Image: Recruiting Web site
One employer, architecture and design firm McFarlane Green + Biggar, actually shows the bottom half of their employees on the recruiting section of its Web site as a way to highlight its laid-back corporate culture.
By Eve Tahmincioglu contributor
updated 6/9/2008 11:39:18 AM ET 2008-06-09T15:39:18

You may not have to wait for a job interview to find out what the people are like at companies you apply to.

How about meeting some employees virtually right now?

Just surf over to the Web site of your prospective employer and you may find a professionally produced but relatively unscripted video of an employee describing their work day or how they maintain work-life balance.

For job seekers wondering what it’s like to work for accounting and consulting giant Ernst & Young, the firm hosts an online video from Anton, an assurance manager for the company, discussing the firm’s gay and lesbian network. Or you can view a video of Sara Lo, a senior consultant in the transaction real estate group, talk about her passion for surfing.

Employee testimonials are the latest online recruiting craze businesses are using to offer you a peek into their world.

It’s a great development for job seekers. Now you don’t have to don a blue suit for a job interview and waste time sitting down for an awkward meeting with potential managers and co-workers before you realize a company just isn’t right for you.

“It’s becoming a powerful recruitment tool,” says Jeff Wittenburg, chief leadership officer with recruiting firm Kaye Bassman International. “Human nature makes us all attracted to anything visual. It gives you a sense of what the people look like (who) work there, how they dress and how they sound.”

With technological advances, the time and cost of producing such videos is declining, so more and more companies are beginning to embrace these online vignettes as a way to separate themselves from the competition.

The firms most likely to have employee cyber snapshots are those that are among the most tech savvy, and they are definitely in growing industries that are in hiring mode.

Ernst & Young hires about 5,500 college graduates every year in the United States and Canada.

“It’s a very competitive recruiting environment,” says Melissa Taylor, recruiting, branding and communication leader for the firm. “Top talent is very much in demand. We need to be on top of our game, speaking and interacting in way that is compelling and in touch with what students want.”

Anne Lac, senior art director with Molecular, the Internet marketing agency that created the Ernst & Young testimonial campaign, says the casual, unscripted videos are what resonated with the students they surveyed. “They really responded to the more authentic portrayal,” she adds.

Some employers like Ernst & Young see these videos as a way to attract the coveted Generation Y workers who feel comfortable doing everything online. But these testimonials give prospective employees of all ages an inside look at what a job is really like and can even diminish preconceived notions about certain professions.

MassMutual Financial Group is looking to grow its U.S. field work force by 1,500 people this year with jobs such as insurance agents and financial planners, and the employee videos are a key component in filling those positions, says Scott Capurso, director of net field force growth with MassMutual.

The company has a unique approach to its videos. The employees featured on their Web site are seen in something called “video walk-ons,” where images of workers seemingly stand in the middle of the Web site talking about their experience at the company.

The videos went live at the end of March, and already the company has seen a 300 percent spike in applications.

“I’m sure people have perceptions of what life insurance agents are like,” Capurso says. Hearing from people who actually do the job, he adds, “in their own words, gets across the passion of this career, and dispels the myths about the career because you see a wide variety of different kinds of folks.”

Insurance agent Mary Grate-Pyos takes on one myth head-on in her video, saying: “Why do you want to be a boring life insurance agent? Well, it’s not boring at all.”

She talks about a day in her life: “I could be speaking at a company, a corporation, a church, a women’s group. It’s multifaceted, it’s fast-paced. I genuinely love what I do.”

One employer, architecture and design firm McFarlane Green + Biggar, takes a novel approach and shows the bottom half of their employees, perhaps on the theory that you can get a good idea about an individual’s personality from the shoes they wear.

“When it came to reflecting the company's cool, dot-comesque culture and casual style they came up with an out-of-the-box way to showcase their creativity and entice people to work for the firm,” says company spokeswoman Katie Reiach.

It’s nice to get this insiders’ view of a job, feet and all. However, while these quirky images and videos can be a useful tool in your job search, don’t base your career decisions solely on these brief employee snapshots.

“No job seekers should depend 100 percent on these video testimonials,” says Joyce Goia-Herman, president and CEO of business futurist firm The Herman Group and co-author of “How to Choose your Next Employer.”

She recommends doing your own research into a company and its culture, even asking people you meet in the parking lot about an organization.

You can always request informational interviews at firms you’re interested in working for. And make sure to ask for time with workers at those firms — time without managers around if possible. Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat, especially if the industry is growing and desperate to fill positions.

In addition, always get as many e-mail addresses as you can so you can follow up with the many questions you invariably forget during the high-pressure interview process.

And check out social networking sites like FaceBook and LinkedIn as well. Many employees at companies around the country have pages on these types of sites, as individuals or part of company groups. You can get a good feel for what these firms are like by researching employee profiles and the comments they post on their pages.

There are also tons of company blogs written by employees that will give you a taste of firms’ inner workings.

Brazen Careerist, a career site aimed at Generation Y, gathers a host of employee blogs in one place. “It is clear that young people want to know about company culture before they apply for a job, and online media like blogging and video are effective tools for companies to show their culture,” according to the company’s CEO Penelope Trunk.

But don’t expect the whole workplace truth from blogs, social networking sites or videos. They do help you get a sampling of what goes on behind a company’s walls, but you’ll never really know what the day-to-day work life is like until you accept a job and head to the office or factory.

That’s when you’ll know it all, when workers who are paid by the companies that commission these videos finally let their guard down and you hear the real dirt at the water cooler.

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