Messaging Research for Improving Employee Recruitment

Messaging Research for Improving Employee Recruitment

Messaging research is most commonly used in advertising – where the goal is to understand what messages would maximize interest in taking a certain action (e.g. buying a product, etc.). We’ve had the pleasure of applying this same process to things like military recruiting and increasing donations for the American Heart Association. Both of these had the same goal, just different wording. For the military recruiting project, our client’s goal was to understand what they could say to increase interest in enlisting in the military. For the American Heart Association, they wanted to know what message, when given to the right person and the right time, would increase the donation rate as well as the size of the donation.

In this case study, our client (a large home products manufacturer) wanted to better understand how current and prospective candidates/employees understand and value employment with their company. Their ultimate goal was to develop clear and consistent messaging for the attraction and retention of top talent. To put it another way, “What can we say that would motivate the top talent to consider employment with our company and stay with us long-term?”


This was a three-phase project:

Phase 1: Qualitative work (focus groups of their employees)

This phase occurred prior to our direct work with this client. Basically, they had their employees participate in focus groups to help them identify the “factors” behind why they work for the company (i.e. stable environment, pride, benefits, etc.).

Phase 2: Based on learning from Phase 1, quantitative surveys of their potential career candidates (external) and their current employees (internal) were completed.

For Phase 2 we took the “factors” they identified from Phase 1 and turned them into questions for an online study. For example, the online study would ask a question like, “What are the factors that make you want to join a company/stay with your current employer?” The relevant factors we learned from Phase 1 would be the options for the question (i.e. stable environment, pride, benefits, etc.).

Phase 3: Post-survey quantitative work tested with current employees and candidates.

The learnings from Phase 2 served as the ingredients for Phase 3. The output from the online study in Phase 2 helped the “crème rise to the top.” We knew that Phase 3 would involve a choice-based exercise and we needed to focus in on the most important “factors.” Choice based exercises (i.e. conjoint analysis) are most effective with a limited number of options or “factors.”

So we took the “crème of the crop” (most important factors) and placed them in an IdeaMap study. IdeaMap is an evaluation tool that, unlike traditional methods, builds messaging concepts from the bottom-up. Respondents in the study are simply asked to make choices, just like they would do in a real life situation. In the background, IdeaMap is measuring the motivational power of each element (factor) and identifying which combination of elements make-up the strongest message. In other words, in the end you’re left with the message that would be most motivating.


At the beginning of this study our client wanted to conduct this research with a special focus on 6 different job titles:

  • Design
  • Engineering
  • Leadership
  • Marketing
  • Sales Support
  • Supply Chain/Procurement

The client also looked at these job titles from 2 different angles

  • Externally – potential career candidates
  • Internally – current employees

We found that employees (internal) and external candidates agree that many of the same factors are important (many messages are motivating for both groups).

However, we also found that these two groups are partially motivated by different (almost opposite) messaging. External candidates rank “factor X” as the main factor that keeps them with a company, but employees (internal) rank that same factor as the least important element that keeps them with our client.

As we “sliced and diced” the data we identified the most motivating message for each sub-group (external candidates and current employees – and additionally by job function – design, engineering, etc.)

By using targeted messaging identified in this research, our client was able to increase likelihood of external candidates seeking them out as an employer by 69% above their baseline interest (initial likelihood before any messaging).


Intellectually, we can understand that people have different things that motivate them to consider careers and employers. Many employers take the “shotgun” approach to messaging and spray out general messaging that would reach the widest audience. For brands like our client, this approach is not good enough. For them to recruit the “best of the best”, they needed to put away the shotgun and pick up a sniper rifle. To reach the type of talent they were looking for they needed to use targeted messaging that was relevant and motivating to each specific group.

Leave a Reply

Join our Newsletter

We'll send you newsletters with news, tips & tricks. No spams here.

Your Name (required)
Your Email (required)