The Rise of Recruiting Theatre

Peter Weddle

By Peter Weddle on the TAtech Blog

You’ve probably seen it in a local grocery store. You may not know its name, but you almost certainly remember how you were affected. It’s part of the experience economy. Called “retail theatre,” it uses spectacle and participatory activity to engage and sell customers. And now, the time has come for employers to adopt this powerful strategy on their corporate career site.

Visit a Trader Joe’s or Stew Leonard’s, and you enter more than a plain old, vanilla grocery store. Each has built a kind of theatrical experience into the way customers do their shopping for watermelon and spaghetti. Trader Joe’s puts its associates in Hawaiian shirts and creates back stories for its featured products. Stew Leonard’s, on the other hand, uses talking cows and rides to keep the kids entertained while parents do their weekly shopping.

This use of retail theatre is a growing trend in the grocery business. It not only differentiates the brand of certain stores, it sets apart what it’s like to shop at them. While all stores offer a different selection of products and some even claim a qualitative distinction, today’s customers often want something more for their loyalty. They see shopping as an investment of their personal time, so they expect a store to create as much value for the hours they spend in its aisles as it does for what they find on its shelves.

Top talent is a similarly discerning customer when shopping for a new employer. They expect the company to offer a great product – or what we call an employment opportunity that is defined by challenging work and attractive rewards. That’s a precondition for their even bothering to stop by a site, and in most cases, that’s what they get.

Unfortunately, however, it’s also the totality of what they see on those sites. Today’s corporate career sites are colorful brochures about a company’s vision, values, employees and offices. They are great in product presentation and lacking entirely in theatre. The experience of visiting one site is exactly the same as that at every other site.

Now to be fair, corporate career sites have come a very long way in the last five years or so. They are more visually alluring, more informative and more helpful to job seekers. And in most cases, they are also more attentive to the candidate experience, at least if that goal is defined as treating job seekers with the respect and courtesy they deserve. But now it’s time, to take the next step – to create an experience that is also entertaining.

The Next Step

As with traditional retail, there are two facets to entertainment on a corporate career site: spectacle and participatory activity. Of course, videos – at least those with high production values – do provide a measure of spectacle, and chatbots – at least those that are carefully tailored to the employer – do provide a measure of participatory activity. They are important additions to a site, but they too are primarily informative in nature. They are not theatre, but rather companions to it.

So, what does retail theatre look like on a career site? Well, most importantly, it’s idiosyncratic to each company, so there is no one solution that fits everyone. However, there are some common attributes:
• First, the spectacle or participatory activity is aligned with the company’s employment brand. It isn’t entertainment for entertainment’s sake, but rather to reveal a richer, fuller appreciation of what the company stands for as an employer.
• Second, the spectacle or participatory activity is useful to the site visitor. It provides an alternative way for them to look at the company and in the process makes them a more informed consumer of the company’s employment opportunities.
• And third, the spectacle or participatory activity must be compelling. It must be a differentiating experience that delights and engages the site visitor and encourages them not only to return to the site but to tell others about it.

Admittedly, some grocery shoppers are interested only in buying tonight’s dinner and could care less about theatre. They are the active job seekers of retail. There are other shoppers, however, who enjoy the experience, who are motivated to linger because of it and who ultimately become true fans of the store (and the buyers of lots more groceries). They are the top talent of retail. They are why it’s important to entertain as well as inform.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can check out his latest books on Amazon or in the TAtech Bookstore.

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