30 Minute Read

Employer Branding for the Dirty, the Ugly and the Downright Boring

So many times, we find ourselves listening to how one giant company with an abundance of ping pong tables and fat jack stock options found itself on the receiving end of tons of lovely Glassdoor reviews and adoring candidates.

I am happy for those companies of course and I won’t lie and say that building a recruitment marketing strategy for them isn’t super fun. I mean, who doesn’t want to work for a company with free dry cleaning and a rock climbing wall?

At the very least, many companies in the service sector are offering things that many companies simply can’t compete with:

  • WFH days or telecommuting
  • Flat hierarchies
  • Or a pleasant work environment

While these are nice to have, there are many places where people have to work to continue to push our economy forward, that are dirty, nasty, and downright boring. You can’t have a ping pong table in a slaughterhouse and you can’t work from home if you’re a forklift driver. You can’t have a flat hierarchy if you work for a government contracting agency that spends ALL its time trying to figure out if you’re a SQL Programmer II or III.

How do you make employer branding work for the dirty and boring jobs? Find out: Click To Tweet

I always tell my employees when they come to work for me that it’s going to be hard. And not a little bit hard like selling jeans, or Oreos or marketing a sports drink, but really freaking hard, like selling a quarter of a million dollar HRIS to every person in the org it touches; from the daily user to the person writing the check. THAT’S hard.

Just like B2B marketing is straight up harder than B2C marketing, recruitment marketing is harder when the sell is harder. How could the sale be hard? Here are some common difficult to market jobs or workplaces:

Unsafe or hazardous working conditions. While we’re no longer living in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, there are still jobs that are inherently dangerous. They may surprise you!

  • Airline Pilots
  • Fishers and Fishing Workers
  • Loggers
  • Roofers
  • Trash Collectors
  • Farmers
  • Structural Iron and Steel Workers
  • Drivers/Truck Drivers
  • Electrical Power Installers
  • Taxi Drivers and Chauffeurs

How about gross jobs or dirty jobs?

Many of those same jobs fall onto this list. Trash collectors, preppers at a nail salon, working the kill floor at a slaughterhouse, working with industrial dyes. You name it!  These are jobs that lack an intrinsic value proposition, or do they? More on that later.

Then there are boring jobs. Data entry, call service centers, and of course, sometimes recruiting for government or cleared jobs fall into this category.

Finally, you have places that are hard to recruit TO:

It boggles the mind that we spend all our time at conferences trying to figure out how to solve the competition issues in Silicon Valley when many of us are recruiting for jobs and locations that look nothing like it. I’m from Omaha, and at the same time as everyone I meet at this conference gives me a blank stare when I tell them that, our city and state currently have an unemployment rate of 3.6%.

Now that we’ve determined what these jobs look like, let’s talk about HOW to build a brand and a marketing strategy to recruit for them. As we’ve already determined, these jobs have to be filled, so let’s fill them!

Find Your Value

Well, it starts with the value proposition. I know I mentioned earlier that these jobs often don’t have an intrinsic or obvious value proposition, but they do have one.

For example, a trash collector may seem like a job I would never want to do, but for someone, having their afternoons free, physical activity, the chance to be outdoors and more, are all benefits.

No matter how difficult it is, determine the values your job will potentially give applicants. A blog post by RJ Morris, discusses how he successfully did this during his time recruiting for a light industrial firm.

Early in my career, I took a turn doing light industrial contract recruiting. Temp work for lots of warehouse workers, forklift drivers, mechanics, etc. Physically demanding, low wages…these were tough gigs, and recruiting for them was a bear.

Boiler room environment, fast pace, demanding clients, low margins, high tempers.  “Hey, R. J., we need a third shift warehouse tech, three-week assignment, starting tonight at 11 pm. Go get em.”

All of the jobs were hard to successfully recruit for, but by far, the worst job we worked on was to place folks at a food color company. The company’s model was to bring temporary employees in before offering them full-time roles, and their first job was in the color mixing area. It was appropriately nicknamed the “Blender.”

Imagine fifteen workers, mixing powdered and liquid colors in huge vats with long oar-like paddles, twelve-hour shifts at a time. The powdered color floated through the air everywhere. At the end of the shift, the guys (all were guys) had semi-permanent tie-dyed tattoos.

These were industrial strength food dyes, used to make the different colors of Skittles, for example. Apparently, when you worked with them for twelve hour days, they also dyed skin.

It took a guy 30 minutes of scrubbing with Lava Soap to get the stains off.

He started with a 55% voluntary attrition rate. How did he turn it around? By asking who was already successful in the position. Morris looked at the numbers and realized that after 3 months, attrition dipped to 12% and then after one year, it was a mere 5%. So he started asking questions:

  • Why would anyone want to work in this job?
  • What’s the benefit to the employee?
  • What types of people will respond to that offering and where can we find them?  

He spent time at the company, interviewing new and tenured employees and found out that if you HAD the chutzpah to stick around, you stuck around for good. Did it make his job easier? No. But the numbers kept getting better. The company had realized their value proposition was to promise a better future, if you could make it today:

Come in, get along, work hard, don’t whine and you’ll get rewarded.  If you complained too much or did not get along with your Blender Buddies, you were out. If you lasted six months, the company offered you a full time role, including benefits and a decent raise.   Most importantly, employees rotated out of the Blender after one year.  No more blue arms and orange ears.  We just found the value proposition.

At Red Branch Media, we did something similar with a survey project with a large pharmaceutical company. While the company was an employer of choice in their HQ city, they wanted to compete for scientists near Harvard and Stanford, meaning the tactics they’d used as “the only game in town” before were going to be less effective. Plus, their pay was going to be less competitive in these areas.

To find out what types of people were successful in the role, we surveyed employees at all levels of the company to determine what made them successful, both inside and outside the company. And, while I am generally not one for anecdotal data, we did dive deep to find out what made them happy. The values rang through loud and clear, from sales people who had never set foot in HQ, to those who were safely ensconced within the building. We used those values and articulated them throughout the recruitment marketing campaigns. For these people, it wasn’t about big money, or even the benefits, it was about making a difference in people’s lives through medication.

Find Your Value


  • Survey Employees
  • Ask Questions
  • Create a Value Prop for THAT Job
  • Make Positives out of Negatives

Get Your Values Straight

I have no control over what people offer by way of compensation, or how they treat employees or contractors once they’re brought on board. However, I do know when a company cannot offer benefits like work from home or a short commute, or even a safe or pleasant working environment, there are ways to reward them internally. As a recruiting professional, you can make a case for why employers should explore wellness programs, revamp their bonus structure or offer other benefits to workers who can’t have the more traditional stuff.

For example, an owner of a warehouse that packs and ships unconventional and risque items tries to foster a family atmosphere in the office and warehouse and buys his 11 employees lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays. Plus his company offers raises, health insurance and an informal atmosphere where employees can dress as they wish and listen to the radio all day.

Ask yourself, your employer, or your client if there is something you can do to offset some of the negative brand equity of working that gross, ugly or dirty job.

Get Your Values Straight


  • Find Ways to Make It Up To Them
  • Highlight In Postings
  • Be an Advocate
  • Find the ROI

Find Your Audience

Much of this is standard but keep new audiences in mind. The average age of a government employee is 47 years old, but over one-third of the current job market consists of Millennials, and they are expected to make up 46% of the working population by 2020. These statistics are already affecting the pool of cleared candidates, so being prepared to hire and manage a younger workforce is key.

#DYK Millennials are expected to make up 46% of the workforce by 2020. More: Click To Tweet

Now, how do we get these kids to pass a security clearance? Present it as a challenge.

Millennials are more likely to be drawn to challenges that have tangible results, which includes successfully navigating the vetting process of security clearance. When communicating with younger workers, highlight the specific skills needed to make it through the clearance process, encourage them to rise to the challenge, and remind them that the reward is an in-demand clearance status. Also, giving current college students an opportunity to intern with your company allows you to gauge the skills of individual candidates and can give you confidence that a costly clearance sponsorship will be worth the time and investment. -Olivia Landau

If you’re not already, seek out passive candidates, competitive candidates and of course, veteran candidates. While these are great networks to tap into for cleared jobs, they can also be useful for jobs that are less than ideal.

When we worked with the world’s largest protein company, we quickly realized that behind the fancy pants name, was a string of slaughterhouses located in some of the most remote and boring locations in the world. Which makes sense, you don’t want a slaughterhouse in your backyard now do you?

Anyway, we realized as we were defining our candidate persona, that many of them had things in common with a military recruit. Here’s that persona:

These are often people who grew up in or near a rural environment, wanted a family and valued a college education. The recruitment marketing strategy encompassed many things but military stood out with good reason, as did restaurant managers. We knew those groups also valued similar things, had some overlap in their backgrounds and also understood living in remote locations or third tier towns (bases).

Find Your Audience


  • Identify Audience
  • Build Personas to Speak To
  • Find Overlap

Get Your Channels Together

Recruiting on cleared and niche boards is absolutely a great idea. But when reaching out to Millennials for ODD jobs, consider the source. It’s easy to spend a lot of money for very little return when it comes to recruitment advertising. So when you’ve got your buyer persona complete, think about what that person does. When we recruited for plant supervisors at the aforementioned plant, our initial plan included diversity initiatives on campus and mobile phone advertising for internal candidates to promote from the floor. Guess what?

Diversity was NOT going to happen from a gender perspective and having a phone on the kill floor is a fireable offense. Whoops? So what did we end up with?

  • A robust career fair plan supported by social and resources for career centers
  • Meet and greets and curriculum support for their schools of choice
  • Geo-location around universities that had the degree programs they were most likely to recruit from
  • Spotify advertising on study and country station
  • Bathroom advertising…yep
  • Table Tents
  • Lunch Room Announcements
  • Revamped LinkedIn Careers Page
  • Separate Career Site that focused on location benefits

While some of these might seem shockingly old school, it worked! We got all 55 positions filled in 9 months. So, when you think about marketing, even recruitment marketing, think about where your candidates go (college bars, career centers, the lunchroom) what they need to know (which classes to take, how to achieve security clearance, how to interview, any risks associated with the job) and what they are consuming (on-demand streaming content, flyers, facebook, billboards and heaven help me, Snapchat).

Of course, you can also reverse engineer this information. For the guy trying to get workers for his novelty sex toy business, we can safely avoid, say, Christian radio stations or the Panera Bread where your aunt always goes.

Get Your Channels Together


  • Where are they?
  • What do they do?
  • What are they listening to?
  • What are they reading?
  • How can you solve their problem or meet their need?

Be Honest (and Funny!)

Okay, writing job requirements is one thing…and writing job advertisements is an entirely different thing. I always say it’s the difference between a shoe ad in your favorite magazine and the description on the side of the box. Size 7 WIDE Black Heel. The latter is the requirement, the former is the ad. Let’s talk about transparency in advertising. Transparency means you don’t sell a job that’s not there:

“Want to work in a dirty and messy warehouse that is full of weird and embarrassing stuff that people buy online?”


“We need a team player to foster warehouse synergy.”

Building out a job description for a gross, dirty or non-glam position means you have to create a clear picture of what it’s going to actually look like. It may not be fun, it may not even be comfortable but if you sell it as something that it isn’t, people will walk.

Realistic job previews, where you honestly tell people what the job entails, will create a condition where more people will not take the job, but the ones who do will be much more likely to stick around. You need to find the right person for the right job. -Industrial psychologist Jeffrey Saltzman

Conversely, the people who apply DO want the job, because you’ve stated the risks or downsides right up front! I use this all the time in my own agency, because while we’re a marketing firm, it’s not glamorous. In fact, most days it’s downright boring.

Be Honest (and Funny!)


Be honest. If the work is hard, say so. Our work is. It’s nothing like Mad Men. We spend a lot of time typing away at keyboards with our headphones on. I won’t tolerate loads of chit-chat, or sitting on one’s laurels. In fact, one section of our interview process is titled: This is the part where I scare you.

Point out the positives. When I tell people that we’re in a quiet work environment and everything we do is posted on the company intranet, it can scare them. So at the same time, I also focus on how the office is always empty by 5 pm or how we have a company wide eating meeting on Friday. Other plusses people rarely think of? The ability to use your phone on the job, lack of oversight, casual work environment and the chance to create your own schedule.

Create an awesome headline. You don’t have to lie to create a great headline.

“This Sales Job in Dallas is Shagadelic” worked to attract 50 awesome JC students for an entry-sales job for the Yellow Pages when the first Austin Powers movie came out. @LouAdler

Use their motivation as a sales tool. Motivations can be as simple as wanting to be outdoors or as complex as doing one’s patriotic duty. Whatever it is, make sure you use it to weed out undesirables AND pull in those who have a keen sense of what motivates them.

Learn, Do, Become. In RJ’s example in the dyeing factory, one key motivator was the stability and benefits a person would receive if they “ran the gauntlet”. In the case of an RBM medical client, we use things like referrals and leaderboards to encourage people to take new assignments and build their skill base. This has the added bonus of adding performance expectations and goals right in the job ad.

Tell a story. This can be about big goals, overcoming an obstacle or about the prospect’s future path. Whatever it is, it negates the need to discuss the need for a master’s degree or proficiency in thus and such. If you can tell a compelling story about the position or the company, it makes you job recruiting someone there (even if it’s gross or in BFE) that much easier.

Add a step. This may go against everything you’ve ever known to be true. But adding a step can take out the undesirables and loop in those who deserve your first consideration. Start with a quick email and then follow up with a call. While the person may still be in your ATS, at least you know their level of interest if they’ve taken the time to do the extra step (whether it’s email or whatever).


  • Add a laundry list of skills.
  • Use adjectives that can apply to literally anyone. Self starter comes to mind.
  • Add in your generic boilerplate (if you must, at least do so at the bottom)
  • Avoid the obvious with stupid titles
  • Forget to say what makes this job special

When important jobs are advertised cafeteria-style like this, with the garnish being the only differentiator, even the semi-desperate make the decision to apply based on location, job title and the company’s brand name. When they accept these jobs the size of the compensation package then becomes the prime negotiating factor. This is always the case with commodity products in a buyer’s market. -Lou Adler

A Clear and Present Stranger

Knowing where to advertise is great. Knowing how to advertise is great. Understanding your value prop is also great. But none of these things alone are going to bring people to your door eager to working your terrible, difficult job. So, here are some other things guaranteed to help boost your business.

Career Fairs. It’s not just BEING at career fairs, it’s doing them right. It vexes me when people pay for a booth at a fair and then just make the marketing budget whatever it took Joe from campus recruiting to get there AKA his Hertz budget and a lunch at Applebee’s. For our meatpacking client, we totally rebranded their swag (so it was stuff students would actually keep) and built out a booth that was as informative and approachable as possible. We also use social media, email and referrals to get people to the booth. Once there, we made sure our career site was mobile ready so we could guide them through the process without unnecessary awkwardness.

Poaching. One organization developed 15-second low budget but intriguing commercials to air at a local movie theater near their headquarters.The same organization created a mobile hiring center with a cheap RV to drive to targeted competitors during the lunch hour. You can set a Yelp review to go to your careers page or test the mood at the local watering hole. But poaching in this sense, is legal.

Create puzzles. Creative challenges or contests can help you uncover top talent. But don’t just create a puzzle, put it out there! Think websites, wraps on company cars or billboards. Challenges can include hackathons, photo contests or even trivia. Dyson recently released a challenge hidden inside a recruitment video on its website.

Be Smart. Look you’re recruiting for clearance, high level jobs, and I’m recruiting for loggers, industrial warehouse workers and people who shoot cows in the head. Maybe the Valley can afford to blow off contractors if they mess up, but we’re dealing with a different deck, so make it easy on your prospects.

Make it easy for a candidate to apply, and give them a second shot if they botch an initial contact. I’ve spoken with many recruiters who say they give candidate one chance – if that individual blows off a phone screening or fails to submit the appropriate paperwork, they’re done. That strategy may work in less in-demand industries but if you’re vying for competitive talent you’re going to have to give a little wiggle room. Keep in mind that a passive candidate has another full time job. If they get pulled into a meeting and miss a phone screening, see that as a sign of their commitment to their work – a skill they will bring to the table with your company.


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