How The CEO of Zenefits Made My Day By Rejecting A Job Candidate

Yesterday, the CEO of Zenefits, Parker Conrad, made my dreams come true by rejecting a job candidate in a very public – and controversial – manner. Uh, what. Why exactly does this make me happy?

rejecting a job candidate

Because it’s a perfect case study of what the research shows are the effects of employer brand: working for lower pay at a strong brand (Uber) instead of a comparatively weaker brand for higher pay (Zenefits) as an investment into your future higher earnings at a different company (Google). As a researcher, I love it when that happens!

In sales and marketing terms, working for a strong brand is the job seeker equivalent of landing a logo. Whether you agree with Conrad’s decision or not, he blew an opportunity to leverage his employer brand during the hiring and recruitment process.

Let’s analyze what Conrad did wrong – and what he did right – in terms of the sales process.

What Zenefits’ CEO did wrong

A failure to establish value

The job seeker was debating between two offers: working at Uber or working at Zenefits. Asking for advice on a public forum like Quora indicates that Zenefits’ recruitment team failed to establish their value, even with a higher salary offer. Uber’s Communications head, Mark Rogowsky, picked up on that right away and attempted to re-establish Uber’s value to the job seeker in his reply.

A failure to overcome objections

The job seeker’s main objection to working at Zenefits was that “Zenefits isn’t a buzzword like Uber.” Here’s where Conrad could have pointed out that Zenefits, who just raised $500 million at a $4.5 billion valuation, is one of the fastest-growing SaaS businesses ever. Or maybe he could have argued that Uber’s buzz factor might be in trouble.

A smart salesperson knows you have to figure out what the prospect’s real pain point is and adjust your messaging to address it.

A failure to provide new insight

The job seeker considered picking Uber over Zenefits because “[Zenefits] isn’t as exciting a brand name to have on your resume when applying to the likes of Google.” There’s a concept in sales of challenging your prospect’s pre-conceived notions by providing him or her with novel insight: instead of presenting a solution to the prospect’s self-identified need, you make him or her aware of a previously unknown need by providing novel information on market trends and best practices.

This was the perfect opportunity for Conrad to present the job seeker with this Quora thread, “What is the worst part about working at Google?” filled with replies from former Google employees.

A failure to consider market conditions

One of Conrad’s reason for rescinding Zenefits’ job offer was because,”We don’t have terribly high regard for ppl who would choose where to work based on “buzzwords” and how big a brand it is (or simply to position themselves for later in their career).

Of course that’s his prerogative, but punishing a job seeker for accurately considering a strategic investment into his or her future earnings seems unfair. We know from the research that there’s a positive correlation between the brand strength of an employee’s previous company and the salary of his or her current job.

What Zenefits’ CEO did right

Considering the right fit

In Conrad’s reply, he states, “One of our company values is to have a bias towards action — which means that when people are hesitating / going back and forth about whether they want to work here, we usually view that as a bad sign.”

A new study by Professor Gammoh and colleagues found that salespeople who rated their personal values as more aligned with the values of their product/service’s brand and the values of the company:

  • were more satisfied at work
  • were more committed to the organization
  • achieved higher sales revenues

Previous research by O’Reilly and colleagues has shown that the fit between an employee’s values and the organization’s values also predicts lower employee turnover.

hiring for fit reduces employee turnoverThe takeaways

Similar to how customer loyalty and revenue can be driven by brand strength, employee loyalty and performance depends partly on the strength of a company’s brand. And for some companies, the CEO is the brand.

In this day and age when Airbnb makes headlines for their recruitment strategy, which basically boils down to “treat job candidates with respect“, ignoring the importance of employer brand when it comes to hiring and recruitment is short-sighted.

Not applying the same sales strategies to close a deal with a job seeker that you would with a prospective customer, especially in a competitive market, just doesn’t make sense.

How do you leverage your employer brand when hiring? Let me know in the comments or tweet @recruit_smarter.

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Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices in data-based recruitment. She writes about research and trends in talent acquisition, recruitment tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min