Consumer Behavior and Campus Recruiting, Part 2: Evaluating Alternatives

In the first post in this series, we looked at the ways in which consumers and job candidates become aware of the different options in their respective decision-making processes, and we provided a framework for understanding how these individuals classify different options. In short, employers must first ensure they are part of a job candidate’s awareness set (the full list of potential options), and then do their best to make it into that candidate’s consideration set (the subset of options which a consumer or candidate actually likes).

Inclusion in a candidate’s consideration set is thus a crucial element of converting them into a hire; but how exactly can you ensure that your employer brand makes the cut? As mentioned in the previous post, one way is to get your message out to prospects before they enter into the decision-making process. But while digital platforms and tools have made it easier than ever before to reach targeted audiences earlier in the process, not every employer has the resources or bandwidth to get their messaging in front of prospects who might never enter the hiring market at all.

Good news for those employers: consumers (and job candidates) constantly update their consideration sets as they are exposed to new information and messaging, adding new options and removing old ones throughout the process. This is especially true in the campus hiring market, which is a particularly high-investment and lengthy process that encourages continuous research and adaptation. In the parlance of consumer behavior, this is known as the evaluation of alternatives, and it is the stage that offers the most significant opportunities for marketers (and recruiters) to reach an active, engaged audience.

Assessment Criteria and Consumer Benefits

During this stage of the decision-making process, consumers view each option within the marketplace as comprising a distinct set of benefits. Correspondingly, consumers assign a value to each of these benefits, and options are added to the consideration set according to the perceived value of their benefits. Given this arrangement, it’s crucial for marketers to understand how consumers within their target audience prioritize the various benefits available to them – a task that is complicated by the fact that consumers themselves often don’t have a clear understanding of their own priorities.

Another complicating factor: the “benefits” in question are not always so obvious. In the world of human resources, the term benefits often denotes things like insurance, retirement plans, and other tangible compensation provided to employees. And while these traditional employment benefits are relevant to the decision-making process for job candidates, there are a number of less obvious (and more significant) benefits that come into consideration as well. One easy way of understanding how job candidates think about the benefits of each open position is to divide them into two categories: functional benefits and emotional benefits.

Functional vs. Emotional: Understanding Consumer Benefits

A Porsche is a fast car. It has great handling. It’s well-built. Those are all functional benefits offered by the Porsche brand. But there is a whole host of additional reasons that people buy Porsches that have nothing to do with its 0-60 speed, its build quality, or the engineering that went into its design. Imagine seeing a Porsche drive past you on the street, and then seeing a pickup truck drive past immediately after. Now imagine what you might think about the driver of each vehicle; if you’re like most people, you are going to have wildly different impressions of those drivers – and the driver of the Porsche paid a heavy premium to make sure of it. In the most simple terms, driving a Porsche makes you look cool, while driving a pickup truck makes you look, let’s say, rugged; these are the emotional benefits conferred by each vehicle, and they indubitably played a huge role in the purchasing decisions of the two drivers.

For employers, it’s not difficult to grasp the functional benefits they offer to job candidates: salary and other compensation, location, mentorship or development programs, and the like. However, given that functional benefits can vary only marginally between employers and recruiters often have little to no control over the functional benefits their firm offers, competing with other employers in the campus hiring marketplace on these terms alone is a recipe for failure. Fortunately, the perceived emotional benefits of your employer brand can have an outsized impact on the decision-making process of job candidates, and effectively communicating these benefits to your target audience can make the difference between recruiting success and failure.

Effectively Communicating Your Brand’s Emotional Benefits

For candidates in the campus recruiting market, your firm represents one of many alternatives. Whether they know it or not, these candidates associate your firm with a set of functional and emotional benefits that determine whether you are included in their consideration set and, eventually, in the list of firms to which they apply. Employer branding is, in large part, an exercise in communicating the emotional benefits that your firm can confer, and doing so effectively requires a deep understanding of the emotional needs of your target audience and how your firm can match those emotional needs in its messaging.

In building an employer branding strategy, it’s important to recognize that each employer and each candidate will have their own distinct set of attributes and priorities, and both groups are best served by honestly assessing what they have to offer and pursuing targets who are actually interested in what they bring to the table. Firms presenting themselves as Porsches when they’re actually pickup trucks are not likely to fool many job candidates, and they risk missing the opportunity to convert candidates who are more interested in, for example, ruggedness and dependability than glamor.

Not sure which emotional benefits you should emphasize in campus brand building? Ask some recent alumni what they like about their jobs, and try to hone in on the distinct benefits that set you apart from competitors in the campus hiring space. Does working at your firm offer prestige? Work-life balance? Stability? Whatever the case may be, you are almost certain to find candidates for whom those benefits are a priority, and reaching them effectively requires messaging that incorporates those emotional benefits.

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