The One Thing You Need to Win the War for Talent

We are on the brink of a war for talent. With over 41 million Baby Boomers near retirement and unemployment going down, we face what might be the most competitive labor market this country has ever seen. And it’s not just that the number of unfilled jobs is growing, but that the compensation, benefits, and career opportunities provided by each are also increasing.

This might not sound like a problem if you lead recruiting at Google, Salesforce, or the next great startup, but many insurance companies, retailers, manufacturers, and the like are struggling to compete. And most ask the same question: How can boring be cool again?

General Electric figured it out.

With over 126 years in business and 300,000 employees, GE was struggling to attract enough qualified software developers to sustain emerging technology needs. Despite it’s long tenure, the industrial giant did not have the cachet to recruit and retain qualified candidates.

So what did they do? GE single-handedly rebranded their industry with a national ad campaign targeting new recruits in science and technology. First, it was Owen: A young professional’s tongue-in-cheek defense of why he went to work for an old and massive industrial company.

Then it was a commercial celebrating the scientist Millie Dresselhaus, which included a bold declaration that GE would hire 20,000 women in tech by 2020.

These commercials and the others in the campaign increased applications to GE by over 800 percent, which certainly helped the company fill it’s talent gap.

So what did it? GE told a story to define a purpose bigger than profit.

In his book The Purpose Economy, Aaron Hurst argues that as our economy evolved from agrarian to industrial to information, we climbed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. So now the average American worker is more focused on finding purpose in their work, than survival.

This is great. The problem is that most companies today do not define a tangible purpose that is bigger than the bottom line. That is, most companies don’t offer the thing that candidates want the most, which is a missed opportunity.

So, if you want to compete for increasingly rare qualified candidates, don’t start with the salary, benefits, and workplace perks. Start by telling the story about what you’re there to do, and how the world will be a better place if you do it. Do that, and you will win this war.

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