Let Your Freak Flag Fly: How to Recruit Employees That Fit Your Company Culture

Vernon and Reginald paused outside the door of the job fair. “Remember, Vern,” Reg said, “You’re my wingman. You’re going to support me and make me look good.” Vern nodded. “Vern,” Reginald scolded, “What are you doing?” Vern sighed and put the piece of origami he’d been folding back into his bag. “Vern, we’re supposed to pass as normal today, remember? We’re here to get resumes and schedule interviews. We want to attract the best of the best. Now is not the time to scare people off.”

“I know,” said Vern, hastily rolling down his sleeve to cover the Chinese characters tattooed on his arm. They spelled out “Serenity,” which sounded sufficiently cool at first glance. However, when he explained the story behind them, which involved a science fiction convention, a late night playing Magic the Gathering and eating pixie sticks with Alan Tudyk, and an ill-conceived attempt to impress a girl who was dressed as Felicia Day (or had it really been Felicia Day herself?), he quickly went from “cool future co-worker” to “weird.”

Reg stood up a little straighter and checked himself in a mirror. As long as no one spotted his lucky dice (20-sided, of course), he’d be fine. They were going to pass for normal and score some great, new, fresh-out-of-prestigious B-school candidates. For once, their firm was going to rock the job fair.

Recruiting Pass or Fail?

If you’re a slightly-odd American adult who survived junior high without major injury, you probably spend a lot of time trying to “pass for normal.” You’re used to keeping you under wraps in social situations and work situations where you don’t know much about the people around you. You may have subtle ways to probe new acquaintances so that you can discover if they’re weird like you, but chances are, you don’t let your freak flag fly until you feel safe.

While this can be helpful in life, this is not the best approach when recruiting new talent for your company. Talented employees aren’t just looking for a good job with good benefits. They also want a workplace with a strong sense of community, a place where they fit in. For many job seekers, work life and social life overlap. They don’t just want co-workers who are competent on the job; they want to work with people who are also fun to have a beer with after work on Friday night.

In this climate, hiding your company’s unique quirks is a recipe for failure. You’ll attract potential employees who’ll find the workplace aggravating and drive away talented employees who could find a home at your company.

Other Fish in the Sea

Vernon set up their booth while Reginald smiled and shook hands. It was odd to see him dressed in a three-piece suit and tie. At work, business casual was the rule. Between the clothes and his attempt at a serious expression, Reginald looked more like an undertaker than an engineer. A vast, undifferentiated wave of job seekers flowed by the booth. Some stopped to chat and deliver resumes, others walked by and shrugged. Vern thumbed through the stack of papers. He glanced around at the other booths. Most of them were carbon copies of their own booths – two guys in suits with a stack of brochures. This event was going to be a total waste of time.

He noticed a commotion at a booth across the exhibit hall. Someone, at least, was attracting a crowd.The recruiters were all wearing oddly colored bow ties. Instead of brochures, they handed out punny buttons and notepads. They had plenty of information on their company and available positions, but they also looked like they were having fun, and people were drawn to them. A young woman sporting TARDIS earrings was patiently waiting to sign up for an interview time. She hadn’t stopped at their booth at all. If he and Reginald were going to attract decent candidates, they were going to have to shed their jackets, spice up their booth, and be themselves.

The Importance of Being Earnest

When you lie about who you are, you don’t just waste your time and the time of your applicants. You also waste money. At some point during the hiring process, your candidates will discover your actual company culture. They’ll find you on social media, pick up on vibes during an on-site interview, or talk to someone who makes them wonder.

If you’re lucky, the bad fits will drop out of the hiring process then and there. You’ll have wasted money on travel expenses and lunches, but you won’t be in terrible shape. If you’re unlucky, you’ll hire someone who hates the culture. When the inevitable happens and he quits, you’ll be out the money you spent training him and have to find a replacement at an inconvenient time. Some experts estimate that hiring someone who’s a poor fit for your company ends up costing you more than 50% of their annual salary. “Passing for normal” carries very real costs.

To give potential recruits an accurate picture of your company’s unique culture, you need to be transparent. Mission statements and press releases aren’t enough – you need to give interested candidates a behind-the-scenes look at what daily life is like for your employees. Use tools like:

Social Media

New hires will research your firm on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Make sure you’ve moved beyond generic on these sites. Let your social media profiles reflect your company’s personality. Give a glimpse of what your employees value, what they dream about, and what they love. Sure, some candidates will be put-off by the way you portray your company, but that’s a good thing. If seeing the “real you” on social media drives them away, they wouldn’t have been happy working for you.


Videos give unparalleled insight into your working conditions, your employee personalities, and your company’s values. A good video can result in job applications down the road. For instance, the “Meet the Designer” videos on Lego.com have my 8-year-old carefully planning an education and career path that will land him a job at Lego. You probably won’t be able to recruit from the “Eight Year Old Ninjago Addict” demographic as easily as Lego does, but good videos can help you reach people who are still in school or who weren’t considering a job change until they saw your firm.

On-Site Interviews

Structure your on-site interviews to give a good view of your company’s culture. Instead of spending an hour in an office with a few managers, let potential hires meet their future co-workers. Have them spend all day with your company. Show them around. Take them to lunch. See if their personalities and interests click with your existing team. After all, if you’ve decided to interview someone, you already know that their resume is a good fit for your needs. The trick is deciding if the whole person is a good fit for your culture.

Use Referrals from Existing Staff

Your existing employees are already immersed in your corporate culture. If they say that someone they know would be a good fit for the company, trust them. When you cast a wider net, ask your employees for ideas on where to recruit. They may have creative ideas that you’ve never considered. For instance, Space X, a private space exploration firm, recruits at video game conventions.

When you’re transparent about who you are as a company, you attract people who want to work for your firm, not some generic faceless employer. That’s how you’ll find engaged employees who stick with your company for years.

Not Your Father’s Consultants

When they arrived at the hotel for the night, Vern went to work. He contacted fellow employees and asked them to give brief video statements on why they loved working for the company. He edited them together into a promotional video that he could run on his laptop. He ran out to the local office supply store and bought some fun, nerdy, pencil-toppers for their official corporate pencils. When they arrived at their booth the next morning, coffee in hand, he and Reg left their jackets on their chairs. Vern rolled up his sleeves. If he was lucky, maybe one of the job seekers would ask about the story behind his tattoo. After all, it wasn’t everyone who’d lost a bet with Felicia Day.


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