How surface, depth attractors help get the applicants you need



Posted11/7/2019 1:00 AM

"The market is tough if you're trying to hire new people," the CEO of a boutique Chicago public relations firm recently told me.

With unemployment at low levels, she had watched a few great candidates slip away, hired by another company before her firm could even make an offer. "Now," she told me, "we've had to start making offers immediately after a great interview."


This CEO's dilemma raises a question: if you're in a tight market for finding new team members, what can you do to make sure the best applicants want to work for you?

As part of Benedictine University's Center for Values-Driven Leadership, I've had the opportunity to go behind the scenes in hundreds of remarkable companies across the country. We believe these companies excel at attracting top talent because they focus on both surface attractors and depth attractors.

Surface attractors are top-level factors that attract applicants and new team members to your company. These include things like your organization name (if you are a well-known brand), perks your organization offers, and a competitive starting salary.

When a hospital offers a signing bonus for nurses, they're adding a surface attractor. When Google puts a slide into an office building, they are adding a surface attractor. (And of course, the Google name is a surface attractor itself.) Provide dry cleaning or on-site massages? Those are surface attractors.

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Small business owners may read that paragraph above and feel a rising sense of fear: surface attractors can be hard to compete against. But not impossible. Michael Larson, web director at nuphoriq, a marketing agency for the catering industry, says offering pet insurance is one unexpected perk that can become a memorable benefit that job candidates will appreciate and talk about with their friends and families after the interview.

Larson also suggested an affordable surface attractor he thinks Millennials would like to see in offices: a fridge stocked with sparkling water, with new flavors in the rotation each month. He shared this suggestion at the Daily Herald Business Ledger Corporate Culture breakfast event. Other panelists, who represented Gen X and Baby Boomers, agreed: the sparkling water fridge is a surface attractor all generations in the workforce could find exciting.

In contrast, depth attractors aren't easily visible, but they can be powerful factors in catching the attention of the right candidates. Depth attractors are the unseen qualities that make your organization an appealing choice. They include the nature of your culture, the personalized development opportunities you offer employees, and the sense of meaning or purpose you communicate about the work.

Small businesses can attract great job candidates by identifying depth attractors and making them clear in job postings and throughout the interview process. One easy way to do this is to talk about your culture. If you have an upbeat and creative culture, identify a few examples of what this looks like. Then, add a paragraph about the culture to your job descriptions, and encourage those meeting with candidates to share examples during interviews.


Depth attractors can also be especially personal to the job candidate. If you've lost a loved one to cancer, for example, applying for a role at the American Cancer Society might carry special meaning because it provides the opportunity to use your professional skills to fight the disease. Likewise, a new parent might find "depth attraction" in a hiring manager who speaks openly about his own children, and the ways he is able to take advantage of the organization's flexible work policies.

In this competitive employment market, knowing and communicating your surface and depth attractors is vital to attracting the talent you need. Conveniently, attractors can also help with retention when you invest in what keeps people happily engaged at your company.

Call it whatever you like, but smart leaders will definitely focus on both levels to be able to attract and retain remarkable talent.

• Amber Johnson is the Chief Communications Officer for the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University in Lisle.

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