What to Convey in a Recruitment Message

Having decided on the type of individuals it wishes to recruit, an employer needs to design a recruitment message that is suitable for this audience. A recruitment message can be viewed from a micro- or macro-perspective. A micro-perspective considers each communication with a prospective employee (e.g., a job advertisement, comments by a recruiter) as a separate message. A macro-perspective views a recruitment message as the totality of the information exchanges an employer has with an applicant over the course of the recruitment process. In this section, I focus primarily on specific communications. However, in planning a recruitment campaign, an employer should consider whether the sum of these communications conveys its overall message.

Before discussing research on the recruitment message, four general points are noted in order to provide a context for the topic. First, it is assumed that an employer wants to provide accurate information. Failure to do so is unethical (Buckley, Fedor, Carraher, Frink & Marvin, 1997) and can result in undesirable outcomes (e.g., employee turnover). Second, the recruitment message should be tailored to the group targeted (e.g., providing information concerning the local community may be important for recruits from outside the area but unnecessary if only members of the local community are recruited). Albers (2003) addressed how to conduct an ‘audience analysis’. Third, an employer should be aware that the message it sends is not always the message received. As noted by political consultant Frank Luntz (Colbert Report, 16 August 2011), ‘It’s not what you say; it’s what they hear.’ In terms of increasing the connection between a ‘sent’ and a ‘received’ message, pilot testing can be important (e.g., do message recipients truly grasp the positives and negatives of a position?). Fourth, it is not possible to present much of the theory that underlies the research discussed. Readers interested in a detailed treatment of relevant theory are referred to Breaugh (2013a).

With regard to the recruitment message, researchers have studied the effects of the amount of information communicated, its specificity, its realism and how it is framed. In terms of the amount of information, research has shown that providing more information results in: a job opening being viewed as more attractive (Allen, Maho & Otondo, 2007); the message being perceived as more credible (Allen, Van Scotter & Otondo, 2004); a greater probability of individuals applying for a job (Gatewood, Gowan & Lautenschlager, 1993); and a higher probability of a job offer being accepted (Barber & Roehling, 1993).

It is not sufficient for a recruitment message to be lengthy; the information presented should be specific (Walker & Hinojosa, 2013). Communicating more detailed information has been shown to cause more attention being paid to the recruitment message (Barber & Roehling, 1993) and to generate a higher level of interest in a job opening (Garcia, Post- huma & Quinones, 2010). Providing specific information about the KSAOs the employer is looking for can facilitate self-selection by prospective recruits. Mason and Belt (1986) found that conveying specific information in a job advertisement about the personal attributes (e.g., education, experience) sought reduced the percentage of unqualified applicants. Stevens and Szmerekovsky (2010) also suggest that greater specificity in a recruitment message concerning the KSAOs desired - in this case, personality attributes - can facilitate self-selection, resulting in a better quality applicant pool.

The realism of the information presented in a recruitment message has received considerable attention. Much of the research has focused on the use of a realistic job preview (RJP), which involves ‘the presentation by an organization of both favourable and unfavourable job-related information to job candidates’ (Phillips, 1998, p. 673). Providing realistic information about a job opening during the recruitment process can have several benefits (Earnest, Allen & Landis, 2011; Phillips, 1998). For example, RJPs have been shown to: reduce the inflated job expectations that many recruits have; allow applicants who do not perceive good person-job/organizational fit to withdraw; help new employees to cope with job demands because they were forewarned of job challenges; and result in RJP recipients perceiving the hiring organization as trustworthy.

A realistic recruitment message, however, can have a drawback. Bretz and Judge (1998) found that presenting accurate but negative information about a job can result in desirable candidates withdrawing from the recruitment process. In this regard, I would argue that such withdrawal is preferable to workers quitting shortly after being hired when they discover what the job is really like. Maio and Haddock (2007) show that presenting negative information can make a message more credible. In a study dealing with ‘dirty work’ (e.g., sanitation workers), Ashforth, Kreiner, Clark and Fugate (2007) found that even jobs that are perceived as undesirable can be described accurately but in such a way as to make them appear less unattractive (individuals being recruited to fill unattractive jobs often have few better options and have lower expectations concerning position attractiveness).

New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services department provides an excellent example of an employer being realistic in a job announcement. Their ad read: ‘Wanted: men and women willing to walk into strange buildings in dangerous neighborhoods, be screamed at by unhinged individuals - perhaps in a language you do not understand - and, on occasion, forcibly remove a child from the custody of a parent because the alternative could be tragic consequences’ (Santora, 2008, p. B3). The ad was the result of the problems that Children’s Services was having with employee turnover on the part of its new hires. In an attempt to reduce this, the department decided to convey how challenging the job of caseworker could be (steps also are being taken to improve the caseworker job).

Some researchers have examined the effects of the way in which a recruitment message is framed. Highhouse, Beadle, Gallo and Miller (1998) investigated whether describing job openings as being few in number would affect ratings of job and organizational attributes. They reported a number of scarcity effects. For example, their job opening scarcity manipulation resulted in pay being estimated as $1.70 higher than in the non-scarcity condition. This suggests that individuals may infer certain information from the wording of an ad (e.g., if an employer has several openings, it must not pay well).

A recruitment goal for some employers is generating a diverse pool of job applicants. It is not surprising then that considerable research has examined how a recruitment communication may affect applicant diversity. Some of this research provides a good example of how the framing of a recruitment message does not necessarily involve the wording. Instead, pictorial representations can be important. Avery, Hernandez and Hebl (2004) discovered that including pictures of minorities increased how attracted Latinos and Blacks were to an employer, but did not affect how attracted non-minorities were. In a related study, Avery (2003) demonstrated that pictures had a greater influence on minorities if some of the minorities in the photos were in supervisory positions. The results of these studies suggest that employers may have discouraged minorities from pursuing a job by failing to include photos of them or using pictures in which minorities were represented in lower-level jobs. Although research is lacking, the same issue may apply to females and/or older individuals.

Gaucher, Friesen and Kay (2011) also have demonstrated the effects of the framing of a recruitment message. In their first study, they analysed actual job advertisements using an established list of masculine and feminine words. They found that masculine words more commonly appeared in ads for male-dominated jobs (e.g., engineer), but feminine words were equally likely to appear in ads for male-dominated and female-dominated (e.g., nurse) jobs. Similar results were found for Gaucher and colleagues’ second study, which involved job postings at a university. In their third study, students read job ads that were constructed to be masculine- or feminine-worded. For male-dominated, female-dominated and gender-neutral jobs, male and female students perceived there were fewer women within the occupations advertised with more masculine wording. In their fourth study, Gaucher and colleagues examined whether masculine wording in an ad resulted in women having less interest in a job because such wording suggested they do not belong. Masculine wording resulted in both less interest and perceptions of not belonging in the job. Gaucher and colleagues’ final study replicated these results and extended them by showing that masculine wording in ads did not affect women’s perceptions of their having the skill needed to perform the job. Taken as a whole, the results of these studies suggest that gendered wording is commonly found in advertisements and can result in women believing they do not belong in a job, but not because they lack the necessary skill. These results also suggest that employers who do not mean to discourage female applicants may nevertheless be doing so because of the way their advertisement is worded.

A recruitment message includes more than just written words and photographs. Spoken words should be considered a recruitment message. In this regard, research has shown that individuals respond favourably to informative recruiters (Chapman, Uggerslev, Carroll, Piasentin & Jones, 2005). Research (Boswell, Roehling, LePine & Moynihan, 2003; Rynes, Bretz & Gerhart, 1991) also has shown that poor communication on the part of a recruiter (e.g., not responding in a professional manner) can result in a job candidate withdrawing from the recruitment process.

In conclusion, three points should be stressed. First, it should be apparent that a recruitment-oriented job analysis provides essential raw material for crafting a recruitment message. Without detailed knowledge of what a job involves - its tasks, KSAOs, working conditions, job rewards - and typical employee reactions to the job - their visceral reactions to such things as repetitive tasks, a lack of co-worker interaction and/or long hours - an employer may present a ‘vanilla’ description of a job opening, one that results in a recruit accepting a job that is a poor fit. Second, when attempting to convey an accurate picture of an open position, three aspects - the supervisor, co-workers and advancement oppor- tunity/career paths - should not be overlooked. With regard to the supervisor and co-workers, presenting specific information is a challenge as these people will be tied to a specific job opening. For this reason, the recruitment message concerning a supervisor or co-workers needs to be tailored to a specific job opening. Personal interactions (e.g., a face-to-face conversation with a prospective co-worker) may be necessary to convey information such as that concerning the supervisor’s management style. Recruitment interaction intended to convey such content is best saved for later in the recruitment process (Breaugh, 2012). A third point to highlight is the value of an organization evaluating its communication process (Carlson & Mecham, 2013). For example, an employer might follow up with new employees to investigate whether certain aspects of a job were not addressed or were addressed in a way that failed to characterize the true state of affairs. During such data gathering an organization could seek advice on how to better convey what a position involves and how new hires can be expected to react to various aspects of the position. Failure to conduct such an evaluation may result in an organization assuming it is doing a good job of communicating during the recruitment process when it is not.

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