The Importance of Voice

Published: Dec 11, 2006

By Peter Weddle -- Recently, The New York Post made a startling announcement. In an era of steadily declining circulation among newspapers, it racked up an impressive gain in its audience. Despite the Internet and all of the other media competing for people’s attention and time, it managed to add new readers.

How did the newspaper do it? Well, certainly there are a number of factors that influenced its success, but chief among them, I believe, is its voice. The style of the Post, the way its content is written, is edgy, even a bit risqué. People buy the paper and read it precisely because it is sassy and irreverent. That voice makes it distinctive. And appealing. Not for everyone, to be sure, but to enough of them to increase its readership while other newspapers are struggling. And that success, it seems to me, holds an important lesson for recruiters.

In the past, content was king. If you had the best content, your newspaper or magazine had the largest circulation. It attracted the most readers and, as a result, delivered the most candidates for our employment ads. The Internet, however, has changed what readers want. Blogs, discussion forums, newsgroups and chats have given more people easier access to more content than at any other time in history. For that reason, content is no longer enough … if your goal is to provide a message that will differentiate and sell your organization.

The Internet has transformed content into a commodity. There are thousands of sources of what readers view as the “same old stuff” online, whether that stuff is a movie review, an opinion about the Iraq war, or an employment opportunity. With a relatively small number of obvious exceptions, what an author says and even who the author is just aren’t enough to set a message apart and ensure it will get read.

Today, voice is king. The content must be up to par, of course, but it’s the voice of a message that determines whether it will be noticed by the public. In other words, if we recruiters want our job postings and the content in the Career area on our Web-sites to have an impact on readers and influence their behavior, we have worry as much or more about the voice of our message as we do about its content.

What is voice? The following guidelines will help to answer that question.

  • Voice is not a person, no matter how senior or well known they are (or think they are). It is not the CEO waxing eloquent about his/her vision for the organization. An employer’s voice is not who is doing the speaking; it is how the speaking is done.

  • Voice is also not a literary convention. It’s not something the corporate communications department can edit into a message. It is not something that is bolted on, but rather an integral element of the message, itself.

  • Voice is a representation of the people in the organization. It is the human face of your employer. Think of it as an expression of its employment brand. The culture and values that shape its employment experience should also shape how it communicates the essence of that experience.

  • Voice is personality. Sincere, affirming, high spirited, enthusiastic—whatever it is—voice is the polar opposite of the corporate bureaucratese that is used in many job postings and on many corporate Web-sites. Recruiters—at least the best recruiters—don’t speak in a monotone and neither should their recruitment ads or their descriptions of what it’s like to work in their organizations.

    Voice is the part of a message that people “hear with their eyes.” It is the choice of words, the way ideas are phrased, and the life one feels between the lines when they read the content posted by an employer (whether that content is published in print or posted online). Voice doesn’t have to be sassy or edgy, but it does have to be alive, to convey the human aspect of the organization. Why? Because the best candidates don’t join organizations, they join coworkers, and the voice of your message is their first introduction to the caliber and culture of their prospective peers. It is, if you will, the first gentle connection between colleagues.

    For example, take at look at the quiet passion and determination you hear with your eyes when you read the first page of the new Career area on the Web-site of Johnson & Johnson. Or the voice of classy self sufficiency that you hear with your eyes (ignore the background music) when you read the opening words in the Career area on the Nordstrom site. These messages are distinctive not only for what they say, but equally as important, for how they convey the culture of their organizations to the reader. While the former is important, it is the latter which enables the message to rise above the clutter and be recognized as worthy of the reader’s time and attention.

    The Internet has not changed the job market in one regard: mediocre talent will still ignore dull content and apply anyway. It has, however, changed (and changed forever) the way the best talent decides what recruitment messages they will notice and invest the time and effort to read. It’s no longer enough to write content that is complete and clear, even if the message is one that positions your organization as an “employer of choice.” Given the clutter of messages in today’s job market, your message is likely to be overlooked … unless it has a distinctive and compelling voice that will enable top talent to hear what you’ve written.

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