THE BLOG
11/07/2013 12:32 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Why Your Next Employee Could Come From Amish Country

When it comes to the American employment market, employers and employees live on two ships (or in this case two horse-drawn buggies) passing in the night. On board one, you have 13.7 percent of Americans unemployed or underemployed and desperately trying to understand how to land jobs. On the other, you have employers plagued by 3.7 million unfilled jobs.

This brings me to a small liberal arts college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and a college tour I recently took with my high school daughter. It was led by a senior tour guide with an uncanny ability to walk backwards while reciting key enrollment and graduation statistics.

More interesting than the tour, however, was his story. An economics major, he had just accepted a job with a Silicon Valley-based online survey company. Odd, I thought, especially in an era of stagnant employment and skills gaps that have locked many college graduates out of the workforce. Yet this 22-year-old from a small school tucked in a town known more for its Amish crafts than computer programming skills had managed to do the unthinkable: overcome 3,000 miles of distance and a deep cultural divide to land his dream job.

How'd that happen? I probed, and I discovered the secret vernacular of American employment, one that draws employees to employers through an unseen magnetism that too few of us understand.

It starts with that Silicon Valley employer. In this case, the company is what I would consider a second-rung Internet player -- a great place to work, but certainly not Google, where employees are allowed to pursue their own interests 20 percent of the time, or Apple, which recently unveiled its new 175-acre Starship Enterprise campus of the future.

You have to believe in this context, the employer understands well its employment narrative, or the storytelling and the image it portrays in talent markets. Within the bounds of that narrative, the company knows its standing. What are the chances it could land a kid straight out of MIT or Harvard? Not good.

So the employer brilliantly targets the baby Ivy Leagues: The Bucknells, the Colgates, the Carlton Colleges and the Elons, all peopled by bright young students, longing for high-tech Californication. It does it masterfully by engaging directly with the student body, offering airfare to those juniors who accept summer internships, and dispatching alumni now working for the company to return to their alma mater, spread the gospel, and sniff out disciples. Its website is full of employee stories, drawn from alumni of these schools that speak directly to the audience. Each story masterfully overcomes any objection a smart kid might have in relocating across the country.

But all is not one sided. As I learned from our tour guide, he also played an active role in the courtship and calibrated his pheromones precisely to the employer's receptors. As he explained to me, "The company is big on Python, the computer language. So I realized I needed to learn the language and start promoting my knowledge of it. I published posts on a blog I started, and included my Python skills in my Linkedin profile. As goofy as its sounds, I even started a Pinterest page and posted Python-related links."

Not goofy at all, especially to me. The anecdote aligns perfectly with the advice I provide to employers and employees daily in my role guiding talent acquisition strategies. Too few of us understand that in order to close the employment gap, we -- as employers -- must do a better job of building employment culture and projecting our narrative in the talent marketplace. We need to engage in authentic and generous ways, connecting with talent wherever they live -- even if it's in Amish country, 3,000 miles away.

At the same time, content has remarkably transformed the way companies market their products and services. They have come to realize that in order to shape behavior they must first educate and inform, rather than promote and sell. Yet when it comes to our most important product of all -- our own talents as employees -- we seem to forget that fact and instead revert to the 1980s. We fall back on resume writing and job interview tricks. We expect to get hired, even if we don't understand the courting habits of the employer. After all, it's their job to recruit us, right? Wrong.

Rather, it's the employer's job to connect, educate and light a path that allows job seekers to come to their own conclusion. In the case of my young tour guide, that conclusion perfectly aligned to meet the needs of both parties and instead of passing in the night, employer and employee had a productive meeting of the minds. Recruiting objective met for the Silicon Valley employer, and one less boomerang kid forced to return to mom and dad's nest.