(Photo by Cecilie Arcurs/iStock by Getty Images)

If your company doesn’t have much of a public reputation–perhaps you build urban infrastructure or set up cell-tower networks–do you have a strategy for helping job seekers envision themselves in your organization?

According to a panel of HR and talent-acquisition leaders, hiring managers are your best asset. “Hiring managers make or break the deal,” said Dominique Brewer, the U.S. head of culture and engagement for the pharmaceutical company Takeda. “They need to embrace the differences and engage.”

Brewer and her co-panelists participated in a webinar titled “How Hiring Managers Can Play a Stronger Role in Attracting Diverse Talent in 2023 and Beyond,” which I moderated, hosted by From Day One as part of its January virtual conference on talent acquisition during uncertain times.

Show Hiring Managers the Types of Diversity They Should Be Seeking

Before you deploy your hiring managers for recruiting, before the interview stage, show them the type of diversity your company needs. Diversity is not just race and gender, but also includes background and ways of thinking and neurodiversity, said Brewer, and all the intersections our identities create.

Age, said the panelists, is one that continues to be overlooked. “We did a global study, and [found that] about half of global companies are not aware of and don’t include age in their thinking about [diversity, equity, and inclusion],” said Heather Tinsley-Fix, senior advisor for financial resilience at AARP. “Age diversity is really great at an organization. You can leverage the technical skills of your early career workers, and then the systems-level thinking of your later- and mid-career workers.”

Jane Curran, the head of talent acquisition (TA) at the commercial real-estate firm JLL, said her company favors skill over pedigree. Where a candidate went to school or the last company on their resume, “those things have a shelf life, and have very little correlation to your success in life,” she said. “We’re trying to focus on hiring more from a skills-based selection criteria.”

Joy Johnson, chief operating officer of HR at the global engineering firm Black & Veatch, said her team is “focusing on skills that we consider ‘fungible’ skills, that, as the market changes, we could offer career opportunities and quickly reskill a technical skill into a non-technical skill.”

“Be open minded,” said Judith Almendra, VP of global human capital and TA at the customer-experience tech company TTEC. “The right person may look exactly like or be very different from what you initially thought.” To this end, Almendra uses artificial intelligence (AI) to train hiring managers on inclusive interviewing styles.

What Hiring Managers Have That Recruiters Don’t

Hiring managers know something recruiters don’t: What it’s like to work on their team. Cindy Alisesky, the VP of HR transformation and pharmaceuticals company GSK (formerly GlaxoSmithKline), encouraged hiring managers to become skilled storytellers to draw in new hires. For example, Alisesky talked about a recent graduate who joined her team right as Covid sent everyone into quarantine. The new hire was left living alone in a city and far from family.

“We worked very, very hard to make sure that she was taken care of, from both a mental and physical perspective as we continued our work,” Alisesky said. “That involved reaching out to her periodically, making sure she was making meals and communicating with her family, etc., and all of that created such a sense of community. She successfully completed the task, we successfully completed the project.”

Anecdotes like this can be a compelling way to illustrate the employee experience. Unsupported claims about inclusion or even data that describes employee sentiment can’t achieve the same effect. “There’s nothing more valuable than testimonials of people that have really experienced those things,” Almendra added.

Showing Up for Recruiting

When your company is invisible to the average consumer, putting hiring managers, not just recruiters, on the front lines can help potential candidates imagine themself contributing to an organization and belonging there. “You don’t know that when you turn the light on, or you turn on your faucet, that we’ve probably had something to do with that,” said Johnson, alluding to her company’s infrastructure projects, but that is a compelling way to think about one’s job.

Panelists recommended returning to some traditional ways of recruiting that were abandoned during the pandemic: in-person career fairs, university presentations, and meet-and-greets at local restaurants or community events.

Alisesky considers in-person recruiting events “a lost art,” and therefore a competitive advantage. A company’s employer brand “lives with every employee and how every employee shows up to these events,” she said, and is an opportunity to start meaningful relationships with job seekers. Even better if those hiring managers are equipped with those storytelling skills. “[Job seekers] want to speak to the person that they’re potentially going to be working for,” said Alisesky.

Brewer said that’s why Takeda leans heavily on referral networks to bring in new talent. An insider endorsement goes a long way.

At Black & Veatch, Johnson invests in long-term relationships with professional groups, like National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers, which, she said, consistently produce great new hires because the relationship has been so long-lasting.

“We have to work extra hard to tell our story because all of us work at amazing companies that attract great talent,” said JLL’s Curran. “But hiring managers have to play, they have to get involved. It’s a team sport, the more they’re involved, the faster we find talent, and the better talent we attract.”

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance reporter who covers the future of work, HR, recruiting, DEI, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Fast Company, Quartz at Work, Digiday’s Worklife, and Food Technology, among others.