s marketplace is global; don’t neglect to mention your location! Be specific here. Everyone wants a shorter commute! Here are some additional points you may want to mention:
- PTO policy
- Work-from-home policy
- Corporate culture
- Educational opportunities
- Interesting projects your company has been involved with
- Other benefits and perks
Make Your Elevator Pitch
So what is a job posting, in short? It’s your elevator pitch. It’s a quick, to-the-point summary of the best things about your company and this position. It describes why your company is a great place to work and who will be successful in the job. You don’t have to include every last detail. Focus on primary responsibilities and the must-have credentials and experience. Use bullet points to avoid long, intimidating blocks of text. Make sure your job posting is concise, interesting, and informative.
Before you post your job, ask someone else to take a look at it. A fresh pair of eyes can help you identify weaknesses you may not have noticed. What would you think if you were looking at this position? Would it inspire you to apply, or would you simply pass it by?