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What Old Hollywood Can Teach Us About Recruiting

By August 12, 2014 No Comments

astaire-rogersDrawing in attractive candidates is way up there in terms of priorities for recruiters.  Want to get better at it?  Your first thought might be to enlist in some training or maybe seek out a more experienced mentor.  How about queuing up an old movie for some pointers?

Yeah, that probably hasn’t occurred to you.  But Depression-era movies in particular may offer some insight into hooking an audience.  By some figures, more than half of the population in the U.S. during the Great Depression hoofed it to theaters at least once a week to see the movies.  Yes, it’s true that it was cheap entertainment in a time when not much came cheap.  Even so, that’s quite a draw.  So what was it that kept cinemas packed during this time?

Escapism is part of it, without a doubt, but there was more: the thrill of living vicariously.

If you assume that films depicting enormous wealth and elegance would be off-putting to the jobless, you’d be wrong, at least historically speaking.  Top Hat, the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers flick provided viewers a peak into lives of glamour, where the characters were seemingly untouched by hardship.  Top Hat was one of the highest grossing films of 1935.  Audiences wanted to identify with characters whose situations were entirely different than their own.

Translation: The candidate is looking for something different than what she’s got already.  Your best selling points will be what distinguishes XYZ position at your company from a comparable one at other firms.  Find out from your candidates what they don’t like about their current or most recent role, and position the job opening differently.  Does she want more of a challenge?  Detail the opportunities for exciting projects, for learning new skills, for taking on leadership responsibilities.

Rags-to-riches stories accomplish the same end.  A pitiable character is transformed, his problems solved, dreams fulfilled, wishes granted.  Despite their circumstances, though, audiences rarely view themselves as the down-on-their-luck, initial versions of the protagonist, but as the character in transition.  One for whom the goal is only temporarily out of reach.  One whose identity is evolving.

Translation: Candidates want to believe they can become something more than what they already are.  Help them to imagine themselves rising to their potential, stepping into a role that will help them to become an even better version of themselves.  The trick here is to make sure the prospective job still seems attainable.  If the candidate cannot see himself in the role, he’ll lose interest fast.

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